Muslims in Your Backyard

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Today, I was invited by my friend to attend a talk given by the Religion Department at Oklahoma City University. I welcomed the opportunity to be in the audience, given that I think we should have an open mind to see what the current Muslim conversation and views are in our community. The speakers were all from the University and were intended to present what it’s like to be a Muslim in America today.

Even though I was not speaking or on the panel (= not a Muslim), I had to pray that the Lord keep my mouth shut unless 3 conditions were met. I prayed “Lord, open my mouth only if 1) it glorifies you, 2) it glorifies your Son, and 3) it is wrapped in your love.” So, being equipped with prayer, I set off with my daughter (who had a fever yesterday and is fine today, but could not attend school due to 24 hr rule for fevers). Right when we got there, I realized I did not bring my notepad to take notes. So, digging into my purse, I found my Sephora coupon for a free mascara. After a moment of hesitation (free makeup!), I went ahead and wrote down notes from the speakers.

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Giving my ALL for Jesus!

The first speaker was the Imam from the Greater OKC Mosque. He is the Assistant Professor and Chair in Islamic Studies Religion and hails from Palestine. Just a side note, he is also the Imam for the guy Alton Nolan who beheaded an innocent woman, Colleen Hufford in Moore, Oklahoma. The Imam started off talking about Islamophobia in the US

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Alton Nolen in front of the Greater OKC Mosque

and asked why we couldn’t “coexist.” He cited examples of being harassed at the Muslim Day at the Capitol but nothing specific, other than saying that a Christian man from Kansas (how he knew he was Christian, I’m not sure) told him that he was “the devil.”

The other two speakers were less emphatic. The professor spoke about being victimized and using Muslims as doormats. He made political comments about the current presidency and also how he has been reading MLK Jr’s books about the Civil Rights Movement. He actually went as far as to say “the Civil Rights Movement is applicable now to the Muslim Community.” How? I find that to be a far reach. The African Americans at that time were facing serious oppression – separate bathrooms and eating areas, not being allowed seats on public transportation, etc. That is most definitely NOT what my family has faced as Muslims. He also said something that caught my attention. He said that Muslims needed to call for tolerance… really? Show me at least ONE Muslim nation that is “tolerant.” This is the reason why so many Muslims flock to the West – tolerance is here in the United States. You cannot find tolerance in the Sharia law that governs Muslim nations.

The young student they had on the panel was just darling and sweet in her replies. I told my husband afterwards that she reminded of me as a Muslim, telling everyone how wonderful Islam was. Her opening remarks were that she had not read the Quran and was not familiar with the writings, but she would share her experiences. She said that she had not felt any hate remarks aimed at her, even though she wears a hijab. She made it a big point to stress that she CHOSE to wear a hijab to cover and that no one was forcing her to do so. Her closing comment on Islam however, was naive and mistaken. She said that she wanted everyone to know that “Islam has the root word for peace and whenever we greet one another, we say ‘Salam’ which means peace be on you.” Unequivocally… not true.  If you want to know, here’s an excerpt from the website Answering Islam:

“In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related to the ‘stinging of the snake’ or ‘tanning the leather’?

Muhammad used to send letters to the kings and leaders of the surrounding countries and tribes, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the messenger of Allah. He always ended his letters with the following two words: “Aslim, Taslam!”. Although these two words are derived from the same infinitive Salama which is the root of Salam, i.e. ‘Peace’, neither one of them implies the meaning of ‘peace’. The sentence means ‘surrender and you will be safe’, or in other words, ‘surrender or face death’. So where is the meaning of ‘Peace”In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related t’ in such a religion that threatens to kill other people if they don’t submit to it?”

Pastor Mateen Elass also wrote a great blog on the very topic of Islam not meaning Peace. You can find it here & I encourage you to check it out.

