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.


  1. I have a lot of responses to your post. I am trying to word them in a way that you can hear them..

    My first response is that wondering if your encounter with the hijabis surprised you - that - somewhere in your being you don't necessarily associate Muslim and Islam with charity, kindness, and the every day..

    My second response is - great! I'm glad you could see Muslims for who we are - charitable, kind, peaceful, human.

    My third response is - Muslims and Arabs are different. I think you know this. But - for other readers of this comment - just as there are Arab Muslims - you know there are Arab Christians, Arab Jews, Arab Atheists, Arab polytheists, and so on? Right? The Arab world is as linked to Islam as the United States is with Christianity, but that isn't the true case. The Arab world is big and diverse.. I suspect you know this.

    My fourth response is - there is a whole group of us - progressives as you - and maybe even more so - who are Muslim. There is a whole group of us who work for peace, who work for everyone's rights, who are as charitable as you are. We aren't very loud, but neither are the progressive, peace loving, pacifist Christians. We are busily being silenced like progressive voices all over the world are silenced. Goodness knows the loud voice of Christianity here in the USA is not a progressive voice.

    I came to Islam from progressive Christianity. I came because I had to believe that Mohammed was a prophet of God. My views about the world, my views about peace, my views about justice haven't changed - just my faith tradition. Yes, I still strongly believe in gay rights, abortion rights, etc.. In fact I am a pacifist in every sense of the word.. And there are others just like me :).

    I love what you saw in the Muslims today, but being that you are a professed progressive Christian it shows just how far we have to come as far as Islamaphobia in this country. I would encourage you to spend time at your local mosque. What you will find is just another diverse complex group of people who worship the same God as you. I hope what you would come to see is that they - we Muslims - are as much your brothers and sisters in faith as those within your own church walls.

  2. I do hear that, Brooke.

    What surprised me was not the charity and kindness. I've known too many Muslims for that too come as a surprise. It was, instead, they were deeply engaged with an overtly "Christian" charity. Oh, cool, I thought.

    I also know non-Arab's a world religion, after all. A Persian is not an Arab. Neither is a Pakistani, or a Nigerian, or a Scots/Irish.

    I'm glad to hear your voice, frankly, and wish there were more such voices. It's the loud and angry ones we hear far too often.

  3. I am interested about the process of your transition to Islam from a progressive Christianity. In your encounter with Islam, what was it that you found most compelling and affirming of your understanding of God? Was there a particular imam, writer, or thinker that guided you? And as you engaged with the writings of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Unto Him), in what ways did they resonate with your awareness of the Creator of All Things?