What does it mean to have a friend?
A few years ago I came across a blog on the internet called My Best Friend is Muslim Relatively inactive now, the site was an online invitation for visitors to share brief stories about their closest relationships with Muslims.
Predictably, most of the posts on the site were about friendships between Muslims and non-Muslims. Although I could write an entire blog on the very existence of such a site [can you image a site today called, My Best Friend is Jewish?], what makes My Best Friend is Muslim remarkable is its lack of remarkability. For the most part, the friendships described are unexceptional. And therein lies the beauty of the site.
The mostly young contributors to the site come from a variety of faith backgrounds. One post describes a friendship between a Muslim and a Greek Orthodox Christian, both with Lebanese ancestry. Another is between a Sikh and a Muslim. Still another is between a non-Muslim and her sister who converted to Islam. Many of the posts describe typical qualities of friendship: support, shared interests, and fun. Not surprising, many of the friendships began in school, and many of the BFFs extend back in time, one for 19 years.
Of all the heartwarming stories of friendship and affection, a story about the BFF friendship between two Muslims, a Sunni Muslim and a Shi’a Muslim, stands out.
Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims have significant differences that stem from the determination of the rightful successor to Muhammad. Core religious precepts are similar [for example, all Muslims would adhere to the same Five Pillars of Islam], but many other beliefs, rituals, and practices are quite different.
"We have a lot in common and our beliefs do not stand in [the way of] our friendship," says the Sunni writer about her Shi'ite friend. "It’s a bit difficult when you have the same religion but a different approach but [we] choose to overlook that."
These BFFs have found a way to focus on what makes a person The Same rather than what makes a person The Other.
Even though very strong religious differences exist in the Sunni/Shi'a friendship—differences that in some parts of the world would result in violence and bloodshed—these BFFs choose to see in each other, first and foremost, a friend.
Each blog post is accompanied by a photograph—an image taken informally in a shopping mall photo booth or with a cell phone camera. These pictures of grinning, goofy, everyday friendships can teach us all something about how to create peace...somewhere out in Rumi's field.