The question and answer session began with the question “All of you have been talking about how peaceful Islam is, but what about the violent passages in the Quran?” The Imam took that question right away and said there were NO passages in the Quran about violence at all! He continued to say that in fact, the Quran does not have words like “kill” or  “kill the Infidels,” “convert or die, ” or even the word “sword.”  The professor on his right picked up this theme from the Imam and said how Jihad was only to indicate a personal struggle and that all the students in his class were Jihadists because they struggled to get good grades. The Imam said that the media had bastardized and perverted what was written in the Quran… after all, it is interpretation that is the issue.

NO, NOT SO. We cannot continue to play the “it’s written only in Arabic, so we cannot truly understand the Quran unless you read it in Arabic.” “Kill” in Arabic pretty much means “kill” in English. This was a hard thing for someone who has been a Muslim as an adult and has read the Quran to swallow. I had to break down and whisper to my friend who invited me and tell her that was a blatant lie. There are over 164 passages in the Quran that are violent and deal with war, jihad (even though the word is not used, the intent to fight infidels is clear), or killing. It is not a story about peace and love… not even close. On average, one out of every six lines is about hell fire and damnation.

There is NO good news for Muslims.

Here is a list of over 109 passages in the Quran from a website called The Religion of Peace. Below is only ONE of these verses where you will find… drum roll please… “Kill, Killing, and Kill again” from Surah Al-Baqara (2:191-2):

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ ۚ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ ۖ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.

It’s difficult to sit there and see what is being said in front of you without anyone in the audience to challenge it. Yet I knew that this was not a place for debate and I was so thankful for coming to the place prepared through prayer ahead of time. The woman who asked the question about violence in the Quran left early, so I could not catch up to her to talk – maybe it was not meant to be. The rest of the questions were very politically correct and were in the line of “why can’t we all just get along?”

The message from the Muslim community (including those in my family) is mixed. There are many who do not know what is in the Quran and those who DO know (like the Imam) are choosing to not tell the truth or even a part of the truth.

It is important to know and look things up for yourself. The Quran is available online and all you have to do is to Google “violent passages in the Quran” or something along those lines to see BOTH the Arabic and the English. Please don’t accept things at face value. God gave us a brain and he intends for us to use it. Let’s use our brains to His glory and know what is being said in the media and on this type of a panel.

The end was more of the same. The Imam made an ostentatious claim that we are all under one God. He said “Allah, Eloh, Ilah” are all the same (look up the name Ilah & you will find something totally different!). Again, not true. Allah is only one dimension. Our God as revealed by the Scriptures is YHWH. He exists in three dimensions. Unless you know the relationship of love that exists between God the Father, the redeeming love of Christ Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit, you miss the whole picture. Allah is not the God of the Trinity.

There is great confusion and darkness for those who do not know God as revealed in the Scriptures. I pray that the Church will wake up and heed the Great Commission to GO! As one who lived in the US as a Muslim, I was accustomed to the darkness. I blindly believed what the Imams said in the mosque and what my parents told me. When the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the truth of God as revealed in Christ, it was indescribable. There is great freedom and love in Christ Jesus. I just pray that we, as Christians will share the Gospel in love. We need to always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE we have ~ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15.

I beg you… Be ready! Be prepared! Give that reason for the hope you have in Christ. DO IT with gentleness and respect. This is what we need to share with Muslims today. Find a Muslim in your own backyard and share the Good News of the Gospel!

Eid al Adha, 9/11, and God’s Sacrifice on Mount Moriah

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NY Times Photo for Sep. 10, 2016 -More than 3,000 Muslims gathered for prayer at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, Me., at the start of Eid al-Adha in 2015. Credit Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald, via Getty Images.

Eid al Adha is a Muslim celebration that is translated as the “Festival of Sacrifice” or “Bakr Eid” (Bakr means Lamb or Goat in Arabic). It falls on different days due to the Lunar Calendar. Once the new moon is sighted, the Festival is celebrated 10 days later. According to Al Jazeera, the  Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia stated that the New Moon did not fall until September 2, so they have declared Eid al Adha to be on September 12, 2016. However, if you look at the reports for the new moon (here,  here and here), all show it to fall on September 1, 2016, making Eid al Adha today, September 11, 2016. Personally, I believe it was a political decision to move it to September 12.

