Muslims all over the world are still in celebration mood of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This year, Whitsun, also termed Pentecost, falls on Sunday 9 June, marking the day when the Christian Church was founded. Ten days earlier, Ascension Day was marked; Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus, Issa, was taken up to heaven, “and a cloud took him away from the eyes of the people” (Acts 1:9); “but some day he will return from heaven the same way you saw him go” (Acts 1:11).

The two religions are closely related, recognising Abraham as the first prophet, and the Bible’s Old Testament is shared and much of the New Testament. But like brothers and sisters, they are today not only close, they also different theologically, and there is also tension between the two world religions, perhaps more based on culture and tradition than on faith issues.

In my article today, I shall discuss a few aspects of religions and sects living side by side, with some lessons from migration history. It is important to learn more about how religions can live side by side, in the same space, and how change and borrowing can take place between religions, and between groups and sects within religions.

First, I would like wish Eid Mubarak to all, indeed to Muslims, but also to non-Muslims, in Pakistan and beyond. More than before, Islam is an international religion. That is to a major extent a result of the voluntary and forced migration from the South and East to the West. In my home country Norway, there are now about 200,000 Muslims in a population of 5 million. Earlier, almost everyone was Protestant-Christian; also, almost everyone was ethnic Norwegian, with a small group being Samee, the indigenous Norwegian people. Today, about 800,000 are immigrants. The land is becoming multi-cultural and multi-religious. Naturally, there are some difficulties in such ‘melting pots’, and host countries lack experience and understanding. Yet, all in all, I believe migration is positive for economic, cultural, religious and other reasons. I should add that it is usually more positive for the recipient country than the sending country, which loses valuable human resources.

Pakistan has few immigrants except for refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, but it allows high emigration and sends millions of foreign workers abroad. Remittances are sent home, and also other transfers, being valuable for Pakistan’s economy. Yet, if the emigrants had stayed at home, they could have contributed in important ways to Pakistan’s development, indeed if right policies were in place to make good use of their competence in existing jobs and as entrepreneurs.

From 1825-1925, Norway experienced a much higher emigration than Pakistan has today; about 800,000 in a population of about 2 million people that time left, mainly for USA, and about 25 percent returned. It is unclear whether the emigration was positive or negative for the sending country, and in what areas it was one or the other. Generally, we say that Norway ‘exported its poverty’, notably the surplus of people relative to job opportunities and land.

The massive people movement was definitely positive for the recipient country of USA, which received millions of immigrants from Europe and took most of the Norwegians that time. They built the land in the new world. Also, many contributed positively to the religious life in USA. It should be noted that although most emigrants left their homeland for economic reasons, groups of Europeans left their homelands to seek greater religious freedom. That was also the case for some Norwegian groups, especially in the early period of the massive emigration wave. Today, this history can be important to remember since Europeans and the West talk about religious tolerance and moderation in Muslim majority countries. Also, there is sometimes tension between the mostly Christian or culturally-Christian Europe, and the newcomers belonging to other religions, especially Muslims, and certain groups among the newcomers. The tension is often caused by cultural traditions rather than dogma and faith issues, although that distinction is mostly obscure to the public. It should be remembered that men and women of true faith, and their clergy, would have respect for believers in other religions. If there are differences, people say, “God is one”, or as people in East Africa say in the language of Kiswahili, “Mungu ni moja tu”. In other words, let us not debate minor differences; let us focus on the essential and the universality of all faiths.

Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr have universal aspects that people in all religions and cultures can relate to; it being a time of reflection, sacrifice and prayer, in efforts to coming closer to God and doing good to fellow human beings. The message is indeed universal for all religions. Even non believers, those who search and doubt, can relate to the beauty of the basics of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr. In Christianity, the month of Lenth leading up to Easter, today mostly with symbolic fast, has similar or equal aspects.

In the introduction to today’s article, I mentioned that this year Whitsun, or Pentecost, falls just a few days after Eid. After Easter, marking what Christians believe was the death and resurrection of Jesus, and Christmas, the birth of Jesus, Whitsun is the most important event in the Christian calendar. In modern Christianity it is toned down since it contains supernatural elements; the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, which meant that they could, inter alia, speak in other tongues than their own. The disciples were equipped to start the task of preaching the Gospel, the lessons Jesus had taught them. They were helped by the Holy Spirit, a special godly helper or force, forming part of what is termed ‘One God in Trinity’. In today’s ‘logical time’, many people, also Christian believers, find this concept difficult to understand, it being deeply philosophical and spiritual. As always when I write about dogma and religious events, indeed when I write about the teachings of Jesus, I underline that each event and story should not necessarily be taken literally.

I believe that religious life in Europe and beyond will be enriched when more Muslims live side by side with Christians in our time and in future. I also believe that it is essential that Muslim countries remains open to other faith traditions, and become more tolerant and open, also to new ways within the own religion and c/ountries. For example, in our time, I believe that women must play a much more prominent role than what has been the case in the past. Over the last couple of generations that has happened in Christianity, mostly among Protestants. It has strengthened the religion. There is room for more ecumenical cooperation within religions and inter-religious cooperation between religions – so that various faith associations can enrich one another and live in greater harmony side by side in the same space. Remember, “Mungu ni moja tu”.