Ramadan 2018: Demystified for Christians

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image by: crossroads on a mission

Well… it’s that time of the year again. No, not Mother’s Day, not graduation, not Father’s Day but RAMADAN! Millions of Muslims all over the world celebrate this time within their communities, leaving the rest of the world wondering what the fuss is all about.

Most Muslims will tell you that Ramadan is “Fasting” and is one of the five pillars of Islamic beliefs. The truth of the matter is that Ramadan includes FEASTING! Many don’t realize that the fasting Muslims do during Ramadan is only during the daylight hours. The feasting lasts all night long with parties and food galore. There is a sense of jubilant celebration that you made it through yet another day of not eating or drinking.

When Christians think of fasting, they believe in not eating or drinking for the day and night. There is no “make-up” of the meals missed. In Islam, only the day and the night are switched! The fasting looks to be severe to the rest of the world because they are working and abstain from drinking water. Some Muslims cautioned me that I should not be brushing my teeth during Ramadan because technically, I would be introducing toothpaste and water into my mouth (not allowed). I was told to “dry brush” – of course, being a teenager at that time, I was appalled at that suggestion and chose to ignore it.

Shariah law dictates what a Muslim can and cannot do during Ramadan. There is great detail of who can fast (that means anyone seven years or older – including that a child of ten is beaten if not fasting), and who cannot – a woman on her period cannot fast, an insane person cannot fast, etc. The rules state that fasting during Ramadan involves abstinence from drink and food, sexual intercourse, smoking, anything that punctures the body like an injection, swallowing mucus and a long list of items (see link) that is permissible or not to a Muslim (including something called “cupping” where heated glass or a heated horn of an animal used to be put to the skin to draw blood like a suction in order to restore energy) from the dawn to the moment when a black thread is indistinguishable from a white one outside. That is the signal that the feasting time can begin and the fast is broken (called “Iftar” or “Iftari”).

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My own copy of the Sharia Law Book = last summer’s reading ūüė¶

When I was a Muslim,¬† I didn’t keep many fasts. The most I kept were when we lived in Muslim countries. When we moved to the United States, our Muslim community used to fast together, so I wanted to join them. There was a great number of gatherings in people’s homes for the break of the fast – especially the first day. There is an intense suspenseful time of waiting right before the evening meal can be eaten – everyone’s eyes are on the clock, watching seconds tick by. We, the children were in a frenzy of anticipation and many Muslims drive like maniacs on the streets as they go racing home to their meals. Our kitchen counter would be piled high with food, tea and a sweetened drink called Rooh Afza. Dates and water would be set aside as that is the traditional way to break the fast.¬† When the time came or the muezzin’s call was heard from the mosque, there was chaos as the meal began with everyone grabbing dishes with their hands. When appetites were finally sated, our friends and family used to head for the couch to take a nap or to play cards or board games together. Again, fasting during Ramadan is simply a checklist. There was not much spiritual introspection for it, other than some who read the Quran during this month.

Christian fasting is different. The fast is not required or mandatory. It is a self-discipline that is revealed through prayer. Its intended to change the person who is fasting — not to change anyone else or (God forbid!) to change God’s mind. It is simply to quell an internal struggle one may be having with a number of things (anger, grief, lack of forgiveness, etc). Passions are not an issue for Islam. Fasting does not get rid of any of them, it only forbids them in the daylight hours. You can indulge in smoking, sex, and gorging on food or whatever you want at night. It is not a basis of righteousness nor is it about getting right with God. Again, it is simply a checklist to fulfill one of the pillars.

 

Christians might be surprised to learn that the Bible talks about fasting at least 77 times! Here is a wonderful article from Ligonier Ministry’s Donald Whitney called “The Discipline of Fasting.” He states that “But Christians are free to experience the blessings of fasting as often as they desire. Fasting expresses in a God-ordained way our belief that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8) ‚ÄĒ so good that there are times we‚Äôre satisfied to feast on Him instead of the food that the Lord made for us to live on. Fasting is a temporary physical demonstration that we believe the truth declared by the gospel, namely that, ‚ÄúMan shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God‚ÄĚ (Matt. 4:4). Do you believe that? Do you¬†fast?”