Regardless of the day Eid al Adha falls upon, countries do celebrate it on different days. In my post titled “The Sacrifice of the Lamb,”  I wrote about the significance of the sacrificial lamb and how Christ was described as the “lamb who was slain” (John 1:29 and Rev 5:6).  Muslims celebrate Eid al Adha during the season of Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and almost two million people are expected to journey this year to Saudi Arabia to perform one of the 5 pillars of faith in Islam. For most Muslims, Eid al Adha is marked with a sacrifice of a lamb or goat, which they eat, share and give to charity as a part of alms (another pillar of faith in Islam) and go to each others’ homes for parties and celebrations. For me, as a child, it meant dressing up in Eid clothes, getting Eidee (Eid money) and gifts from loved ones – it was kind of like Christmas, just without Christ or the tree or Santa.

I was reminded today by the date that it was the 15th anniversary of one of the most horrific days in the United States. September 11, 2001 is still etched in the minds of many Americans. In fact, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the horrible news come through my car radio. I was in my minivan, driving to the shopping center on the corner of 2nd and Bryant. I was stopped at a red light and I heard about the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center building. Parking my car as quickly as I could, I listened to the rest of the news. I headed home immediately, abandoning my plans so I could get the news on the TV. It was gut-wrenching especially as the news began to pour in about Muslims behind the multiple attacks.

That day marked a turning point in my life. I just didn’t know it at that time how much it would shape my future. After 9/11, my phone began to ring off the hook. Since I teach Human Resources and Cultural Diversity, many organizations asked me to speak to them and help them to understand what it was like growing up in Muslim countries and what it was like to be a Muslim woman. 9/11, despite the grave losses, was financially beneficial to me. I had speaking engagements lined up for the rest of the year! 9/11 also launched me on the path to the decision to become a better Muslim and also to read the Quran cover to cover. I began that journey and it took me over 3-1/2 years to read the Quran.

The Quran is what led me to Christ. When I share my testimony, many ask me “what did someone say to you to make you believe?” or “what should I say to a Muslim person who might have been like you?” My journey was different. I did not have a SINGLE AUTHENTIC WITNESS who shared the true Gospel with me – none. Instead, God in His infinite mercy led me to Christ through the Surah Maryam (Mary – mother of Jesus) in the Quran. I could not reconcile the miracles and power of Christ with the teachings of Islam and Mohammad. I also realized through the Holy Spirit that I could not work my way into Heaven and that I needed God’s help.

I owe everything to Christ’s sacrifice as the lamb who was slain. Did you know that on Mount Moriah, Abraham gave up his son so that “God Himself would provide the lamb?” (Gen 22:8). Did you know that the Solomon’s Temple was built upon that very mountain? Did you know that JESUS CHRIST was crucified on Mount Moriah, fulfilling God’s promise of salvation through the blood of the only blameless, sinless lamb of God?

Gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?

God is all-seeing, all-knowing. He is omniscient, omnipotent and worthy to be praised! So this day, please pray for Muslims who do not know the real reason behind Abraham’s sacrifice. Please pray for Muslims who are reading the Quran, trying to get to God through their own works and through meeting a checklist of the pillars of faith for Islam. Please pray for the families of the victims of 9/11, knowing that there are many more stories of lives impacted for the Kingdom through their deaths. Please pray for our country that we wake up to the only Way, Truth, and Life through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Why Did God Do This?

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Yesterday, a Christian friend told me that she had a co-worker who asked her “Why did God do this?” in regard to the horrendous story about the two year old child who was dragged away to death by an alligator at Disney World. Personally, I wouldn’t have stopped there if I was the co-worker. You can apply that question to all the horrific things that happen in this world – why is there murder, rape, sex trafficking, etc., however underneath that first question are a few underlying assumptions:

  1. God exists.
  2. He doesn’t care.
  3. He actually was the perpetrator of the acts.

My Eastern mind answered her with the assumptions first: Why does this co-worker believe she is above God Almighty in that she can sit in the Judgment seat to question, prosecute, and judge God as guilty – all in one question? This is a very Eastern way of thinking… who are you to condemn God or even ask Him that question? Yet, God being accessible to us in the person of Christ allows us to at least place these questions before Him.

