Today I’m over at A Life Overseas. I’m going to say ahead of time that this one was a difficult one to write. When we hold truth claims, when we place high value on our faith we end up grappling with some tough questions. So I write this with great humility and trust that the One who hears our hearts is far bigger than any of us imagine.
It was late afternoon and the sun was slowly setting across the solid blue, desert sky. The call to prayer echoed across the city of a thousand minarets. My blonde-haired 7-year-old looked at me, her deep blue eyes serious. “Is Faiza going to Heaven?”
We were living in Cairo, Egypt and Faiza was our baby sitter extraordinaire. But she was so much more.
She was our informal language teacher, our cultural broker, our friend. And she would iron our clothes just to be kind so that we looked like we stepped out of a dry cleaner’s shop. We had been in Cairo for 3 years and Faiza was an essential part of our lives.
We loved Faiza.
Faiza was a devout Muslim and our children knew this. She prayed five times a day and faithfully fasted during Ramadan. She gave to the poor and cared for those in need. She had even gone on the Hajj to Mecca – something every Muslim is encouraged to do in their lifetime if possible, but for a woman who was a widow and had only the money she made from babysitting this was a huge sacrifice.
Faiza would arrive at our house clad in a long, plain galabeya(traditional Egyptian dress) with her hair completely covered by a white hijab, always carrying with her pita bread and crumbly white cheese known as ‘gibna beda.’ This was her lunch but my kids grew to think of it as their snack. She lived her faith out loud, praying in our living room as soon as she heard the call to prayer from the mosque down the street. She was ever patient and cared for my kids the way she would her own grandchildren. Read the rest here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We learned that people are not the enemy. And costumes, like book covers, are not to be judged.
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.
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!
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.
Years ago at my brother Tom’s first Christmas as a married man, another brother, Stan (stay with me here – I have four brothers) gave him a Christmas gift that was envied by all. It was two couch pillows, made especially by Stan. One said in bold, machine-embroidered letters “Don’t interrupt while I’m speaking” while the other replied “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting.”
The cushions were a humorous duo, the perfect gift for a newly married couple at their first Christmas together.
While the pillows were funny, living out interruptions on a regular basis is not. When I think about faith and faith dialogue, the “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting” phrase has been my mantra far too often. Even as people open their mouths to speak a sentence or articulate an opinion or belief on faith, I’m busy framing my reply. What an indictment on my willingness to hear another point of view; another’s words that will allow me to enter into a deeper relationship.
I have analyzed this inability to listen and I’ve come up with a fairly simple reason I don’t want people to speak while I’m interrupting. Fear. One little word with many ramifications. I am afraid that my faith cannot withstand argument. It is simultaneously troubling and freeing to admit this in a public forum.
It’s fear that I won’t have the answers to the many questions that can arise on evil, life, sin and eternity.
It’s fear that I will sound foolish in my feeble attempts at explanation.
It’s fear that my faith, this faith that is the foundation of my life, will be found wanting.
It’s fear that I will not have a defense.
And as foolish as it sounds, its fear that if I listen, if I take the time to understand, somehow that will spell “compromise” that dreaded slippery slope of a word.
In a recent Facebook discussion, I confessed this to someone who, it’s safe to say, has some different views than I. Elena is a critical thinker and while she has strong opinions, she clearly wants dialogue. So much so that she has begun a Facebook page called “Civilities”. On this page she invites others to react and reflect, always bearing in mind the importance of true dialogue.
Here is an excerpt from the discussion:
It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I realized how bad I was at listening and how much I had been schooled in a vocabulary that those who did not share my faith couldn’t understand. I always thought I had to have a defense….and I think that may be what you’re talking about. Somehow, despite having a family that were great at discussions and critical thinking, I got it in my head that I had to have answers. All the answers. Constant defending is exhausting and crushes friendships. The need to defend changed for me as I began going through an introduction to Christianity where the goal is to listen and where there is a recognition that none of us have the power to convert. If I can convert you then someone else can convert you back. My whole world has changed as I’ve been let into the arguments and pain that Christianity has caused some of my friends. Those friendships are so strong, because I have no agenda. I love my friends and they love me without me having to defend a position. I have met more and more Christians in this area that are well able to engage in dialogue without coming across as dogmatic, doing so with respect and care, and a “free exchange” of ideas as you state, but I know that is not always the case…. “
The conversation went on and brought in several different view points and people. It was one of those rare times when people listened to each other and because of this all involved felt like they had been heard, had expressed what they wanted and had learned in the process.
Listening takes humility.
Listening takes time.
Listening means giving up control.
And it’s worth it. But as a talker I will be “in process” when it comes to listening until the day I die. Sometimes it will go well and there is no doubt that there will be other times when I will be living out the mantra “Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting!” But I have tasted of the kind of conversation and friendship that can result from listening, the kind of faith dialogue that makes people want to hear more, and now that I have tasted of that sort of encounter, I will never be the same.
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