I am a bridge builder. And that is how I see Interfaith relations. It is the work of building bridges. It is not about taking a person from one side of the river or canyon to the other side. It is to build a bridge so that people on both sides of the river can meet. Where can they meet? On the bridge, of course.
How do you build a bridge?
By making 4 – Critical Changes within yourself.
Change Attitude, Perspective, Language and Behavior.
1. Change Attitude
Attitude is how we define ourselves. That depends on what we believe about ourselves. This is partly what we have been told, growing up. Conditioning. Partly what we choose to tell ourselves all through life. So, ask, ‘How do I define myself?’ Values drive Behavior. Behavior drives Results. Ask, ‘What are my values, beliefs, attitudes, stances?’ Who I AM determines what I DO which decides what I GET. We are focused on GET. Get rich, get popular, get elected, get an education, get married get, get, get. But we can only get in relation to what we do. And that depends on who we are. So, ask, “Who am I? “ If you want to change what you get, you have to change who you are. It is that simple. You are saying, ‘That is not easy.’ Did I say it is easy? Just that if you want to have it, you must do it. That may not be easy, but it is simple.
2. Change Perspective
Perspective defines what I see. It determines my worldview which defines my responses to those who share the world with me. Allah told us:
Hujuraat 49: 13 O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Islam tells us that we are different and that the difference is a cause for celebration, for honoring one another, to recognize each other and to appreciate the different flavor we bring to the table. The difference is not a cause for discrimination or racism. Superiority in the sight of Allah is only based on piety. It is the purity of our hearts, that brings us close to Allah. And only He knows what is in our hearts.
Change your perspective and you will see another world. One that was always there, but which you perhaps couldn’t see because of where you were standing. So, ask, ‘How do I define others?’ We are raised bipolar. Everyone like us is good. Everyone unlike us is bad. We learn derogatory names for them. We learn to fear them, hate them, and to see ourselves as superior and them as inferior. This ‘othering’ is a default setting in all cultures. Only the identity of the ‘other’ differs. But there is always an ‘other’. To change this perspective, we must move from Right and Wrong to Different. Because not everything is right or wrong. Many things are just different. All prejudice is based on subjective perceptions of right and wrong. All stereotyping is based on prejudice. To cure yourself of the cancer of prejudice, change perspective.
3. Change Language
Ask, ‘How do I speak about others when they are not present? Respectfully, inclusively, appreciatively, or otherwise?’ Change language because language shapes attitudes and reflects them. I ask you to substitute one word in your vocabulary with another. Substitute TOLERATE with APPRECIATE. Tolerance implies dislike. Appreciation comes from respectful interest. I submit to you that all healthy relationships depend on appreciation.
Why do I ask you to do this? I do because when you ‘tolerate’ someone, you are really saying to yourself, ‘This is really a nasty piece of action that I wish I didn’t have to deal with. But since I have no choice in the matter and I don’t want more grief, I will tolerate them.’ Think tolerance or tolerating and you will not be thinking of someone you love, or a double shot of espresso, or a triple chocolate Sunday, or a glorious sunset, or your pet. You will not be thinking of anything that brings a smile to your face or a warm glow in your heart. You will be thinking, “O My God! Him again? Okay, let’s get it over with.” But when you think appreciation, you are thinking love, gratitude, missing someone, the pain of parting. You are thinking beautiful pictures, sounds, voices, dreams. So, I say to you, ‘Forget tolerating anyone. Ask, ‘How can I appreciate them?’ You can, only if you know them. Do it.
That opens a whole new world starting from enquiry in a non-judgmental way. To learn more about. Not to judge. It opens the doors in the mind and heart which may have been locked up by prejudice, racism, anti-otherism, all part of our childhood conditioning maybe. Let us remind ourselves, ‘I am not a child. I consider myself to be an adult. An independent, educated, discerning, intelligent adult, capable of making my own decisions.’ Then ask, ‘I wonder why am I still stuck in my childhood conditioning? Why do I allow attitudes that I developed unthinkingly even unconsciously to continue to keep me in the rut of negativity and hatred preventing me from forming positive, loving, and blessed relationships?’ True it is that only knowledge can set us free. We must learn about others. By doing that, we learn about ourselves. So, let’s ask ourselves, ‘How much effort do I make to initiate and maintain relationships? How many friends do I have who are different from me?’ Different color, race, religion? Because it is not the color of your hair but the color of your dreams that determines success and happiness in life. What do I do to build bridges? From tolerance to hatred is one step. But appreciation is the opposite of hatred. So, let’s replace tolerance in our hearts and minds with appreciation.
