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A letter to a young doctor

Michael McGirr  |  08 May 2019

Dear Mariam,

Thank you for speaking to my Year 10 students when we visited your mosque last month.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised to see you. Your mother, Sherene, is usually the person who tells us about Islam and she always does a great job. The boys relate to her down to earth spirituality coupled with her natural use of Australian slang. Her realistic approach to faith surely comes from discovering God among the rough and tumble of Australian culture. Sherene manages to get our teenagers to laugh, which is always healing. If we can laugh together, we can grow together.

Sherene was not available for our visit so I am grateful you were prepared to step in. In fact, you did more than that. You rearranged your night shifts at an enormous public hospital to accommodate us. Our boys were a little surprised to learn that the young woman standing in front of us in a hijab was a medical doctor, as concerned as anyone about the health of the Australian community, especially the mental health of the young. When you spoke about Islam, you spoke about its role in supporting mental wellbeing.

Specifically, you told us about what it meant to you to answer the call to prayer five times a day. You said these prayer times were like ‘circuit breakers’. You could be under a lot of pressure at work, dealing with many cases all at once and becoming anxious about the situation. Five times a day, your prayer was, in your words ‘the best kind of mindfulness mediation’. Prayer got you to pause, think about your own direction in life (for which facing Mecca was a symbol) and remember that you are surrounded by a divine love that is greater than any problem. Your prayer helped your spirits.

You got me thinking. I have been a bit concerned lately that in some of our schools wellbeing and faith formation are treated as two separate things. Indeed, I am aware of some Christian schools where wellbeing has emerged as an alternative spirituality. In some cases, it is based around the perceived needs of the individual and ends up placing them at the centre of the universe. Our children deserve so much better than to have to world built around them. Nothing could be more damaging.

Sadly, I have seen wellbeing used as a spirituality for those who do not want the inconvenience of God. I really wonder if we have much to gain from any version of wellbeing which is not explicitly an encounter with God.

There are so many stories about the healing way in which Jesus related to all sorts of people and built community. None of them speaks to us more profoundly about finding meaning and purpose than Jesus’ journey to Calvary. The Christian community is built at the foot of the cross and nowhere else.

Mariam, thank you for reminding us of the gentleness and beauty of the Qur’an and of the words of the prophet Muhammad. They have stuck in my mind:

  • Forgive those who wrong you; join those who cut you off; do good to those who do evil to you and speak the truth although it be against yourself.
  • The best of God’s servants are those who, when seen, remind one of God; and the worst of God’s servants are those who carry tales about to do mischief and separate friends, and seek for the defects of the good.
  • All God’s creatures are His family; and he or she is the most beloved of God who tries to do most good to God’s creatures.
  • The three best things: to be humble amidst the vicissitudes of fortune; to pardon when powerful; and to be generous with no strings attached.

 

Michael McGirr is the Dean of Faith and Mission at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne and author of Finding God’s Traces.

 

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