faith

Home/Tag: faith

Five Things This Christian Learned from Islam: Humility

islam and christianityFor the next five weeks I plan on writing once per week about some of the things I have learned from Islam. I’m not saying the Muslims around me do these things perfectly. I’ll leave perfection to God. But I am saying there are things I’ve learned, that my Muslims friends have taught me, things that have begun to soak into me and the outworking of my faith. I’m also not saying I don’t see any of these things in Christianity or the Christians around me but it is important (to me at least) to acknowledge and honor some things Islam emphasizes and that Muslims do well.

  1. Humility
  2. Community
  3. Consistency
  4. Awe
  5. History

Humility

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward, Surah 33:35 Sahih International

Islam teaches humility before God and before humankind. Christianity also teaches humility before God and before humankind. Here, I want to discuss humility before God because honestly, I don’t see a lot of humility between humans. I see (in people of both religions and in my own heart) pride and fighting and greed and stealing (twice in one week) and I don’t want to delve into that.

So. Humility before God.

islamic salat

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you 1 Peter 5:6

I have learned this before, the Bible is rife with references to the need to be humble before God. The idea that we are but dust and desperately sinful is woven all throughout the scriptures. That Christians express utter dependence on the saving work of Jesus is ultimate humility. The refusal to perform, the acknowledgement that all one’s good deeds will not save, this is deep, internal, faith-based humility.

But I haven’t seen a lot of physical humility before God. Perhaps this is because I grew up in the evangelical world, far outside liturgical structure, far outside the kneeling benches in Catholic churches. But the longer I am in Africa and the older I get, the more I understand how interconnected everything is. Our souls and bodies and minds and relationships. When my spirit is heavy, my runs slow down. When my body is weak, my relationship with friends suffer. When I raise my hands in church, my soul rises. When I bow my head low, my soul bows down.

This is what I see, vividly and every single day, in Islam. The physicality of humility through the five-times-daily prayer and then during Ramadan, through fasting.

I hear a lot of people say fasting is too hard, they have low blood sugar. They don’t fast because it makes them feel weak and tired.

As it well should.

This is what humility feels like and it is (partly) why fasting is a valuable practice for people of faith (reminder to self). The powerful, gurgling and grumbling, reminder that we are dependent on food is a picture of our dependency on God. The weakness fasting imposes reminds us that God is not weak, he does not rely on food for nourishment.

Even more clearly, the bowing of the salat, is a picture of humility. Putting the forehead to the ground, refusing to stand erect and firm.

I read The Shack, years ago, and one scene that always bothered me is when the man first meets the God character. She is African American, carrying a tray of chocolate chip cookies. His reaction is one of surprise, but he feels welcomed and loved.

It is a nice picture.

But ‘nice’ or safe and homey are not what I see when Muslims meet God in prayer and not what I think will happen the first time I meet God, no matter how many chocolate chip cookies he might be carrying.

I think we will fall on our faces, trembling, forehead to the ground, arms outstretched in the ultimate, “I am not worthy,” pose. We might feel welcomed and loved but we will also be completely, totally, humbled before God’s power, perfection, and awesome glory.

When I see Muslims praying the salat in front of the grocery store and outside houses, beside construction sites and inside my living room, it is a moving visual of the necessity of the soul’s humility before God.

If you are a Muslim, do prayer and fasting affect your heart attitude toward God? If you are not a Muslim, what do you do in your spiritual life to grow in humility?

*image via Flickr

*image via wikimedia

God and Harmonicas

In this Christmas season (and, quite honestly, in this American-month when I am so over-stimulated that there is little room in my brain for creativity and fresh words) I am giving myself a gift and re-posting one of my favorite essays. Its kind of hard sometimes to see words go up online and then fade into the never-never-land of already been published and destined to sit unread. But mostly I want to reshare because it is a personal favorite for three reasons (plus, the post is about Christmas).

1. The memory that sparked it is beyond precious. It still brings me to gut-busting laughter and tears and floods me with love.

2. I sent it in to SheLoves Magazine, a cold-turkey submission to a website I knew almost nothing about. They graciously accepted it and even more graciously invited me to be a monthly contributor. I can honestly say that my writing and my online friendships have never been the same. Deeper, funnier, more honest, challenged.

3. What the essay is really about – learning to accept good gifts from God with joy and not guilt has been a difficult lesson to learn but one that has changed my relationship with God. I love that about words and writing, I learn even more as I turn life into paragraphs.

harmonica

So, today I’d love it if you would read or reread God, Giver of Harmonicas.

I’ve learned, through sermons and study, through living ten years in Somalia and Djibouti, a little bit about suffering. But my six-year old Lucy, with her harmonica, is teaching me about joy.

