Understanding Suffering

These are grievous times for many throughout the world, as we watch, stunned and horrified, the news coming out of the Middle East. So much pain. So much destruction. So much death.Unfortunately, there are efforts to bring the ancient conflicts of that part of the world into our own communities, to compel people to choose sides, to highlight the offenses of one side, while minimizing or justifying the offenses of the other.

For those whose friendships include people with deep roots in one or the other side of the conflict, it is difficult to know what to say, and so, perhaps unwisely, we tend to remain silent. Yet, when voices of peace and reconciliation are unheard, only the voices of revenge, hostility and hatred fill the news, our streets, our meeting places.

In the midst of all this, I discovered a challenging statement by a former militant Islamic fundamentalist from Kashmir. In reflecting on how he came to give up violent tactics, he says:

“It is wrong to focus on your own people”s suffering, to imagine that the suffering of your people is greater than others”. Faith that is not able to make you understand the suffering of all people– not just your own– is unworthy of the name.”(Firdous Syed, quoted in Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God, p. 137)

Our thoughts and prayers are with all the peoples of the Middle East– Israeli, Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi– and with their families and friends among us. May we find ways to work toward that day when everyone can live in peace and unafraid, and where we truly share compassion for all people, not just our own.

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