In Spanish, a beautiful hymn is entitled ‘Un Pobre Forastero’, which in English translates to ‘A Poor Stanger’, or maybe better, ‘an outsider who is coming in’, a wayfarer who makes a stop, rests his tired soul and body, and brings gifts to his or her hosts, and can quench his thirst and satisfy his hunger. Yes, it can be a poor traveller, someone with few or no worldly belongings, maybe a refugee, an asylum seeker, an adventurer or someone in search of happiness and riches – as we all probably want riches and wealth, to receive so that we can have enough for ourselves, and so we can share with others of our abundance. We all carry dreams, wishes and hopes – to receive and to give.

Most of us do not want to travel alone; we want at least one travel companion, or we want to meet someone that at least for a moment in time, a minute of eternity, or forever, can be our travel companion.

If you have time and peace of mind, or if you want to get peace of mind, I recommend that you listen to ‘Un Pobre Forastero’ on YouTube. You don’t need to understand the words in Spanish, but you can also find the translation of the words into English if you want that. It is not always necessary to know and interpret the details of a poem or a hymn; that we can leave for other times and other occasions. Sometimes, we can afford to be poetic and illogical, well, let the emotions and mind drift. We don’t always have to be intellectual and academic, which may even keep us from meeting fellow travellers, from sharing with our hosts – and from being religious. After all, little in religions is logical. But religion is still important – as fellow human beings are always important, ‘Un Pobre Forastero’ is always welcome and needed. Don’t you think so?

During the holy month of Ramadan, and any other time, we should all make time to listen to beautiful hymns, such as the one I have mentioned, poems, prayers and stories – from life and religion. The hymn I have found today is just one of many, about a poor traveller, someone who has travelled long and far, who makes a stop-over, or maybe has reached his final destination. He brings gifts, virtual and intangible, not gold and glitter. But perhaps such gifts are the only real gifts, given by those who give from their heart so that those who receive them will be able to keep the gifts always hereafter. I am sure you have given and received many gifts of that kind; and if you don’t know the number, then you have the right heart and mind, that of sharing and caring.

And then, let me ask you: Who is your travel companion? Who do you want to hold hands with, greet and hug when you travel, when you say goodbye and when you reach back home, when you settle in and when you move on? No, the question is not only rhetoric, poetic and lyric; it is also a real question, perhaps especially now during the holy month of Ramadan.

In my mother tongue Norwegian, there is an old phrase: ‘husk at Gud er attåt’, in English, ‘remember that God is also there’. It was something that was said when Norway gained independence from Denmark in 1814, and the Norwegians were forced to join in a union with Sweden. The traveller, or rather, the ferryman or sky will, was asked: what do you think about the new traveller that the Norwegians will now be with? He answered that he wasn’t too keen on the new companion, but then he added that perhaps it wasn’t up to him. Besides, he added, he would always have a good friend to travel with, someone who could lead his voyage or journey by boat or cart, because he said, ‘remember, God is also there’.

Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845), a famous nationalistic Norwegian poet and playwright, helped make the words be remembered for long, till this very day actually, since he used them in one of his works, even naming the one who spoke them.

Before I discuss the religious aspect more specifically, let me state that I don’t mean to say that only God is essential, that people are less important. Besides, God is also in our relations with people, with our fellow travellers. And I also don’t mean to say that all the things we become so busy with during holidays and feasts, indeed during Ramadan and when we prepare for Eid, are unimportant – because all the hustle and bustle during Ramadan, the Iftar parties, the shopping and the visits to the tailors, the planning of travels, of going home and visiting friends, and so on, all those things that we do, they are also important. We should also find time to sit still and reflect, alone and with God.

Now you may say: Who are you to tell me this? True, I know that most of the readers of my articles are Pakistanis and probably active Muslims. And I am a mere Westerner, a Norwegian, so how come I should feel I should remind you about God? After all, it is the Westerners who have forgotten that ‘Gud er attåt’, that ‘God is also there’.

We must all find time for that ‘other travel’, the virtual travel when we can reflect on religious issues and seek God in our time.

Have I become a preacher? Maybe, but I am a preacher of all religions, not for one or the other; that is a key point in what I want to say in my article today.

In the secular West, religion and God are no longer part of people’s lives, well, not people’s everyday and public life – the way it still is in Pakistan and most other countries in the South. Yet, we know that religion is important, and I believe it will become more fashionable, to use such an expression, in future, even in the West. I think that the message of ‘Un Pobre Forastero’, ‘a poor stranger’, is always relevant, and what the traveller and ferryman said: ‘remember that God is also there’.

Last Sunday, 3 June 2018, I watched a TV service from the Pentecostal Church in Västerås, Sweden, where Pastor Wivecka Ljungh was preaching, and she underlined this point. She said she was not ashamed of saying that she was travelling not only with fellow human beings but also with God. She said, often she felt that many Swedes seemed to say: ‘har ni inte kommit längre?’; ‘have you not reached further?’ You still need God. In other words, even in the modern land of Sweden, you still need God.

The day before yesterday, 5 June 2018, I was glad to come across a newspaper article in ‘The New York Times’, which was entitled, ‘What religion gives us over science’, written by Philosophy Professor Stephen Asma, with reference to his forthcoming book, where he will discuss in depth some of the issues I have touched upon in my article today. He stressed that religion and faith are not logical, intellectual and academic issues with empirical data and proof. The religious dimensions are poetic, as a hymn and prayer can be, as the comfort and gift of ‘Un Pobre Forastero’, when the finger of God touches you and me – during Ramadan or any other time of life’s journey.

Dear reader, do you want another hymn to listen to? Go to YouTube then. You can find David Archuleta singing ‘Be Still My Soul’, or in Spanish, ‘Apaciguate, alma mia’. While listening to it, you and I can reflect more as this year’s Eid-ul-Fitr draws closer.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com