When I was a kid, dinnertime was always my favorite part of the day.
Now I’ll admit that part of this came from the fact I really loved food. My Pakistani grandmother—I called her Dadi Ma—did most of the cooking when I was little, so our meals were always something delicious like her homemade biryani, keema, or beef stew.
The other reason that I looked forward to dinnertime so much was because it was when my dad came home from work. As a child, I loved having my family all together in the evenings. Our best family discussions took place when we were seated around the dinner table, and some of my favorite memories are of listening to my parents debate during dinner about topics like history or world events. Many nights we stayed at the table just talking together long after the food had gotten cold.
The most important part of our family meals, however, wasn’t the food or the lively conversations. It was actually at the beginning when we all bowed our heads and said the blessing before we ate. Taking that time to pray together every night was very special for my family because our household was technically two different religions.
My mom is a Catholic and my dad was Muslim (he passed away twelve years ago). Both of my parents were serious about teaching my little brother and me as much as about their faiths and spirituality as possible. My mom took us to Mass with her on Sundays, and my dad taught us about God and prayed with us in Arabic every night before we went to sleep. But since we didn’t regularly all go to church or the Islamic Center at the same time, our nightly dinner prayer was the main opportunity that we had to praise God all together as one family.
The prayer that we usually used as our dinner grace is a beautiful poem called The Prayer of Saint Francis. Although the actual author of the prayer is unknown, it is based on the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi—a 12th century Italian nobleman who, after an incredible conversion experience, gave up his life of wealth to become an impoverished and radical servant to the poor. It is sometimes also called the Peace Prayer, and you might recognize it from the first line “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
The Prayer of Saint Francis was very significant to both of my parents. For my mom, who grew up in a German-Irish family in upstate New York, St. Francis of Assisi has always been her favorite saint. She even symbolically took on St. Francis’s name when she was younger through the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation. For my dad, an immigrant to the United States, St. Francis was a tie to his beloved grandfather. My great-grandfather was a well respected and deeply spiritual man who always displayed the prayer in the house in Pakistan where my father was raised. The Prayer of Saint Francis represented the unique and beautiful spirituality that my parents, my little brother and I shared as a Muslim-Christian family.
When I look back on all those dinnertimes now as an adult, I realize how significant it was for our inter-religious family to sit around the table and pray together every night for peace. The world today is overwhelmed by conflict between people with different religions. Sometimes it seems like people from different faiths cannot even handle living in the same neighborhood or country with each other, much less share a single household. But my family is proof that this isn’t how it has to be.
Although we were hardly perfect, my parents did an amazing job of teaching my brother and me about faith, truth, God, and love. Our dinner table conversations often revolved around the topic of religion, and my parents spoke openly about the differences in their faith backgrounds. However, the differences were never approached from the perspective of fear, but always from a honest desire to seek the truth. We were a family of two different religions, but we were never a family divided.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when my parents prayed with us every night at dinner, they were teaching us about the type of people that we needed to grow up to be in a world so marked by violence and hatred. When I think about peace—whether it is peace in my heart, peace in my marriage, or peace that is that is so desperately needed across the world—the words of The Prayer of Saint Francis still echo in my head:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light.
I am well aware of the fact that being from a Muslim-Christian family puts me in a very unique situation in today’s world. My heart breaks when I watch the news and see how different the rest of the world is from the family that I grew up in. When I was little and my family prayed together, though, were asking for God’s help to become real peacemakers.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It’s a tall order, especially in a world that seems marked by anything but peace. However, our family dinners when I was kid also taught me that there is hope—hope for respect and community between people of different religions; hope for real peace in our broken world.
Flickr/ Ben Sutherland