“Right in the middle of it all, there’s this random white family! What in the world are you guys doing here? Are you undercover Bosnians, did you convert to Islam, or what?” We went to see a comedian at the mosque, and we became the entertainment for the evening.
The Challenges of Peacemaking
One challenging part of what my husband Martin and I do with his organization, Peace Catalyst International, is introducing Christians to Muslims so we can build friendships and learn from each other. With this goal in mind, Martin and I met a group of Christian friends at a local mosque. We observed the prayer time and toured the facility. As we were leaving, the leaders invited us to a special event that would include a dinner, special speakers and a comedian. We had no idea what that even meant—a Muslim comedian—at the mosque? Intrigued, we went to check it out the following Friday night.
A Full Evening
The dinner was amazing—hummus and pita bread and salad, rice and roast beef and baklava—I love Middle Eastern food! During the dinner, some adorable school children sang “It’s a Small World After All,” and they performed skits and such. One cute skit showed how it pleases God if we give our money to the poor and needy, rather than spending it on fancy cars and big houses. The people from this mosque had recently helped tornado victims in Henryville, IN, just as many Christian groups had.
After dinner, there were two speakers and a fund-raising drive. By the time the comedian got up to speak, it was nearly midnight. Though it was late and we were all exhausted, within a few minutes he had us doubled over with laughter. We were so glad we stayed to hear him. Azhar Usman was hilarious! He talked about how everyone thinks he’s a terrorist, which isn’t funny; but it was incredibly funny to hear him crack jokes about it. Through humor, he showed how we all stereotype people of different backgrounds.
The “Random White Family”—Us!
At one point, Azhar started commenting on the diversity of the group in attendance that night. There were Egyptians, Syrians, Indians, Palestinians, Bosnians, and African Americans… and then he turned to us. I hadn’t realized before this point we were smack-dab in the middle of the room. The comedian looked at us and said,
“Right in the middle of it all, there’s this random white family! What in the world are you guys doing here? Are you undercover Bosnians, did you convert to Islam, or what?”
Why We Were There
I was trying really hard to slide down under the table. There was nowhere to hide! I hadn’t thought of us as the only white family there, but I was the only blonde in the crowd. My bold husband, however, was just happy for the opportunity, and he replied,
“No, we just love Muslims.”
Something profound happened in the room at that moment. Everyone turned to us and smiled, and Azhar seemed astounded! He thanked us and said that they love us too, and that they were so happy for us to be there.
“You just made our night! And please tell your Christian friends that we love Jesus too, and that the Quran says that Jesus was a highly esteemed prophet, and that he was born of a virgin,” Azhar the comedian was on a roll now.
“So are you guys real, hard-core, church-going Christians?” he asked, incredulous.
“Yes,” we said. (“Guilty as charged,” I was thinking.)
Azhar went on, “Wow, you are brave! Your friends are going to say, ‘What! You went into the mosque? Are you crazy? Do you know what they DO in there? They kill chickens, and then eat them! Then they feed them to their children, and then they eat the children!’”
He was merciless as he went on, “Now, what would make this night perfect—repeat after me…” He started into the Muslim profession of faith…
The whole place roared with laughter, and I was laughing so hard I was crying.
The Comedian Gets Serious
Finally, Azhar became serious for a few minutes, and he led the whole crowd in a prayer of blessing and protection for us and our family. He also asked them to continue to pray for us. We were honored and touched. After the program we were overwhelmed with handshakes and invitations.
In the end, we became the entertainment for the evening, but I was laughing so hard I didn’t really mind. It is healing to be able to laugh together with those we have imagined to be “the scary other.” Muslims and Christians were face-to-face, each seeing in the other a person very much like ourselves, with similar fears, weaknesses and—thank God—a similar sense of humor. I think Jesus was pleased and laughing with us.