An extract from Kia Scherr’s latest book ‘Forgiveness is A Choice: Teachings About Peace and Love‘ which will be released by Penguin Random House on December 22, 2021.
Misunderstanding leads to disconnection. When we don’t understand, we create distance between ourselves and others. This distance can be bridged with a willingness to understand or at least accept that which cannot be understood. Understanding may come over time or in an instant. But it will never come if we put up barriers in our hearts and minds. The possibility of understanding begins with opening the heart and mind. Understanding leads to peace.
Sometime in the summer of 2008, a Pakistani family visited the Synchronicity Sanctuary in Virginia, where we were resident staff members. Mohammed Alam and his wife Naila, along with her sister and a few others, arrived in a van to tour the property and increase their understanding about Synchronicity Meditation as a tool to create inner and outer peace. My daughter Naomi had made a fresh batch of almond cookies to serve with tea before we piled into golf carts to drive along the mountain path. It was the first time I had ever met people from Pakistan. They now lived in northern Virginia with extended family members. It was inspiring to talk with them and learn about the vision for world peace. This as my first understanding of what it means to be Muslim.
A few months later, the Mumbai terrorist attack happened. The terrorists were young Pakistani men of Islamic faith, who had spent many months training for this attack. One of the first email messages we received in the aftermath of the terrorist attack was from an Iranian Muslim. ‘Islam means peace. We send you our love and our prayers.’ I was grateful for this loving message of peace.
Because of these connections, I felt it was important to invite Mohammed and Naila Alam to Alan and Naomi’s memorial service and ask if they would say a few words. Mohammed was travelling in Pakistan at the time, so Naila and her sister Yasmin attended. Naila spoke and shared a compassionate message from the then Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Mr Husain Haqqani:
Please accept our heartfelt condolence at this unfortunate demise of your loved ones at the Mumbai attack. Such despicable and shameless attacks are condemned by Pakistanis all over the world. May God help you in this difficult time to gain strength and fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.
Naila and I became friends and continue to remain in touch. I reached out to her on Naomi’s birthday in 2010, on 3 February. She invited me to her home in northern Virginia and insisted I stay overnight so that she could introduce me to the local imam and some of her friends. I will never forget that visit. We took a photo of Alan and Naomi to show the imam when I told him the story of what had happened. He looked at it for a long time and then tears filled his eyes and rolled down into his beard. He shook his head and said, ‘This should not have happened, this should not have happened.’ As we were leaving, Naila told me that in her culture, men did not cry, and so the imam’s reaction was very unusual. The tears of the imam showed empathy and understanding of the heartbreaking loss of human lives.
That night the dinner in Naila’s home was a full-scale family celebration with four generations all living in the same large townhouse. It was a delicious feast with an array of spicy Pakistani food. They gave me a gorgeous embroidered woollen shawl from Pakistan, and as we said our goodbyes, the grandmother pointed to the front door and said to me, ‘This door is your door, and this door will always be open to you.’ I was so moved by their generosity and loving embrace of someone they had met for the first time. I felt surrounded by love and friendship. I knew Alan and Naomi would be pleased. I gained an understanding that differences in religious beliefs are on the surface and what is most important is the connections of hearts.
Featured image credit: Penguin Random House; Editing: LiveWire