Whelp, last week, I ended up being the only Christian hanging out at a Muslim cookout. God moves in mysterious ways. I felt like I shed another layer of religiousness because there is much fear in some Christian churches about anything related to Islam.
Contrary to particular teachings, I believe Christians can have the love of Christ dwelling richly in them, explore different religious perspectives, and connect with people of different faiths without it devolving into another grand concern about the precarious state of our souls.
Christ did not evaporate from my life because I read the Koran or visited a mosque and vice versa. He did not leave me when I watched Star Wars or Black Panther, either. And, last I checked Wakanda and the Luke Skywalker are not in the Bible. Sometimes, I think we need to hand out chill pills with the communion wafers.
I’m not just saying. I’m saying.
A Book and Brunch
It started with a brunch and revisiting the Koran.
I had not read the Koran in years. Since I had a void in religious textual studies (an intentionally vague description of my year-long pause of Bible study), I figured I would add in the Koran with other books. I wanted to explore Christ through and concerning the Koran and Islam.
Earlier in the week, after a meeting, I decided to have brunch on my own and read at one of my favorite spots.
As I waited for my meal, I saw a party of seven women of Middle Eastern descent dining together. Because all except one wore a hijab, I determined that most, if not all, were Muslim.
I felt compelled to approach them and inquire about their mosque.
Then the inner conversation ramped up in my mind:
“What will you say?”
“What if they are visiting from out of town and don’t know.”
“How can you ask without sounding like an ignorant islamaphobe?”
I chose to go for it.
I approached the table, introduced myself, kindly requested a pardon for interrupting, and asked if any of them lived in the area, noting my interest in visiting the mosque.
One of the women, Anoud, immediately took an interest in my inquiry. She invited me to sit down.
The other women looked at me as if I carried the plague. The one who sat on the other side of me tried to catch herself before I noticed, but it was too late. I saw her eyes widen in horror before flashing a fake smile.
As I spoke with Anoud, another woman across the table chimed in. The woman without the hijab kept looking at me as if gale-force winds blew in rubble to the table. Another one’s countenance gave way to haughty looks in my direction.
Anoud seemed oblivious to the dynamic. She had enthusiastic warmth and invited me to stay and join them for lunch, to which I declined. Primarily, I really wanted to dine in solitude, and secondarily, I wanted to respect their gathering. Sometimes you want to get together with friends, and the gaze of a stranger can disrupt an otherwise intimate and open conversation.
All week I could not shake something about Anoud. When she looked into my eyes, it was different than the other women. Her countenance and vibe radiated sincerity.
She was not like the rest of the women, and I recalled how Jesus would have these encounters, where someone would move Him.
I felt Christ’s love in Anoud. Anoud did not care if I was not light skinnedededed Middle Eastern like everyone at the table. Her spirituality went beyond her cultural messages. She possessed the spirit of the charity. I saw the love of Christ in action. I saw the Good Shepherd who would leave the flock of sheep to go rescue the one.
To Anoud, the one mattered.
Just like Christians are walking Bibles, Muslims are walking Korans. Our religious lifestyle can push people away from God or draw them closer.
That is, religion can puff anyone up with pride and, couple it with the belief that one’s race, nationality, origin, or skin color is better, it can create disconnects with each other and from embodying and expressing God’s love.
I returned to my table to read, and two military men were seated at a table next to mine. On one side were women who represented a group that groups in the U.S. automatically deem threatening, while on the other side, sat people often considered heroes to protect us from them.
None of us had a place at the same table. All of us had our own tables in the same restaurant. I noted the subtle symbolism.
To the Mosque
Several days later, I decided to visit the mosque recommended by Anoud to attend a class designed for newbies. I wanted to comprehend more about God from a Muslim perspective, connect with those of a different faith than mine, and explore Christ in all of it.
I had no hidden agenda to evangelize or dispute their teachings. I imagined how disrespectful it would be if a Muslim showed up at a church only to argue or try to convince Christians about the wrongness of their faith. I suspended my judgments about religion because I sought to listen, to ask questions, and to understand.
