Raising a family as expats in Saudi Arabia for five years was the most unique experience of my life (and that’s saying something). Today I want to tell you a little about the culture shock and distinct pleasure we experienced when we moved there.
My husband grew up as a Palestinian refugee in Saudi Arabia, and most of his family still lives there, so he’s very comfortable with the language and lifestyle. He left Saudi for the States to get his Master’s degree.
We had lived in Saudi Arabia for five years shortly after we were married, so I had some idea of what to expect, but now we were bringing kids, ages 3-9, so it was going to be much different (btw, I’m breaking my self-imposed rule today and talking a bit about our children; overall I want to respect their privacy).
My husband was able to enter the country because he had family there, but the kids and I had to wait until he was employed and could apply for visas – it took about three months till we were able to join him. He left most of the packing to me (for which he is still in the doghouse), and I prepped the house to go on the market.
When the day of departure finally arrived, we brought our luggage to the airport and took the twelve-hour flight to Amman, Jordan, layover just long enough to get a little sleep, and then a quick two-hour flight to Jeddah. It was midnight when we arrived, and needless to say we were exhausted.
I don’t remember what I told the kids about our new neighborhood, but apparently I never told them about the prayer calls, ringing out over megaphones from all of the city’s 2,300 mosques, five times a day.
This video captures it perfectly. Please take a minute to watch it.
Now imagine these exact sounds at 4 am.
Our kids didn’t quite know what was going on when, that first morning, the prayer call sounded on megaphones from the mosques on every street corner in town. It woke them up, of course. (Not me, I had learned during my first five-year stint in Saudi Arabia to sleep through.) Our oldest explained to the others that this must be the sound of a parade to welcome us to town.
They peered expectantly out of the bedroom window, but the floats and balloons and jugglers never appeared. Eventually they went back to sleep, but later, they asked for an explanation.
Here’s how it sounds individually (I actually listened to a dozen recordings before I chose this one. The style of the prayer call varies in different parts of Saudi Arabia—and around the Islamic world. For example, in Riyadh it is much less “ornamented” than in Jeddah.)
God is Great (said four times)
I bear witness that there is no god except God. (said two times)
I bear witness that Mohammed is the messenger of God. (said two times)
Hurry to the prayer (said two times)
Hurry to success (said two times)
God is Great (said two times)
There is no god except the One God
Prayer is better than sleep (said two times—only for the early morning prayer)
The beginning of this prayer call, “There is no god except God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God,” is the shahada, (pronounced just like our last name – sha-HA-da) or creed, of Islam, their “I believe.” It has two parts: a statement of the oneness of God, and an acknowledgement of the prophethood of Mohammed.
While the shahada mentions only Mohammed by name, Muslims also believe in the long line of prophets that are also known to Jews and Christians—including Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus.
Christians have a shahada too. Many of us were raised on the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”). Our creed is also a statement of the oneness of God.
While the traditional Christian understanding of God (as stated in our creeds) is as a Trinity, it is still emphatically one God. The underlying assumption includes also a belief in all of the prophets of both the Old and the New Testaments.
Phil 2:6-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16 are believed to be some of the earliest creeds in Christianity.
But our creeds – our “I believe” statements – are only as good as the lives we strive to live. That goes for not just Christians and Muslims, but people of all faiths, and people who identify as atheist and agnostic. We all believe in something.
For each of us, our life is a creed that speaks much louder that any statement of faith, and ought to reflect the words and life of Jesus – not just our favorite New Testament quotes, but his example of walking in love all day, every day.
The world is a threatening place when we fear those who are different. But if we recognize our many commonalities, and embrace our uniqueness, it’s a much warmer, friendlier place.
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