Eid Celebrations & Memories

عيد مبارك

Each year, the sighting of a crescent moon tells Muslims around the world the date of Eid al Fitr. With that date, a month of fasting ends and festivities and celebrations begin.

Today is Eid al Fitr and I wake up full of memories of past Ramadans and Eid celebrations. I indulge these, even as I head out into a world far different from the one where I grew up.

I’m seven or eight, holding tight to my dad’s hand.We are across the street from the largest mosque in the city of Hyderabad in the Sindh region of Pakistan. There are thousands of men gathered to pray before heading home to their Eid feasts. I still remember brilliant white, starched cotton shalwar/kameez – the Eid clothing glowing with newness.

I’m in junior high and we are on vacation in the Swat valley. We stay at a rest house with views that make it into National Geographic magazine. Our scenery is rushing rivers with small foot bridges that perch precariously over certain tragedy should you fall, beautiful green mountains and valleys, nature in all its glory and lack of pollution. Later in the day, we begin to smell goat cooking over an open fire – the pungent, delicious aroma wafts through the open area below the rest house. We are treated to some of this goat by Pakistanis, hospitable beyond words to these strangers, white people in their territory.

I’m 15 and thrilled to have a day off. I think little about Ramadan or Eid celebrations other than grabbing sweets from a box on the table. My world is me and I don’t realize how much I will regret how little I care about the culture that surrounds me.

I’m 27 and I’m in labor. I know the Eid celebration is coming but it’s still Ramadan. Okay. Breathe. Slow and steady, make it through this pain.I must be around 7 centimeters and I know it will get worse before it gets better. This is the second baby I’ve birthed and I glance at the clock and think “I hope Dr. Azima comes soon!” I know she’s breaking the fast for one of the final days of Ramadan, and the days are long with sunset coming around 9pm, but my baby is coming and she better be here. I care not about culture or Ramadan or Eid celebrations. Laboring to bring a baby into the world has changed any outward focus to inward. Just before midnight I give birth to the most beautiful, blue-eyed boy I have ever seen and I am smitten.

I’m 36 and it’s our last year in Cairo. I hear the drums of Ramadan and know it will be a long time before I hear them again. I will no longer hear the call to prayer, my alarm clock since birth, echoing across the city of a thousand minarets. Instead mosques will be far away and familiarity even farther. But I can’t indulge in what will be. I have kids to care for, people to see, friends to enjoy.

I’m 53 and I wake up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It will be business as usual as I head to work on the subway. Muslim friends will take the day off but overall it will go largely unnoticed. There was no last day of Ramadan frenzy and today holds no air of festivity. I pray that I will see people on the subway who will remind me of where I’ve been. As I get to the station, an entire Muslim family is waiting on the platform, dressed in beautiful silks and cottons. I wish them “Eid Mubarak,” knowing what it’s like to feel alone and homesick for family on holidays when you are far away from family thinking how similar this must be for them. They smile in surprise, and my day is made.

I’m 55 and I’ve been waiting over a half hour for the subway. This is the last day of my work week and I am tired. A computerized announcement has told me three times that “we are experiencing delays because of a disabled train.” The platform fills up with people, anxious and irritated. The train finally comes after 45 minutes. The train is so crowded that I don’t think I can get on, but I am determined. As I cram into a space, I see that the young man next to me is wearing a kurta shalwar, and without a thought I say to him“Eid Mubarak!” He looks at me in surprise, and then says “Khair Mubarak!” followed by “That’s a welcome surprise!” The next 20 minutes we talk and the wait no longer matters. He is Pakistani, raised in Pakistan until teen years, when the family moved to Virginia. We talk about Pakistan and share some family stories. He goes to Harvard and graciously invites me to a celebration at eight in the evening. He is on the train with several other Harvard students, all Muslims heading to the Eid prayers at the main mosque in Roxbury. My stop comes too soon, but I leave with a full heart. What a gift to be able to have this conversation, to connect at a time when the world is so at odds.

I am 59 and living in the small city of Rania in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. I have just learned that we have to leave Kurdistan at the end of June and my heart hurts. I am angry. Angry at the government and angry at the university. I’m also sick with a bad cold and feeling the misery of self-pity. We hear an unexpected knock on the door in the evening. It is our friend Rania and her brother. They have come with beautiful homemade sweets and this hospitality and generosity make me weep. No wonder I don’t want to leave this place I’ve grown to love.

And today? Today I am in Rockport, Massachusetts – in a place I love though far from other places I’ve called home.

As I write, I think about the honor of growing up where I did and of having lived where I have lived. To have participated in countless Eid celebrations in both Pakistan, Egypt, Kurdistan, and now the United States; to have learned more about my Christian faith through the faith of my Muslim friends – this is a gift.

Memories of Eid Celebrations عید مُبارک

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends and readers today.

Each year, the sighting of a crescent moon tells Muslims around the world the date of Eid al Fitr. With that date, a month of fasting ends and festivities and celebrations begin.The second Eid celebration is always held on the tenth day of the Lunar month. This Eid celebration is called Eid al Adha or “Feast of the sacrifice” and is usually celebrated by sacrificing a goat.

Today is Eid al Adha and I wake up full of memories of past Ramadans and Eid celebrations.  I indulge these, even as I head out into a world far different from the one where I grew up. 

I’m seven or eight, holding tight to my dad’s hand. We are across the street from the largest mosque in the city of Hyderabad in the Sindh region of Pakistan. There are thousands of men gathered to pray before heading home to their Eid feasts. I still remember brilliant white, starched cotton shalwar/kameez – the Eid clothing glowing with newness.

I’m in junior high and we are on vacation in the Swat valley. We stay at a rest house with views that make it into National Geographic magazine. Our scenery is rushing rivers with small foot bridges that perch precariously over certain tragedy should you fall, beautiful green mountains and valleys, nature in all its glory and lack of pollution. Later in the day, we begin to smell goat cooking over an open fire – the pungent, delicious aroma wafts through the open area below the rest house. We are treated to some of this goat by Pakistanis, hospitable beyond words to these strangers, white people in their territory.

I’m 15 and thrilled to have a day off. I think little about Ramadan or Eid celebrations other than grabbing sweets from a box on the table. My world is me and I don’t realize how much I will regret how little I care about the culture that surrounds me.

I’m 27 and I’m in labor. I know the Eid celebration is coming but it’s still Ramadan. Okay. Breathe. Whoo. whoo. whoo. Slow and steady, make it through this pain. I must be around 7 centimeters and I know it will get worse before it gets better. This is the second baby I’ve birthed. I look at the clock and think “I hope Dr. Azima comes soon!” I know she’s breaking the fast for one of the final days of Ramadan, and the days are long with sunset coming around 9pm, but my baby is coming and she better be here. I care not about culture or Ramadan or Eid celebrations. It’s about me, damn it, and ‘they’ all better know it. Just before midnight I give birth to the most beautiful, blue-eyed boy I have ever seen and I am smitten.

