Today’s post is co-authored by Robynn Bliss and Marilyn Gardner. Fast friends despite age differences (Marilyn is older!) they share many commonalities that include growing up in the Muslim world. Our hope, and indeed prayer, is that this post will build bridges and get people thinking. Thanks for reading!
Today begins the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. It will go for 30 days ending on Saturday, August 18 with celebration and a feast. Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is marked by fasting daily from sun up to sun down. As Christians raised in Pakistan our memories of Ramadan days are as strong as our memories of the Call to Prayer waking us at dawn.
As we think about Ramadan our minds and hearts remember what we have learned about our own faith from our Muslim friends.
1. At an early age we learned that God is not North American. He spans nation and ocean, culture and ethnicity. To bind him to one nation is idolatry. To attach Him to one country elevates our own perceptions of that country. Secretly believing that God is North American justifies our private beliefs that we are superior. It’s not true.
2. We learned that Christians are not the only ones with deep faith. Indeed the Muslims that we were surrounded by were zealous of keeping to the tenants of their faith. They were sincere. They were devoted.
3.We learned that worship has little to do with pews or worship bands; versions of scripture or language. Worship has everything to do with the heart.
4. We learned that as women with white skin we had arrogant tendencies, as though we had birthrights. When our behavior reflected that it was ugly.
5. We learned that caring for women and children, the poor and the broken was never to be separated from the love of God and his call to holiness. We learned that the invitation of the Father that extends to the those in the “highways and byways” included the beggar woman, the street children, the dismembered, the leper.
6. We learned that the mud huts and dusty streets of Pakistan were far closer to the streets walked by Jesus than the clean suburbs and white steeples that we encountered every four years in the United States. Our Jesus was brown and slightly sweaty with dusty calloused feet; he wasn’t pink and pressed and clean. Blue eyes he did not have.
7. We learned that Christian community comes in all denominations and many interpretations, that sprinkling and dunking could be argued with equal passion but would ultimately not change our need for a Saviour. We learned that the strong cultural value of individualism in the west could make it harder to selflessly love. When Jesus reiterated that the greatest commandment was loving God and the second greatest was loving each other he meant it. Love is the language of the community. Any other dialect is suspect.
8. We learned that the word “Allah” is the Arabic word for God and, while one can argue character qualities of God, to be afraid of that word was not wise. Fear rarely motivates faith and holy conversation.
9. We learned that people are not the enemy. And costumes, like book covers, are not to be judged.
10. We learned that bridge-building often means drinking 25 cups of tea and serving 100. Hospitality fleshes out acceptance and leads to friendship and deep loyalty. Those are strong bridges built of steel and concrete.
11. We learned that Muslims make the best of friends; that to share our hearts with them grew our understanding and faith. We were shown kindness, generosity and acceptance. We grew to understand their love for a good joke;their loyalty, their devotion. We learned that once you have a Muslim friend, you always have a friend. They will grieve your losses as if they were their own. They will enter your celebrations with abandon!
12. We learned that being invited to break the fast was a gift, not something to refuse because of difference in belief, but something to enter with joy and prayer – prayer for our friends and prayer for their land. A land we called home.
And as we close this post we offer you a taste of breaking the fast. It is going from the simplicity of daily life and the discipline of fasting to the joyous contrast of colour, noise and taste of celebrations! It is deep-fried sweet sticky gulab jamin. It is colour infused sweet rice with chunks of fresh coconut and plump raisins; plain rice suddenly dressed up with fatty morsels of meat and sticks of cinnamon. Bread normally made on a flat dry pan-fried in oil and served with sweet oily cream of wheat cereal. Muslims knew how to celebrate. Christians in Pakistan learned that from their neighbors.
And we learned as well through the richness of our lives and watching life unfold at weddings, at Eid celebrations, and at the breaking of the fast.