Befriending the Stranger


HOUSTON: The 29th annual Houston Interfaith Thanksgiving service was held on Thursday, November 21 at the Houston’s Rothko Chapel in the museum district.  Every year, an independent committee selects a new topic for the representatives of various religions to reflect on through their religious worldview.

This year’s topic was “Befriending the Stranger”.  Representatives of 9 religions were invited.  With great professionalism and faith, representatives presented various references from their scriptures s supporting the idea of befriending strangers.

Vahishta opened with a powerful note that befriending each individual is core to the Zoroastrian belief system.  Dr. Sulekh Jain of the Jain community gave an example of his lifetime experience, referring to a doctor in Iowa who never judged or hated another individual in 36 years!  Representatives of Christianity and Islam shared how their traditions welcome strangers.

The Hindu community was represented by Dr. Bharath Srinivasan and Dr. Jayakumar Srinivasan of Arsha Vidya Satsanga.  Introducing verses from The Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavatham and Ayurveda, Dr. Bharath stated that the Supreme Being, all pervading and simultaneously within us, is the strangest of all.  Befriending that will eliminate all walls of fear and prejudice of all external strangers. Therefore, it is critical to become familiar with the stranger “inside” us.

Dr. Jayakumar Srinivasan, started off with a powerful opening that India, the source and home of Hinduism, has never been afraid of welcoming strangers.  A prosperous Hindu civilization existed in India long before the world knew Islam or Christianity.   India provided a safe haven for Jews and Zoroastrians when they were persecuted in their homelands.  India provided rich opportunities for trade by opening up to Arab and European traders who in return brought invasions, economic exploitation, and their native religions to India.    He added with anguish that this magnanimous gesture has been exploited by aggressive religions. Leaders of Abrahamic religions visiting India openly encouraged their followers to complete the unfinished proselytizing campaign. This led to the ongoing massive movement of “befriending the natives” – even through lies, deception, and coercion.

Dr. Jayakumar appealed to all religions not to proselytize and destroy human diversity. He thanked organizers for their unwavering commitment to diversity. He concluded with a deeply moving statement “I seek your cooperation to create a world where no culture, not even a small tribe, is threatened for survival.  Please befriend us this way.”

As a fitting end to the series, Bryan Blakeny of Baha’i faith said, “When you expose a prism to white light, it splits to several colors.  Each religion could symbolize one color of light, but the true source is well beyond that single color.  It is source of light that we need to learn and understand and not the color of light or the lamp”.

After the presentations, speakers and attendees exchanged ideas with each other.  Garland Pohl, one of the organizers, agreed that religious freedom is not to be misused and offered to organize dialogs on this topic.