I’m 36 and it’s our last year in Cairo. I hear the drums of Ramadan and know it will be a long time before I hear them again. I can’t give in to my deep feelings of loss and grief. The call to prayer, my alarm clock since birth, will no longer be heard echoing across the city of a thousand minarets. Instead mosques will be far away and familiarity even farther. But I can’t indulge on what will be. I have kids to care for, people to see, friends to enjoy.

I’m 53 and I wake in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It will be business as usual as I head to work on the subway. Muslim friends will take the day off but overall it will go largely unnoticed. There was no last day of Ramadan frenzy and today holds no air of festivity. I pray that I will see people on the subway who will remind me of where I’ve been. As I get to the station, an entire Muslim family is waiting on the platform, dressed in beautiful silks and cottons. I wish them “Eid Mubarak,” knowing what it’s like to feel alone and homesick for family on holidays like Christmas and Easter when you are far away from family. Thinking how similar this must be for them. They smile in surprise, and I am blessed.

I’m 55 and I’ve been waiting over a half hour for the subway. This is the last day of my work week and I am tired. A computerized announcement has told me three times that “we are experiencing delays because of a disabled train.”  The platform fills up with people, anxious and irritated. The train finally comes after 45 minutes. The train is so crowded that I don’t think I can get on, but I am determined. As I cram into a space, I see that the young man next to me is wearing a kurta shalwar, and without a thought I say to him “Eid Mubarak!” He looks at me in surprise, and then says “Khair Mubarak!” followed by “That’s a welcome surprise!” The next 20 minutes we talk and the wait no longer matters. He is Pakistani, raised in Pakistan until teen years, when the family moved to Virginia. We talk about Pakistan and share some family stories. He goes to Harvard and graciously invites me to a celebration at eight in the evening. He is on the train with several other Harvard students, all Muslims heading to the Eid prayers at the main mosque in Roxbury. My stop comes too soon, but I leave with a full heart. What a gift to be able to have this conversation, to connect at a time when the world is so at odds.

My heart travels far away during times of celebration and holiday, but today, in the place where I am learning more about writing my name in the land, I can come back to earth and connect in real time. It is a gift. 

As I write, I think about the honor of growing up where I did and of having lived where I have lived. To have participated in countless Eid celebrations in both Pakistan, Egypt, and now the United States; to have learned more about my Christian faith through the faith of my Muslim friends – this is a gift. 

Related articles

Ramadan 2014- What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught us About Christianity

This post is a re-post from two years ago but is just as accurate. Thank you for joining us.

Today begins the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. 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 through words 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 by heart through the richness of our lives, watching all unfold at weddings, at Eid celebrations, and at the breaking of the fast.

Related articles
Ramadan 2012: History, Dates, Greeting And Rules Of The Muslim Fast (huffingtonpost.com)
A Look at Ramadan from an Outsider

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The Hard Questions at A Life Overseas

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.

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Cairo, Egypt, Islam, Minaret

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.

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When There is No Other Hand

English: Fiddler On The Roof Français : Un Vio...

Although I’ve not seen it in years, Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite shows/movies. I’ve watched the movie numerous times and seen the performance live as a musical theatre production at least twice.

The scenes that have found place in my memory are what I call the “other hand scenes”. These are scenes where Tevya, a hardworking, ebullient, loving father and husband is talking to himself and to God. He is trying to make sense of the changing world around him and his value of tradition, yet also trying to figure out where tradition is not merely tradition but something far greater, something that cannot be compromised. The ‘other hand’ scenes are great pictures of a dialogue between a man fully comfortable communicating with his God.

We learn early on the value of tradition for Tevya:

“But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!”

“Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

“Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

The ‘other hand’ scenes come as Tevya watches his daughters, one by one, fall in love and want to marry. First his challenge is that his oldest daughter wants to marry a poor tailor, but ‘on the other hand he’s an honest hard worker’. We watch him process and ultimately compromise tradition, giving his blessing on the marriage. We see a similar pattern with his second daughter and feel his pain as she heads off on a train to Siberia to be with the man she loves.

But there comes a point where Tevya won’t compromise. Where in his own words “there is no other hand”; where it’s less about tradition and more about bottom-line belief.

I think a lot about this, about compromise, about what I am and am not willing to compromise. Communicating across cultural boundaries is a lot about give and take, a lot about compromise, a lot about negotiation. And when we communicate across truth claims and faith differences, make no mistake — we are communicating across cultural differences, we are communicating across boundaries.

We live in an age where many are quick to criticize dogmatic truth claims. One of our friends who does a lot with interfaith dialogue says that there are times when you shake your head in disbelief because those who get together for interfaith dialogue water down their truth claims so much that they all sound the same.

That’s not dialogue. That’s monologue

When a Christian says that it doesn’t matter if Jesus is an allegory, and a Muslim says that the creed is unimportant then it’s not an interfaith dialogue – both have given up essential elements of their faith.

There are other times where people clearly and graciously state their claims, and, even if it bothers you, they won’t back down. There is no other hand. They will listen, and ask questions, and have genuine interest, but their faith compels them to hold fast to certain truth.

When it comes to tradition, belief, and truth claims I feel a lot like Tevya. I have this running dialogue with God, trying to sort out where and when I am willing to compromise and when I realize there is no other hand. Because if I bend that far, I’ll break.

“On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break. On the other hand… No. There is no other hand.”

What about you? Have you struggled to work through faith, what you will compromise, and what you won’t? I invite you to join the conversation – we need your voice.

Beyond the Headlines – Pakistan Zindabad

“It seems that violence is the only lens through which ordinary people in Pakistan are viewed in the media. Even if it’s a story about a Pakistani rock band, it will be set in the context of a violent society. There’s nothing false about the perspective. Pakistan has a problem with violence. Violence is used to silence journalists, and judges, and moderate religious scholars. And it seems to be getting worse. Every time I see somebody on television speaking out in anger against extremism or corruption—I’ll say a prayer for them. And every time one of those people is murdered, those of us who aspire to be like them grow a little more afraid.

So it’s not that the reports of violence are false. But they are only a small part of the truth. There’s so much other life being lived here.

But there’s only so much space in international newspapers. And there’s so much news in the world. So only the most jarring stories make the cut.”* 


When I was growing up and we would return to the United States for year-long furloughs, not many had heard of Pakistan. At the time Pakistan was a relatively new country, having recently gained independence from British controlled India to be a separate Muslim state.