We need to share the Gospel with others who are bound by checklists and obligations. We have such a beautiful freedom in Christ that we are able to fast if we wish to or not fast if we don’t. There are many ways to fast and to become closer to the Lord. Let’s start by prayer during Ramadan for our Muslim friends and neighbors. Maybe this period of time will allow you to consider fasting in order to share the Gospel with others who have not heard about the Way, the Truth, and the Life that comes only through Christ (John 14:6). Amen.

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A Former Muslim’s View of the Cross

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I had the honor of doing a podcast yesterday for Anna Clement from¬†¬†Mission OKC . It’s called “A Former Muslim’s View of the Cross.” It’s a part of my testimony, but focuses on how the Cross of Christ is viewed by Muslims and what it means to me today.
A few highlights from the interview:
*Surah 4:157 says “And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

The Bible says: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  ~ 1 Cor 1:18

 

I thought you might want to watch the video or listen to the podcast with Easter in mind!
VIDEO:      https://youtu.be/uG25gsuMHS0
While you are on Anna’s site (http://thefirstthings.com/), check out her other podcasts as well.
May you celebrate the RISEN Savior who died on the cross for our sins and gave us life eternal!

He is RISEN!

Honor Thy (father &) MOTHER

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Dr. Mom at Graduation from Medical School

I wrote about my dad and the lessons of love I learned from him when growing up in a post titled “My Dad’s Chair.”¬† During the Women’s History Month, I would like to honor my mom and the strong woman she has always been. She was born into a family of five children with an very progressive father who believed in the value of education. This was shocking for the time (1950’s) in Pakistan -a small, third-world Muslim country that had only recently gained its independence from India.

Yet, my mom defied tradition by asking her parents not to have an arranged marriage because she wanted to go to college to become a Medical Doctor. To the sheer amazement of the community, my grandparents agreed that she should proceed with her goals. She was one a small handful of women in Medical School, with hundreds of men who did not share my grandparents’ opinions. Being a quiet, petite woman (barely 5’3″, weighing less than 100 lbs), she wasn’t exactly able to physically challenge anyone. Being a brilliant young woman with a sharp mind, she was a daunting force to be reckoned with. She and her tiny group of vigilante women banded together to study and achieve top marks in the class – exam after exam. This did not improve their popularity. Instead, it caused even more rancor within the male population of the town.

Growing up, I didn’t hear my grandfather talk too often, so when he spoke – we all listened! He had a favorite story he liked to tell of the village elders coming to see him one evening about taking his daughter out of medical college. He didn’t hold much sway with the townspeople, but as the only pharmacist in town, he did have some control. He told them that if they wanted their medications, they needed to leave him and his daughter alone. To add the proverbial insult to injury, he decided to teach his daughter to drive a car. This did not make either one of them popular but somehow they all left them alone.

Against all odds, my mother and her friends graduated from Medical School and went on to practice medicine successfully for decades. This lesson from my mom has taught me several things:

  1. Don’t let the world tell you what you can and cannot do!

  2. Teach your daughters and the next generation that God created them as equals, along with a beautiful mind that should be used.

  3. Don’t be a victim… she would have had hundreds of reasons to be a victim of the circumstances around her: other students, the Dean of the College, the community and even the culture and nation. She chose instead to focus on what she COULD do and that was to rise above the voices that told her “no!”

  4. Finish what you started. She still shares bits and pieces of her story of one obstacle after another. She also told me “Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.” She persisted. She took exam after exam and didn’t falter. At the end, she gained the respect of all her classmates, her professors, the Dean, and yes, the entire community that watched and learned.

What a legacy to leave for her daughters and what a legacy to leave the young girls in her town who watched this reserved young woman walk across the stage at graduation, while all stood for applause!

Mom… if you ever read this, I pray that you know how much I love you and how much you have taught me about perseverance.

 

Macy’s Launches Hijab Fashion!

