I’ve been preoccupied with the devastating floods plaguing Thailand, perhaps because of the presence of a delightfully intelligent young Thai 12th grade transfer student in my Contemporary Islamic Thought class at W.Deen Mohammed High. In this last and only course I teach, in my quest for full retirement and the unintended indigence which has accompanied it, this young female student,while still learning English, is fully engaged socially and academically. Her presence and persona brings Thailand so close.
Natural disasters in general and floods in particular resonate deeply in my being, as I’m sure is true for most of us. We have a shared susceptibility and vulnerability, as all of us throughout the U.S. have witnessed in the past 2 years. But for me, every flood anywhere in the world drenches up one in particular. I’m an Imam and a student of scripture, but it is not the Great Flood of Noah that dominates my thoughts. Rather, it is Katrina and New Orleans.
For 12 of those days in Aug. and Sept. of 2005, that led to nearly 2000 deaths,inconceivable devastation, destruction, and images of abandonment and desperation,I was abroad leading an interfaith group of 38 Muslims, Christians, and Jews through the landscape of Jerusalem as World Pilgrims, encouraging trust and understanding and avoiding the political landmines. We were all hourly keeping track of the probable land falls of Katrina from afar, until I presented to the group an unexpected and unsolicited invitation to dinner at the home of a Palestinian family in Ramallah. Our group was deeply divided, the Muslims wanted to go, the Jews did not, and the Christians were evenly split. Our group collectively discussed, debated, pleaded, cried, and consoled around the invitation for hours until the Muslims pledged if the Jews don’t choose to go, then none of us should go, but if the Jews choose to go, each of us will be personally by their side throughout the visit. The Christians pledged support to either decision, and the next day we all traveled pass discouraging security officials and through the gates of the 30 foot security wall into Ramallah.
Mind you, no one had even mentioned or thought about Katrina because we were consumed by the group’s fears and anticipation. We arrived at a one acre lot with 3 very nice homes situated in the hills of Ramallah. The extended families that lived in each home came out to meet, greet, and serve us. Such wonderful hospitality, kindness, and just an occasional political comment, but overwhelming regard-fulness for each of us. Yet, I could sense some subtle distraction from our hosts. Each one of them, in the midst of their graciousness, would steal a quick look at the muted TV. It was CNN and Katrina coming ashore in Louisiana! Two of their daughters and one son lived in Baton Rouge and operated the family’s business in New Orleans. While all of us had gotten lost in the moment to moment apprehensions and expectations of travel to Ramallah, our hosts were preparing their homes and food for us, while worrying and praying for the safety and security of their families in New Orleans.
How ironic! How humbling! How inspiring! Sometimes where you least expect it, you find yourself on higher ground, where you can see through the smog, fog, misconceptions, fears, hates,and even wars. We left Ramallah that day , barely noticing the Wall or the Security, but fully aware that this world is one and the human family is literally one as well, with all of our differences and diversities, and we need each other to help us to see beyond the ever-blinding barriers of self absorption and immediacy. As Dr. King said so eloquently:
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.
We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied into a single garment of destiny, and whatever affects one directly,
affects all indirectly.”
May God’s Peace Obligate Us All,
Imam Plemon T. El-Amin