Fast forward to today and it is rare to have a day go by without some news of Pakistan – and it’s rarely good news. While Malala Yousafzai made headlines for her courage in the face of persecution and terror, most headlines speak to danger and despair.

I belong to a peculiar tribe of people. Like any tribe we don’t all like each other and we don’t all get along. But certain things set us apart. We all grew up in Pakistan. We all fight against the stereotypes that dominate the news of Pakistan in the west. And it’s safe to say that most of us love Pakistan. We love what it gave us, we love what we became because of it, we love that it continues to struggle and shows an uncommon resilience despite terrorist and drone attacks, corrupt politics, and floods. We love the people and the place. 

Today, August 14, is Pakistan’s Independence Day and with it comes a desire to show readers something beyond the headlines of newspapers.

Because Pakistan is far more than what you see on television or read online or in print. Pakistan is pristine, untouched beaches and some of the tallest mountains in the world; it is many ethnic groups and a resilient people; it is ancient ruins of the Indus Valley (one of the oldest known civilizations) and hospitality to strangers.

So today I hope for Pakistan, I pray for Pakistan, for peace, truth, and rest. And along with those prayers I offer you glimpses of this beautiful country.

Pakistan Zindabad! Long Live Pakistan!

Blogger’s Note: These beautiful, National Geographic quality pictures were taken by Dan Mitchell, son of one of my high school friends, Jon Mitchell. Many thanks to him for permission to publish them on Communicating Across Boundaries.

Watching mountain goats A lot of stories in this face Beautiful people Father and son Gulmit Gulmit, Northern Areas Making naan Northern Pakistan Northern Pakistan - Alexander the Great lives on! Over 30 people on this car Rakaposhi Reflection Signs in Chinese and Urdu Vegetable stall view from Eagles nest Hotel

Purchase Passages Through Pakistan here – all proceeds go toward refugees in the Middle East.

Ramadan 2013 – Eid Mubarak! عید مُبارک

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends and readers today.

The moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia on the night of August 7 signifying the end to the month-long fast of Ramadan and today brings on festivities throughout the Muslim world.

The memories of past Ramadans and Eid celebrations fill my mind and I indulge these, holding my Egypt mug full of the dark-roast brew close to my heart. 

I’m seven or eight, holding tight to my dad’s hand. We are across the street from the largest mosque in the city of Hyderabad in the Sindh region of Pakistan. There are thousands of men gathered to pray before heading home to their Eid feasts. I still remember brilliant white, starched cotton shalwar/kameez – the Eid clothing glowing with newness.

I’m in junior high and we are on vacation in the Swat valley. We stay at a rest house with views that make it into National Geographic magazine. Our scenery is rushing rivers with small foot bridges that perch precariously over certain tragedy should you fall, beautiful green mountains and valleys, nature in all its glory and lack of pollution. We begin to smell goat cooking over an open fire later in the day – the pungent, delicious aroma wafts through the open area below the rest house. We are treated to some of this goat later in the day by Pakistanis, hospitable beyond words to these strangers, white people in their territory.

I’m 15 and thrilled to have a day off. I think little about Ramadan or Eid celebrations other than grabbing sweets from a box on the table. My world is me and I don’t realize how much I will regret how little I care about the culture that surrounds me.

I’m 27 and I’m in labor. I know the Eid celebration is coming but it’s still Ramadan. Okay. Breathe. Whoo. whoo. whoo. Slow and steady, make it through this pain. I must be around 7 centimeters and I know it will get worse before it gets better. This is the second baby I’ve birthed. I look at the clock and think “I hope Dr. Azima comes soon!” I know she’s breaking the fast for one of the final days of Ramadan, and the days are long with sunset coming around 9pm, but my baby is coming and she better be here. I care not about culture or Ramadan or Eid celebrations. It’s about me, damn it, and ‘they’ all better know it. Just before midnight I give birth to the most beautiful, blue-eyed boy I have ever seen and I am smitten.

I’m 36 and it’s our last year in Cairo. I hear the drums of Ramadan and know it will be a long time before I hear them again. I can’t give in to my deep feelings of loss and grief. The call to prayer, my alarm clock since birth, will no longer be heard echoing across the city of a thousand minarets. Instead mosques will be far away and familiarity even farther. But I can’t indulge on what will be. I have kids to care for, people to see, friends to enjoy.

I’m 53 and I wake in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It will be business as usual as I head to work on the subway. Muslim friends will take the day off but overall it will go largely unnoticed. There was no last day of Ramadan frenzy and today holds no air of festivity. I pray that I will see people on the T who will remind me of where I’ve been.

As I get to the subway an entire Muslim family is waiting for the red-line T. I wish them “Eid Mubarak”, knowing what it’s like to feel alone and homesick for family on holidays like Christmas and Easter while living in the Muslim world, thinking how similar this must be for them.

Your heart travels far away during times of celebration and holiday.

I begin to attack my keyboard with a frenzy and write about Ramadan 2013, waxing wise about Muslims and then I delete all of it. All I can do is sit and smile despite my longing. To have the honor of growing up where I did with the parents I had, to have participated in countless Eid celebrations in both Pakistan and Egypt, to have learned more about my Christian faith through the faith of my Muslim friends – this is an honor. 

Ramadan – Engagement or Rejection?

Roxbury Mosque

I am on the mailing list of a large mosque in the Roxbury area of Boston. While Egypt’s minarets give us a journey through history and Turkey boasts Ottoman only, the mosque in Roxbury is modern. It sits across from Roxbury Community College, its dome and minaret smaller than those in the Muslim world. I’ve been told that there were protests when the mosque opened.

Being able to express and live out our truth claims in freedom is a gift. A gift that I’d love everybody to have.

And because of this I’m glad that there is a mosque in Boston. I’m glad that my Muslim friends and acquaintances have a place to worship. When I lived in both Pakistan and Cairo I was grateful for a space where protestant churches met, churches that we could become a part of, form a community of like-minded believers. And controversial as this may seem to some, I want this for my Muslim friends.

Tomorrow, July 9 begins the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve written in the past about  Ramadan – about loving neighbors more than sheep, about my outsider perspective. This past week I received several mailings from the mosque on Ramadan. The mailings were to help set the stage for Ramadan, help people prepare for this month-long period of fasting.

And today I issue a challenge to fellow Christians, those who hold to my faith tradition. How many of us feel frustration when our faith is misunderstood, when myths abound, when others reject us because they disagree with what we believe? It’s not fair to pose this question in a blog – because it ends up being a rhetorical question.

