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City of Banjul
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Let’s carry each other’s burdens

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By Aicha

There is a very beautiful old Swedish hymn that I have sung many times. The melody is lovely and the lyrics come back to me with their old wisdom and comforting words.
I will attempt to translate the lyrics and hope you will like the message even if it will not be in the original rhyme. Here it goes:

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“Only one day, one moment at the time, what a comfort this gives no matter what is facing me.
Everything lies in the hands of my Lord, should I as His child then have fear?
He who loves me as a father, He gives for every new born day its share of joy and pain, labour, rest and delight.”

This is the first verse of this hymn written by a young woman called Lina Sandell. Lina was the daughter of a priest and she and her family lived in a small rural village where the church was the centre of everything.
Lina was pious, she loved composing hymns and she always wrote her own lyrics. It is said that Lina preferred to be out in the garden and write. Her favourite spot was up a tree.

This hymn is in Swedish called Blott en dag which means “Only one day”. It is loved by generations of Christians in Sweden and is often sung in the churches, especially at funerals.
The ceremonies at a Christian funeral in Sweden are not at all like a Muslim funeral. We begin the ceremony indoors, in the church, because the weather can never be trusted.

The ceremony is filled with music, both from the church organ, the piano and by singing. The priest is responsible for the spoken part of the ceremony and the musician for the musical part. The music and the lyrics are giving people so much comfort when they are combined with the words of God.
This ancient wisdom, that might feel outdated and a bit boring to a young person, still remains in the hearts and minds of people. If we consider the words as seeds of wisdom, some of these seeds can grow slower than others.

Everything depends on the time of the sowing. The soul is like a bare land waiting to be used. If we don’t watch out there will be a lot of weeds growing there instead of seeds that with time will give us a good harvest.

When we try to keep the words of God, the ancient wisdom in our minds, our souls are protected against the weed. This is why it is important to refill our souls with prayer, alone or as one in a congregation at a Friday prayer. The prayers protect our souls, give us new energy and visions about a greater future.
Imagine the picture of a bare land again; it doesn’t matter how good the quality of the soil is if you don’t take care of your land properly. You will get weeds there that are suffocating your plants, the plants that are gifts of your skills – the gifts God has given you.

If you don’t use your gifts properly, they will be hidden by actions that will lead you to trouble. Many criminals are actually very intelligent, but they use their intelligence – their gifts – in the wrong way and thereby get into severe trouble. These people haven’t got proper guidance through their upbringing and they had no good role models.

Proper guidance by our parents, by their prayers for us, by listening to the words of God, by learning how to become a good person, is a blessing that will give us a good life.
The lack of good guidance leads to nothing but trouble. People need other people around them and we always search for a context where we fit in. If we don’t have that context in our families, our village or our congregation, we feel lost and search for a kinship somewhere else.

This is where the problems begins because we might end up with the wrong kind of people who are filling our minds with the wrong message. The bare land of our souls has been overgrown by weeds!
When I read the Holy Qur’an, I get inspired, it is still so new to me and the message is fresh. When I began to study Islam, some years ago, I got so amazed by its message. All these question marks I had as a Christian turned to exclamation marks instead.

Maybe you are familiar with the expression: an Aha-experience? That is when you have, for a long time been struggling with something in your mind, something you haven’t completely understood and suddenly everything reveals to you.

You say: Aha! For your mind is suddenly clear because you don’t have to trouble it with these questions anymore. The more I studied Islam the more aha-experiences I got and that made me continue studying and with time, I decided to convert.

The day I converted was a holy day, a day full of joy, a day of tears because my heart was overjoyed. I will never forget this day, the memory will stay in my heart forever. It is a big step to take, for a ‘toubab’ living in a secular country, but I have never regretted it.

Here in Sweden, your faith is something deeply private; you can share it with your family and your congregation, but you don’t speak about it openly. If you do that, people would consider you strange and avoid you.

As a teacher, I am prohibited by the law to speak about my faith with my pupils. I might be allowed to answer if the pupils are asking me direct questions about my faith, but as faith is so private here, there is almost never anyone who asks questions about it.

It seems like a strange law that teachers are prohibited to speak about their faith with their pupils, but it is because our society so deeply believes in the freedom of choice. Our kids have knowledge about religion but we want them to choose for themselves.