FASHION or OPPRESSION?

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RTT News Photo

On February 1, 2018 Macy’s announced a major decision to sell a fashionable line of Women’s Hijab. This line called the “Verona Collection” debuted a few days ago in stores and online. The news is being heralded as “groundbreaking” and as a “landmark” decision. The announcement comes on the heels of the Nike Hijab selling out like hotcakes.

For a former Muslim woman, I don’t get it… I don’t understand the hype and I don’t understand the desire to wear a man-made restriction on my head. As a Muslim who lived in the United States, I never wore a hijab nor was I ever made to wear one. I was the child of very educated, progressive mother who saw great oppression from the strict Islamic clerics while working in Saudi Arabia as a physician. She experienced first-hand what it was like to be pushed down when she was going to Medical School in the 60’s in Pakistan as well.

When we moved to the US, my mother literally breathed a sigh of freedom. Both of my parents allowed us to have many blessings that come from living here, including being raised with education, being outspoken and as strong women. When we would see another Muslim woman in a hijab, we would all wonder (sometimes out loud) why she was wearing one here where the rules of society did not mandate it?

Therein lies the conundrum. For centuries, women have been forced to take the veil in Muslim countries – not all, but many. Today, younger women are fighting more for a visible ethnic identity than anything else. Diversity is wonderful and it brings out a rich expression in our country, however it is my belief that Muslim women in America are CHOOSING to be set apart for their religious beliefs. Instead of Inclusion, it is a call for Exclusion by the Muslim community. Many Muslim women I have talked to see it as showing the half-naked women in the West that they are more pious, modest, and they belong to a special class of private women.

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Some American Muslim women have gone as far to say that this is an overt way they show their freedom to choose how they wish to express themselves, while in Tehran only a few weeks ago, 29 women were arrested for taking off their hijab as a protest for not having any freedom or rights — this is nothing new. Over 100,000 were arrested in Iran in 1978 during a similar protest!

So… which one is it?

Is it a symbol of oppression or is it a symbol of ethnic identity?

Macy’s happens to think it is a symbol of fashion and a way to make money.

2 Cor3:16-18 

16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Eid al Adha TODAY!

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image from RRB Result

Muslims all over the world look to Saudi Arabia to determine the shape of the moon to indicate the start of Eid festival. The Saudi High Judicial Council (HJC) announced August 22 that the new moon will be in a crescent, (they then calculate the date of Eid to be 10 days after) indicating the festival of Eid. The Islamic religious calendar is based upon a Lunar calendar and there is significance in the crescent moon. This is why you see the crescent moon for many of the Islamic nations’ flags and on top of mosques.

Eid al Adha (or Eid ul Adha – same thing) is translated as the “Greater Eid” or “Bakr Eid.” It is the Festival of the Sacrifice. I wrote about the rituals last year in this blog titled “Eid al Adha, 9/11, & God’s Sacrifice on Mount Moriah.” Every year, millions of Muslims sacrifice a goat or a lamb to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. Muslims believe it was Ishmael who was offered on the altar, while the Jewish and Christian Scriptures state it was Isaac. Nevertheless, Abraham’s obedience to God is the commemoration on this day.

According to Hanifah (stricter rules of Islam), the offering for every Muslim is mandatory. According to other Hadiths (traditions), however, it is called “Sunnah” or a good thing to do. Either way, the Hadith says:

“Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is reported to have said :
‘Whoever can afford to offer a sacrifice but does not do so, let him not approach our place for prayer.’ (Reported by Ahmad and Ibn Maajah; classed as saheeh by al-Haakim from the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah. ¬†‘All those people who have the nisab (payable amount) of zakah should offer a sacrifice. The time for offering a sacrifice begins after the `Eid Al-Adha prayer.’ According to a Hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, ‚ÄúWhosoever offered a sacrifice before the `Eid prayer, he or she just slaughtered an animal for meat, but whosoever made sacrifice after the `Eid Al-Adha prayer, he or she has offered a sacrifice.‚ÄĚ (Al-Bukhari, Sahih, Hadith no. 902).”