But rejection for faith and truth claims is not fun. It’s lonely. It’s defeating. It’s discouraging. We want to scream when we hear misconceptions about Christianity and shout “No – that’s not the way it is! If we could just have a conversation….”. We long to engage with people about our faith because it’s important, because it’s foundational to who we are and how we live. Engaging with people over their beliefs does not mean we are watering down our own. How did many of us come to believe that relationships, friendships and listening to others, meant that we would fall down some slippery slope of forsaking our truth claims; of being false to that which we believe?

So the month of Ramadan comes around and we have a chance to live out what we want others to live at Christmas. We want others to say “Merry Christmas” – so to your Muslim friends you might say “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Or better still, ask them – ask them what to say. Ask them what Ramadan means and what traditions accompany this time of fasting. And ask yourself the question: Will you engage during Ramadan or reject?

We live in a world that quickly rejects based on appearance, religion, actions and more. How do we learn to live in truth to what we believe – which means that at some point we will disagree – and yet not be afraid to engage?  How can we remember the importance of friendships and relationships in living out our faith?  I ask myself this question all the time – how about you? 

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*Here is the text of the mailing I received. It may be interesting to those of you who are unfamiliar with Ramadan to see what a Muslim cleric located here in Boston says to those who attend the mosque.

As-salamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullah,

It is with great pleasure we announce that the first day of Ramadan will be Tuesday, July 9th 2012. We will begin praying Tarawih Monday, July 8th, after the ‘Isha prayers. Our staff is working hard to make this your best Ramadan in Boston iA.

The Prophet (sa) said that this month is one of the “pillars” of our faith. Its goal is piety and its means is to increase good works at all levels – the refinement of the soul and good character and increasing in acts of worship. In order to have a successful Ramadan, it is encouraged to focus on the following:

1. Repentance. The Prophet (sa) said, “A person who repents sincerely is like a person who has no sins.” Starting the month with a clean heart and record is one of the best ways to energize your relationship with Allah.

2. Establishing the individual obligations (Fard al-‘Ayn). A person who fasts and fails to establish the individual obligations, such as prayer, does not understand the purpose of fasting.

3. Increase in voluntary acts of goodness. Give generously, serve your community, and increase your supplications, prayers and God’s remembrance.

4. Focus on making this the month of Qur’an. Read as much Qur’an as possible. This includes listening to it on the way to work, during the day at home, or on your computer or phone on the T.

5. Increase the din, reduce the dunya. Focus your talks, chats, tweets and Facebook posts on the Hereafter, reducing your conversations about things of no benefit in the Hereafter.

6. Make this a month for your family. Strive to be home for Iftar after work if possible. Studies show that family meals act as major influences in keeping families healthy and strong.

7. Forgive those who have wronged you and hold nothing in your heart towards others. ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ood said, “Everyone isforgiven in Ramadan, except those who have hatred in their hearts towards their brethren.”

8. Be a constant source of good wherever you are. The Prophet (sa) said, “Best person is the one who is best to others.”

9. Worship with your family or friends. Parents should worship Allah together by completing a reading of the Qur’an together (with their children if possible). And roommates or friends should try to complete one together as well. Praying in the night together is commendable as is remembering God in gatherings – driving in the car or at home.

Challenging Assumptions

This piece was first posted in February of 2011, soon after I began blogging. I was reminded of it recently when a favorite blogger of mine, Rachel who writes at Djibouti Jones as well as various other places on the web, began a series “Let’s Talk About Hijab”. I love what she is doing with this topic, inviting several voices into the conversation. And here is a glimpse of my perspective.

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In my adult life, I have often been asked questions about Muslim women, more often than not put in a defensive position as I speak to what I know and have experienced. In everything from the hijab or burqa to a view of family and work, western women are curious, incredulous, or judgmental   

While I am in no way an expert, I am privileged to have life experience that included growing up in Pakistan until I was 18, and living in both Pakistan and Egypt as an adult for a total of 10 years. What is most important to me in my conversations is challenging the assumptions that are made through limited contact and knowledge of the Muslim world, more specifically women in the Muslim world.

I grew up with Muslim women surrounding me and friendships developed at early ages, some that continue to this day-but I am always aware that my words and thoughts are inadequate to the complexity of their role on the local and world stage. There is one thing I can say with surety: one of the first assumptions to be challenged is that Muslim women are monolithic. The diversity at every level is astounding and the image often conjured up of a fully veiled woman walking behind her husband is only occasionally correct.

It is because of this inadequacy that I continually read books and articles, but more importantly, ask questions of my Muslim friends.  This is also the reason I was so excited when my husband came home with the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. In an earlier post I wrote about this small red volume and wanted to expand a bit on this today.

The part of the book that is of most interest to me is the section on women.  While I love narratives and they resonate with me, I am aware there are many who want “just the facts”. This study works for the ‘data’ people and has information that cannot be ignored.  Several examples of vast differences in view-point are given.  For example, when western women were asked what they admired least in the Muslim world the response was ‘gender inequality”. Interesting to note is that responses from Muslim women did not include gender inequality. Equal legal right and gender inequality did not appear, rather the three most significant concerns for women were lack of unity of muslims, political corruption and extremism.

Undeniable in interviews with Muslim women was disapproval of the way western women are treated in the west. The perceived promiscuity, pornography, public indecency and lack of modesty were equal, in the eyes of those interviewed, to a degraded status for women.

Even as I write this, I am aware that books can only take us so far, that there is no substitute for relationships to challenge our assumptions and move us into friendships with those who think differently. I have two voices in my head as I write this: my mom – who spent over 30 years in a Muslim majority country; and a woman Bettie Addleton who spent the same amount of time. Both are examples of people who worked to form relationships in a part of the world that was different from the homes in America where they were raised.

In her book The Day the Chicken Cackled: Reflections on a Life in Pakistan Bettie recalls a Halloween party that she was putting on for her family and ours when we were little kids. The party was interrupted by a note from two Muslim women in the town who had heard of Bettie and were curious, and the note stated, “bored stiff” in this smaller town as compared to the larger coastal city of Karachi. Bettie goes on to say this

“Improbably, this single event marked the beginning of a wide network of friendships with Muslim women living in Shikarpur. Their generosity provided a window into a world that I otherwise would never have experienced. Indeed, the young woman …who sent me the note became the closest friend I ever had in Pakistan. She also became a willing and trusted source of information for the many questions I had about customs and traditions of our corner in Upper Sindh.”

Being willing to have assumptions challenged is not easy, but it is critical, particularly in a world often driven by stereotypes posed by the loudest voices on both sides of the divide.

As the quote by Dr. Daniel Brown on the back of Bettie’s book says, we need a balance to media driven images of Pakistan and Muslims” and “an account of real Muslim-Christian encounters that (are) filled with humanity, humor, and hope.”