4. Change Behavior
Because only behavior gives results. Collaboration is the door. Communication is the key. As I mentioned before, ask, ‘How do I speak to myself about those who are different from me? What does my language reflect?’ And remember, not everything is spoken aloud. The most powerful messages are heard only by you because it is what you say to yourself. It is critical to reflect on this because our internal talk guides our attitude and actions. As we think, so we speak, so we act and so we get responses. Only we can change this cycle and make it a journey of discovery and friendship. For many of us, this is an unconscious process. People are shocked when they reflect and realize what they are saying to themselves. And even more when they realize that this sets in motion a spiral that is negative or positive. The power lies in accepting that we decide what we want it to be. The solution to this is knowledge. Ask, ‘What effort do I make to learn about others?’ Remember that learning about human beings is only done by experience. Not on TV or social media but by meeting the walking, talking, breathing, warm body called _______ fill in the blank. Do that respectfully, sensitively, in a spirit of enquiry. For that, learn something about their culture, taboos, preferences, and beliefs, non-judgmentally. Judging builds walls. Walls keep people apart. Bridges draw us closer. We must be bridge builders, if we want to leave behind a world defined by love. The willingness to transcend boundaries, share uniqueness, without criticism and discrimination must be taught young, but can be learnt at any stage in life. Only one requirement…. are you willing to learn?
I want to remind you of the words of a man who had a dream for all of us.
“Cowardice asks the question – Is it safe? Expediency asks the question – Is it politic? Vanity asks the question – Is it popular? But conscience asks the question – Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In conclusion, my friends, let me remind myself and you that a window opens in the life of every one of us when we can make a difference and leave behind a legacy of honor. In the words of William Shakespeare:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
I submit to you that our window is open. Our time to create a legacy of honor, is now. For that let me give you a gift. The gift of my motto in life but let me tell you a story first.
One day there was a big fire in the forest. All the animals fled in terror in all directions, because it was a very violent fire. Suddenly, the jaguar saw a hummingbird pass over his head, but in the opposite direction. The hummingbird flew towards the fire! Whatever happened, she wouldn’t stop. Moments later, the jaguar saw her pass again, this time in the same direction as the jaguar was going. He watched this coming and going until he decided to ask the bird about it because it seemed very bizarre behavior.
“What are you doing, hummingbird?” he asked. “I am going to the lake,” she answered, “I take some water in my beak and throw it on the fire to extinguish it.” The jaguar laughed. ‘Are you crazy? Do you really think that you can put out that big fire on your own with the water you can bring in your tiny beak?’
‘No,’ said the hummingbird, ‘I know I can’t. But the forest is my home. It feeds me, it shelters me and my family. I am very grateful for that. And I help the forest grow by pollinating its flowers. I am part of her, and the forest is part of me. I know I can’t put out the fire, but I must do my part.’
At that moment, miraculously there was a torrential downpour, which put out the great fire.
Native American grandmothers would sometimes tell this story to their grandchildren, then conclude with, “Do you want to attract miracles into your life? The do your part.”
We have no responsibility to save the world or find the solutions to all problems. Our responsibility is to attend to our, personal corner of the universe. As each person does that, the world saves itself.
So, my gift to you is what I say to myself, especially when things look terrible and totally out of control and despair looms over the horizon.
“I will not allow, what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.”
The choice is ours as will be its consequences. Let’s do our part.
This was a very beneficial and beautiful article.Ma Shaa Allah.
Sheikh MYB has produced an excellent, life’s perception changing write up. It is full of wisdom that can transform ones thought process if you “study” this wonderful article.
A really thought provoking and interesting read. The takeaway for me is the issue of appreciation vs tolerance. It is so significant that it made me realize just how much of prejudice we school ourselves and our children into that we don’t even know our skewed we are in our attitudes and beliefs. The article casts a reflection on the narratives in our homes, schools, workplaces and social gatherings showing us just how important it is to have the right perspective on life and all of the creation of Allah. Therefore the reference to Surah Hujuraat is so apt and… Read more »
Another excellent and thoughtful article.
An article that is mind-shifting! What stood out to me is the issue of injustice, whether what we do/say/think is just or not since that is all of what Islam is. “And if you judge among people, then judge with fairness.” (An-Nisaa 58)
May Allah (SWT) guide us all to be just and compassionate in a world full of racism and discrimination.
Jazakum Allahu khairan for sharing!
Mashallah! What an excellent practical guide! Keep up the great work Shiekh. May Allah SWT bless you
As-salamu alaykum Yawar, As always your article is thought provoking, especially because you describe behavior as the factor that makes all intentions, values, knowledge etc. visible. The metaphor of the bridge is very useful, however I would like to take it one step further. Meeting on the bridge is ok as a start, but the real relationship develops when you invite people into your own house and when people invite you into their house. Our attitude is connected to personality and values and turns into visible behavior when we interact with a context. It’s interesting to see how people can… Read more »