As a parent you can of course speak to your kids about your personal faith, bring them with you to church and so on, but teachers must keep neutral. Sweden is secular but it hasn’t always been that way.
At the time when Lina Sandell grew up, she was born 1832 and died 1903, the society was more or less ruled by the church. Sweden was a poor country back then and a lot of people emigrated to America, as they called it at that time.

The church had an enormous power in the society, controlled people’s lives in all aspects. Smaller congregations began to meet in people’s homes but this was forbidden by the law and the punishments could be severe if anyone found out about this.

With time these small, secret meetings became larger and new communities began to grow. Before that we only had one kind of church in Sweden and it was even called the Swedish Church.
The church had power over our king, the politicians, the schools and all larger instances in our society. Poor people began to protest against this power that for so many times, it was misused. Religion should be separated from governing a country. Little by little, a protest movement grew, the political awareness began to grow when people found out that they had their own free will.

Before, the church had decided everything and told poor people to know their place in the society and not question it because it was predestinated by God. Around the end of 1800 and the beginning of 1900 people stopped accepting what the church told them and began to question it.

People were hungry for freedom! They were oppressed by the church, starving, unfree, also oppressed by the bosses of larger companies that had begun to take over the society instead of only agriculture as before.
Those who didn’t emigrate to America stayed in Sweden and fought for their freedom. Yes, dear reader, they literally fought for their freedom.

People were thrown in jail, beaten, humiliated, even killed for their opinions – just like in The Gambia. The awful difference is that what happened in Sweden was more than a hundred years ago and in The Gambia the wounds are still fresh!

Sweden was not ruled by a dictator back in the days; we had some kind of democracy but the society was very unfair. The rich were extremely rich and the poor were destitute and starving.
The difference in how people lived was too wide and so political awareness began to grow. The Swedish Labour Party became stronger and stronger. There were political meetings everywhere – in factories, in people’s homes, on the squares and the newspapers followed the happenings with a great interest.

Slowly our society changed, evolved and democracy spread over the whole country. The church lost its power and because it had been so oppressive people didn’t allow this to happen again. I think that is the reason why we separate the church and faith from the state or public.

There is always a reason why people act as they do, believe in what they believe and why societies are the way they are. I often use to repeat the well known fact that we study history because if we know our past we understand our present and can influence our future.

It is so easy to complain about this and that, to accuse one society for being secular and the other for being a theocracy or ruled by a dominating religion. There is always a reason why it is as it is and if we study the history, we understand more.
When I speak to people in Sweden about The Gambia and Africa, they have many questions and so many opinions.

The less they know the more opinions they seem to have. Ignorance is feeding fear, it is making us question things we don’t understand but we are not really interested in the answers.
We only wish to spit out our opinions without a thought of how it feels to be the one who is spat at. What is making me sad is that this behaviour does not only exist in Sweden but I see this also in my beloved Gambia. We need to try to understand each other, see the reasons behind people’s behaviour, fill our souls with the ancient wisdom and let the words of God lead us as a light in the darkness.

Why Lina Sandell’s hymn became so popular is because the words still keep coming back to you in different phases of life. You take a sentence, taste the words and let them sink into your heart.
When life is hard it is good to know that God is not giving us heavier burdens than we can carry. There is a saying: “God is giving His hardest battles to His strongest warriors.”

This can seem as a tough approach but remember that the warriors always go first into the battles. They look out for enemies, they protect their own people, they risk their lives in the battle and not all people are strong enough to do that.

A battle can be so many things; it doesn’t necessarily have to be about fighting as in a war. We face many battles in our lives and it is up to us how we handle them. When we lose courage, when we are sad, exhausted, have no energy left then it is good to lean on the well known words of God. These words never change; it is only us who change our approach to them and our understanding of them.

A battle we need to fight together is how to spread knowledge and understanding, love for all and hatred for none. We need to carry each other’s burdens, live together in solidarity and understanding. Instead of being curious about each other’s whereabouts it is better to be curious about each other’s well being. Ask ourselves: how can we carry each other’s burdens? Well, we can begin by praying for each other and God will lead us if we truly listen to his words and let him in to our hearts.

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