So, let’s take this a few steps at a time. First of all, the answer for all this lies in the way that God has chosen to speak to us = the Bible. The very first chapter of Genesis addresses the answer, which is Original Sin. It starts at the Garden of Eden where man was given free will and death entered into God’s creation plan (that up to that point He had deemed to be good). When Adam & Even chose wrongly, all of creation fell into the curse – the curse is the result of not doing what God had laid out for them to do. He had only given them ONE rule to not break and guess what? That’s the one that got broken. This is the reason for the breakdown we see all around us. From the alligator to the Orlando shootings and the tragic loss of lives. There is so much sadness around us, it’s sometimes hard for me to think.

If the person sees that what happened is wrong and sinful, then we can start there as Christians. We believe that there is an absolute standard for wrong and right. That standard does not come from man – if it did, then many would say that what the Orlando shooter did was right. Taking life for any reason is wrong. This is a standard God put into action a long time ago with the Ten Commandments (see Commandment 6 as listed in Exodus 20:13). ALL human beings are created in the image of God and only God has written when it will be the end of their days. That life does not belong to man to take away. If there is a right and wrong and God put that into motion, then these acts occurred either as a part of a fallen, broken world (as in the case of the alligator) or due to man’s free choice to ignore what the Lord has put into place.

God’s original design for mankind and the world was to live in communion with Him. He created everything (Genesis) and called it “Good.” Man’s disobedience is not a one time thing. Man continues to run away from the call of God to return to Him and His decrees, causing more hurt, sin and violence. You don’t even have to go far in the Bible to see this happening! An animal had to be killed to clothe Adam and Even after the Fall “21And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”(Genesis 3:21). Cain commits the first murder of his own brother Abel within a few chapters of the Fall. Just 11 verses later, the first murder takes place  when Cain kills his own brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4:8). The intentions of man’s heart are evil. Without God, only our own selfish desires rule.

Don’t forget for one minute that the Orlando shooter claimed to be from ISIS and did this act during Ramadan. We visited a Muslim restaurant just today for lunch and I asked the woman (whom I knew to be fasting) how she was faring since she worked around food all day and was required to fast. She told me that this Ramadan season had been exceptionally difficult and that she was not fasting today. She would rather not fast than to keep a fast and break it (= higher sin penalty).  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fasting and the checklists one has to fulfill to be a good, devout Muslim and how many fall short of this exacting standard set by Islam. I personally believe that there was a desperation the shooter must have felt from the Muslim standards that increased his drive to do this heinous act.

When we believe that we are the ones in control of our lives and we try to work our way to Heaven, we will miserably fail. This is the reason why we need a Savior.

Jesus Christ did not condone any of these acts. God did not will for the two year old child to die. He did not want the suffering caused by the horrific act of one man who took the lives of many in Orlando. In fact, I believe that Jesus Wept (John 11:35). There is a blog entry done by Vince Vitale at RZIM that addresses this in a beautiful way, titled “Tears for Orlando.” Jesus came to earth to take on the burden we all bear and take our sins at the cross as his own. He is the ONE who was blameless and without sin (in fact, the Quran also says that Jesus was the only one without sin – see Surah 19:19 in Chapter for Maryam – Mary).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Please join me in praying for all the families affected by the devastating events that took place in Orlando this week. May we, as Christians extend the LOVE God has instead of judgment and blame.

 

Fasting

A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City

Saudi Declares Monday as first day of Ramadan – A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 4, 2016. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

I was a horrible Muslim. I grew up in countries where everyone fasted, yet I never kept a fast until I was a teenager in high school. I take that back – I tired fasting around 5th grade because we had moved to the US and our neighbors were very good at fasting. Not wanting to be shown up by a boy my age, I thought I would also fast. I had such a horrible attitude about it all, I had to end the fast in a shameful way. I ate lunch. I couldn’t even make it past the afternoon.