Lucy started asking for a harmonica for Christmas in October. I asked if she wanted to buy one with her own money and she said, no, she was sure she would get one for Christmas. In November, Lucy sent an email to Grandma Pieh and Grandma Jones, asking for a harmonica. I hit “send” and she immediately asked if she could use the telephone.

“I want to make sure they get the email,” she said.

By Thanksgiving, Lucy was asking for a harmonica every day and asking to email or call both grandmothers every other day.

“I don’t want them to forget,” she said.

In early December a package the size of a small suitcase showed up under the Christmas tree at Grandma Pieh’s house, wrapped in blue snowman paper.

“I think that’s my harmonica,” Lucy said and gave it a gentle shake.

Lucy reminded everyone about her desire for a harmonica but at the same time, she appeared resolutely confident that she was going to receive one. Someone, somewhere, knew what she wanted and loved her and would make sure she got it. Yet she asked. Every. Single. Day.

“What if you don’t get one?” I asked.

“I asked for a harmonica.” She shrugged. “I know someone got me one, I just didn’t open it yet. It isn’t a hard thing…”

Read the rest here God, Giver of Harmonicas.

*image credit

Eid, a Fire, Embassies, and We’re Fine

I hadn’t planned to post today but there are four things that I think are important for you to know.

First: Today is Eid, Eid Mubarak! Whether you are a Muslim or aren’t one, live in a Muslim country or don’t, wish your Muslim friends Eid Mubarak, the Muslim cashier at Target Eid Mubarak, the neighbor, coworker, fellow student, taxi driver, physician…Eid Mubarak.

Eid Mubarak

photo by Donald Fernandes, flickr

Second: A massive fire destroyed the international terminal of Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport on Wednesday this week. The images are awful and sad, mercifully no one was injured. This is an airport that our family has spent many an hour in. Everyone we know in Africa who travels has traveled through this airport, it seems like a connecting point, a stationary point in these transient lives. The fire will likely have significant impact on travel in the region.

Third: The US embassy in Djibouti was closed this week along with 19 other embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa. If you click through the slideshow in the link you’ll see Djibouti’s old and rather shamefully decrepit (compared to the others in the list) embassy.

Fourth: We’re fine. We’re happy Djiboutians are celebrating Eid. Our kids aren’t due to return to Kenya for another three weeks. We rarely go to the embassy anyway and have noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

That isn’t to say we’re safe. I have no idea if we are safe or not, who can know? As I write, we are all in good health and buoyant spirits. By the time I publish the post, our lives could be turned upside down.

We walk by faith not by sight.

shouting and celebrating on Eid

shouting and celebrating on Eid

Eid Mubarak!

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Am I Good Enough to Wear This?

Today’s guest post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is one I have been eagerly waiting for. Sarita Agerman and I are doing a little blog-swap. Last week I was at Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy with I Don’t Live in a One-Word World and this week she is visiting Djibouti Jones. The way she approaches Islam on her blog is open, honest, deep, and ultimately, relatable. I find it fascinating that when she writes about being a newbie at mosque or about the hijab mirror test, though I have never prayed in a mosque or committed to wearing hijab on a daily basis, I can connect with her stories as they shed light on my own experiences. And this is what good writing and true living do. I also love the virtual friendship we are forming and the fact that when I told her my kids were going back to Kenya on Monday she said she would pray for me. This is what the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is after – not uniformity but community. Enjoy…

Outward Sign of an Inward Faith: Am I Good Enough to Wear This?

2 Sarah

Not all women choose to wear it and there are (as in everything) different interpretations of whether it’s obligatory or not, but in my case the hijab was something I choose to adopt pretty much straight away.  For me, it was part and parcel of the process of converting.  My relationship with the physical scarf was a useful gauge as to how I was progressing in my tentative spiritual journey towards Islam.

I had the occasions, like many other female converts, when I would watch Pearl Daisy or Nye Armstrong’s videos till late into the night. I’d squeal with excitement and then rush to the mirror to try the hijab out for myself. Of course, it would be wonky or fall off but that didn’t matter. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t pull off the architectural feat of keeping the scarf on my head because I was happy, excited and feeling open to the new emerging influence in my life.

The times when I looked into the mirror and disliked my hijabified reflection were, with hindsight, the times when I was feeling scared by the changes that were going on in my life. As I wrestled with the theological differences between two faiths, I saw this battle play itself out in front of the mirror on a smaller scale. I’d get tangled up in my scarf, get annoyed with it and then throw it to the ground in exasperation.

During one of my more enthusiastic phases, I ventured out wearing an experimental turban to the local garden centre in the sleepy English village where I lived. I pottered about the pots and petunias with my internal paranoia pendulum swinging between feeling confident and breezy to ‘aargh everyone’s staring at me.’ In reality though, I don’t think any of the passers-by were particularly shocked by my presence and were probably more concerned about which pebbles would suit their new rock garden. Yet despite the lack of drama, it was still a significant step for me. It made me realize that despite my occasional paranoia, I actually felt comfortable with people being able to identify me as a Muslim by the way I dressed.

