How much do you really know?
Early in the morning, a Bangladeshi man, an Italian lady and a Maltese Jesuit entered a classroom. It may sound like the beginning of a joke but it is not…
During this year, as part of my Jesuit formation, I was assigned to help out with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an NGO founded back in 1980 by the then Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ. The aim for this NGO is precisely to accompany, serve and defend refugees. For this mission, I was specifically sent to help in a school program which aims to facilitate the encounter of Italian children either with refugees or with people who profess a different religion to their own.
Therefore, every Wednesday morning I usually accompany a refugee or a person of different faith (Jews, Muslim, ecc.) to different schools throughout Rome. We usually encounter very eager young adolescents who are happy to miss their usual class and their teachers in order to meet us.
The first time I went on this mission both Maria*, an employee of the JRS and my tutor for the first few weeks of my experience, and Shamin*, accompanied me. After presenting the JRS and our project to the students, Shamim started speaking about his religion, specifically about the five pillars of Islam, which I learnt to be confession of faith, prayer (five prayer times each day), fasting during the month of Ramadan, charity (support of the needy), pilgrimage to Mecca. He also spoke of some of the basic beliefs in Islam such as the belief in one God, in the invisible beings, in God’s revealed books, in the prophets and messengers of God, in the Day of Judgment and in destiny. The students were curious and their questions at the end of the presentation confirmed this: “is it true that you cannot eat pork and drink alcohol…what happens if you do so?”; “can Muslim women put on make-up?”; “is it true that the Quran obliges you to kill people of other religion?” Patiently Shamim answered their questions and curiosities whilst sharing his life and faith with them, with us.
I sat at the back of the class and listened attentively. I realized that although I had always thought that I had a basic idea of this religion, in fact these thoughts didn’t go very far. I realized that I had never ever spoken to a Muslim about his faith and that most of the things I knew came from things I had seen and read on the media. Unfortunately, many times, Islam, is associated with evil doings, which in reality have nothing to do with this religion and Shamim made this very clear by condemning such violence.
As I drove home, after I had departed from my Italian and Muslim friend, some questions started popping up in my head. Can it be that all this time I was driven by prejudices instead of the truth? What can I do to really get to know the reality of the religion on my fellow brothers? Can it be that instead of beliefs that divide us we have much more that unites us?
*Names were changed in order to respect the privacy of the individuals concerned.