A Challenge to Christians During Ramadan

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 style mosques, 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 I could worship; grateful for the presence of churches in a Muslim country. These churches formed a good part of our community.  And controversial as this may seem to some, I want this for my Muslim friends. In a country that claims freedom of religion, they should have a place to worship.

Yesterday began the month of Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve written in the past about Ramadan – about loving neighbors more than sheep, about my outsider perspective. Once again, I find it a good time to bring attention to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, who in one way or another will be celebrating the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month long period of fasting. It is intended to be a time of spiritual discipline, praying, and generosity. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, liquids, sex, and cigarette from the from sun up to sun down. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and the month of Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year.

There are some good articles that you can read to help understand more about the month of Ramadan, and I have linked them at the end of this article, but today I want to 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?

But being rejected for our 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 do so many come to believe that relationships, friendships and listening to others, means that we will fall down some slippery slope of forsaking our truth claims; of being false to that which we believe?

So as the month of Ramadan comes around, we have an opportunity to engage with Muslims.  We have a chance to live out what we want others to live at Christmas and Pascha or Easter.

With this in mind, I would challenge you to engage with Muslims. Get to know someone who is a Muslim.  Ask them about Ramadan and what it means to them. Ask them about the traditions that surround Ramadan. Just as Christians are not monolithic, so it is with Muslims, and traditions change according to country and family. Wish Muslims at your work place “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Or better still, ask them – ask them what to say. We have the choice to engage with others and learn about what they believe. Are you willing to engage people during Ramadan?

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? 

Aticles on Ramadan:

*An earlier edition of the post omitted the important detail of Muslims fasting only during the daylight hours. The piece has been corrected to reflect that fact. 

 

Worth More Than Many Pigeons

pigeon

It was only a pigeon. In the animal kingdom, pigeons are low on the hierarchy. But it was alive, and it was trapped inside the subway. I could hardly bear it. The pigeon was wandering around toward the entrance, where masses of people rush in to catch their trains during the busiest part of the morning. This bird was totally lost, pecking at the ground and clearly trapped. And there was nothing I could do to help. I tried cajoling “here little pigeon! here’s the way out!” And then my train came.

The last thing I saw out the window was that pigeon, trying to find a way out.

I felt hot tears form in my eyes, and the unspoken “why” was on my lips. Why pigeons trapped? Why refugees pouring over the border from a country. Over 23,000, my brother and sister-in-law tell me. Why? Why? Why? Why this broken world? I could hardly stand it.

Making my way to my office was no better as I stepped over more fractured pieces of our world. Homeless in alcoves, trash, mean-spirited people — sometimes it feels too much to bear.

I’ve been reading through the gospel of Matthew for my gospel readings. And there in Matthew 10 are the verses that shout out at me, begging me to trust, urging me to be faithful. 

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”*

But the ‘whys’ continue. Aren’t these refugees more valuable than sparrows? Are these refugees like the pigeon, trapped, low on the hierarchy of priorities in a world busy with other things?

The worst thing about this is feeling helpless in the face of so much need. My money is a clichéd drop in the bucket, and even as I feel for this situation right now, in an hour my mind and heart will be on something else — such is the fickle nature of my emotions.

But at the office it gets worse. Nine people, murdered while worshipping at a church, in Charleston, South Carolina. A 21-year-old suspect is now in custody. It was a vicious, heinous hate crime. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he is reported to have said. Are not these men and women more precious than sparrows? I feel sick with the horror of it.

A quote in the New Yorker deeply saddens me

“We periodically mourn the deaths of a group of Americans who die at the hands of another armed American. We periodically witness racial injustices that inspire anger in the streets. And sometimes we witness both. This is, quite simply, how we now live.”* 

Where do I go with this?

Again, there is the Word calling me to truth, begging me to trust, showing me that despite all this, there are still 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord. And so I call to mind the Lord’s great mercies, and beg for more. 

“Yet this I call to mind, because of the Lord’s great mercies, we are not consumed, Great is Your Faithfulness.”**

*Matthew 10:29-31

**Lamentations 3:21-22

Readers: Today begins the month of Ramadan for Muslims across the world. There are several posts on Communicating Across Boundaries that may be of interest to you, but may I urge you to head to Deb Mills site and take a look at her excellent post: Ramadan-Much More than Fasting – A quick guide for the sake of your friends & co-workers.

*Church Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina

A Life Overseas – Sacrifice, Sheep, and Raising Kids Cross-Culturally

sheep

It’s Saturday and we have a house full of college kids and young adults. Pumpkin croissants, courtesy of Trader Joe’s, are baking in a 350 degree oven, taking the chill off this fall morning. I’m awake early, grateful and full.

I wrote this post for A Life Overseas–retooling an older, shorter piece I had written a couple of years ago. Would love to have you take a look and tell your stories of connecting across the cross-cultural divide.

Beginning Monday evening through all day Tuesday, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al Adha – the feast of sacrifice.

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. It is considered the ‘Greater Eid’.

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.

Thinking about Eid al Adha takes me back to both my childhood in Pakistan and to raising children in the Middle East. My mind returns to a walk-up apartment, a dark stair-well, and a bleating sheep.

Every year as Eid al Adha came around our neighbors purchased a sheep and, in the absence of green space, the sheep made its home in our stairwell. At the time we had no household pet and our children bonded with the sheep, delighted with the plaintive brown eyes and the friendly “baa” that greeted us every time we came and went from our apartment.  This was ‘their’ pet. All the while my husband and I knew that this sheep had a preordained purpose – to be 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?” 

Read the rest here! 