In High School, at least I was doing it for better reasons. I knew that fasting was supposed to get you closer to submitting to God’s will for you (now why you had to not eat or drink to do this, I still didn’t understand). This was a much better approach than jealous competition with our sweet and kind neighbor family.

I still didn’t do very well as a teenager in fasting. I would try to stay up all night to eat and then would conk out close to sunrise. I would even miss the early morning prayer (which is a no-no) because I stayed up too late and now no one could wake me up, including my alarm. My mom was kind to me during this time and allowed me to stay asleep as I always rationalized that I could make up the missed prayer time in the morning or do extra credit prayers later on. Again, not a great way to embark on any religious philosophy.

As an adult after 9/11, I tried to become a better Muslim than I had ever been. I was reading the Quran, trying to pray five times a day around my work schedule and also trying to fast. I did better – I was able to fast for about a week before the horrible migraines took me down. There is a special dispensation for medical disabilities and I reasoned with Allah that since He was merciful to me, that He would exempt me from this one pillar of faith.

Islam has FIVE pillars of faith. One must do each one of them (only Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca is done once in a lifetime. Others must be done every day or every season!). 5-five-pillars-of-islamThese are absolutes, so missing one of these is kind of an issue because you are not fulfilling requirements of being a practicing Muslim. Ramadan is sacred because Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed during that month. It varies in date year to year because the lunar calendar is used to mark the ninth month – Ramadan.

I believed all the other items in the checklist. I said the Shahadah, I tried my best to pray (not all my life, mind you! I don’t want you to think I was an awesome Muslim – hence the first line of this blog!), we gave Zakat, or charity and my parents were kind enough to take us to Mecca when we were little for Hajj. The problem is that even missing one requirement does not get you to Heaven! If you are missing a pillar or two, it is sinful and you will be punished by Allah, for you are then like a building without a foundation or a roof without a supporting pillar.

The Season of Ramadan starts tomorrow morning June 6, 2016 at Sunrise. This means that over 1.5 billion (good) Muslims will be eating and drinking tonight, but fasting tomorrow and for the next 30 days.

When I became a follower of Christ Jesus, I wanted to know my requirements or obligations. I was shocked that there wasn’t a checklist to complete or clear-cut directions on what to do. I had to repent of my sins and acknowledge the fact that I needed a Savior (because I could not pay for my sins by myself), I had to confess with my mouth that Jesus was Lord and Savior and I had to believe in my heart that he died on the cross and was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9 says “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

As I began to study the Bible, I found that there was no list that needed to be checked off.  Religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, but not as a requirement or obligation.  Fasting is the humbling of the soul, Ps 35:13; that is the inside of the duty; let that, therefore, be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. God sees in secret, and will reward openly. In contrast to what I witnessed in the Muslim countries as people trying to fast in competition or worse, shaming others who were not fasting (because they had “medically exempted” headaches, for example, not that I was embarrassed about this or anything!), Matthew 6:18 says “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Psalm 35:12-14 takes it a step further with David who fasts for his enemies’ health! What is that about? I was shocked to see that fasting took on a different meaning and that had everything to do with the condition of the heart and also the desire to commune with God.

“They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. 13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting,And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. 14I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.…” ~Psalm 35:12-14

As Christians, we do not have to fast but we should pray to seek God’s will if there is something going on in our lives that needs change. Fasting will not change the other person or their circumstances – instead, fasting is to help us draw closer to God and to hear His will for our lives. I also want to point out a stark contrast here. Fasting for the Muslim world means exchanging DAYS for NIGHTS. It is not a complete abstaining from food or drink for 30 days. Some people are shocked that humans are able to completely give up food or drink – not the case. In addition to not eating or drinking during the daylight hours, Muslims are to try to keep from thinking bad thoughts, smoking, cursing, or having marital relations.

