November 22, 2013
After a few years of living in the Middle East, I am learning some things. My teachers? Muslim men and women. By observing, hosting, playing, and sharing alongside Muslims, I am changing, I think, for the better.
Here are five things I’m learning as I move toward Muslims:
1. Don’t judge by appearances. As an outsider, my first assumptions are almost always wrong. The seemingly religious woman turns out to be a fashionista with an obsession for American sitcoms. The well-educated researcher with the latest gadgets fasts once a week and spends his evenings at the mosque.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NLT) Clothing and pastimes, nationality and gender can be indicators, but they never tell us the whole story about a human being. I want to stop categorizing by appearances and start looking at people from God’s perspective.
2. People come first. Before promptness, people. Before tasks, the person before me. There is no casual wave and ducking into my house here; neighbors must be greeted properly and news must be exchanged. By looking people in the eye and taking time for them, I have grown in my “others-awareness” and become a little less self-absorbed.
3. Modesty does not equal oppression. In this conservative culture, I cover up more than before. That effort to cover my legs and arms gives me a different perspective on my body and what I choose to show when I go out. I no longer see Muslim veils as intrinsically oppressive*, but a way some women choose to protect what they deem most valuable. Like one woman told me, “The most valuable pearl is covered in its shell.”
*Note: I believe forcing a woman to veil is oppressive, whether through subtle coercion or societal pressure.
4. Close proximity is not always invasion. The Arab world is what I’ll call a warm culture hybrid. That means people tend to touch more than we are used to in the West. A comforting hand on my shoulder, multiple cheek kisses, and even holding hands communicates affection, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Instead of feeling put off by an invasion of my personal space, I’m learning to feel cared for instead.
5. There is wisdom in discretion. Arabs have polite yet firm ways of declining to share details. Sensitive information, like family members’ health, work issues, or future plans are reserved for close, trusted relationships. I am learning that not everyone needs to know everything all of the time. Healthy discretion curbs my tendency toward over-sharing and replaces it with speech that fits the moment and the hearer.
It is always easier to criticize another culture than to let the Holy Spirit change us by it. Don’t let negative stereotypes about Muslims lead you to believe you have nothing positive to gain from them. Take a step toward a Muslim; you might be surprised what you learn!
Your turn: Do any of these lessons resonate with you? What positive traits have you observed in Muslims?
"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.