Whether you’re in Pakistan or Brazil, Cambodia or Istanbul, Cairo or Chicago, Rochester or Kansas– May you have time for tea and reflection today. And as I’ve said before and will continue to say as long as I’m blogging–Thanks so much for reading. I never take it for granted.

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? 

****************************

*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.

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

The Milestone of Twenty-Five

There are many milestones for moms. Milestones of birth and first tooth, milestones of first day of school and graduation, milestones of heartbreaks and accomplishments. And one of those milestones is when a child turns twenty-five. I don’t know what it is, but twenty-five is a big deal.

Twenty-five is an adult. Twenty-five is a quarter of a century. Twenty-five is a reminder of my mortality, a reminder that I am growing older and will someday grow old. 

And today my second child and first-born son turns twenty-five. Born on a hot evening in the middle of Ramadan in Islamabad, Pakistan, he came into the world with a full head of blonde hair and the most gorgeous blue eyes I had ever seen. The sleepless night that followed had me staring at those wide open eyes for over 4 hours. It was a moment that I will never forget. In those 4 hours all the love that I could pour out in this world poured out. I was smitten.

The memories I have of a tow-headed toddler are both hilarious and poignant. Running across a carpeted apartment floor with an egg, thinking it was hard-boiled only to lose it on the ground and realize it wasn’t, resulting laughter erupting from the soul. Seeing the Egyptian policemen change uniforms in spring and saying in complete sincerity “Mommy, when I grow up I want to be one of them!”. Cries for me to pick him up when I was pregnant with our fourth and so tired. “Can I tell you a secret Joel? I can’t pick you up because we’re having another baby. You’ll have another little brother or sister!” His eyes went wide with amazement and he walked the entire way up the hill.

The more recent memories come in the form of a picture taken in Trader Joe’s parking lot in Cambridge. He gathered up his older sister and I in his arms and someone snapped a picture. Taped to our refrigerator, it is a reminder of bear hugs and warmth. Memories of this past Christmas in Cairo, late nights in coffee houses, climbing up the highest minarets in the city and laughing on a French express train to Alexandria.

It’s these memories and more I have as I think about this day and milestone. His debating skills, honed on his father; his love of travel and history; his cooking ability; his ability to make friends; his raucous laughter that makes everyone around him laugh, even if we don’t think something is funny – all of this is the person who is Joel.

Joel lives miles away and has been independent for some time. He manages his world without his mom. It’s hard to admit but he does it well.

And today he will turn twenty-five without us. Though presents have been sent, it’s not like being there and raising a toast in his honor. It’s a milestone. A milestone for him, a milestone for me, a milestone for his dad.

Happy Birthday Joel – You came into our lives and our world did a dance. 

Cairo Cool! Joel is second from the right. 

Eid Mubarak! عید مُبارک

Twin minarets

Today marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, and 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. To my delight, as I rushed to catch the subway, I almost bumped into a beautiful Pakistani couple. She had on an emerald-green shalwar chemise with gold embroidery and he was splendid in a Jinnah suit. Their little boy was equally dressed up and belonged in a Pakistani wedding. In delight I greeted them with the traditional “Eid Mubarak!” which basically means “Have a feast blessed by God!” although I welcome readers to correct me!

While Ramadan creates a sense of lethargy and far less activity, Eid-al-Fitr will change the landscape and bring on the 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. That is 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/

A Look at Ramadan from an Outsider

Ramadan Lanterns, Cairo, Egypt

Today marks the first day of Ramadan for Muslims around the world. Ramadan is held during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the time where the Koran was revealed to the prophet Mohammad. Ramadan is a month of fasting and is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, the others being belief in one God, charitable giving or tithe, the call to pray five times a day, and if financially and physically possible, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca..

It is a time of fasting and prayer where Muslims are to abstain from food and drink as well as smoking and sex daily from the time the sun comes up until dusk. At sun down the fast breaks with a special fruit drink and dates, after which a meal is eaten. This ritual is held daily for a month. All are to take part except for the very young, the sick, the elderly and those who are pregnant. Ramadan is also a time when calls for Zakat, or charitable giving, increase.

Just like the diversity of Muslims world-wide, the practical practice of this month-long period of fasting varies from family to family and country to country. I was probably around 9 years old, and had already witnessed several years of the practice of Ramadan when I began to understand a bit of what it meant for those surrounding me in Pakistan. As a Christian white kid, it was an annoyance. Why couldn’t we buy Fanta when we were on a family trip? Why did we have to be careful where we had our picnics, to not eat publicly lest we offend?

As my age grew, so did my understanding of this faith tradition and the truth claims of Muslims. When I moved to Egypt I would have talks with our Muslim friends about the significance and discipline of fasting and prayer, a reminder of something bigger than we were. We would be warmly invited to attend the iftar (breaking of the fast) celebrations at sunset, eating, laughing and talking with our friends. While during the day the world surrounding us felt oppressive, once the Call to Prayer signified the breaking of the fast, people would break into party mode, eating special foods and drinks late into the night. Colorful Ramadan lanterns were hung on balconies and trees bringing a festive air during the evening, a stark contrast from the heavy atmosphere during the day.

An Expat Lady & a Ramadan Baby

I originally wrote this piece in 2011, during my first year of blogging. I repost it today in celebration of my “Ramadan Baby” turning 30! 

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was the middle of Ramadan and earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a woman in transition and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

Two babies were born in those hours just past midnight, as the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night. The last azaan, calling the faithful to pray, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast.  At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains..

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a “first class” hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toe’d, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff  in by two’s to see “the engraze who had her husband in with her during the delivery.” Something unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebi’s and barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras, ensuring a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy, which, though not very much, was a huge thing to publicly acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes, and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.  Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.