Welcoming strangers

by Ruth Griffiths

Perhaps it is the news topic du jour, but racial intolerance and violence against visible minority groups appears to be on the increase worldwide. Like rats in a crowded cage we are turning on each other, tooth and claw.

I can understand it when starving people riot. I can empathize with the protests of overcrowded people. But I have little patience for people who do violence in the name of religion, because at the core of all religions is the injunction to live peacefully.

Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ who said the most important moral law is to love God completely and that the second law followed from the first: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

But what about the newcomer, the person not yet recognized as a neighbour?

The New Testament encourages hospitality to strangers: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Christians, Jews and Muslims all follow the teachings of the Old Testament: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

The Qur’an specifies fair treatment for “the neighbour who is a stranger.”

“And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour from among your own people, and the neighbour who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess. Verily, God does not love any of those who, full of self-conceit, act in a boastful manner…” – An-Nisa (4:36)

People of faith are taught to react to a stranger as an individual, not as a faceless member of a group that might threaten them. When we see each other as individuals, we begin to value them for who they are… a child of God.

There is no they… there is only us.

I give the last word to the Dalai Lama: “Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.”