MORE THAN 1 BILLION MUSLIMS around the world will begin the fast of Ramadan in the second week of August. (The three girls in today’s photograph live in Indonesia.) This week’s true story in Friendship And Faith comes from Rehana Saleem Quereshi, a Muslim woman who writes about her family’s long journey from Asia to America—and her own commitment to cultural diversity. Open arms build the strongest communities, Rehana has found. Enjoy her story and think about the families all around the world prayerfully preparing for the great fast of Ramadan. Did you know that far more Muslims live in Asia than in the Middle East? Here is Rehana’s story …
We moved from India to Pakistan when I was little. We had to make this difficult move with nothing—just the clothes on our backs. When we moved, we were four sisters, then three more sisters were born in Pakistan—so we were seven sisters in all. Through these years, we became a very close family.
Education is so important in life. My parents raised us in a home with Shakespeare and National Geographic Magazine. We read about new things in publications my father ordered from England. I remember my sisters and I would sit down together and read articles about how to do new things, like knitting, sewing and cooking new foods.
Eventually, my family decided to move to the U.S. and, over a period of about 10 years, relatives helped one another to migrate. I came in 1973. I got married and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. I studied to become a medical technologist and, for 22 years, I worked at the Detroit Medical Center in the microbiology department.
I am a moderate person. I’m very open to friends of different faiths and cultures. I worked in the medical community, so I have Christian, Jewish and Hindu friends and I know that we are all the same as people. We all have families and we all face problems in life—often in very much the same ways, whatever faith we may be.
As parents, my husband and I put a high value on education and carefully selected schools for our daughter. When our daughter was young, we chose a day care center called Kinderkirk, where she got along very well with children from other cultural and religious backgrounds. As I was growing up, I attended Catholic schools through my college years. It was a good education and I found the nuns to be very dedicated. They helped to mold my character into the woman that I am today. But I was growing up in a Muslim community, in a Muslim country. My daughter was growing up in a country where most people are not Muslim. It is important to learn about your own faith. So, my husband and I—together with many friends—began to work on establishing a Muslim center in Canton, a town west of Detroit, where we live.
In the beginning, we would rent a hall when we got together or sometimes we met in someone’s basement. Twenty-five or 30 families would gather for potlucks. We organized ourselves and worked on establishing our own place. The women helped to raise the money to build our school and community hall. This was difficult, but we knew that we were laying the foundation of our faith for our children, so we worked hard. One year we raised $80,000 by catering for all kinds of occasions like weddings and other events. The families that helped were Muslim, but they also were diverse—from many different places. Some were Pakistani and Indian, some were Egyptian, others were Libyan. They were from many places.
My daughter studied for a number of years in a Muslim school, and she was a good student. Then, after eighth grade, we moved her to a Catholic school. She’s quite athletic and, at her new school, she joined the track team and the ski team. Today, she continues those passions by running marathons and designing soccer shoes for a living. I am glad that she had this mix in her schooling. The Islamic schools helped her to hold onto values that come from our religion—like not drinking. With friends now, she often is the designated driver, because people know that she doesn’t drink.
Some people have this idea that Islam is such a strict religion that its members can’t even talk with people of other faiths; and that might be the case for some Muslims, but I am very broad-minded, and I feel that people must interact with one another outside of their own little boxes. If we don’t do this, it is easy to become afraid.
When my Muslim community began building up the Muslim center in Canton, there was some community opposition around us from non-Muslims who wondered what this place was going to become. If we had stayed inside our Muslim box, we would have grown anxious, afraid. Instead, we held Open Houses. We invited people to come inside. We welcomed so many people that I remember going into a drug store one day and being surprised to find that a woman working behind the counter knew me already! The woman had come to one of our Open Houses and had enjoyed it so much that she greeted me in the store. I know that not everyone is as open as I am, but I do think that this is the way to make the world a safer place for all of us. We need education. We need relationships with people from different countries and cultures.
Once we make friends with people, they aren’t just Muslims or Hindus or Christians—they become our friends. Life is short. I’m 60 now. I look in the mirror and say: Oh, my! It’s like I blinked my eyes and suddenly I am now this old. But even at my age, there is still work to do. God wants to strengthen us all in this way—through drawing us closer to one another. There is too much violence in the world today because of the ignorance between people. Every time I pick up a newspaper, I wonder: Where is all of this taking us?
In recent years, I joined this new group of educated women, WISDOM, so that I could learn more about other religious traditions. For example: Baha’is. I didn’t know much about Baha’is before I joined WISDOM. And do you know what happened to me? This new group made me go deeper into my own religion! Now, I am always wanting to learn more so that I can talk intelligently to other people about Islam. I know there are other women like me. Perhaps if more of us pursue learning and friendships that cross our many traditions, we actually can make a difference where we are living. And after that? Perhaps we can reach out beyond our own cubbyhole and make a difference across the country. And someday? We might be able to make a difference in the wider world.these.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)