By Muneeb Nasir
Where are you from?
This is the question that I am frequently asked by people and they are expecting me to say India or Pakistan or from Asia.
They're absolutely right insofar as 100 percent of my blood and ancestry does come from that region in the world.
Except, I've never lived one day of my life there.
So I've really not earned the right to call the countries in South Asia my home.
But if "Where do you come from?" means "Where were you born?" I'm from Guyana on the South American coast, a former British colony.
Except, I left Guyana as a teenager and I completed high school and my further education in Canada.
So if "Where do you come from?" means "Where do you pay your taxes? Where do you raise your children?" then I'm very much at home in Canada and I have been so for almost 5 decades now.
A while ago, after speaking to a group of elementary school students in Markham about my immigrant experience, a Grade 5 student asked me, 'When did you feel at home in Canada? When did you feel that you were Canadian?'
I told her that I remember the exact moment when I felt I was at home in Canada.
I had returned to Guyana at the end of 1980 for a vacation, about 7 years after we had emigrated to Canada, and on my return journey, as the airplane was about to land at Pearson International Airport, I looked down on the skyline of Toronto, and I was overcome with that sense that I was finally returning home.
At that moment I felt that longing to be home.
As the cliché goes, home is where the heart is.
For many of us, our sense of home is much different than that of our forefathers where home for them was very much linked to a specific land, culture and ancestry.
For me, home is that place we long to be and where the people we love are and for whom we feel the deepest affection.
It is a place where people feel attached, comfortable, and secure.
Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, in his Ted Talk called “Where Is Home?” stated that home has more to do with a piece of your soul, not soil.
Pico Iyer concluded that home is the place that goes deepest inside of you.
Home is not just a physical space or a locality but it is to belong, to fit in, to feel comfortable enough to be ourselves; to be seen and heard without judgment; to know that we will be taken care of in times of need, unconditionally.
So, home is where we find our heart.
Home offers refuge in the spiritual sense, a protected place in which to thrive.
In the Qur’an, there is a verse that gives the basis on which a home is built.
“Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you to live with in tranquility: He ordained love and kindness between you. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect.” (Qur’an, 30:21).
To be at home is to have tranquility and contentment, to be surrounded by love, affection and mercy.
But from a religious perspective, there is the ultimate home that we are seeking.
In a well-known Qur’anic verse that Muslims repeat often, especially in times of difficulty and stress, God says:
“.....We belong to God and to Him we shall return.” (Qur’an, 2:156).
Someday all of us come back to the beginning … someday, all of us are returning home….to that place where there is no longer anyone but God and our self.
All of us are on your way, not towards the end of the road, but towards its beginning.
God has sent us out into this world but He is calling us back.
We are in this finite world to gain access to an infinite home in the afterlife.
To answer the question - Yes, we can be at home in different places.
Tonight, we’ve been welcomed into this comfortable, secure and sacred place.
It is a place of tranquility, a place in which there is love and mercy.
At this moment, I am at home in this sacred space.
May God bless you for your kindness and generosity this evening, for making us feel at home and may He have mercy upon you.
And May we always appreciate our deep interconnectedness, as creatures of the One God and as common citizens of one Earth, our home.
(Excerpt of a speech given by Muneeb Nasir on March 9, 2018, as Muslims joined members of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue as they celebrated Shabbat).