We ate goat stew of some sort, lentils, green stuff I was warned was spicy, a salad with a most delightful crunchy something mixed in with the greens. Dessert was carrot cake and a delicious ball in sweet syrup. Just a few days later, I don't remember the name of that dessert. I do remember the conversation about a fruit that was missed in this country. That name, too, has disappeared.
Many times, now, I have sat as a guest in a mosque, breaking fast with Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. Occasionally, I am invited to fast, too. Abstaining from food all day isn't fun, but it's the water that is most challenging. I can't imagine keeping the practice here in Phoenix. This is where I learned to keep a water bottle with me at all times. Many water fountains have a separate place for filling bottles because this practice is so universal.
Friends from my church came to this meal, too. Some eat more freely of this unfamiliar food than others. Occasionally during our meal, we hear familiar voices from the men's side of the mosque.
I wonder to myself what we might invite these Muslim neighbors to. It's different when you're in the majority religion; everyone knows when Christmas is. Easter is on most people's radar. Even the few food customs appear in all sorts of places. I don't know if it would make sense to offer hospitality in the same way.
When the time comes, the prayers look so different from ours; there is a young child--two, maybe three years old--trying out the prayer postures along with the adults. She nestles by one adult for one set, another for the next set, laughing in between.
It is a different sort of safe here. Many of the people switch freely between English and Urdu. Most of the people here are from Pakistan. Their sect of Islam is persecuted, so they have fled to the United States. Sometimes, when one of the Christians asks a question, they must talk about the question in Urdu in order to find an answer. Sometimes, what they want to tell us doesn't translate.
Persecution is a word thrown around far too lightly in the United States. More than I'd like, in my non-pastor life, I fight the fight that persecution is not being unable to have everyone practice your religion. People think persecution is not hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall or having everyone pray the same way you do. I wonder how to introduce them to someone who has fled for their life because of their faith.
One of the leaders is intentional in expressing their gratitude for living in this country, for being able to practice their faith freely here. Yet, in conversation, as we talk about community work we both support, they also talk about not feeling like they can volunteer to host certain things. They already receive threats sometimes just for existing.
Maybe it's just my imagination, but I swear I feel the comfort of my Muslim sisters in this space. They are comfortable here. Peaceful, perhaps, is the better word. It is easy to settle into this space. Later, when I talk with my partner about the evening, I would talk about Virginia Woolf and A Room of One's Own. This women's space is sacred in a way I forget women's spaces can be.
I realize the slipping into Urdu, the traditional dress, the practice of faith is fought for in a different way outside these walls.
The memories of the first Muslim women with whom I kept company inside a mosque remain vivid. Most of all, I remember their pleading, "Tell them we are not terrorists."
The "them", of course, were my fellow Christians.
That first encounter was twelve years ago, give or take.
And still, your Muslim neighbors aren't safe. Not even 17 year olds walking home.
I remember their names in my prayers. The names are unfamiliar. I would type them, except I don't know where to begin for many of them. Doctors, and teachers, and incredibly poised teenagers--at least I remember their faces. I remember the fears they have for their children that I have never experienced.
Not as often as I should, I remember that my neighbors aren't safe.
Your neighbors aren't safe.
Friends, change that. Whatever it takes. Change that.