There is so much division and misinformation in the world today. Although tensions (and violence due to extremism) between Muslims and Christians often make news, there are many places in the world where Christians and Muslims have a history of working together.
In Burma (Myanmar), prior to WW II, it was common for Muslims, Hindus, and Christians to live together peacefully in the same neighborhoods. My grandmother’s family, who lived in Burma, had become friendly with the family of a Muslim man named Ali-Reza, an Iranian businessman in the Tea trade industry.
In 1949, the country of Burma was in turmoil. The Karen Conflict, as it was known, had just begun.
This 60-year conflict continues on to this day. The government did not support the tribes of Burma and was trying to force them out of practice. Many Karen (members of a tribe) were executed and others escaped to Thailand and still flee their oppressors living there as refugees to this day.*
My mother and her family, devout Catholics, lived in Mandalay; the Prime Minister along with five Cabinet members had been murdered a few years prior. My grandfather, a police officer, was led out of his home to be executed. Due to some connections and the kindness he had shown some of those people who rose to positions of authority, his life was spared. Following that close call, he and my grandmother decided to flee Burma in order to protect their three young children.
They crossed through Rangoon, Burma into Calcutta, India without any possessions, only their three children in tow. The family was planning to continue on to Pakistan when they were able. My grandparents were without any financial means, refugees in another country for the second time (they had previously left Burma during the Second World War for similar reasons).
Their friend, Ali, heard of my grandparents’ predicament and their lack of funds. He owned several apartments in India, which he rented out for income. This Iranian Muslim gentleman, offered my Catholic Christian family an apartment to stay in rent-free. Without any thought to their differences in faith, religious background or country of origin, he reached out in order to help them. In his example, this Muslim man was the face of Christianity to my family.
Our family’s story is not the only tale like this. My son recently had a conversation with a man from Morocco who described his country “as a place where all faiths live together peacefully.” Fear and prejudice, even peace can begin with one person at a time, when we view each other with dignity and as individuals and not just a collective. In spite of the fear we feel when we hear horrible stories of beheadings on the news, we must pray for our enemies and reach out to those we can. We must be the face of Christ to the world.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace..” St. Francis of Assisi
*My Mother has been active in a group through the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, together with a Baptist group who help Burmese Karen families relocate to the United States after leaving refugee camps in Thailand. Many of them have lived in those camps for decades.
Copyright 2015 Mary Lou Rosien
Photo courtesy of Mary Lou Rosien. All rights reserved.