So if you are called to sacrifice a goat or a lamb, how do you fulfill this as a Muslim? In this technologically advanced world, this has become much easier! ¬†There are advertisements that allow a Muslim to pay for a lamb, a goat or even a cow (can share this sacrifice with up to 7 people) all around the world. Here’s an example of an ad:

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EXAMPLE of an ad for “Qurbani” or Sacrifice for sale

The problem with this is that the sacrifice needs to fulfill certain age requirements (more than 6 months old, but less than five years old, have none of the four defects mentioned by Muhammad, etc.). So how would you know that your sacrifice being chosen thousands of miles away meets the requirements? The answer is: You don’t.

When the Jewish people would offer sacrifice to the Lord, they had the understanding that the sacrifice was for atonement of sins – they were sinful and had to pay the penalty for sin. God allowed them to have a system of sacrifice that was offered on their behalf. Only one obscure Muslim Hadith mentions that you need to be present as you slaughter your sacrifice so that “Allah may forgive you as the first drop of blood comes out.” It is not certain what is being forgiven here – your latest sin, killing the animal or all your sins. The way most of my family looked at this was that it was simply one of the checklists that you need to do as a Muslim.

When I was a Muslim, I did not completely understand why we sacrificed a lamb (see post to explain that ritual) other than remembering Abraham’s obedience. I didn’t know what that lamb’s blood would do for me and what it meant for me, other than being obedient to Allah. There was no connection for me as to atonement or someone else taking on my sins. As far as I knew, I ALONE was responsible for doing good deeds to tip my scales towards the good on Judgment Day. It wasn’t until I met Christ Jesus and understood him shedding His blood willingly on the cross for my sins. I understood that day that only ONE is sinless (the Quran says also that only Jesus – Isa Ibn Maryam was sinless!). In the Bible, 1 Peter 1:18-20 says:

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was known before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in the last times for your sake.…

As Muslims celebrate today and this weekend with parties and festivals, I want to ask Believers to pray for them to know the TRUE Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sinless and spotless lamb of God. May every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

Reaching Muslims in Love

Most in the West do not understand the implications of witnessing to a Muslim. They don’t understand that there is a huge cost to pay to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, a Muslim ¬†who turns their back to Islam — like me, is guilty of apostasy and must be put to death. Muslims here in the US will regularly tell you that this is a religion of peace, however, this command from the Quran is carried out in all Muslim countries, where it is enforced by Sharia. In the US, Muslims can face kidnapping, beatings from family members, and being disowned from the family.
When I accepted Christ, I knew the risk I was taking. I am not saying this as a “holier than thou” attitude, but as a reality. At the least, I had been taught that becoming a Christian was one of the worst things you could do. When a Muslim accepts Christianity, their fate in the afterlife is ¬†to automatically be placed into one of the deepest levels of hell. Here are other verses that state what the fate of one who does not believe in Islam can be:
Quran

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a ‚Äújust cause‚ÄĚ Surah 6:152

‚Äď Allah loves those who ‚Äúfight for his cause‚ÄĚ Surah 61:3
Anyone who fights against Allah or renounces Islam in favor of another religion shall be ‚Äúput to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off alternative sides‚ÄĚ Surah 5:34

But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted ; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.  Surah 3:90

Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith ‚Äď but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty. Surah 16:106

Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way.  Surah 4:137

Hadith (traditions of Mohammad)

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a ‚Äújust cause‚ÄĚ (Sura 6:152).

Abd-Allah ibn Masood said : The Messenger of Allah said : ‚ÄúIt is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who bears witness that there is no god except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, except in one of three cases : a soul (in case of murder) ; a married person who commits adultery ; and one who leaves his religion and separates from the main body of Muslims.‚ÄĚ Sahih Al Bukhari number 6484 and Sahih Muslim number 1676

Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him. Sahih Al-Bukhari (9:57)

 

When you have been born into the religion (as I was) and you away, you are looked upon as worse than an infidel (one who was never a believer of Islam in the first place). It’s considered treason, for Islam is both religion and law of the State.