Choose Your Outrage Carefully

There is much written about injustice in Haiti and Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil. There is much written about injustice in African countries from Nigeria to Namibia to Angola. Outrage erupts and pictures of starving children are posted on Facebook walls and blog posts. We decide what merits our outrage, and much of what is seen and written does merit outrage.

But rarely is anything written about injustice in Pakistan. Rarely does injustice in Pakistan merit anyone’s outrage. The only thing Pakistan merits is a biased screen production that gets awards. 

Because Pakistan is not sexy.

Pakistan breeds radical Muslim terrorists.

Pakistan is an enemy state.

Pakistan is not a ‘go to’ destination at any level.

Such is the thinking on Pakistan – and injustice doesn’t really matter when we don’t like something or someone.

So let me tell you about injustice in Pakistan today. 

On the evening of March 8th a mob of around 3,000 people attacked a Christian colony in Lahore. More than 175 houses were set on fire. The report goes that this attack was the result of a quarrel between a group of Christian and Muslim men. At the time the fight was not religious but later, one of the Christian men was accused of committing blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Here is a report from a group in Pakistan:

“Thank God that no loss of any life took place as people saved themselves by fleeing from their houses before the mob reached.   This incident has left all the inhabitant of this colony homeless as well as deprived of all their life savings. They have lost everything they had.  Though our Government has started to take action against the culprits yet people are still under fear.

Please keep all these people in your prayers that may God be with them in such a difficult time.”

The media has been curiously quiet – you have to search hard to find this on any of the major networks.  There is no outrage. Yet we see hundreds who have lost homes and everything they have.

Because they are minority Christians in a Muslim majority country and frankly, no one cares.

So where it the outrage? 

We in the west are funny about outrage aren’t we? The Susan G. Komen foundation decides to defund Planned Parenthood and we are outraged! Where is justice we cry!

Really?

Really?

Chick-fil-A president makes a personal statement about gay marriage and we are outraged!

Anne Hathaway smiles too big at the Oscars and we are outraged!

Someone criticizes another someone for writing a book and we are outraged!

And here I will drip with sarcasm and anger – our outrage about these things is just so very important isn’t it?!

Wake up people! Choose your outrage carefully.

And with that I wish you a Happy Monday.

Little Mosque on the Prairie – A Review

Little Mosque on the Prairie cast

Today’s post is a guest post from Abbas Karimjee. Abbas has followed the show Little Mosque on the Prairie from the first season until the show ended after its sixth season. Read more about Abbas at the end but for now enjoy this review of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Little Mosque on the Prairie addresses the stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims by providing a more balanced perspective towards the Muslim community. Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the show and it was produced by Westwind pictures. It concluded back in April 2012 after 6 seasons on CBC.

The show is based largely on the experiences of the show’s creator, Zarqa Nawaz. Through a comedy format the audience is able to see Muslim characters as people who balance their faith with their lives as Canadians while working through typical struggles of life. The show’s use of comedy allows it to explore various societal issues (like being placed on a ‘No Fly’ list, when to wear the hijab, and more) in a light-hearted way.

Actress Arlene Duncan who portrays the vibrant and assertive café owner. Fatema Arlene Duncan, Little Mosque on the PrairieDinssah, speaks to how this focused yet universal type of storytelling has allowed for her character to be relatable to audiences across the globe. In an interview with me Arlene commented ”I was under the misguided impression, like a lot of people, that Islamic women were generally a very unassuming oppressed group and I think it’s very eye-opening for people to see a character like Fatima, who is so much like your mother, sister, aunt or friend…no matter what religion or culture you might be from. When people recognize me from the show they often comment on how they relate to the things she does or know people who are just like her…”

Non-Muslims also felt connected to the show’s characters in a way which supports Arlene’s view. In a recent interview with a Christian viewer from France, Helene commented that through the show she discovered that Muslims in other countries such as Canada were actually quite well-integrated and successful as opposed to her experiences in interacting with and observing the issues faced by Muslims in France.

“As a French viewer I could hardly believe at first sight in those Middle-class Muslim characters who are all educated and well-integrated(even Baber), who all succeeded in life and all have a good job. Without social problems things always go better, and the French Muslims have precisely a bunch of social problems. On the top of belonging to a religion which has had a bad image in Europe for centuries, they suffer from social discrimination which started far before 9/11 and that 9/11 just made worse.Compared with them, the Muslims depicted in Little Mosque looked pretty favoured”

Because the show was relatable to audiences from other faiths and backgrounds, it attracted a diverse audience and educated viewers about the Islamic faith.

Take a look at the enclosed video from CBC which not only features my perspective as a blogger and a Muslim but also the perspective of non-Muslims as well as the cast and crew on the show’s overall impact, including how it has had practical educational benefits.

Siobhan, a reader on Abbas Karimjee’s Weblog commented to the educational effect of the show.

“I am a non-Muslim living in Scotland… and I’m addicted to Little Mosque on the Prairie! It’s funny, lighthearted, and family friendly and has given me a real insight into Islam. I’m looking forward to season six, and finding out what’s next for Amaar and Rayyan. I’d also love to see more interaction between Baber and Reverend Thorne – they are the two funniest characters, in my book.”

While the show resonated with many, it did have its critics. Creator, Zarqa Nawaz who based the series largely on her own experiences growing up, addressed the issue of the conservative responses she received from both members of the Muslim community as well as right-wing Americans. It is interesting to note that conservative Muslims are against the show’s existence due to its liberal interpretations of Islam [ i.e Zaib Shaikh’s Amaar as a non-bearded imam] while right-wing Americans are against the show because of how it is “softening “ attitudes to prepare America for the next terrorist attack!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cS_PtC6w6-A.

Many Muslims viewers also appreciated how they were able to connect with the characters and situations on the show. Batulbanu Dhala, a Muslim reader commented on how she connected with the show stating “Being a Muslim myself I felt attracted to the show and it was so hilarious that I could not stop watching it”
Batulbanu also commented that the show helped communicate a message by modelling a desired outcome of how communicating across boundaries can foster positive interfaith relations.

Given the show’s success in Canada, there has been great interest in shipping it to the United States.This seems to be something many Muslims have thought would help, given the reactions of some Americans towards a more balanced perspective of the Muslim community as seen in the earlier video from CBC well as the perspectives of some viewers

“This is such a fantastic show! I wish it would air in the U.S. as I believe that it would help promote a better understanding of the often misunderstood religion of Islam within my country. Additionally, it also shows how each person regardless of their faith, after all, is human and that we have much in common,” comments Little Mosque fan Nadia on Abbas Karimjee’s Weblog.

