Monday, December 1, 2014

The Flavours of Unity in Diversity


This year the month of October is special for my family. My eldest sister celebrated the completion of her half-century on this planet. My son will today celebrate entering the age of double digits – he will be a decade old.

The month of October this year is also special for our nation. Not only did we celebrate Fiji’s 44th birthday in a new democracy, a few days earlier the first sitting of parliament since 2006 took place with new members sworn in and our first female  Speaker of the House appointed.

This October is also significant spiritually with a number of religious festivals, holy days and events taking place. These events serve as a reminder that Fiji is a microcosm of the world – a country rich in diversity. It is also time when Fijians shift from sometimes grudging tolerance to celebration.

On the 4th of October the Muslim community celebrated Eid-ul-Adha. This holy day is not just significant in its marking the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca (holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia), but serves as a reminder of the close ties that Judaism and Christianity hold with Islam, which recognises Jews and Christians as “People of the Book”. It is a reminder that despite theological differences, differing beliefs about the Messiah, scripture and faith practice – they share a common spiritual ancestor or patriarch in Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic, Avraham in Hebrew).

Eid-ul-Adha (the 'festival of Sacrifice'), is also known as the Greater Eid. In the "northern" Islamic tier between the Balkans and Central Asia, Eid Al-Adha is known as Kurban Bayram, a translation of "feast of sacrifice." The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son when ordered to do so by God. In the Islamic tradition, Eid-ul-Adha celebrates the occasion when Allah appeared to Ibrahim in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son Isma'il as an act of obedience to God. The devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey Allah and spare his son. As Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead.

The sacrificial festival is with many social aspects: it is all about charity, community and family as well as the pilgrimage. During this holiday, people always visit their relatives and friends; family ties are strengthened and that gives children an opportunity to bond with the older generation. The sacrificial festival is a time for wishing one another well, exchanging gifts, having big feasts, donating and praying.

This story is also found in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament (Genesis 22). Here God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Yitzḥák in Hebrew), his son with Sarah. Isma’il, (known also as Ishmael) was his son with Hagar. The Jewish name for this event is Akedát Yitzḥák, also known as "The Binding".  The only difference in this Abrahamic event is that in the Jewish/Christian tradition it is Isaac (the son of Abraham‘s wife Sarah) who is supposed to be sacrificed as he is their particarch. For Islam it is Isma’il (the eldest son but by Hagar) who is the one intended for sacrifice and who is their patriarch.

Nevertheless, the story and its message of obedience, willingness to sacrifice what we love, and God’s abundant grace are common to all Abrahamic faiths. In Christianity, the connection is made to God’s willingness to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus the Christ for the salvation of humanity. Abraham's sacrifice was unprecedented in that he was not governed by motives of custom, honour, or fear, but solely by his love of God.

Two weeks ago, the Methodist community in Fiji concluded their Golden Jubilee celebration, which had included internal reconciliation and a commitment to national healing and reconciliation. 2 days after Fiji Day it commemorated the 179th anniversary of the arrival of formal Christianity in Fiji in the newly dedicated Baker Memorial Church, which once house the first teacher training and vocational training institutes in Fiji. They have also launched their journey into the next fifty years with a new Connexional Plan designed to take the largest religious community in Fiji forward into the 21st century as an inclusive and transformational community of faith. It is a long journey with twists and turns in the road of the New Exodus, but the journey has begun.

Tomorrow, the Hindu community, and with it the nation, celebrates their new year, the festival of lights known as Diwali. The themes of the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness are universal and so resonate with all who wish to live lives of goodness, compassion and peace. Already fireworks are lighting up the night sky and all Fijians, regardless of ethnicity, religion or ideology are enjoying a taste of sweets in their places of work or school.

Tommorrow afternoon, my son, an Christian, multi-ethnic child, will spend the afternoon celebrating Diwali at the home of a friend from school who is Hindu. At night people of all ethnicities and spiritual inclinations will enjoy the lights, children will visit neighbours asking for sweets and friends will cross chasms of difference as they sit around a tanoa or basin of kava.

The commemoration of certain holy days as national holidays open up spaces within the national sphere for us to celebrate our religious diversity as cultural celebrations which add colour and flavour to our communities. The concept of unity in diversity dispels the fear of unity as uniformity and strengthens us in our quest to live as an extended family, in which differences are not seen as threats but opportunities to learn, collaborate and even celebrate.

Belated happy Eid-ul-Adha, happy almost Diwali… and happy birthday Francisco-Xavier.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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