Where Is Our Humanity?
By Suha Ahmad Alsyoufi
Preaching can feel very heavy to me. Not the message but the responsibility of it. To have to deliver a message that is meant to inspire people spiritually and provide insight makes me nervous and there are not many things that have that effect on me. So in August when I was asked to be the guest preacher for our Tuesday’s in the Chapel, I freaked out! I didn’t think I could preach about the things that I was struggling with and thinking about. How could I provide a worthy message that addressed what was happening in the world? I hope I achieved the goal that I intended to when I delivered this message. For those of you who missed it the first time here it is. I cried that day in the Chapel. I couldn’t get through the sermon without being overcome with emotion because of the state of the world that day. Here we are a few months later and I’m getting emotional writing again. I have hope. I know you have hope too! There are far too many good people in the world for us not to have hope![This sermon was preached in Tuesdays in the Chapel in August of 2014.]
In the name of God, the most gracious and the most merciful. I want to thank you today for allowing me the honor of speaking before you. I am humbly standing before you in hope of being able to contribute thoughtfully to your midweek Sabbath. It is a Muslim tradition to start as I did in the name of God and it is also a tradition to end by asking for forgiveness in the event that I may have misquoted or erred in my time with you. I struggled deeply with choosing a topic for today. Originally, I wanted to talk about grace. What it is and what it isn’t in the Abrahamic faiths. This is something that has been a source of deep thought and reflection for me. However, we will have to save that for another time. You see I’m very selfish. I am the center of my universe and as far as I’m concerned, I’m the center of everyone else’s too! That is why we will talk about some questions that I’ve been struggling with for the past few months. The 1st one is “where is our humanity”?
I have watched as close to 200,000 people were killed in Syria. I watched as news of the use of chemical weapons was widely speculated. I watched as investigations took place. I watched as nothing happened after the investigations were over. While I was watching, people died horrible deaths. I watched.
I watched as 200 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria. I watched as their parents cried and demonstrated and demanded help for the return of their daughters. I watched as some of these parents could no longer handle the pain of what their daughters might be going through and they transitioned to another place. I watched.
I watched on the news when it was reported that 82 people were shot on the weekend of July 4th in Chicago. I watched as the National Guard was deployed to keep the peace. I watched.
I watched on the news as unaccompanied children from Central and South America are put in detention centers in deplorable conditions until they are deported back to the unsafe conditions they fled from. I watch as people stand and yell “You are Not Welcome!” I just watch.
I watch as ISIS has gained power and now is in charge of a territory 5 times the size of Lebanon. I watch as they demolish historical religious places to destroy peoples will. I watch as they attack not only Christians in Mosul, but also Muslims in Syria and Kurdistan. I watch as the Kurdish forces are the only ones who have fought ISIS enough to halt the ground that they are gaining without any support from anyone worldwide. I watch.
I watch as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict escalated. I watch as schools and homes are bombed. I watched as children were killed playing on the beach. I watch as teenagers tweet in fear saying if I die please pray for my soul. I watch as people run to bomb shelters when rockets come down like rain. I watch as each side declares their demands and their rights to land with no regards for the people living on it. I watch as their blood seeps into the soil that should be nurtured with peace and love, with children’s footsteps as they walk and laughter as they play on the way home from school. I watch and I question “Where is our Humanity”?
After everything I watched, I began having nightmares. You see not only an I selfish but I’m also very privileged. I sleep in peace and I wake up to the sun shining clearly through my windows. There has never been smoke and clouds of war that cover its bright rays. I have peace and the blessings of my mornings to gather my thoughts before I start my day. I can’t just watch anymore. I can’t handle the nightmares. I can’t handle the nightmares that other people are living. That leads me to my next question. “Why can’t we find world peace”?
We are here not to feel defeated by the way of the world but to draw on the hope that we all have within us. We are gathered in this beautiful church to find renewal in the middle of the week. On my way here today, I experienced the blessings of the sound of nature, the heat of the sun, the company of friends. Let us turn to God. Our God of life and creation. While preparing for today I came across a prayer from the canticle of Zechariah that says “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” These words brought tears to my eyes and anyone who knows me knows that is not a common occurrence. Thinking about God’s Grace and mercy as we are given an opportunity every minute of every day and forgiving our shortcomings when we call out his name is enough to make me cry. As we hear the prayers that inspire us from our various scriptures, we need to take action. We need to adjust our way of life and find our strength to march towards peace. Not as individuals but as humanity.
