Life would be much simpler if we all stayed away from those who weren’t like us.

Our beliefs would never have to be challenged.  We could happily continue on in life thinking we are right about everything, thankful that we are not like “those people.”

Life would be simpler.

However, according to my neighborhood Imam (local religious leader), life would never be beautiful.

He greeted me at his door with a huge smile.  “Welcome, welcome!” he said, opening the door to his apartment.

I slipped my shoes off and he escorted me to a room with blue couches surrounding a coffee table.  Our small talk about work quickly moved to matters of purpose and peace between peoples.  He told me how his family, natives of Hama, Syria, fled to Jordan during the Hama massacre in 1982.  “‘Guests of the King’ we were called.  Even today they call us that.  We were so thankful to be received here.”

Sipping on instant coffee, I asked him about a Qur’anic verse that is painted on a Tunisian mosque and shown in the above video (from Surat Al Hujurat 13).

“This verse is the foundation of communication between peoples,” he said.  “Sit with one another, get to know one another.  I’ll get to know your religion, you’ll get to know mine.  We need to regularly sit and discuss our religions, our relationships, our actions, our thoughts.”

“God made us into peoples and tribes so that we may know one another.  I need to know how the people of America live.  The people of America need to know how Arabs live.  Traditions, customs, religion…  We should see how they worship, they should see how we worship,” he said.

“There is no difference between Arabs and foreigners, white or black, yellow or red except in piety. There is no superior language, no superior race.  We need to visit one another.  Learn from one another’s culture.”

There is a humanizing that comes when we sit with someone who is very different from us.  Yet we shouldn’t wash out those differences and say, “We’re all the same.”  It’s in our differences, and in honestly interacting with one another amidst those differences, that we learn to see “those people” and ourselves in a new light.  That new light is always jarring and we initially recoil from it.  We aren’t used to challenging our traditions, our viewpoints, our culture, our history.  But if we can remain in that light, our eyes adjust and we are able to see everything in a new way.  We all become better for it.

“All peoples were created to interact and get to know one another, learn from one another, become better because of one another,” he said, warming his hands around his coffee cup.  “Life will never be beautiful if we stay on our side and you stay on yours.”

I couldn’t agree more.