Friendship is Family of the Heart

Shiraz Noor 

I shall begin my review of Family of the Heart by turning to the book’s ending. Dr. Sohail tells a story which asks us what would happen to humanity if the religious identities that divide us were to suddenly collapse. In this time of crisis, world leaders come together and create a new spirituality that is founded on friendship. 

We are experiencing that time of crisis today. In a world that is becoming more and more interconnected, the religious identities that define us are rapidly losing their claims to superiority. We live in an age of trans-cultural knowledge and the global village, where our common humanity is becoming more apparent to us than ever before.

Family of the Heart is a collection of writings from people of different nationalities, ages, backgrounds, and opinions who are united in the belief that mutual understanding is possible and necessary to live in peaceful coexistence. It is the work of ordinary people from all walks of life writing about a diverse array of not so ordinary topics, including:

-A masterpiece on the politics of language in Pakistan, and how the imposition of foreign national languages on people unable to speak them with feeling stunts their intellectual growth and excludes them from the political process

-An inquiry into why the understanding of the Divine has been distorted through the prism of violence

-The role of trauma in bringing people into higher stages of spirituality

-The tension between private and public lives, and

-The immigrant experience 

Throughout the book, and especially in the short stories that conclude it, humans are forced to look into a cracked mirror and see that their convictions put blinders over their eyes, preventing them from noticing the barrier those convictions create between them and their surroundings. Likewise, in the many debates presented in this book, the proponents have the opportunity to see the finitude of their respective positions as they are laid out for all to see.

I conclude by referencing a few lines by the late Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, which I think captures the takeaway message of this anthology. He writes that you can only love by seeing yourself as a distant creature among countless others, which in turn accept you as you are because they have become part of your horizon. In the process of loving this way, we learn to serve a cause that is bigger than ourselves and beyond our ability to comprehend.

In this sense of love, I believe, Family of the Heart equates freethinking with the development of friendship. Only when we see ourselves as members of a greater community of people with countless different points of view can we become open to the possibility of letting the other in.  

Shiraz Noor’s contribution to the book, “Philosophy and Divine Law: Unhappy Marriage or Illicit Affair?” won the 2013 Myrtle V. McCulloch Essay Prize in Literary Studies.