Today, on the eve of Eid Milad-un-Nabi, which in the Muslim Sunni calendar is celebrated in memory of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), it is appropriate to give space to the sacred. I have recently written several articles about migration, both forced migration and other forms of migration. I have written about some of the difficulties that people experience when they are forced to break up from the life they have lived to seek a new and unknown life. I have underlined that instead of being negative to migration, even when they come in relatively high numbers (Syrians, Africans and others in Europe), we should open our hearts to the newcomers, as Pakistanis mostly did to Afghans when they came to Pakistan over the last three-four decades. We should try to put ourselves in their situation, and ask ourselves how we would have liked to be met if we were the refugees and migrants . We should remind ourselves of the golden rule in all religions: do unto others what you want others to do unto you. To love one another is the manifestation of God’s love of us, and our love of God. And love is replacing selfishness and loneliness with inclusiveness and sharing. Love is good not only for those receiving it; it is as essential for those giving it.
To break up and change, to leave the past behind and embrace the new, can also be good, especially if the new is chosen and voluntary. When we now celebrate Eid in Pakistan, we are reminded of the new message of God that was brought by Prophet Muhammad. In a few weeks, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus, Issa, and his message was that of change, peace and kindness. His new commandment was that human beings should not only love and praise God, but also love one another. That was the new and powerful message of Christianity, which also became the foundation of Islam.
Half a year ago, on 7 May 2017, a beautiful church service was held in Umeå stads kyrka, downtown Umeå, Sweden’s largest city in the far north of the land. The main theme was change and inclusiveness, with focus on immigrants and newcomers into the Swedish society. Pastor Anna Ruther led the service, preaching about the importance of not getting stuck in a static comfort zone in our lives. She said that, sometimes, our lives and ways can be likened to the calm river flowing through Umeå city, more like backwaters with little movement than a fast running stream of change. We must always be open for change and movement, be conscious about what is important in our lives, not just making ourselves busy with everyday chores, drifting along with the calm flow of waters that hardly moves; later in life, we may question where all the days, months and years of our lives have gone. Instead, we must live actively in community with the people around us, be part of the change and growth of family, friends and colleagues, and internalise issues of the time we live in. Today, since we live in a time with more people movements than in a long time, we must be concerned about and welcoming to newcomers where they live, where we live.
The Umeå church service represented diversity and multiculturalism: there was traditional and modern music; traditional and alternative religious texts and interpretations; young members expressing their views, including a young man and woman who spoke with foreign accents and told stories from faraway lands, yet, having found Umeå as their home; and there were old Swedes. They all underlined their connection to the world outside their city and land and, at same time, they valued and felt pride in the place they could call home.
It was heart warming to listen to the several contributions, indeed those who spoke about the importance of bringing in and accepting outsiders, foreigners and other people who do not belong to the mainstream society. Progress and profit are important, yet, love, tolerance and openness are more important. If we practice that, we have understood the right message of change.
In time of relatively high international migration, and in most countries fast urbanization and internal migration, we must keep an open mind to newcomers. From Europe, we often hear stories in the media about people being against newcomers, especially those who come from far away, with different cultural backgrounds, traditions, religions, and religions. Although those who are very negative migration are very few, they get more media coverage than those who are positive.
I have in this article given one example of the opposite attitudes, a church service in the north of Sweden. The people in the Umeå church are modern, open-minded and all inclusive; they are true representatives of the real social values of Christianity – and those of Islam, too. We can in unison pray for peace, justice, mercy and inclusiveness – in Umeå, Stockholm and Malmö in Sweden, and in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi in Pakistan.
When I watched the sermon in Umeå and the cameras scanned across the congregation, I came to notice that although there were some young people attending, including some not with non-Nordic features, the majority were just indigenous Swedes; but then most people in Scandinavia migrated up north generations and centuries ago, with roots further south, east and west. That history may help Swedes to be more open to newcomers today, and so would probably the hardship and harsh climate also make ordinary people indentify with newcomers need for help.
We often think that it is young people, city dwellers, and those with high education that are most open to the globalisation. But that is not always the case. Old inhabitants of Umeå, and Kohat, may be more tolerant, open-minded, curious and welcoming to newcomers from far and near, indeed refugees who need help; wealthy dwellers of cities and metropolis may not be as cosmopolitan as they think; and poor and less schooled people in city shanty towns and remote villages may have a deeper understanding of suffering and life different struggles, than the rest of us, hence be great hosts of newcomers.
Finally, today, I would like to include the prayer that Lena Hallgren, an elderly Swedish woman, read at the end of the religious service I have written about in this article. It is a prayer in support of migrants . I hope my translation does justice to the content, although I liked the original words more, since I felt they had a deeper sound of the hearts and minds of the people in North Sweden and North Europe.
Dear God, We pray for those forced from their homes by war and conflict.
We pray for those who struggle to reach safety on risky boats, crammed in overcrowded trucks, and on dangerous roads.
We pray for all who endure forced isolation from family and friends, and for those with loved ones lost during flight.
God, help us to open our hearts and arms and do what we can to help others.
We pray that all those forced to flee will find a welcoming home.
We pray that their sorrow, frustration and fear will be replaced by harmony and fellowship.
And we pray for peace on earth.