Can We Just Love Each Other?

Today is Valentine’s Day and as a Muslim I’m expected to write terrible things about it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the whole concept of sexual promiscuity dressed up as “love” is pretty awful and sends a very negative message to younger generations. I’m appalled at the seasonal displays at Wal-Mart and CVS and all the other stores where alcohol, chocolate and sexy nightwear jostle for space as if one cannot be used except with the crutch of the others. I am horrified when my five year old daughter comes home from kindergarten telling me some boy is always trying to kiss her but she’s not interested because he’s not handsome. Yet today all the parents of my children’s classmates sent home 26 Valentine’s Day cards and candy and little hearts because it’s so cute.

So yes, I do usually write a condemnation of our societal expectations – or rather standards – of love as romantic episodic non-binding relationships every year around this time. But this year I’m conflicted. Not just as an American but as a Muslim as well, because something happened last week to make me think harder about the conflicts that arise from Valentine’s Day and how faith groups and people of faith deal with it.

Last Sunday in my mosque Sunday school I discussed Valentine’s Day with my class of 5-9 year olds. Knowing that almost every parent in the congregation refrains from celebrating it, but almost every young student gets bombarded with it in his or her daily life, especially in school, I gave them a simple exercise. I told them to explain why it was okay or not okay to celebrate Valentine’s Day according to their own understanding of Islam, not what their parents taught them. A caveat, my own two kids, 5 and 8, are in the class, and they have been struggling with the whys and wherefores of it for a long time. So I was just a tiny bit biased in what I thought the responses would be.

Boy, was I wrong. When I got the responses back from my students, I was not only surprised but honestly a little rattled. Most of the students agreed that since Islam taught them to love everybody, celebrating Valentine’s Day was their religious duty. Imagine my dismay… celebrating Valentines Day is now an Islamic duty? I must be really failing as a teacher! Granted this group of students are young and hopefully not yet on that level of awareness of sexual and romantic love. Their schools make sure any gifts and cards and candy are distributed very equally to all in the class and no one person is singled out for a Valentines. Still, I was very startled at the result of my little exercise.

Then I tried to calm down and think about it. Really think. Talk about “out of the mouths of babes.” Sometimes we are so busy sermonizing and following religious tenets to the nth degree that we forget our own hopes, dreams and desires. These children had unknowingly helped me understand a truth about love. Take out the romantic, sexualized image of Valentine’s Day and it can be a wonderful concept. Love everybody, extend your hand in friendship to everyone around you, regardless of whether they are “cute” or not. Regardless of whether they are your friend or your enemy or someone you never even knew existed. Love is, after all, the only weapon we have against hatred and bigotry. Yet, love thy neighbor is a marvelous axiom so hard to practice, unless you’re a first grader who gives an “I Love You” card to the school bully.

I wish I was 8 again, so that I could think about love in these simple terms. I can’t of course, nor can millions of other adults who use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to get drunk and lucky, whether with their partner of twenty years or a perfect stranger. But in order to make the world more kind, peaceful and loving, I think – I hope – we can also think of Valentine’s Day the way my Sunday school kids think of it. Love everybody, and there will be peace.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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5 thoughts on “Can We Just Love Each Other?

  1. “Love everybody and there will be peace”

    Your Sunday school kids got the major message of religion down cold. Let’s do that.

    And if we want to do some highly informed international interfaith peace-weaving — here’s a framework that’s emerging for me:

    PS — I did a lot of organizing for CPWR in the early 2000’s — we gotta keep it up, right now, more than ever. Chapel Hill makes that excruciatingly obvious (again).

  2. Saadia, I loved this. As a person in my twenties who is not yet married, I am quite familiar with the angst that often accompanies this day depending on whether you are “single” or not. I’ve found it quite liberating in recent years to extend the meaning of love on Valentines Day beyond romantic love, to all kinds of love and appreciation for people in my life. I loved reading about your perspective as a Muslim and a teacher in your Sunday School. Thank you!

  3. I loved this. I loved the kids reply. I loved how it made you look at things differently. We all make assumptions and we just shouldn’t. I am a Christian and I went to a luncheon as part of an interfaith group at a Jewish Temple and it was approaching the holidays. The ladies wanted to know what we thought of all the Christian hype around the holidays and were very surprised that we didn’t think of it as Christian but as marketing. They couldn’t believe that we were not into Santa and lots of toys for our kids and grand kids. They were amazed to hear us talk about light coming into a dark world and love and the hope of God’s Kingdom here on earth. It was a wonderful discussion. When we remove the cultural stresses that I think we all feel, we may find that we have way more in common than we think.

  4. Dear Saadia, What a wonderful description about your re-examining the way you had thought about Valentine Day! Before we focus on the PR stuff developed by self-serving corporations, we need to take up the responsibility to teach our children to get to the root of our basic social values. Let’s take back this holiday and promote universal love beyond of our cultural-based religions.

  5. My kudos to Ms. Faruqi. I learned deeply from this incident and especially by her candid recounting of her own mental change as a result. All of us who have taught anything to anyone else has been chastened from time to time to discover that our students upend us through greater insight. And I assume that others may have shared embarrassing issues with children just the age that she teaches. My own major goof-up involved no serious issues, but was a very serious lesson in how poorly I was communicating. Teaching in a Christian Sunday School while in college 50-some years ago, the curriculum on the Hebrew Bible called for teaching about the Israelites. After three or four weeks of my obvious pedantry, one bright 9 year old asked if the Israelites were my relatives. I was at a loss for a moment until I thought of the sound of my last name: Light. What massive confusion I must have sewn during those few weeks! My story is one of ridiculousness. Ms. Faruqi’s story is a sublime recounting of enlightenment. Many thanks to her for sharing it.

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