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Self Reflection on the notion of “faith in the neighborhood”

وَاعْبُدُواْ اللّهَ وَلاَ تُشْرِكُواْ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَبِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْجَارِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْجَارِ الْجُنُبِ وَالصَّاحِبِ بِالجَنبِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ

“Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess.” (Al-Qur’an, an-Nisaa: 36).

There are two different types of neighbors mentioned in the Qur’anic verse above. One is neighbors who are near and the other is neighbors who are strangers. There are various interpretations on the two. Some interpret “neighbors who are near” to imply relatives, some understood it as neighbors who are closer to us in religion. Meanwhile, the interpretation of “neighbors who are strangers” implies physical distance. It may also refer to non-Muslim neighbors who are living peacefully with Muslims.[1]

I understood the “neighbors who are near” and “neighbors who are strangers” as close to meaning with what our Professor Lucinda Mosher explained in the introductory lecture about the notion of “Faith in the neighborhood.” That the notion can mean (1) The religions we find in our vicinity and (2) A positive attitude toward religious manyness.

Here, I recall again the Hartford Seminary’s tagline that I really like: Exploring differences, deepening faith. I think it reflects to what Dr. Mosher means by “A positive attitudes toward religious manyness.” That first, we have to admit that we do have differences; that our neighborhood, our world has many kinds of manyness, but positive attitudes toward these differences is one of the keys that can strengthen our understanding of ourselves and others. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook also states that the ability to recognize and respond to religious differences, and to have the capacity to maintain relationship across differences is needed as the foundation to build interreligious understanding or religious pluralism.[2]

As every single human being is unique, so does everyone’s understanding of religion or faith is also unique. We are all unique, that is why we are different. When something is different, it does not always mean weird, strange or even wrong. It is different just because we are not familiar with it yet. It is not about weirdness but it is about unfamiliarity.

I have to admit that up to now, I am still struggling to be more familiar with the religious life in the United States. I do read and heard many cases about religious bigotry and violence, and also people who are struggling in practicing and preserving their faiths like Maharat Rori Picker Neiss and her communities. As a Muslim woman with veil, these make me feel uncomfortable or even afraid. And as a result, I restrict myself to explore more people, communities, and places. I let my suspicions and fear toward others control me. I forgot, many times, that “We all are just normal people.”[3]

I should learn to unlock my door, letting my neighbors who are near and neighbors who are strangers to come and pay me their visit and vice versa. Thus, we can all have a chance to tell our stories and be an agent for better understanding and better world. Since every human interaction is an interfaith dialogue.[4] If we learn to unlock our door and welcome others, the most effective interfaith dialogue and gathering could be happening in my or your dining room!

[1] See: https://www.al-islam.org/divine-perspective-rights/right-n-32-right-neighbor (Links to an external site.) (Accessed on: January 25, 2020).
[2] Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, God Beyond Borders: Interreligious Learning Among Faith Communities (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), introduction xxxi-xxxii.
[3] Zeenat Rahman, “The Hijabi Monologues,” in My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation Jennifer Howe Peace, et al., eds. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012), 19.
[4] Pravrajika Vrajaprana called it as Interfaith incognito. See: Pravrajika Vrajaprana, “Interfaith Incognito:What a Hindu Nun Learned from Evangelical Christians,” in My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation, Jennifer Howe Peace, et al., eds. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012), 21-22.

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