I told the driver the name of the locality where I wanted to go. He asked for more information and I mentioned the name of ‘my’ place of worship. He responded cheerfully, “Then I can’t just say no to you! “-or something like that.
I was happily taken aback. The enthusiastic response from the man has touched me. I felt affected by his appreciation for a heritage of faith other than his. In a world that is profoundly divided in the name of faith, these issues are not very common.
I climbed the auto-rickshaw, and we went ahead. We chatted like long-lost friends in only a short time! You know how it is with some people: you’ve never met them before but you feel an inexplicable bond with them almost immediately. That’s how Aslam Khan feels. His respect for ‘my’ religious tradition and venerable place had worked a miracle! I soon learned many details of his life, including his childhood, several things about his family, and also something about his impressive knowledge of different religions and his desire for harmonious inter-community coexistence. He maintained that he was not highly educated but that he was obviously smart. The way he spoke has shown a constructive approach to the challenges of life. What made him even more endearing were his good manners, and the warmth and cheerfulness he exuded.
Aslam Khan spoke to me in the course of our conversation about his daughter who he said was studying to become a software engineer if I recall correctly. For this kid he had dreams that he was working hard to satisfy.
I was thinking of my friend Venku, one of whose main passions in life is to help the needy, including through things like student scholarships. Maybe he might help out? I called him, and asked him about his daughter and Aslam Khan. I got to talk to Aslam Khan too. When I met Venku later he told me he could do something to help Aslam Khan’s daughter with her studies.
Once we reached ‘my’ place of worship I was pleased to give a hefty tip to Aslam Khan as we left. He deserved it for real!
When I think about this brief incident I think I might draw a lot of valuable lessons. But I’ll just confine myself here to some of the things I can learn from this experience regarding the ethics of interfaith or inter-community relationships, which is a global issue today.
- If you relate with reverence for him and his religion to someone from a different culture of religion, then you are likely to receive his gratitude. The unexpected expression of appreciation for ‘my’ religious tradition by Aslam Khan instantly endeared me with him.
It follows from this that sincere reverence and love — understood here as consideration and care for another — is the only way to win hearts and break barriers, even between people who follow different religious beliefs, or claim to follow them.
- Harmony between religions comes from compassion to interfaith. That means that no amount of theological dialogue and preaching sermonizing — which is often what happens in sometimes heavily supported interfaith meetings — can take the place of simple spontaneous acts of kindness between people of different faith backgrounds in helping them transcend deep-rooted biases, realize their shared humanity, and bond together amid their religious differences.
- Often the ethics of interfaith living from a single spontaneous act of kindness and courtesy by someone like a ‘easy’, ‘semi-educated’ auto-rickshaw driver can be learned much more than from an scholarly theological debate by a learned theologian or religion professor.
- A single act of kindness can have a cumulative impact, and can become the foundation of friendship and unity within and beyond the borders of faith, a sure means of building peace between cultures.
The act of kindness by Aslam Khan in enthusiastically agreeing to take me in his auto-rickshaw made me react by doing another good deed — contacting Venku to help with the education of Aslam Khan’s daughter. Hopefully, in this regard Venku would do all he can—which will make it three good deeds, all little actions of ‘interfaith kindness’!
Our respective acts of kindness have brought together three individuals from three different cultures of the world, based on a shared desire to reach beyond ourselves and help others in spite of our differing religious beliefs. One can hardly think of a better way for one’s own spiritual growth and for building peace between interfaith and inter-community!