Setting a Family Table for Relations of All Faiths

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This week’s writer, Sofia Begg Latif, is the daughter of last week’s writer …

Sofia is a practicing Muslim whose life has been influenced by the differing religious backgrounds of her parents. Her mother is Shahina Begg, who shared her own story last week. Sofia attributes her commitment to issues of unity and diversity to the example her parents.

Throughout my life, my parents taught me to build relationships based upon the values that I share with others. Through their example, I learned to move beyond just tolerance for religious diversity—to actually love and embrace people of all faiths.

My parents met in college in the United States, although they are both Indian immigrants. My mother is from Bombay and was raised Hindu, and my father is from a Muslim family from Hyderabad. When they married, my mother decided to convert to Islam, and when my brothers and I were born, we were raised Muslim. From a very young age, I remember learning to read the Quran from my father’s mother. I attended Sunday School at the mosque, prayed five times a day alongside my parents, and fasted during the month of Ramadan. Islam was a central part of my life, and I was very proud to be Muslim.

But unlike many of my Sunday School friends, there was a large part of my life that did not revolve around Islam. Often during school breaks, my family would travel to visit my mother’s relatives. My Hindu cousins sometimes spent entire summers at our home and, during weddings and other big celebrations, both sides of my family would come together. During these times, my parents fostered a welcoming environment where the tensions often associated with differing cultures and traditions could not be felt.

Sometimes my father and my mother’s uncle would talk and even debate about religious teachings—the way that I imagine other families debate about politics—but then they would sit down and have dinner together. Both my father and mother’s uncle are devout followers of their separate faiths, but they did not allow the differences in their religious beliefs to interfere with family relationships.

Reflecting now, I realize how my parents—despite the challenges brought by religious diversity—prioritized the values of hospitality, of respect to elders and of family. My brothers and I were not taught to see the lines that religion often places between people, but rather, we were shown how to love and admire the humanity that unifies them. When I joined the sixth grade at a public middle school, I decided to begin wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf, knowing that I would be the only one to do so. It was a difficult transition, but even at such a young age, I was firm in my faith and confident that when others began to know me, they would accept me for who I was. My parents’ example, in so many subtle and obvious ways, had given me proof that people who ultimately shared the same values would find friendship and amity. My best friends throughout my middle and high school years were Shannon Fink, a Jew, and Alka Tandon, a Hindu. Today, I recognize that my passion for working toward creating pluralistic societies with religious and cultural understanding is a direct result of my upbringing.

During my senior year in high school, when I heard about the “Reuniting the Children of Abraham” project, I was truly excited to get involved. This was an opportunity to work with young adults from over a dozen different racial, cultural, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds to tell a common story—the story of how Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, the patriarchs of two great religions, came together upon their father’s death to bury him. The goal was to use this story as an example for how our communities today can overcome the hate and fear that divides us. As I worked with this diverse group on developing the storyline for the play, I once again found myself searching for the values that connected us and brought us together. It was only after we, as a group, were able to overcome the tensions of diversity, that we could co-create what has now become an award-winning production and documentary that has traveled across the U.S., Jerusalem and Jordan.

(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

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