Given the demand, the show is available for viewing through Hulu @ http://www.hulu.com/watch/362933.

In summary, Little Mosque on the Prairie can connect with those from a wide range of backgrounds for different reasons and, by focusing on their similarities, model how those from different religious and cultural backgrounds can build strong, healthy ties between their communities, even in instances where there may be negative preconceived notions about one another.

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Abbas Karimjee is a 20-year-old  Canadian blogger  and  psychology student. He was Abbas Karimjeeraised within the  vibrant  community of the Greater Toronto area but currently resides in Ottawa.He has been running Abbas Karimjee’s Weblog  for  nearly  5 years, using it as a platform to formally cover a range of comedy and science fiction shows  of personal interest such as Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Office, Modern Family, Stargate Atlantis/Universe ,LOST, and more!

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Muslim-Christian Understanding and Reflections on the Death of Kenneth Cragg

Today I am honored to have my brother, Dr. Daniel W. Brown, guest post for Communicating Across Boundaries. Author of Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought and A New Introduction to Islam, he is currently an Oxford fellow en route to Istanbul to direct the Institute for the Study of Religion in the Middle East. This thoughtful article not only offers a tribute to Kenneth Cragg, but also insight to the challenges of Muslim-Christian understanding.

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On my bookshelf here in Oxford I have a green first-edition of Kenneth Cragg’s The Call of the Minaret inscribed “Ralph E. Brown, Ratodero, W. Pakistan.”  Dad passed it on to me a few years ago. The book is well-worn. I remember when I was a teenager, then living in Shikarpur, Sindh, taking it down from my dad’s bookshelf. I had no idea of its importance. The book was a radical challenge, urging Christians to listen, and to listen with deep sympathy, to Muslims. The Call of the Minaret was published in 1956. Cragg went on to write more than 40 books, and hundreds of articles. He earned unparalleled respect among Muslim scholars for his gentle, thoughtful, theological engagement. His was a life dedicated to intellectual hospitality, loyalty, mutuality, honesty.

Kenneth Cragg died on November 13, about four months short of his hundredth birthday. His death brought a glowing tribute from Rowan Williams and a lengthy and appreciative obituary in Daily Telegraph. Other tributes to Cragg and his extraordinary achievements will continue to flow, as they should. But perhaps we should add to these tributes a more sober accounting of the world, especially the world of Muslim-Christian relations, that Kenneth Cragg leaves us to.

There is plenty to encourage sobriety. But in tribute to Cragg’s own optimism let’s begin with the good news. For me the good news is illustrated by a book I am reviewing, Do We Worship the Same God? edited by Miroslav Volf. Much of the book is yawn-inducing, but it is worth its price for two of its essays, Denys Turner’s “Christians, Muslims and the Name of God:  Who Owns it, and How Would We Know?” and Reza Shah-Kazemi’s “Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the Same God.” Turner is Christian, Shah-Kazemi Muslim. Their essays are theologically sophisticated, intelligent, unflinchingly honest in facing the real issues that separate Muslim and Christian understandings of God. And they are good-humored and witty — especially Turner. On some points I disagree with both authors, sometimes profoundly, and they disagree with one another, but they would be great fun to hear, and they are a pleasure to read.

I think Kenneth Cragg would be cheered by Turner and Shah-Kazemi’s clear-eyed, substantive theological engagement. I find around me other, similar reasons to cheer. Shabbir Akhtar, who has been a forthright critic of Cragg in the past, learned New Testament Greek and is busily writing a commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. As a Muslim he is grappling with the Apostle Paul’s theology with seriousness and sympathy. I may disagree with Shabbir’s arguments at points, sometimes profoundly, but I also expect it will be a cheerful sort of disagreement. This is the kind of warm-hearted, honest, hospitable exchange for which Cragg pleaded and worked, and the good news is that it is happening more than we might realize, and that more initiative for such exchange comes from Muslims than ever before. The Common Word project is one catalyst, the Scriptural Reasoning movement another. And while the level of theological exchange sometimes falls woefully short of the standards set by Turner, Shah-Kazemi, or Cragg it surely beats tossing grenades, rhetorical or real.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is measured in body counts, uprooted lives, YouTube diatribes and Qur’an burnings. Thirty Christians killed in central Nigeria. Ten dead as suicide bomber targets church in northern Nigeria. Christian mob burns a man alive in reprisal. Rimsha Mashi, mentally handicapped young Christian girl, tried for blasphemy in Pakistan. Dozens of churches destroyed In Tanzania; east Africa violence spreading.  American man behind anti-Muslim film that sparked unrest due in court.  Anti-Muslim bus ads stir controversy. Five Egyptian Copts injured in inter-religious violence. In much of the world, relations between Muslim and Christian communities are far worse than they were when Kenneth Cragg began writing. Ignorance of what Christians actually believe remains at epidemic levels among even well-educated Muslims — and vice versa.

I see no reason for optimism. If a man like Kenneth Cragg, gifted as he was in intellect, long life, focused determination, and generosity of spirit seems to have made so little progress against the headwinds of Muslim-Christian misunderstanding, what hope is there for those of us with lesser minds and gifts? Not much. That conclusion won’t surprise those who know that I find Ecclesiastes especially inspiring. Nor will it surprise my mom, from whom I inherited a bracingly realistic attitude toward life. But Ecclesiastes also provides the way out: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Regardless of any immediate or visible results, we might add. What is good or excellent in the work of Kenneth Cragg, or the work of those of us who remain, will remain worth celebrating even if no one celebrates — our labor in the Lord is not in vain — and all that matters is anticipation of that final commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Re-post – Eid Mubarak! عید مُبارک

I’m sitting on my couch on a warm summer afternoon. The only sound is the fan breathing cool air into the room. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine I am in Egypt listening to the Call to Prayer echo across the city. For a moment I am intensely homesick….and then I will the feelings away. I wrote the post below last year but it seems appropriate, given the number of new readers to Communicating Across Boundaries, that I repost.

Perhaps you have shared an Eid feast in the past with Muslim friends, perhaps you are Muslim yourself and enjoying a day of feasting –either way I hope you enjoy the read and would love to hear from you.

Today marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, and begins a 3-day celebratory holiday called Eid-al-Fitr. After living so many years in Muslim countries I miss the celebrations and the time off. I miss the beautiful clothes and the spirit of festivity. As I rushed to catch the subway I almost bumped into a beautiful Pakistani couple on their way early morning to an Eid celebration. She had on an emerald-green shalwar chemise with gold embroidery and he was splendid in a Jinnah suit. Their little boy looked like he belonged in a Pakistani wedding, so regal for a pre-schooler. In delight I greeted them with the traditional “Eid Mubarak!” wishing them a “Blessed Feast”.

