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Commentary: U.S. should welcome Muslims as Pakistanis welcomed me


I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1963 out of a desire to serve my country in a constructive way, but also a desire to live and work in a culture radically different from my own.

When the call came from the Peace Corps, the official said, “On your application you wrote that India was your country of choice. We are going to train a group for Pakistan. Since Pakistan was once a part of India, are you interested?”

“Yes, that is close enough,” I replied.

Pakistan was part of India until 1947, when the parts of India having a Muslim majority became Pakistan. Pakistan has the second-largest Muslim population of all Muslim countries, behind only Indonesia. Indeed, Muslims make up about 95 to 98 percent of the population in Pakistan. Sunni Muslims make up about 80 to 85 percent, Shia Muslims about 10 to 15 percent and Christians about 1.6 percent.

When I lived and worked in Pakistan, the Sunni and the Shia Muslims got along pretty well, but sadly there has been conflict in recent years. My friends were both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

We had our Peace Corps training at the University of Chicago. We studied the language, history and culture of Pakistan. And we spent a lot of time playing their two favorite sports, soccer and field hockey.

In early September, our group landed in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. We met the U.S. ambassador for a few minutes and he spent the time giving us a pep talk, urging us to do our best job at our teaching assignment. I was assigned to the Government Secondary School in Multan.

I traveled the 457 miles from Karachi to Multan by train. The headmaster and the school superintendent were waiting for me at the train station in Multan.

They drove me to my room in a horse-drawn rickshaw. My room was in a wing of the school building that offered electricity and running water, but not hot water.

I taught classes in typing. The boys were preparing to qualify as government clerks. The school day began each morning at 8 a.m. with a speech and announcements by the headmaster and a recitation from the Holy Quran by a selected student.

One November morning, two friends came knocking on my door to tell me that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. I stood and cried during the school’s opening ceremony that day. The headmaster expressed his condolences and prayers were said for our president.

I spent almost every evening drinking tea and sharing conversation with my fellow teachers and other friends in the tea shops. We talked about everything — Pakistani culture, American culture, politics, religion, sports, Pakistani family life, American family life, how each of us grew up, etc. Pakistanis were not rich, but they had a rich social life and they gladly included me in theirs.

During my two years working in Pakistan, the Pakistanis were kind, gracious and hospitable to me in every way. I was invited to two weddings and was present at the circumcision ceremony of our school superintendent’s young son. What a banquet we had that day — two large tents filled with delicious food and bands playing. Other Pakistani friends invited me to their homes for dinner, in humble homes and wealthy homes.

On my last day in Pakistan, my headmaster drove me to the railway station. As we drove, tears came to my eyes as I remembered all that I had shared with the Pakistanis — badminton games, volleyball, soccer, camel fights each Sunday in January and poetry concerts in the soccer stadium. And the village fairs around Multan were always fun and interesting. At one village fair, the people of the village allowed me to ride one of their finest white horses.

My Muslim friends in Pakistan welcomed me and I will always remember the goodness in their hearts. I hope that the USA will always welcome Muslims the way Pakistani Muslims welcomed me.

Stanley lives in Austin. He and his wife love traveling the world, looking for birds and meeting people from different cultures.



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