Religions Week: A Story About Respect

My friend Hannah once sent me a unique birthday present in the mail: a Bible. Since she is a devout Christian, she told me that she couldn’t think of a better way to help me understand her than to give me the book that she lives her life by.

While I was somewhat awestruck to be in possession of a Bible for the first time, flipping through its pages curiously reminded me of another person to whom I had once given a similar gift: Mr. Hoffman, my seventh-grade social studies teacher.

It so happened that, in the midst of our world history unit, Mr. Hoffman was planning a week of classes devoted to five major religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Since we were a diverse class, Mr. Hoffman told us that if any of us or our families practiced any one of the religions we were studying during “Religions Week,”  they would be welcome to supplement the course with their own stories, experiences, or materials.

Excited, I ran home and asked my mum if Mr. Hoffman might be allowed to borrow the book of Hadith translated into English that I had from Sunday School. (It was, in fact, more of a workbook than an actual book: it categorized a series of hadiths by subject and then had questions to answer at the end of each chapter.) I thought it would be a brilliant way to add to our class discussions, and I figured it would be more useful than the all-Arabic copies of the Qur’an we had at home. Mum barely had time to say “yes” before I had already put into my backpack and rushed off.

The next day, I showed the book to Mr. Hoffman, who was delighted and thanked me profusely for giving him the chance to look over it. And, true to his word, he did read aloud from the book several times during our class on Islam to give my classmates various examples of the way Prophet Muhammad (SAW) lived his life.

A few days after our religions course had ended, I was working on a worksheet in class when I looked up and suddenly saw Mr. Hoffman walking toward me, holding my book of Hadith with one hand and glancing down at it constantly as if to make sure it wouldn’t disappear into thin air.

When he reached my desk, he presented the book to me and said earnestly, “Thank you so much for letting me borrow this.”

Slightly flabbergasted, I replied, “No problem… but really, it was okay to just hand it to me… normally, you know.”

Mr. Hoffman smiled. “I just wanted to show it the respect it deserves.”

Then, gently resting the book onto my desk, he went back to the blackboard at the front of the room.

That day, I realized that my tolerance of other religions and other sects of Islam, allowing them to merely exist alongside my own beliefs, was not enough. It’s showing respect—pure, honest respect, the kind that compelled Mr. Hoffman to treasure a book of Hadith—that truly holds weight. It wasn’t about giving up my beliefs, or eclipsing them in favor of anything else: it was simply a matter of treating all faiths with a grace that befits their magnitude and the love that millions of people around the world have for them.

After all, the fact that I remember Mr. Hoffman most vividly for this moment alone, and not his eccentric teaching style (wielding a baseball bat in class and forcing everyone to call him “sir” as a demonstration of totalitarianism) is proof of the power of respect.

Now that I have a Bible, I’ll take care of it and make sure that it always stays in a safe place. But most of all, I’ll respect it and its message, just as Mr. Hoffman respected my book of Hadith so many years ago.