Some of the Kindest Things Said to Me (In My Life) Have Been By Muslims
Some of the kindest things said to me (in my life) have been by Muslims.
It's true. Surprised?
This past month was Ramadan. Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam. Muslims fast sunrise to sunset from all drink and food for 30 days, also from lying and sexual relations with your spouse. It’s a time where Muslims work on their inner spiritual world. If you would like more information, I wrote a piece (click here) last year that explains how I have experienced it with my friends in the Middle East.
It’s always interesting for me to be in the US during Ramadan. While in the Middle East, everything revolves around Ramadan; it’s the rhythm of life. Most places are closed during the day, an hour before the fast is broken traffic is an absolute nightmare, and Iftars (the meal that breaks the fast) last until the wee hours of the morning. While in the US, you would not even know Ramadan is happening unless you are in a Muslim community.
What is the same in both the Middle East and in America is that I always receive gracious invitations to Iftars from my Muslim friends. This year was no exception. A few weeks ago I spoke and screened our trailer (thisisthecamp.com) at an Iftar hosted by a local University’s Muslim Student Association. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect but I knew they would be gracious. When I got there, they helped set-up and one of my hosts said to me, “I just assumed since you work with Palestinians, you were Palestinian or Muslim.” I smiled and replied slyly, “Surprise, I’m a white girl.” She laughed.
As the evening got started I was impressed with their yearly activities, it was a large Muslim student body dedicated to engaging non-Muslim students about their faith. I don’t get nervous before public speaking events. Oh man, I used to feel nauseous but now I just am excited to share about my work. While the other presentations went on, I sat and wondered how I could bless them and give them a Ramadan greeting. I didn’t want to be that Christian that comes in and tells them my interpretation of Ramadan.
The presentation and screening of the trailer went well, some were moved to tears. I also have to tell you, I was asked a few questions that completely choked me up. One young, thoughtful woman asked me (paraphrased), “ I know you are providing a platform for Palestinian voices but what would you say about Palestinian refugees?” My throat swelled and tears formed in my eyes as I tried to answer eloquently. No one has ever asked me in a presentation what I thought about the Palestinians. In 12 years of speaking about them and serving them not one person has asked me this question. It touched a deep part of my heart to be asked this and that someone thought it was important. I actually felt seen and valued. Another young woman, who just happened to be Palestinian, thanked me in front of the audience for my work with Palestinians. Again, I felt humbled and honored.
After the program, the fast was broken with small bottles of water and dates. Many women came up to me to thank me and asked if they could hug me. They went out in the hall to say their prayers before eating. I sat there stunned at how sweet the evening had been. I ate with them after their prayers, kabobs, hummus, pasta salad, koshari (Egyptian dish), and assorted cupcakes. The evening was relaxed and comfortable.
As I left, I had two young women chase me down in the parking lot and asked to talk to me. Even though my meter (my parking not my emotional) was about to expire, I obliged. Now, I cannot transcribe exactly what they said to me but this is the gist of what I remember. One of the women started with, “When you got up there, I wasn’t expecting much. But, that was really incredible. You were authentic with us and comfortable. You really shared your heart. And I am rethinking how I go about talking about Palestinians and the conflict.” We then talked about how to engage others about the Palestinian issue. My suggestion was to keep it on the heart and not to argue. I don’t argue with people. It doesn’t help.
We spoke for 10 minutes or so and then we walked to our cars. One looked at me and said, “I will remember what you have said tonight, for the rest of my life.” I think I gave her a blank stare, hugged them goodbye and walked to my car. I had a good cry in my car just overwhelmed with the kindness I received. I was thankful to be received well and my heart seen. The message was welcomed, heard, and ingested on a heart level. Get this, by a people group most in this country would have you believe are horrible, rotten terrorists. And yet I sat there in an empty parking lot feeling so blessed by them. This has been my experience in and outside of my country.
It also struck me how if I hadn’t gone to them, been immersed in their community, in their comfort zone, this kindness would have never happened. If I hadn’t been genuine or honest or vulnerable, maybe they wouldn’t have responded the way they did. Or if I wouldn’t have been in an authentic and comfortable place to receive their kindness, what would have happened if I had acted in fear?
I’m sure there’s a lesson somewhere buried in there, right?
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
~Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems