Ask an Expert: Jan Saeed
Respect during the holiday season
by Hasib Hussainzada (’17)
The Office of Spiritual Life and Global Peace constantly strives to spread the message to respect diverse perspectives, which is something that is especially important during the holiday season. “Respect for diverse holidays is something that really does come up at this time of the year,” says Jan Saeed, director of the Office of Spiritual Life.
Read Jan’s insight into this topic:
Why is it important to understand holidays that aren't your own?
“Holidays are a time to build spiritual relationships with our creator, family, friends, and communities. Holidays are an emotional time to create a greater understanding of the universal values and strengths of community, spirituality, and our lives.”
What other holidays are celebrated and how can we make students aware of those?
“There are many holidays celebrated this time of year: Diwali-Hindu, Muslim Prophets Birthday, Day of the Covenant, -Baha’i, Boxing Day, All Saints Day, St. Nicholas Day, Christmas-Christian, Winter Solstice, Hanukah-Jewish, Kwanza, and many more.”
How can individuals show support and respect for those who might be celebrating differently?
“Respect for diverse people and their perspectives—one of the core values of Westminster College—is always a way to think about how we interact with one another. Whenever we want to build a friendship or create more understanding, it’s always helpful to ask thoughtful, kind questions. Acknowledging what we don’t know is a great start, and follow-up questions like ‘What does this mean to you and/or your family?’ are always good as well. Just because a person is of a particular faith does not mean they will celebrate or think about a particular holiday the same as another individual within the same faith community.”
How can you still celebrate together with different beliefs?
“Being together with people of different beliefs is the best skill to learn. It requires patience, tolerance, listening, more patience, tolerance, kindness, acceptance, and love. It also requires the ability and desire to learn about what they believe and why. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about each other and see if there are areas of overlap with what you personally practice. Being with friends and family (even if it isn’t yours) during their holidays helps to build friendships and relationships, which in the end is building community. It also may require some gentle openness to share that you don’t want to do something that everyone else is doing, and hopefully that will be ok with them. We can’t change anyone but ourselves, and hopefully by changing our behavior, it will encourage others to be more curious, kind, open, and understanding.”
What resources does the Office of Spiritual Life offer for Westminster community members who would like to learn more about other beliefs and customs?
“There is a wonderful book called ‘How to be a Perfect Stranger, The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook’ edited by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida that gives tips about many religious practices and holidays, and what do to when you are visiting them. I have a copy in the office as well as many other books people are welcome to come borrow. I also always love to visit and share experiences as well as help research questions to find answers together if people have the time.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster College’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.