While Ramadan creates a sense of lethargy and far less activity, Eid-al-Fitr will change the landscape and bring on  festivities and food! Menus and cuisine vary according to country, with Egypt serving special sweets called “Kahk” and date-filled cookies and Pakistan serving huge plates of biryani (spicy rice and chicken) and kheer , a sweet rice dish.

Hospitality, always a high priority, is even more visible and there is a special charity expected during Eid-al-Fitr.

I remember this holiday from the time I was young. My first memory probably comes from Hyderabad, Pakistan where my father took my brothers and me out to watch Eid prayers at a large mosque. Thousands of men, all dressed in new clothes, and all bowing in unison with no sounds but the Call to Prayer and their personal quiet murmurings “Bismillah, ir Rahman ir Rahim” (In the Name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate) made a strong impression on me as a child. The picture has stayed with me through all the Eid celebrations I have witnessed through the years.

As a child and as an adult I have been welcomed into many homes during Eid al Fitr to celebrate with Muslim families. In my adult years, I have to confess that I have never reciprocated by inviting a Muslim family to dinner on Christmas. It is not something of which I am proud.

The lens through which we view the world is shaped by many things. I think I speak for many of us who grew up in the Muslim world, but were not Muslims, that we are often perplexed by the vehemence and hostility with which people respond to the Muslim world. This was not something that our parents taught us, not something that we were familiar with as children. While no one can deny nor justify the horror of terrorism and events in this country on 9/11, equating all Muslims and fearing them as terrorists is like equating all Christians as Westboro Baptist church.

An NPR story that came to my attention through my brother Stan called A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship : NPR speaks to something more familiar; friendship between people with a recognition that there are distinct differences between Islam and Christianity. My friend Nancy, who grew up in Al Ain but went to school in Pakistan, commented on the article that “Sheikh Zayed made a compound, land AND a chapel available to the handful of missionaries who set up the Oasis Hospital in Al Ain in 1960. He wanted health care for the people, and he wasn’t threatened by their faith”  My brother recalled “a story 150 years ago when Kyrgyz welcomed Mennonite farmers newly arrived in Central Asia. They offered them the use of their mosque for their Sunday meeting until they had their own place of worship.

To build relationships with people of other faiths is not compromising our faith. Rather, it’s living out a faith that is not threatened but firm.

I am not a Muslim, but today I wish my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak and am grateful to them for what I have learned through the years about devotion, faith, and hospitality.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8”

http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/09/10/an-egyptian-familys-eid-feast/

What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught Us About Christianity

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. 

Purchase Passages Through Pakistan here

Minarets on a Monday

There is a haunting loveliness about minarets. Deep feelings are evoked and  I feel a mixture of emotions when I see them, even more when I hear the Call to Prayer ring out over cities. Towering above other buildings, graceful and stately, they mark the skylines and landscapes of cities throughout the Muslim world. When I am away from the Middle East, this is some of what I miss. Though I am not a Muslim, they call me to pray for these countries and their people. Here is my photo tribute to minarets.

Counterintuitive Findings

On Thursday of last week I wrote a post titled “Victoria’s Ethnocentric Secret – The Blue Bra”  It was a strong response to an opinion piece in the On Faith section of the Washington Post. The post received a lot of attention. It was shared over 43 times on Facebook, received over 950 views the day it was posted (and far more since) and was emailed and tweeted multiple times. In other words, it struck a chord.
Based on some of the responses to the post, I thought it would be interesting to give a brief summary from the book I mentioned. The book is called “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think”  This book is the result of many years of research and interviews from “tens of thousands” of people in over 35 Muslim majority countries. It’s good information compiled by the researchers and important as we think about real dialogue. Moving past fear and stereotypes and into a better understanding helps to build bridges not walls.

Think about yourself for a minute. Is faith important to you? Do you feel like you are stereotyped as a Catholic or Evangelical Christian or (fill in the blank) and as you hear people talk you want to stand up and shout “No, it’s not like that! Let me explain! Let me tell you what I really think!” But you keep silent. This book allows us to hear those who have sat back silent from Muslim countries.

I want to point out that being willing to hear others and dialogue doesn’t mean we have to stop believing what we believe or downplay our values and beliefs – but it does mean that we will put our biases aside in order to understand another’s point of view, not assuming we know their beliefs and what drives those beliefs. One of my readers, Robynn, had this to say: “In the very insightful book, Cross Cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer encourages us to “suspend judgement” –which essentially means the same thing as cultural humility. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assign meaning. Don’t guess. Don’t interpret. Instead suspend judgement. Ask questions. Be curious. Learn. Learn. Learn.

As you read through this post on counterintuitive findings what surprised you and why? What are the stereotypes that you feel are perpetuated about Islam or other faiths?  Would love to hear from you through the comment section. 

Counterintuitive Discoveries in “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think”

Who speaks for the West?
Muslims around the world do not see the West as monolithic. They criticize or celebrate countries based on their politics, not based on their culture or religion.

Dream jobs
When asked to describe their dreams for the future, Muslims don’t mention fighting in a jihad, but rather getting a better job.

Radical rejection
Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustified.

Religious mainstream
Those who condone acts of terrorism are a minority and are no more likely to be religious than the rest of the population.

Admiration of the West
What Muslims around the world say they most admire about the West is its technology and its democracy — the same two top responses given by Americans when asked the same question.

Critique of the West
What Muslims around the world say they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same responses given by Americans when posed the same question.

Gender justice
Muslim women want equal rights and religion in their societies.

Respect
Muslims around the world say that the one thing the West can do to improve relations with their societies is to moderate their views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

Clerics and constitutions
The majority of those surveyed want religious leaders to have no direct role in crafting a constitution, yet favor religious law as a source of legislation.

Adapted from Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed.
Copyright © 2007 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.

As I said quoted in another post, our job is to be “Egalitarian about people, and elitist about ideas”.

Victoria’s Ethnocentric Secret – The Blue Bra

The title is compelling and sits in the faith section of the Washington Post, a respected mainstream media source. Who wouldn’t want to read “The Blue Bra Revolution”…so sexy…such a feminist idea….so Arab Spring,  but with that edgy, cool twist that the western audience craves.

