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Only If They Knew

There was this question that little me once asked my parents, “if pakde is a Christian, why did he respond to my salam?” At that time, 10 year old me just discovered that our neighbors who have been living in front of our house, pakde and his entire family, are actually Christians and they went to church every Sunday. I remember the other day when i delivered cakes to pakde’s house, as i knocked his door and said “assalamualaikum” which is a form of greeting in Arabic meaning “peace be upon you”, he then answered in a gentle tone with “waalaikumsalam” meaning “and upon you, peace”. This small interaction surely left a lasting impression on me until now. Having known pakde for a long time, he has always been likable and kind to everyone in our neighborhood. However, though being that young i was aware that Christians do not typically use the salam greeting. Despite this, pakde chose to respond my salam and left me curious, why? My dad then answered, “Well, why not? It’s just salam. He was being polite.” Although dad’s answer didn’t fully satisfy me, as a kid i didn’t delve too deeply into the matter. Perhaps, i thought, my dad was right. Perhaps it was a common courtesy that everyone would do.

As i grow older, my world expands. I become more aware of the diverse religious beliefs in our society. It’s not just Muslims and Christians, but also Buddhists, Hindus, and other faiths. One thing that struck me is the similarities we share. For instance, both Muslims and Hindus have dietary restrictions with Muslims avoiding pork and Hindus refraining from consuming beef. I also noticed similarities in greetings used by different religions. While Muslims say “salam” meaning “peace”, the Jews use “shalom” which carries the same message. Furthermore, it’s amazing to know that Christians also recognize many of the same prophets as Muslims, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and more. These shared elements make me keep highlighting the depth of our common ground.

However, amidst my excitement to our similarities, i cannot ignore the unfortunate reality that exists in some parts of the world. Instead of embracing our similarities and understanding our differences, some people choose to hate and mock one another, breaking the bonds that should’ve united us. This is evident when we talk about Islamophobia in the west, where Muslims are unjustly labeled as terrorists and face physical harassment. Similarly, hearing the incidents like Jews spitting on Christians in Jerusalem truly breaks my heart, leaving me pondering the reasons behind such actions. I keep questioning why some people prefer to choose hate over love. Are they just inherently bad or evil? But from what i understand, no one is born evil. Or is it a result of ignorance and lack of education? In those moments, a song lyric came to my mind, striking a chord within me:

You think the only people who are people

Are the people who look and think like you

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger

You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew

These words resonated deeply, reminding me that people often fail to make an effort to truly know and understand one another. But why does this happen? To gain further insight, i turned to various videos on YouTube that shared stories of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. The stories shooked me to the core, revealing the profound and loving friendships that exist between them in the midst of conflict in Gaza. I learned about Muslims standing up to defend churches during bombings and witnessed Muslim and Christian leaders shaking hands, hoping for an end to the strife. What the Palestinian Muslims and Christians do for each other in their midst of conflict is something that i would definitely do for pakde. If, for instance, his house were to come under attack and he found himself in danger, i would undoubtedly do everything in my power to help and protect him. Why? Because i got to know him, to understand him, whether it’s his character, values, habits, dreams, or anything. I’ve come to a point where i don’t just shake hands with him for the sake of formality, but i will talk and listen to him as a person. As the song lyric suggests,

But if you walk in the footsteps of a stranger

You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew

That’s when i realized, i finally get it. If the Palestinian Muslims and Christians never truly walk in each other's footsteps, if they never really try to understand what it feels like to be scared and vulnerable in times of war, if they never make an effort to truly know one another, to help one another, then they will never truly know what to love and how to love. Only by knowing that there are some parts of each other that they can genuinely love, that’s how people will learn to love each other as a whole. And oh, imagine if one day our ideal world becomes a reality. When all the Islamophobic people in the west, the Jews and the Christians in Jerusalem, or any other people in the world with hatred inside their hearts, will finally open their eyes and see; the beauty of love that they missed. Only if they knew.


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