As children, we normally don’t discriminate when it comes to forming relationships and we’re generally not super selective about the “type” of person we allow into our lives. Everyone, for the most part, is given equal playing ground with no presumptuous notions due to his or her beliefs, race, income, and family dynamic. In some rare cases, the people you choose to call your friends in your early years stick around for a lifetime.
As we advance into adulthood, and begin to experience life on very different and individualized paths, the core of whom we become as humans could potentially strengthen or weaken these relationships. It’s easy to assume that in order to truly understand, respect, and love someone, you need to share the same beliefs, customs, lifestyle, and so on. Basically, we need to have more in common with our close circles rather than be around people that challenge or disagree with us in any way.
Some of the most meaningful, effective, and fulfilling relationships I have are with a few individuals who seem to be my complete opposites from an objective point of view.
Of course, it’s only natural that “birds of a feather flock together,” but how beneficial is that for one’s personal growth and level of compassion? The pure appreciation we can gain from the infinitely diverse range of equally beautiful and equally screwed up humans is invaluable.
This understanding only came to surface after witnessing several instances where the prominent traits that define the core of one’s character were challenged by individuals that I believed to be more accepting of people’s differences. I see this occur mostly in matters regarding the various levels of religiosity one chooses to practice in their everyday lives. This has unfortunately and too frequently been the cause of broken relationships and unsolicited judgment.
In Islam, there are concrete practices that technically determine one’s level of faith. So for example, someone who prays five times a day, attends weekly Friday prayer at their local mosque, has memorized a sizable amount of Surahs from the Holy Quran, and strictly fasts every Ramadan is by default considered a more devout and religious Muslim than another Muslim who may not be as strict with their outward practices. Does this mean the latter’s Iman (faith) is not as strong? Or does it mean the former absolutely cannot relate to, understand, or completely respect and accept anyone who chooses to live on a more informal path?
Some of the most meaningful, effective, and fulfilling relationships I have are with a few individuals who seem to be my complete opposites from an objective point of view. I might be considered more liberal and unconventional for purely external reasons while others are more conservative and structured in the way they choose to practice.
What I value are the essential inner qualities that bond us, but also bridge the gap among our differences. I’ve gained a depth of insightful knowledge and awareness from those who first focus on the qualities that build character from within rather than what are considered tangible acts of faith. When the relationship entails fully disclosed open communication with zero judgment from both sides, we increase our ability to expand the standard mentality of what makes someone more or less religious than the next person.
What determines the quality of my relationships isn’t who prays more, who covers and who doesn’t, or who is more charitable in the community. It’s about being able to openly share one another’s experiences, opinions, and choices with judgment free reception regardless of whether or not we’re in agreement.
After all, one of the most challenging abilities that attests one’s strength of character is being capable of sincerely exerting patience, understanding, and compassion to those who are nothing like you.
Dedicated to my dear cousin, Donia (aka super mom of three) whose patience and understanding continuously amazes me. And despite leading polar opposite lives, has always been undoubtedly and wholeheartedly supportive.