May 29, 2019
Christians esteem the biblical progression of covenants—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic—finalized by Jesus as he ushered in the New.
For most of my life, Christmas was just another day. Growing up in a Pakistani-Muslim family just outside of Toronto, I saw Christmas as a holiday that came with some much-needed vacation time and excellent Boxing Day sales.
Once in a while, my parents would get into the holiday spirit, and we’d invite our friends over to eat turkey and stuffing. They would put Christmas carols on YouTube and wear red and green shirts, and we’d pretend like we knew what we were doing when it came to celebrating the holiday. Though, one thing we never did have was a tree. That seemed to be what set us apart from the people who really celebrated Christmas.
But most years, instead of anything official, we’d go to see a movie together on Christmas Day or just hang out at home as several feet of snow fell outside.
All of that changed when I met my husband. His Dutch-English Catholic family celebrated Christmas just the way I had imagined people did. There was a massive tree by the fireplace, decorated with gold and red tinsel, ornaments from their childhood hanging all over. Green garland covered the banisters along the staircase and cottony fake snow adorned the hutch in the dining room, with a full winterscape complete with baby Jesus on top.
The house smelled like turkey, which had been cooking for several hours. There was baked brie with cherry jam and shrimp cocktail on the coffee table in the living room. It was wonderful–it was everything I thought Christmas was–at least from what I had seen on TV.
Some 50 Christian, Muslim and Hindu activists took part in the event (photos), around oil lamps, opened with a prayer recited by a pandit (Hindu priest).
One of the participants was Aroon Kumar, a 24-year-old university student and resident in the capital of Punjab. The former coordinator of the Pakistani Hindu Council told AsiaNews that “the event is slowly becoming a cultural event in Pakistan, a country with an overwhelming Islamic majority”.
In light of the tensions in the country over Islamist protests against Asia Bibi’s acquittal, the young man suggests that “the city administration should sponsor this holiday,” which “can help society strengthen the values of the family”.
For Rawadari Tehreek chairman Samson Salamat, the interfaith event was deliberately kept low key. “We did not advertise it on social media because our hearts are sad,” he said. “In recent riots, people suffered serious losses.”
Speaking about the unrest cause by radicals, Salamat stressed that “what happened on the streets across Pakistan is contrary to the teachings of Islam. Someone is using religion to incite violence. The ‘festival of lights’ represents hope, as well as an opportunity to bring together people from all religions.”
Some people might think that it’s difficult for two separate faiths to coexist peacefully – but this Pakistani province has used food to go above and beyond the concept of respecting their neighbors.
Food is one of the best ways of bringing people together, but in this case, it’s rather the act of NOT eating which keeps the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority in the East-Pakistan province in such a peaceful state.
Cows are sacred to Hindus, and after generations of living together, their Muslim neighbors have stopped eating cows as a means of respecting their Hindu community members.
Despite cows being much less expensive to buy, the Muslims of the Tharparkar district spend their holiday of Eid al-Adha eating goats instead of cows so they won’t hurt Hindu feelings.
On a rainy Wednesday night in Pakistan, thousands are transfixed by a woman named Marilyn Hickey. The crowd sways, prays and cheers as she exclaims “Jesus loves you, repent of your sins!” and “God Bless you, Pakistan!”
Hickey is an 86-year-old evangelical Christian with a worldwide television ministry based in Denver. Over the last 40 years, she has traveled to 136 countries to spread the gospel. Her special mission has been to build bridges in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Sudan.
“These people are very open and very hungry. And I think I laid a basis for this years ago and I began to say, ‘I love Muslims and Muslims love me’,” Hickey says.
She invited “CBSN: On Assignment” to join her on her eighth visit to Pakistan in July. Correspondent James Brown traveled with Hickey on the 20-hour trip that began in New York, stopped briefly in Dubai and landed in Lahore at 3:30 a.m. local time, two days later.
Brown asked Hickey why she’s been so accepted in Muslim countries. Hickey responded, “I think it’s a God thing. Years ago, I started praying over every country in the world, every day. And when I would hit the Muslim countries — I had such a warm feeling for them.”
When she arrives in Lahore, she is greeted like a matriarch by members of a local Christian church. The parishioners give her flowers, hug her and call her “mom.”
Despite the greeting, Hickey says she likes to keep things a little bit low key. “I don’t want to draw attention. I want to look very simple, very harmless. Here’s some lady, you know, she’s stupid, she’s a woman, she’s old, what can she do? And you get to do everything. I don’t want to look big, but I do advertise big. When I get in the country, I do big time advertisement.”
Pastor Anwar Fazal is hosting Hickey’s visit. He’s like the Billy Graham of Pakistan, and leads its largest evangelical church of 30,000 members. Fazal says he owes his success to Marilyn Hickey because she impacted him so deeply during her first visit in 1995. He became a Christian and followed in Marilyn Hickey’s footsteps in 2006 when he started an international TV ministry which today reaches over 200 countries.
There’s a phrase that’s become common in the reviews and write-ups of “The Big Sick,” a romantic comedy that debuted in theaters in late-June: “culture clash.” The film, which was produced by Judd Apatow, stars Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani. It’s Nanjiani’s first lead acting role, and the movie — which is based on his real-life romance with white American screenwriter Emily V. Gordon — documents their courtship, and his efforts to reconcile their relationship with the expectations of his parents, who continuously try to set him up with “young, single Pakistani girls.” This is where the tension of the plot lies: between Nanjiani and his family, between a white girl and his Pakistani heritage. When Gordon suddenly falls sick and is hospitalized, Nanjiani is compelled to choose between the two.
Early on, the film sets up an obvious narrative conflict. On one side, we have Emily, played by a blonde Zoe Kazan, and her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). Nanjiani meets Gordon at a comedy club, on what is ostensibly a one-night stand that turns into something more. Her parents, who show up when Emily gets sick, are flawed but well-meaning; their shortcomings are eclipsed only by the obvious love and affection they have for their daughter.
On the other side, we have Nanjiani, son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants, Azmat and Sharmeen, played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff. The two characters embody every stereotype conceivable about brown Muslim parents: overbearing, disappointed in their American offspring, eager to get their hapless son married to the nearest single brown young woman. Nanjiani’s parents appear almost exclusively in scenes where they invite young women to family dinners in the hopes he might fall in love with them. These young women appear, too, with no backstory or very little dialogue, clinging hopelessly to an antiquated tradition. How silly these women are — not like Nanjiani, who is enlightened enough to pursue a white woman. In one critical scene in the film, as he’s arguing with Emily about the viability of their relationship, he yells, “I’m battling a 1,400-year-old culture!”