Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Encountering The Face of Islam

I was just popping by the store to pick up a couple of things on the way home.

It was just a short while before dinner, so I was in and out, quick as can be.  On my way in, folks were handing out flyers as part of a food-drive for a local food pantry.  It's a pantry run by the local Christian community organization, one that routinely volunteer for myself.  I took a flyer, and then bustled about swiftly to snag the four items I needed.

Bam boom bing, and I was out.

On my way out of the supermarket, there was a gathering place for folks who were collecting food for said effort.

"Hey," said one of them, and it was someone I knew, a woman from the congregation where I'd interned as a seminarian O so many moons ago.  We exchanged brief greetings, and she introduced me to her daughter.

My fellow Presbyterian wasn't the only one collecting food, though.  There were other women there with her, from other faith communities.  One of them was wearing a hijab, which I took...reasonably mean she was Muslim.

There the Muslim was, collecting food for those in need, right alongside the Christians, to support a Christian charity.

As I prepared to leave, another woman in a hijab came up and embraced the woman I'd been speaking with, and they laughed and smiled in ways that people do.  The way that friends do, when they've not seen one another for a while.

There, in that encounter, was the face of Islam.

Sure, there are other faces, in the same way that Christianity has many faces.  I have struggled, as a progressive who doesn't just reflexively kumbaya my way through my encounter with reality, with the Quran.  It's a difficult book, if you read it honestly, as bright and fierce as the warrior-prophet who wrote it.  It's like reading Deuteronomy and Leviticus and 1 and 2 Samuel--often not the gentlest of books, to be sure--rewritten in an Arab sensibility.

And of course, there are still other faces.  There are those who emphasize conflict over hospitality, who have chosen not the path of spiritual discipline, but the path of human violence.  We see them, disproportionate and unrepresentative, in the same way that all loud and angry people call attention to themselves to the detriment of the communities around them.

But Islam is not that.  It is, more than anything else, a set of faith practices and disciplines.  An Islam built on the five pillars--faith, prayer, charity, self-discipline, and pilgrimage--is a concrete thing.  It's not abstract, or conceptual, or divorced from the reality it expresses into the world.

So there Islam was, laughing, embracing, engaged in acts of charity.

And as I drove away from that moment, it was a reminder: Others know the face of the God we worship by looking into our faces.