When witnessing to a Muslim, there needs to be an understanding of the seriousness of the cost to the person. Persecution is inevitable, even in the United States. However, I personally have taken that into account and know that following Christ is worth that cost.

There are several things you can do if you believe God is calling you to reach Muslims. I have created a bookmark so you can print it out & easily remember:

Bookmark-How to witness to muslims

  1. PRAY

Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against the spiritual forces. Prayer opens up the power of heaven and allows us to plug into the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Do not depend on yourself to have the smooth speech. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to share words that give life to others and are wrapped in love

2. MAKE EYE CONTACT

Kind of hard to do when someone is wearing a full burqa, but still try to do it. A genuine smile is the start of any authentic relationship! Sometimes, we get into a hurry and don’t listen to what God is telling you. A super quick prayer and a smile may bring about a beautiful friendship with someone from a diverse background.

3. EXTEND HOSPITALITY

Why do we have beautiful homes and we never invite anyone in? Why do we have nice kitchens and never offer to cook for anyone? Hospitality is a part of the culture for Muslims. It used to be this way for Americans as well. In our busy lifestyles, no one has time. Extend an invitation – just a cup of coffee or tea will do!

4. TALK ABOUT JESUS!

Hey! That’s who I want to talk about all the time anyway, so why not ask what they think of Him… you might be surprised! If that’s too risky for you, ask how your new Muslim friend sees God. Ask them to define His character and see where that conversation goes. Muslims are pious. They enjoy talking about God!

5. SHARE THE GOOD NEWS

Many Christians leave out the most important part. I have heard people say “well, I want to show Christ in my actions.” That is wonderful! However, that’s not the end of the story. How will they know if they never hear who Christ is and of His sacrifice for us on the cross. How will they know that God gave us salvation and His grace as a free gift. We cannot earn our way to heaven. ONLY CHRIST has paid our debt, bridged the gap to God and will come back to judge all.

6. BE PATIENT!

This is a relationship… not a pet project. A Muslim is a person, a human being. They are a person connected to a family. They need love and respect and deserve to be treated with kindness. On average, it takes a Muslim about 7 years to accept Christ. Remember, there is a lot at stake and it’s not an overnight decision. After conversion, be ready to disciple your friend & don’t leave them to wither on the vine.

It’s a matter of sharing your love, compassion and care for a hurting world. These are ways you can reach anyone (not just Muslims). If your heart is in the right place and you have prepared with the word of the Lord, God will help you! You are not on your own.

If you would like to know more about my journey, please check out my book:

From Isa to Christ: A Muslim Woman’s Search for the Hand of God

The Sacrifice of the Lamb

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One day, a man visited our home in Pakistan and he brought along the sweetest thing I had ever seen in my life. We were not allowed to have our own pets. We had a guard dog, but the guard (sometimes chauffeur) used to feed, pet, keep the dog. We played with him sometimes, but it was greatly frowned upon by my nanny who insisted on scrubbing us down if we had even touched the dog, for dogs are considered dirty in Islam.

The man brought something even more special than a¬†dog… he had a rope and at the end of that rope was a little lamb. It had a sweet face and just stared at us, chewing on whatever it was in his mouth. My parents took the lamb from him and thanked him. My older sister immediately fell in love with it and said that she would only feed it flowers, for it was too precious¬†to eat just plain straw and grass that the man had brought along with him. She took the lamb’s leash and ran off to the heavily flowered garden in front of our home where she stayed true to her promise.

Each day, we played with the lamb until we got used to its presence. It would roam around our home and three gardens (one at the front, in the middle between our house and annex and then one at the back of the annex). I remember just sitting outside, watching it roam around and eat a few nibbles from my hand. Never did we question where this gift came from or why my parents decided to get us a lamb as a pet. We simply enjoyed it.

Early one morning, I awoke to a very loud noise of someone crying… no, it was almost like a child’s scream. I jumped out of bed, scared to death and the screaming/crying noise would not go away. I ran out of the house, still in my pajamas, and followed the horrific sounds as they were coming from the back garden. As I approached, I knew something was terribly wrong. There were men with beards standing around the back faucet, where we had a small concrete basin for washing off yard dirt or larger, messy chores.