This realization brought with it a strong sense of responsibility. I didn’t feel at the time that I had enough Islamic knowledge to wear an article of clothing so steeped in tradition and with such political and religious connotations thrust upon it by the media and society. I worried that I’d be asked questions about Islam which I won’t be able to answer.

Or perhaps even worse (in my mind), was the fear that someone would speak to me in Arabic and I’d have no idea what to say in return. There have been so many times when someone has said asalaamu alaykum to me in the street and I was so excited that all that came out was a weird ‘waaaaaaaaaaaaaa,’ as it was the only syllable I could remember of the expected response ‘wa alaykum salaam.’

DSCN5135

Social awkwardness aside, I often felt inadequate wearing something which represented faith and modesty when I was still in a transitional period of discovering more about Islam and my own personal beliefs. I can understand why some Muslim women find the act of wearing hijab tough because it comes with the weight of representation. If you miss a prayer or two as I sometimes do, or find yourself daydreaming about lunch during Salah (the five daily prayers) then you begin to feel bad wearing something that for many people, whether rightly or wrongly, represents piety. If you think in that way then it’s easy to feel like a fraud when you fail to achieve the high standard which you expect of yourself and think others expect too.

Hijab shouldn’t be viewed as an accolade, like a medal for winning a race, rather it should be viewed in the same way as the number pinned to the chest of a long-distance runner. It says to the world that you’re participating in a spiritual journey which is still in progress and even though at times you might fail miserably, you’re going to keep going.

In this way, I see the hijab as way of acknowledging that I’m not perfect but that I aspire to the values which the hijab represents. It isn’t there to chastise me for my failings but to remind me and encourage me to carry on despite them. The important thing is to consider our intentions and to continue trying, despite all our weakness, to be a better person and improve our relationships with God and those around us.

 *****************

sarah1

Sarita is an English language teacher from the UK who currently lives in Bologna, Italy with her husband.  She converted to Islam two years ago and began to write a blog last year as a way of sharing her experiences as a new convert and newbie teacher in a foreign country. She has recently started studying the Arabic alphabet with the aim of one day mastering the tricky letter ﻉ.

You can also find Sarita on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Other posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

The Thousand Stories of Hijab, by Chaltu Berentu, a video via The Poet Nation

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Links 

I Don’t Live in a One-Word World, Guest Post

Today I am blogging at Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy about how I can’t explain my faith, my culture, or my work in single word sentences.

I don’t remember who stumbled upon whom first, but somehow Sarita and I found each other’s blogs and immediately felt a curiosity and a connection. She is a British expat, teaching English in Italy, and is a Muslim revert. She writes about Italy and food and Islam with candid humor and grace and I can’t recommend highly enough that after reading my post, you spend a bit of your precious time perusing her blog. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you might discover someone you’d love invite to coffee and gelato and conversation. Sarita will also show up here, as part of the Let’s Talk about Hijab series in a week or so.

Here’s an excerpt of my piece at her blog today. Would love to have you head over, read, comment.

***************************

I Don’t Live in a One-Word World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of my favorite things to do in Djibouti is to listen in when people talk about me in Somali and then interrupt with a quiet and firm, “Waan ku fahmayaa.” I understand you.

Shock registers, every time. People fall from chairs, trip over their own feet, grab onto one another, cover their faces with their headscarves in shame, kiss me, shout “Maasha Allah!” Thank God! They pull random bystanders into our space and throw their arms around me.

“She speaks Somali.”

The newcomer invariably responds with “That’s impossible.”

I remain silent while the others repeat what just happened and again, at the right moment, I interject with a proverb or a joke or a rare fact.

A few weeks ago I waited for my coworker Hassan in the front area of the Djiboutian newspaper offices. The lone foreigner. Curly blond hair. Long skirt and billowy shirt, modest but not local. A small group gathered. People wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.

“The white lady is waiting for someone,” the doorman said. We had already spoken, shaken hands, asked after family members.

“But who could she be waiting for?” one of the cleaning ladies asked. She sat next to me, our elbows brushed. “Her skin is white but maybe her insides have become Issa.” Issa is the major Somali clan in Djibouti.

“I’m waiting for Hassan,” I said in Somali.

The cleaning woman gasped and grabbed my arm. “Praise God I called you white and not galo!” she said. The word galo means infidel but is often used to refer to Caucasians.

“I’m not an infidel,” I said. “I have a religion and am very happy with it.”

“Are you a Muslim?”

Read more here…

Go to Top