From my experience in dealing with church folk visiting Christian denominations, showing up as I am could be walking onto a Holy Ghost landmine because I needed to come correct with my attire before coming to church. One church might think I am possessed for wearing lipstick and pants, while another one might pin a doily to my head because I entered without my head covered.
Therefore, drawing from what I knew, read, and observed from Muslim acquaintances, I surveyed my closet for the longest dress I could find. I had one that I thought fit the bill.
It was neither form-fitting or flattering, especially since I had lost weight since I last wore it.
It definitely was not a clubbing outfit.
It looked like a BBD (big black dress) instead of the essential LBD (little black dress) often raved by fashion mags.
Because my dress did not cover my ankles, I decided to wear black leggings underneath.
As for my hijab, I rigged something together with my longest summer scarf and a headband. After a quick online tutorial courtesy of the interwebz, I thought I had done the darn thang like my name was Khadijah MacGyver.
However, on my way to the mosque, I realized I had made a mistake. I looked at my arms, extended to the steering wheel, and gasped.
My dress had three-quarter length sleeves. “Great,” I thought, “Now I am showing up like an infidel floozie.” I decided to take my chance, hoping grace will be bestowed for my rookie blunder.
I arrived at this massive complex with only two cars in the parking lot.
I had no idea which door and building to enter. I saw a sign that had the word “education” in the title. I began with this building and roamed around the quiet structure.
Just like I had learned from the movies, I asked aloud, “Hello? Is anyone here?”
I walked farther, and I heard something from a room. I went to the room and saw a man arranging desks.
With a big smile, he confirmed that I was in the right place.
As we talked, I felt relieved that I could participate as a Christian.
Then, another teacher arrived.
Although both teachers encouraged questions, I informed them, “I have gotten into trouble with religious people by asking questions.”
“No. No. No,” One of the teachers insisted, while the other one shook his head in agreement, saying,
“We want you to ask questions. Ask lots of questions.”
“Okay,” I replied, completely aware of the skepticism expressed by my face.
I decided that I would ease into some of my questions and wait on the heavier ones.
As other students began to trickle in and the rest of the instructors arrived, I admired the diverse mix of people from Middle Eastern, European, African, and Asian descent.
I learned much in the session, and the teachers really welcomed questions even after the instruction. My gears were turning more as I thought about Islam and the love of Christ, reflecting on the common threads, opposing views, and the influence of cultural norms.
Christ at the Cookout
I accepted an invitation to the class cookout after prayer.
Most of the conversations went beyond superficial chit-chat. Different people kept encouraging me to call and text about questions. It began sinking in that they were quite serious about my questioning (I am still trying to remember if I had ever attended a church cookout where I was actively encouraged to question.).
Furthermore, I sensed my agitation, at times, at what I perceived as a clear patriarchal structure at the mosque and the cookout, and I used it to invite curiosity to find out more instead of casting judgment. I allowed myself to keep looking for Christ in my experiences.
I experienced Christ, as we ate, laughed, and talked about the ups and downs of life. There is something divine about sharing our world over a meal together.
Also, I experienced Christ as I marveled at people who really wanted to know God and to live in loving community with others.
When someone shared about how on a hot day, massive protestors stood outside the mosque, holding up signs, shouting for them to leave, and they responded by setting tables with food and popsicles for them, I reflected on Christ’s forgiveness.
One of the teachers approached and advised, that in my seeking, to pray to God to ask to be directed along the right path, concluding, “That is it. It is about a relationship.”
It is about a relationship with God, and yet I notice that something gets in the way of our contact with each other, besides the physical barriers of our temples, mosques, and church buildings.
My experience raises more questions about how our beliefs about and interpretations of God-inspired religious texts potentially impinge on connecting with people of different faiths. Love unites and fear disconnects.
Three Points of Wisdom From Days 15-21
- Relationship has a way of disrupting your media-informed and self-righteous perspectives.
- Religion can cloud your vision from enjoying the beauty of people longing to know and please God.
- It is okay to set aside your Christian know-it-all cap. You can connect more with people when you earnestly listen and seek to know them.