Fasting for the Christian is to humble yourself before the Lord, to reveal things in your life that are broken, need healing or spiritual transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring. It can help one to recognize and repent unconfessed sin. It’s not magic, it won’t fix other people, but it can help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

As we pray for others, may we remember to pray for the Muslim world to know the love of Christ Jesus who fulfilled all obligations for us and completed all checklists, took our judgment and paid the price of our sins for all mankind with his death on the cross. May they learn about the resurrection power over death that is found only in Jesus. Amen.

Unbelievable

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“Why can’t we all get along?” This is the cry I hear from people who want to talk about cultural diversity, religion, management or anything else I happen to be speaking. Many times it’s exactly these individuals who are the ones who don’t really want to get along with another. If there was an issue – maybe it’s them who was causing it? A better question to ask then is “What’s stopping you from getting along with someone else?” or “Why aren’t you getting along with others?” Of course, those are harder questions to ask and to have answered, so we end up speaking in generalities about groups instead of individuals.

This is the situation I found myself in last weekend. The issue proposed to me by someone close to me was “Why do you talk about sensitive matters? Why do you have to present a direct contrast between Islam and Christianity? Why do you have to blog about it and why do you have to address audiences about this?”

In my professional background in the realm of Human Resources, that’s all I deal with: sensitive matters. Human Resources professionals deal mainly with issues of employment, hiring, firing. With Diversity, matters of age, race, gender, ethnicity and religion are constantly being brought up by organizations. It’s what I am paid to talk about. I understand very clearly that it makes many people nervous and downright angry to talk about some of these things.

The media and our society today has done a great job defining what is okay to talk about and what is not okay. In my line of work, I deal with the fact that people cannot leave their religion behind while they work 9 to 5, nor can they ignore their age and any discrimination that may come with that or sex, or ethnicity. That’s the reason why I make it my life’s passion and work to talk about it, write about it and live it out.

I love talking about God. I don’t like or want to leave him in the car while I go to a meeting or discuss a subject matter at a corporate meeting or even at a public university. He is a large part of my story, my background, my calling to speak and also He influences every decision I make. I am not able to separate out my religion from my career or family. The person in question found this to be UNBELIEVABLE. I am not sure if she found it to be unbelievable that I place my trust in God for all these matters or that I will not stop talking about Him.

Political Correctness has done more harm than good. Dale Carnegie said “seek first to understand and then be understood.” Why then do we say we will just not talk about all the things that are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), such as race, age gender, ethnicity & religion? We take the things of the workplace and apply them to our everyday life, missing opportunities to see how other people believe, how they live, what is their background and what makes up the content of their character.

It’s beautiful to be able to live in a country that allows for freedom of speech, of expression and of religion. We are able to have a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a Jewish temple in the same town – even on the same block! You do not find this type of diversity in many places. It’s a rich way to learn about others’ beliefs and to help them understand your own. The key is to approach one another with respect and not tell them to stop talking. Extinguishing dialogue will lead to darkness and misunderstanding – death of relationships. It does not allow people to freely share views and present a fresh, new way to approach century-old grudges.

Since we live in a free society, why should we not utilize these hard-won freedoms that someone else died for? Why should we stop the dialogue, pretend that culture, ethnicity and religion – differing opinions don’t exist? Why not take an opportunity to open your mind, open your heart, open your ears, and open your eyes to see the beauty of diversity that exists all around you?

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May we be people who live in God’s light, sharing openly about His love, His light and the freedoms only He can bring in our life. May we share the good news of the Gospel to a hurting world that thinks this is the only reality there is.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” ~Ephesians 5: 8-11

Bridges, Balconies and Burqas

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There are always two sides to any story. What we don’t often see is that there is a third side to the story – the community and the observers to the two parties’ argument or conversation. Conflict at its most basic is merely a differing perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with seeing things differently. That is Diversity and it enriches our perspectives. Conflict is something that comes up where one or more parties cannot understand or recognize the other person’s perspective.

This is true for religion, the global situation and negotiations between nations, at our workplace and also in our families. When we feel personally threatened, there is a friction that can come up. The story behind the situation can get lost, while we focus only on our own gains, our own viewpoint and our own needs, the perspective begins to become lopsided.

