Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you Manoj for your kind introduction.
I want to express my warm appreciation for your generous welcome. It is great to be here this evening. I am honored and humbled. I am proud to be standing here, and looking at you today, I have never felt so blessed.
Thank you Manoj for inviting me to talk with you during this holiday season – this season of peace and joy for Christians, this season of love and understanding for Hindus and Muslims, this special season of communion for those of all religions.
I am especially pleased to be here with you today because many of us share two common bonds: our birth land of India and our adapted homeland – the United States. More importantly, we share the bond of religious equanimity.
Even though I was not born in what I call Sweet Kerala, that special spot in India known for its history of exporting spices and a religiously diverse communal perspective to India and the world, I grew up as a Muslim in Aligarh and attended Aligarh University. The University was founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as a Muslim Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. At the opening of Aligarh, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan said the graduates from this university, “…shall go forth throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large hearted toleration, and of pure morality.”
They did as have those of you from Kerala. We are all fortunate to have come to and live in this nation that was established with religious freedom as one of its founding principles and where the words of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan can be pursued without interference.
Unfortunately, there are some today in the United States who would try to make this country more sectarian and less accepting and less inclusive. The same holds true in Kerala and in places around the globe. If those forces succeed, the world as we know it collapses.
That is why in this holiday season and into the future, it is imperative for those of us of all religions to unite. Our bonds are stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
I was asked to speak today about religious tolerance and extend a Christmas message. And, so I will. But, I prefer to use the term “religious equanimity” as opposed to “religious tolerance” because it implies a fundamental acceptance of the equality of other religions regardless of one’s personal preference.
In this regard, I am reminded of the words of President John F. Kennedy, who in speaking before the Protestant Council of New York City in November of 1963 – just weeks before his assassination – said, “The family of man is not limited to a single race or religion, to a single city, or country…the family of man is nearly 3 billion strong. Most of its members are not white and most of them are not Christian.” President Kennedy went on to say, “The members of this family should be at peace with one another.”
As we gather here to celebrate that specialness which is Kerala, I ask each of us and all of you to remember President Kennedy’s admonition. Let us remember it not by looking to the heavens and to the gods whom we worship but by looking at the earth and the people and family that we are.
As that family, let us think and dedicate ourselves to the commons: a common communion, a common cause, and a common crusade. I know the words “communion”, “cause” and “crusade” have strong religious overtones. I use those words here in an ecumenical sense rather than a religious one.
- let us make common communion by speaking together about how to forge stronger bonds among those of all religious persuasions – even those with none;
- let us establish a common cause by developing a plan of what can be done to strengthen those bonds that bind us as one family
- let us join in a common crusade to work here in the United States, in Kerala, in India and around the world to implement that plan and form a universal family
Let us start here today. By collaborating on these commons, we can create a shared common ground for humankind – one that is sorely needed in these trying and turbulent and divisive times.
I think it is most appropriate that all of us during this holiday season – a time for reflection and devotion and a special time for generosity and kindness. In this season of Christmas I ask you to join me by sharing and by giving back. This is our chance not only to be grateful for all the blessings we have been allotted, but an opportunity to give to those less fortunate. Christmas also reminds us the old saying: To whom much is given much is expected.
In closing, in the spirit of the Christmas season, let me leave you with the following thoughts adapted from the song a Christmas Carol and a special wish for Kerala and those of you from there.
Some children see you lily white,
Some children see you bronzed and brown.
Some children see you almond-eyed
Some children see you dark as they.
Some children do not see you
But now they are with you.
Please care for our children
Who left us too soon.
Give them the gifts
Of eternal joy and light.
Please care for our children
Who are still here
Give them the gifts
Of peace and love.
Please care for all of us
Young and old alike.
Give us the gifts
Of wisdom and will.
Yes, give all of us the gifts of wisdom and will – the will to live together in peace and the wisdom to bring the sweetness that has been and is Kerala to the world for now and forever.
Thank you for your time and thank you for listening to me. I wish for you and your families nothing but sweetness, success, and serenity in the New Year.
God bless you