A Tale of Two Sisters: Najeeba's Story
By Najeeba Syeed Miller
I walked into Russell Simmons' living room for a summit of young people trying to change the world. I was broken and bruised from 18 shootings in 18 months and working daily with those who suffered the real consequences of that reality in my town in California. In this circle, I walked in, a small soul looking inward and reflecting on being born in violence, in one of the most violent regions in the world, Kashmir in the pristine Himilayas but bleeding every few years. I walked into this circle, a woman who waited eight years to have children because I was just not sure I could bring them into the violence of this world. I walked in expecting a hardness, yet I found for one moment a softness that was palpable, you could hold it in your hands and squeeze it hard and it would give you warmth for days.
In this circle co-convened by Rachel Goldstein sat people who should hate each other, in other places, these same faces would tear the very words out of our throats. But here we stood and here we sat, for a few days in company. I saw what I love about my country, what I love about humanity encompassed in a moment of time. I carry those moments, co-created by Rachel because there must be hope. We must find those singular connective threads that sustain us when all else fails.
Faith is as instrinsic to my being as walking. It does not just cover my head, it shrouds my heart and guides my soul to peace. I am not perfect, I harbor hate and keep that push to love always in the forefront of my spirit. Rachel, was in that space a year and a half ago and we barely spoke. But we found, two sisters, one born Muslim one born Jewish a filament of connection. It was, I prayed not just a figment of my imagination.
For a sister need not look like you, talk like you or sing like you. I knew in her face she too had seen suffering in many forms. Her journey was not mine, nor like mine. However, we believed, each on her own spiritual journey that three things would join us in humanity.
Pain: She could hear my pain and let me feel it. Oddly, we touched each others souls via twitter and email mostly. But on the very days I was sure I could not bear any more hate in the universe, her encouragement, so lovely and so Rachel emerged to envelop me from across the country. I could see her seeing my pain, and I could witness her feeling the pain of others. This gift is so crucial as the foundation of love between humans: We must feel their pain as ours and hold it dearly, with honor,with gentlessness and with genuineness.
Power: For me in this small way with my sister, I realized that her power was to gather folks, to pick them from sectors across influence, creativity and thinkers and gently pluck them and help them stand together. This is a power that comes quietly, without fanfare, unmeasurable and uniquely womanesque. We don't get counted for this power, this unseen ability to gather, be hospitable and with all our mama-ness we open doors beyond imagination. Rachel did this even in producing the introduction to join me into the circle of Feminist.com. She saw Marianne Schnall and saw me at separate times in separate spaces but knew that some joint vision was possible.
Peace: For a person to find this in the inner place is the only way we can start. How many sisters have such great scars inside and when given the chance bite at the feet of those who move ahead or above them? Finding the voice that quells anger and transforms us into agents of change is not easy, it is never done and it is constant and it is everyday work. My sister Rachel works at this, and through her internal struggles, her sisters can learn how to keep humility central to our existence because we know that improvement is never ending. So we inaugurate this column. For me, I will try to be as honest as possible. For all my sisters and brothers, the masks of perfection we carry are just that, masks. We learn nothing by dishonesty and we teach nothing by dishonesty. My faith is my inner life, but it is also a process of looking for how to be more just, more merciful, more kind, more humane, more loving, more charitable in any little and any great way. So for my sister Rachel, we may be on separate paths, we may have different goals, we may even argue down the line. At the core, however, we are joined in our commitment to serve others and improve their lives and such sisterly love can only make our impact greater if we join forces.
Najeeba Syeed-Miller is a professor of interreligious education at Claremont School of Theology. She is a lifetime peacemaker who has received numerous awards for her work in interracial, gang and interfaith conflicts. The principle by which she lives her life is to save lives. Her conflict resolution experience has made her a sought after trainer for those who work on conflicts in India, Latin America, Guam, and most recently in Israel and Palestine. Her model of intervention is to build the capacity of those closest to the conflict. In particular her research and community activist efforts have focused on the role of women as agents of peacemaking. She is the mother of two children, a boy and a girl and is working on a book about reimagining the role of religion in peacebuilding.