February is here, and we are all preparing for Valentine’s Day in some form or another. I hate the commercial aspect of the holiday, and don’t get me started about the sexual backdrop it seems to have. Earlier this week, when I went to pick up my kids from school two middle school girls were holding a board and waving.
Get your Valentine Candy Here! Send Your Beloved a Card Here!
As a Muslim immigrant, this whole dating thing is the scariest part of raising my children in America. Yesterday my husband mentioned that our fourth-grade son blushes when he talks about the girls in his class. I almost freaked out. But it’s only human, right? Doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, especially for parents who come from countries with strict gender segregation at every level including adulthood.
Back to the candy-selling middle schoolers at my kids’ school. I may have said something like “crazy Valentine holiday” under my breath. My daughter heard me. She’s in first grade, and she loves correcting people (don’t they all?).
Mom, Valentine’s Day is for love. And God says we should love everyone.
True. God is love, according to most faiths. It is one of the 99 names of God according to Islam, and much of Christianity rests on that emotion. As does Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism and virtually every other religious tradition. So in a way my daughter was right. I was happy with the way my children and I were able to spend the next few minutes talking about what love means and how we need to have it – and share it – in our lives. That discussion was so valuable that I share some snippets here:
- Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself” and Prophet Muhammad said, “he is not a Muslim who doesn’t want for his brother what he wants for himself.”
- When God says to love everyone, does it only include people we like?
- Should we love the stranger, the homeless, the sick, even the criminal?
- How can we profess to love someone outside our family if we don’t show love and respect and kindness to our family members (this one was especially geared towards my son who continuously annoys his sister)
- Which kind of love is good and which kind is bad?
As Muslims, we revere Jesus, so his pronouncement of loving the neighbor as oneself was a good one to discuss with my children that day. It’s also an excellent way to talk to adults about what’s going on in the world today. To me, when Jesus or Muhammad or Buddha or Moses talk about loving the neighbor (and, believe me, they all do in some way or the other because that’s the cornerstone of all faiths) they mean the homeless, the refugee, the rejected and helpless between us.
Today’s concept of Valentine’s Day is so different from what I and many other people of faith consider love to be. Love isn’t candy and cards and candlelight dinners. It isn’t even romance. Love is caring for someone through thick and thin, looking after those who may be strangers, sacrificing yourself for the sake of others, even if you don’t know them. That’s the love I want to teach my children, not the one their school and society parades before them every February 14th.
As an expression of loving the stranger, Interfaith Houston will be organizing the second annual peace conference on Feb 20 at First Methodist Church in downtown Houston to learn how to help refugees in our area. This is a free event as always. Details are on the Interfaith Houston conference page. I invite you to focus on real love for our neighbors on this planet we all call home.