Posted by: Titus Presler | September 18, 2011

“Impact not seeable,” but inter-religious Faith Friends continue faithful in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

In the religious tension of Pakistan today it was encouraging last evening to participate in a gathering of Faith Friends, an inter-religious group that has been meeting in Peshawar for about seven years.  It brings together Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus – yes, for classic interfaith dialogue and joint projects, but mostly for sheer and simple friendship, indeed a blessing in this environment.

The occasion was an Eid Millan, a social dinner gathering to celebrate Eid, the festival that brings the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – Ramazan as it is known in Pakistan – to a close.  Eid al-Fitr occurred awhile ago, on August 31 and the couple of days following, but naturally an interfaith gathering is going to occur after the festival itself.  Faith Friends has similar gatherings for the Christian festival of Christmas and the Hindu festival of Diwali, and a like designation is awaited from the Sikh community.

There were lots of noteworthy bits from the gathering:

• Shia Muslims as a distinct community are included in Faith Friends, alongside Sunni Muslims.

• Christians at the gathering included members and clergy of the Church of Pakistan, the Assemblies of God, and the Anglican Orthodox Church of Pakistan.

• Two women were present in the group of about 50 people altogether.  That low number is not surprising in the environment of Pakistan, but at least there were two, both of them Muslim.

• Public remarks at the gathering were in Urdu – beautiful Urdu, by the way – but it was striking how the English word “community” recurred in the talks.  It seemed that for the speakers there was no word in Urdu that quite conveyed the sense of communities they meant as they honored the groups present – the Muslim “community,” the Sikh “community,” and so on.

• Two participants had just returned from a weeklong dialogue between Muslim and Christian women from both Pakistan and India that had been held in Nairobi, Kenya, that venue having been chosen because it is easier for Indians and Pakistanis to meet each other outside both countries than within either country.  Each national group of eight participants was divided roughly equally between Muslims and Christians.  A joint communiqué was issued, which will be interesting to see.  The Pakistani delegation had been selected and organized by the Pakistan Council of World Religions, of which Faith Friends is a member organization.

• One participant, a Muslim, is promoting observance of the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21 as designated by the United Nations since 2002 (earlier, since 1982, observed on whatever the opening day of the General Assembly occurred).  The Peshawar-based Peace Foundation is organizing a “rally” outside the Peshawar Press Club on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 10 a.m.  Says the foundation’s website, “The mission of Peace Foundation is to make our society free of violence, extremism and discrimination and to work for creating awareness and harmony among different religion and school of thoughts.”  Peace Day can seem an innocuous cliché in many places – but not in Peshawar.

• Faith Friends has substantial participation from among Muslim academics, and this particular gathering was held at the University of Peshawar.

“The impact of Faith Friends is not seeable,” said a Muslim participant in conversation as he acknowledged the overwhelming impact of religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistan today.  Another said he was discouraged about the usefulness of groups like Faith Friends: “We sit here and talk, but as we look around at what is happening in our country what difference are we making?”

My mind reverted to Jesus’ parable of the mustardseed.  “The smallest of all seeds,” he called it, highlighting its quality of being, well, not un-seeable, but barely seeable.  “Yes,” retorted a Muslim interlocutor, “but there must be fertile ground!” implying that such ground is not much in evidence in Pakistan today.

So can or will a mustardseed such as Faith Friends grow into “one of the tallest of all shrubs” in the rocky and thistly ground of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?  Much that God calls us to is not seeable and may not be seeable even over an extended period of time.  Yet if God has called us to it – as certainly everyone last evening felt about friendship in faith – then it must have not only a purpose but a not-yet-seen power.  And then, of course, God sees it.  And maybe that’s enough.

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Responses

  1. Mustardseed may not only remain unseeable but will be forgotten forever, if milled under the feet. So would be the case with such groups if the purpose remains meetings every now and then and no solution is sought for lessening the impact of religious extremism, violence and intolerance.

    • I agree, Minhas. There needs to be some definite forward initiative from such groups, else they outlive the purpose for which they were formed. A principle I’ve articulated before applies as well to all mustardseed efforts: “Community and mission are symbiotic. Community without mission dies out. Mission without community burns out.” So an interfaith group that is content only with meetings and what the Pakhtun call “gapshap”, that is, only with its community life, and neglects its mission – will die out.

  2. Few of my friends or acquaintances are involved in “mission,” which I describe as whatever aid and assistance I can provide to others, either in my immediate geographic area or across the world, as I learn more about the world, in my case through a private foundation to support education and especially reading. As I have shipped books, primarily but not exclusively for children, to cities in my own country or to overseas sites, I have discovered that the needs are very similar in both venues, which has been a great surprise to me. My church has helped me to expand my activities, and has also helped me to see that such interactions as this particular blog describes help to spread the universality of mission and the church’s role in it.


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