We Can Still Learn From Our Children
The other day I sat in a room to discuss why Muslim and Jewish congregations are involved in the Global Interfaith Partnership, our program that provides food and education opportunities for orphans and vulnerable children in Kenya. The reason for the question was to help our Duke interns understand why our religions compel us to help in this situation when those helped are predominately Christian. The answer was not difficult. Both are faiths have examples of people who worked to ameliorate the lives of people outside our traditions as well as scriptural commands to do so. The question I would ask is why more of us don’t help the person we see as other?
That is not too difficult to answer in some cases, especially with minority religions. As humans we are more likely to give something up, be it money, time, food, or our life for family first, tribe, country, faith, more so than for a stranger. This is part of human nature and in fact it may be hardwired. That is why I believe the great religions of the world emphasize the importance of helping the stranger, because it is not easy. So when it happens people take note. Nowhere did I more note of this in my own heart was with a group of Muslim youth known as SallamCorp, who worked to raise $10,000 a few years ago as part of our Kenya Carnival fund raising. You see these youth focused their understanding of what was expected of them by their faith to help strangers. Out of that experience I made good friends and found a form of solidarity with others, who like me, struggle with how to focus our attention to those in need.
So yesterday brought some news that is hard for me to process. As we were going to lunch one of my colleagues mentioned a story in the news about a plane crash with a father and son on an attempt to fly around the world. The local boy was from Plainfield and part of a mosque we were familiar with through our multifaith activities. Minutes later came the email from my friend, Shariq, who informed me who the boy was. His name is Haris Suleman and he died when his plane crashed off the coast of American Samoa. A 17 year old, about the age of Noah, who was attempting to fly round-the-world to raise funds for Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit organization that build schools in Pakistan.
Haris was a member of that SalaamCorp and I remember his energy, though quieter than the girls in the group, when it came to the work for our Kenya Carnival. He died doing what was close to his heart, helping others, and he will be missed not only for what he did, but for the loss of potential that our future will never see.
In the world today many people are dying over hate. Throw a dart on the map of the land masses of the world and you will strike within 100 miles of someone who will die today because of hate. Those are the stories that define this summer. Gun violence in American cities like my own Indianapolis, Chicago, LA, or the continued fights in the Middle East, terror in Africa and violent protests in Europe. We have become almost numb to mass shootings where instead of stopping to take note the political voices run to microphones to scream platitudes. So as Shabbat draws near, as the closing days of July usher in the move toward a new school year and as we think about the growing unrest that dominates our evening news shows and the radio and TV screamers, let’s stop and think about the Haris Suleman’s of the world. A young, Midwestern, Muslim boy, an American teenager (who we are told are selfish and introverted every day in the media) who lost his life trying to help those who can offer him nothing. Except maybe the chance to make strangers friends. Perhaps that is what we should all strive for in our lives. Perhaps we should all try to be a little more like Haris, and perhaps that is the answer we can give people when they ask why Jews and Muslims would join a group designed to help almost exclusively Christians. Because, the bottom line is, that is what you do when you are fully human.