Moments have a way of touching our hearts and leaving memories that turn into images. These images resurface in the most unexpected moments and take us back to the memories of the days gone by. We look at them and feel them as we do when standing in front of a beautiful painting; their features alive and filled with color.
To say that visiting Pakistan as part of the UPIC delegation in late March 2017 brought me face to face with such moments is not an exaggeration. The sound of Rabbi’s devotional chant at the inaugural meeting in Lahore filled the hall with magic. This was happening in a city, a country, where Judaism has frequently been identified as the cause of all ills experienced by Muslims, including Pakistanis.
The next evening John Esposito arrived after 32 grueling hours of air travel. His car entered the premises of the University with police guard. He walked into the area filled with students and other eager audience members, acknowledged them, and walked towards the podium, stopping to take a picture of the backdrop with photos of Professor Mumtaz Ahmad. He seemed both nostalgic and in-the-moment as he looked at his friend’s image. He was there, as we all were, to remember Professor Mumtaz Ahmad on his first death anniversary.
Next came the image of all of us surrounding Professor Mumtaz’s grave. His wife shedding tears, Junaid controlling tears but failing, and others quietly sobbing. As we dealt with the loss of a great scholar and humanist who had set the foundations of UPIC, we all prayed. The Rabbi, the Priest and the Imam prayed one after another— all asking God to be kind to a person who had brought all of us together from different parts of the world to carry on his message, his project.
Just the other day, while talking to colleagues from around Australia about interfaith activities in Western Australia, these moments reappeared on the canvas of my conscience. Looking at them, I think of the role people play in making a difference to this world. People like Professor Mumtaz Ahmad who did not confine himself to his excellent work in academia, but went beyond it to bring different faith communities together. Who did not restrict himself to the USA where he spent most of his academic life, but built bridges with his home country, Pakistan, and thus created the space for these moments to remain etched in my memory. If it were not for his pioneering role, I probably would never have collected these beautiful and soul touching memories. As such I am convinced of the power of one.
But then I look back and think that there is also the power of many. All those who get together and take a stand for injustice when they see it, or seek solutions when they find a problem, make their mark in this world. They provide the passion that enables people like Professor Mumtaz Ahmad to make his contributions, and they —like Intersections— bring people together to carry on the work long after special people, like Professor Mumtaz, are gone.
So I come to realize, once again, that despite the Trumpian popularism and jihadi fanaticism combined with terrorism, there remains a space for people who can continue the work of interfaith, inter-communal dialogue. And I thank those moments, courtesy of Professor Mumtaz, for reminding me of the power of one and the many.
Photo Credit: Drew Pham. Drew is a Brooklyn based writer, amateur photographer and contributing editor at The Wrath Bearing Tree. In 2010, he deployed to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. Follow Drew on Twitter: @Drewspeak.