In order to find our humanity we need to put the privilege we carry aside. Not only our sense of privilege but our egos and entitlement as well. This needs to be done in order for us to build on our prayer and march towards peace. Together. The notion that God has chosen any one of us over the other needs to be interpreted with a clear heart that unifies us as a people instead of dividing us. I am referring to the fact that most of us were raised to believe that Israelites/Jews are the chosen people. Scholars have closely examined Genesis and Exodus and it has been confirmed that the Jews were not chosen as an ethnicity but as a contract based on a way of behaving. The language used was very specific. Leave it up to God to get things right. If you visit the imprisoned, act mercifully to the widow and the orphan, welcome the stranger in your midst, tend the sick, do justice and love mercy, then you will be my people!
This gave me hope. This gave me hope for humanity. Most of the atrocities that I have been watching are referred to by God. Go figure. This means we can all sign this contract because it applies not only to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike but to all of humanity. We can create a culture of peace. Our places of worship can become builders of peace. They can engage, cooperate and learn from one another. Everyone can be involved. We can learn to prevent conflicts and transform them, to protect and empower those who are marginalized, we can affirm the role of women in resolving conflict and building peace. As an interfaith community we need to support and participate in non-violent movements for justice and peace for justice and human rights. We need to be able to find our voice and challenge violence wherever it happens. We need to work toward establishing and maintaining this culture of peace by committing to the safety of women and children from armed conflict by removing deadly weapons and banning them from our communities. I have hope that we can create this culture of peace for our humanity. You would think that I was some kind of genius right? It turns out there are quite a few organizations out there that have the same idea. There are actually people out there, religious people and organizations that are at the forefront of interfaith relations and restoring peace in violent regions. Some of these organizations are Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhists, Adventists, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Catholic, Episcopal, and Mennonites, just to name few. There even is the most amazing day called World Peace Day which is on September 21. What a beautiful way to celebrate through prayer.
Not too long ago, a colleague and friend of mine asked if she could attend Friday prayer with me. I was deeply touched by this. It was the last Friday before Ramadan and the sermon that was given was inspiring. I was so touched by her deliberate way of connecting to me that I was especially attentive to the service. The topic was about intentions. The intention behind our actions is what makes that action a good deed or a sinful one. Many examples were given but I couldn’t find a better deed that day than us connecting in a different way, outside of work, on a deeper level. This is what we need more of. Intentional acts of connection and understanding, intentional acts of peace and justice, love and mercy.
Today I have hope. That together
Our hearts that cry for my people can be healed.
Our hearts that cry for your people can be healed.
In the end, we are all the chosen people of God.
We are humanity and I have faith in us as the creation of God. I ask that we pray. We should pray in the way that brings us peace and renewal. Together. As humanity.
Let us have a minute of silence. 60 seconds that we can pray together, each in our own way with our own thoughts. Not only for the fallen but let us have this minute for the hope that we will carry forth.
I don’t know about you but that minute seemed like forever to me. Imagine what we can do if we used our energy and time to be intentional about peace.
I will end things with a prayer. This Prayer for Peace began to circulate in 1981 in England. Its source is not clearly known, and it has no ties with any single denomination or faith.
“Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our heart, world, our universe.” – See more at: http://www.allaboutprayer.org/prayer-for-peace.htm#sthash.VaMnTkvO.dpuf
I leave here today asking for your forgiveness and hope that all of or days will be blessed with the spirit in which we approach them.
Suha Ahmad Alsyoufi is currently Assistant Director of Education, Programs, & Connections at Scarritt-Bennett Center. In her current position Suha is responsible for Diversity training for individuals and organizations, facilitator training, cultural sensitivity training, as well as other programs such as Hot Topics and World Harmony Interfaith Breakfast. As a highly skilled trainer, she couldn’t have found a better place than Scarritt-Bennett Center whose mission statement is dedicated to the eradication of racism, the empowerment of women, and spiritual formation.