And that’s the problem with the piece. The article is referring to an incident that took place in Cairo during a recent protest. A young woman was attacked and in the course of the attack her abaya was pulled away, fully exposing a blue bra. The author writes:

“Aside from the sheer brutality, I think what got to me was that she was wearing this gorgeous, sexy bright blue bra. Under her abaya. There was something so shocking about it, so unexpected. This person covered from head to toe demonstrated her beliefs through her choice of underwear. The blue bra said what I imagine her to be feeling: ‘I may be oppressed. I may not have rights. I may have to cover up my body and face. But you cannot destroy my womanhood. You can’t rob me of my femininity. You can’t take away my power.'” (Sally Quinn – The Washington Post 12/29/11)

I will not deal with the obvious wrong in the act against the Egyptian woman. There is no question that the force, violence, and resulting embarrassment was a violation and should be condemned. What I take issue with is the ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism that colors the entire article, an article penned by an outsider.

Through the author’s cultural lens we are given a passionate picture of a woman, oppressed, put down, forced to wear the abaya and hijab who in a courageous gesture wears a lacy blue bra. “The real her” The lacy, sexy, woman put down by men, forced to a life that screams “Let me out!”. “I may be abaya on the outside, but I’m Victoria’s secret on the inside!”  Wow. That doesn’t sound like the Egyptian women I know and love. It sounds like a stereotypical viewpoint that will now enjoy renewed support through this article.

The author is indulging in what has become the favorite pastime of many Americans: Interpreting and then prescribing meaning to the behavior, dress and inner cry of women and others in the Muslim world. Cultural imperialism much?

But that’s not enough. After indulging in the diatribe, in an unexpected leap she moves on. Her next victim? Mary Magdalene. She speaks of a new book (“brilliant” she calls it) that looks at the life of Mary Magdalene and argues that Mary Magdalene could well be the lover of Jesus.  The book imagines a conversation between Mary and Peter, the apostle. “You never truly saw nor knew me. You took the garments that I wore to be me, but you never recognized my true self.”  And then the lament by the writer of the Washington Post article “If only Mary had had a blue bra”

At this point, you as the reader (who have read some of my rants) know that I had enough. When will we in the west stop prescribing our culturally based views of freedom on the east? When will we, instead of pointing the finger, take a hard look at our culture and the things that we consider keys to freedom, and be willing to say “maybe we need to reconsider this”. When will we stop condemning the veil and abaya, pieces of clothing that are sometimes forced, and other times worn willingly,prescribing feelings and thoughts to the women who wear them when we have never spoken to them, we have never asked them? When will we stop whining about the veil and start speaking out against hook-up culture? What is our obsession with forcing our views of freedom down other people’s throats? When will we cease to re-write the stories of characters of the Bible to suit our insatiable appetites for sex and seduction? Freedom indeed!

Most of all, when will we display cultural humility, that “life-long commitment to self-analysis and critique” that would, instead of assuming the values and thoughts of another, ask!  And if the person is not available to be asked, as in the case of the Egyptian woman who has not yet come forward (and may very well not), not imagine her thoughts. After all – unlike Mary Magdalene, who can’t defend herself as she is dead, this woman is alive and perhaps even reading western media.

I was too upset. I needed help. I needed another opinion. So I sought it through my friend Lois. Lois has walked through life with me and knows my biases and quirks. She also sees the Muslim world through the lens of having grown up in the country of Jordan. Lois was the one who came up with the words that I couldn’t grasp, so passionate was I.

It is the need to interpret things through our own cultural grid that is troubling, and then the need to fit Christianity into a modern gridwork, and just how we try to alter things to fit our own filters.  It seems that instead of communicating across boundaries, it is easier to bring things within our own boundary of time and culture and interpret them from within those confines of safety.” And that was it. She got it.

When we choose to communicate and interpret only through our bias, we assign meaning to actions that could be way off base. When we ascribe viewpoints and feeling to people from an ethnocentric lens as opposed to a lens of cultural understanding we are on dangerous ground – no matter what respected media source we write for.

Bloggers Note: I urge readers to take a look at the section on women in “What a billion Muslims Really Think”. I believe it’s an important book and could be an eyeopener for many.  There are also a couple of other blog posts that you may find interesting. Another note, the term cultural humility was coined by two physicians, Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia as they looked at developing multicultural education for physicians. The concept is a good one and one that my colleague and I use often in cultural competency workshops. Read more here.

  1. On Burqas, Hijabs, and Charlie Sheen
  2. Challenging Assumptions
  3. Books that Inform

Amid Violence Against Women A Blue Bra Sends a Blue Bra Sends a Powerful Message 

Eid Al Adha – Feast of Sacrifice

Beginning at sunset November 6th and all through November 7th, Eid Al Adha is being celebrated by Muslims world-wide. Eid Al Adha is the second of two feasts that occur after Ramadan. This feast is the biggest and most important holiday of the Muslim year and concludes the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam.

Significant to Eid Al Adha is the sacrifice of an animal. A goat, sheep, camel and sometimes even a cow, is sacrificed and cooked to perfection, a feast for family and friends.

While living in Egypt our children had yearly experiences with Eid Al Adha that included a deep and lasting attachment to sheep. Every year a sheep was purchased by our neighbors and made it’s home in our stairwell. In the absence of a household pet, our children bonded with the sheep, delighted with the friendly “baa” that greeted us every time we came and went from our apartment. All the while my husband and I knew that this sheep was being held and fattened in anticipation of the Feast of Sacrifice. The leftover vegetables on our stairwell were indicative that this would be one fat sheep to slaughter. And so the day would inevitably arrive. The stairwell was silent as our children trooped downstairs. “Where’s the sheep? What happened to the sheep”. Every year the questions were the same.

As parents we were in a predicament. Not only did we know that the “pet” sheep had been sacrificed, we knew that we would be offered tasty meat from our neighbor’s kitchen later in the day. What do you tell your kids? Well, you tell them the truth. That it was never their pet, and that our family would be invited to share a feast with people who have graciously invited us to witness and celebrate something that means a great deal to them, and includes the sheep.

When you are raising children in a country where you are graciously received as a guest, you learn valuable lessons of what is important. As guests in the country of Egypt, we were treated kindly despite our frequent mistakes and gaffes in both language and culture. My own parents had modeled well respect and love for their adopted country of Pakistan so it was not difficult to remember what the bottom line was — and that is relationships and loving your neighbor as yourself. Growing up in Pakistan I don’t remember big religious debates, but I do remember a lot of tea being served, a lot of laughter, and some wonderful talks. It was this that was important as we celebrated Eid Al Adha with our neighbors and friends. Sheep were going to come and go but our neighbors and friends? They would be staying.

A common theme of this blog is communicating beyond difference. Celebrating the religious feast of another can be a tremendous act of bridge building. I have been grateful for those who have wished me a Merry Christmas or a “Blessed Big Day” even though they do not hold to those truth claims. Today, if you have Muslims in your world, remember this important celebration and wish them well. Bridges aren’t built in a day, but one days actions can bring about huge steps toward understanding.