Building a bridge involves a balanced approach. There are careful measurements and an overall vision that sets the stage for the process. In order to build, both sides need to be worked on at the same time so that they can meet delicately in the middle.

While I’ve never built a bridge (physical one, not metaphorically speaking), I have crocheted socks. How in the world can crocheting of a pair of socks look like building a bridge? They both need to be worked on at the same time, by someone from the outside. This is another way to look at conflicts and negotiation. Action of one entity upon two other entities = third side (or the third party) is not a new idea.

In psychology, the third side or perspective is called the “Mediating Variable.” It helps two things that seem to be linked together to be explained in a better way. In conflict negotiation or mediation, unless you have a third party involved that can help to explain the situation clearly and ask the right questions, it is very difficult to get to a suitable resolution. Authors Heifetz and Linsky have called this to be a “Balcony Perspective.” If you are one of the actors on the stage, it will be very difficult for you to see the whole picture because you only know your part and maybe the part of the person before you and after you so you can be cued in. However, if you choose instead to see the drama unfold from the balcony view, you will be able to not only understand what is going on in front of you but also what the others are doing in the background. The entire scene becomes crystal clear all of a sudden. The same is also true for conflict and negotiation.

So before you jump into a blame game or rush into judgment of a situation, STOP. Take a ladder and climb up to the balcony. Take a fresh perspective of the scene unfolding in front of you. You might just be able to see things you have never seen before or things you were taking for granted in your everyday rush to be heard and to be placed in the #1 seat.

In my walk with Christ, I have found that building bridges between my past and helping people to understand what it was like to grow up in an entirely different culture (Middle East & Asia), with a different religion (Islam), and different family values, there is a lot of ground to cover. There is great fear driven from the media that causes people to become angry towards a certain group. I have met several women who was moderately Christian at the time  (not really attending church regularly and couldn’t really say much about having a relationship with Christ), who told me that she was angered by  Muslims here in the United States and elsewhere.

As all of my family is Muslim, I could have immediately taken great offense at what she said – they have as much of a right to be here as he does, even if they were not born here, but are U.S. Citizens. After taking a deep breath (= going to the balcony), I asked her a few questions: How many Muslim people have you talked to here (answer: none), how many Muslim people have you tried to reach or build a relationship with so you could understand them better (answer: none), how do you know what they believe other than the media (answer: I am well-educated), and finally – why do you feel this way? The last question made her pause. I told him that my family would not feel the same about her, so what was going on? She answered in one word “FEAR.”

This is no different than what happens at work. We take a stand on something and get mad about it, without taking into account someone else’s underlying concerns or addressing the issues below the iceberg. Ninety percent of the time, you will find that the issue at the face of the situation is not the real issue. The real stuff is lying below what the person is saying to you.

Going back to another woman who was fearful, God had a very funny way of taking care of that situation. I hosted a baby shower for a Saudi woman who was new to the country. I didn’t even know who she was, but that a group of Christian women wanted to have a shower but the location fell through. I offered up our home and we had over 30 women attend. The guest of honor came to my front door with her entourage of 8 women- all dressed from head to toe in their black burqa (or hijab). My friend came out from the kitchen and I heard a sharp intake and gasp of a breath. I have to admit – it was kind of a scary sight to have people you don’t know who show up to your door and you cannot see their faces (kind of like Halloween, but not on Halloween…).

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As the women were ensured that no men would be in attendance, they started to take off their veils and covers. Underneath were these sweet-faced 18-20 year old girls dressed in cute trendy dresses, short hair, full make-up. So adorable! I could see a huge wide grin spread across my friend’s face. After the fun party, she and I got to talk. She had tears in her eyes because she felt like the Lord had taken her to a balcony to see a new perspective she would never have considered. What a JOY to have that perception and fear lifted off in one night. That is the way bridges are built…

May we seek ways to bring peace to our homes, families, workplaces, and nation in this way, for blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). 

