During the World Religions class that I teach at Whitworth University I invite spokespeople from each of the world religions to give presentations. Last year, I was particularly impressed with the man who represented Islam. He is living out his religious beliefs with much devotion as he raises his family, works at his job, and encounters all the normal issues of life in Spokane. After he visited my class I determined to follow up with him to get to know him better. Unfortunately, it has taken me nine months to follow through on this commitment, but I finally did.
Several days ago, we met for lunch at a local Pita Pit. As we sat down at the table, I struggled to explain why I asked him to come to lunch. It felt weird to say, “I want to be your friend.” So, I explained to him that as a Christian I believe I should get to know people whose life experience is different from mine and learn from them. I assumed that he and his family experience great difficulties as they attempt to live their faith in the midst of a culture that generally believes differently.
He surprised me by saying that he did not feel that their lives were particularly hard. He said, “The great thing about this country is that it accepts diversity.” He said that his kids feel different from their Christian friends, but that did not sound dissimilar to what my kids used to say about their self-perception in comparison to their friends. My kids always thought they were “different” because of values our family chose. He told me that he feels comfortable being a Muslim in Spokane.
He even prays in public. However, he told me a funny story about that. You probably know that Muslim prayers involved standing, kneeling, bowing, etc. One time when he was praying on the sidewalk, a person assumed he was having a medical emergency and approached him. Wanting to help, the person explained, “I am a EMT. I can help you.” Of course, when it became clear what was happening, they shared an embarrassed laugh.
As we finished our sandwiches, I asked him if he and his family would like to come to my house for dinner sometime. He said that they might, but he would have to check with his wife. At that point, I realized I had better check with Nancy before I offered an invitation. We both chuckled about that. Clearly, we have more in common than I expected!