 

 

East to West

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When I teach Cultural Diversity, my students often laugh at some of the stories I tell about growing up in the East. Things are simply viewed differently on that side of the globe. In this post, I talk about how Time, for example, is looked upon as a completely different entity. Also, the idea of personal space is enormously different in Oklahoma than it is even in New York, much less the eastern hemisphere. Language varies as well. One often wonders with all these differences, how do we even get along with one another without stepping all over each other’s toes?

I personally believe that people in the United States are kind and more open to discussions of your background, where you lived, where you grew up and also ethnicity. This is a part of the foundation for the country – Ellis Island was a beacon of hope for many immigrants at the turn of the century. This country is made up of people from all over the world.

As I contemplate the differences, you have to be struck with some of the similarities we all have as human beings: desire to be loved, valued, and treated with respect. If you don’t believe me, just go driving with someone and see their reaction when another driver cuts them off on the road. There is indignation built right into that for just about everyone.

Whether I am teaching management or sharing my testimony about Christ, I am almost always asked about my background and point of view on various matters. For some, the idea of a burqa or hijab is of concern. For others, it is the exotic locale of the Middle East or Asia and how life is for people there. Yet, there are others who ask me about what my views were like about Jesus when I was growing up in a Muslim country.

If you ask a Muslim person about Jesus (by the way, they would LOVE to talk about Jesus – seriously. It’s not offensive. Christians just think that Muslims would be offended), you will find that some  Muslims will smile and tell you “We Muslims have more respect for Jesus than you do as Christians.” At first, you might not believe this. However, the Quran has an entire chapter on Christ, titled after his mother, Mary. The chapter is called “Miryam.” Mary is the only woman in the Quran to be called by name. She is given a place of high honor and esteem, as is Jesus (“Isa” in the Quran). Muslims have to hold all prophets as holy. They believe that their books are holy. For this reason, Muslims will not say bad things about Jesus because he is a holy person of God. This is not always the case with what you might find in the West. We have the gift of freedom and free speech. It seems like the name of Jesus is a free for all and many people choose to even use his name as a blasphemy (anything that is not held in honor and also using it casually or when you are mad – almost as a curse word).

The Eastern mind operates differently than the Western mind. Many times, I am asked “Why” by people. Why does this happen, why would God do this? Why is this the case and why is this written? For those who grew up in eastern countries, the “Why” is not that important, especially when it comes to things of God. If God is sovereign and He wills it, then so be it. Who are you to ask why? This can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it places God above mankind and our brains – He is infinite! We cannot think through everything and know the answer to everything. We are finite beings. We have a definite beginning and end. It is a bad thing because the “Why’s” are not encouraged. So when I had questions about the Quran or even teaching in school, it’s frowned upon by your elders to keep asking “why? why? why?”  This type of thought is greatly discouraged because it is considered rude or even challenging authority.

So the question is- how does the East come together with the West when we are on absolute opposites of the compass?

When you look at the Bible, you find some interesting things about people from all over coming to the table of Christ.  Luke 13:29 says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? It means that Christ is preparing a table for us. He is getting ready many things in preparation for us to eat with him. How does one do this? He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. Christ doesn’t mind if you stand at the door and knock or even stand there and ask questions. He took care to address his disciple Thomas’s statements about how he would never believe  unless he put his finger into Christ’s wounds. Jesus didn’t get furious say “Thomas, how dare you question if I am the same Christ who was crucified!” Instead, when he later appeared to the whole group, Jesus said “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”John 20:27

Jesus is the only one who can connect the wide gap between the east and the west. The Psalmist wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 Those same hands that Thomas wanted to see are the ones that bring the east and the west together through the shedding of blood and redemption in one cross.This is the grace and mercy God shows each one of us. Jesus is the one who provides us the love (enough to die for us), gave us value (allows us to be called children of God),  and gives us respect for others (new commandment: love one another as I have loved you).

The song by Casting Crowns sums all this in a beautiful way:

Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west?
‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of Your mercy I find rest
‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west
From one scarred hand to the other