One of the men saw me staring with eyes as large as saucers at the scene. He screamed at our cook “Get her out of here!” as I started to scream and cry. When the man had turned around to see me, I saw what had been making the noise. It was our beloved lamb. There was blood all over the place – the wash basin, the ground and on the two men who had done the sacrifice. In the middle was our lamb with it’s neck sliced open. Blood had covered a part of its body as well. I realized then that it was a lamb my parents had bought for Eid Al-Adha (Eid of the Sacrifice) which all Muslims celebrate with a sacrifice of a lamb 70 days after the end of Ramadan (annual season of fasting) and after sighting of a new moon according to a Lunar Calendar. Never had I given it any thought of the lamb that was to be sacrificed for our party meal.

lamb sacrifice

This is something still practiced all around the world by Muslims. Eid Al-Adha is the festival to remember Abraham’s obedience to God to sacrifice his son (we won’t argue which son it is right now…). It is a celebration that allows families to come together and give thanks to Allah. My parents still pay¬†for a lamb to be sacrificed in Pakistan and the meat to be distributed to charity.

In the book of Revelation 5:6, there is a passage that says that “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” As we discussed what it must have looked like to have a lamb slain, I thought back to the bloody scene I witnessed.

We don’t like to think of the blood or the guts. We like things to be sanitary. We get our meat nicely packaged at the grocery store. Our streets are clean, our news is clean, our water comes out of the faucet clear, our clothes are clean and we have hand sanitizers in every location. It’s not considered polite to discuss the gory details of any event, especially dealing with blood.

I think that’s one of the things I have noticed most about living in the United States. While we lived in a nice home in Pakistan, we weren’t always guaranteed clean water out of the faucet. I remember being quite upset several times when I turned on the faucet for my bath and the water ran brown.

Our treatment of Jesus’s sacrifice should not be sanitized. We need to accept the fact that it was a bloody mess. That he suffered and he felt every bit of the pain on the Cross. As we look at Good Friday as the day that commemorates Jesus on the Cross, we need to remember that He was the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8 and 1 Peter 1:20). Our Lord gave up every drop of blood for us. The least we can do is to acknowledge His sacrifice for us in the way it happened… not as a sanitized version of the cross, but a Cross full of God’s glory and His willingness to provide for us a spotless, sinless lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.

 

 

Forgotten Art of Storytelling

f52160e9d05b76e7b8e7ec21206f46bdLet me tell you a story~ A handsome Rajah¬†had a beautiful garden in which he planted fruit trees of all kinds. He hired gardeners to take care of each section and in a land that suffered from droughts, the Rajah’s garden was like a lush tropical paradise. There were benches where one could sit in the cool shade of the fig tree and many tree branches that bent down due to their heavy burden of fruit.

A pair of¬†parrots happened to fly past this oasis and decided to perch upon the garden’s thick stone wall. As they talked to one another about the beautiful garden,¬†the husband parrot’s mouth was watering as he looked at the beautiful mangoes on the trees. His wife, seeing him eye the fruit sang a song of warning to him¬†“totaya, munmotaya tu rajah bagh na ja. Rajah bagh asah he, dainda payan la [parrot, parrot, don’t go to the Rajah’s garden. Rajah’s garden is like this, they will hang you].” They thought about the risk¬†and flew away, however, desire¬†got the best of them. The very next morning, driven by hunger and the aroma of the many fruit trees in the garden, they decided to approach again. They were quiet this time, but went closer to the trees. He looks at his wife who sings the warning to him again and this time, he sings back “totayee, munmotayee, main rajah bagh main jaoonga or aam laykay ahoon ga” [my sweet girl (parrot), I will go to the Rajah’s garden and will bring you back some mangoes]. He immediately flew and collected the ripest fruits. Later that afternoon, as they were sitting on the wall, enjoying their bounty, the servants came to collect the fruit. The Rajah desired to have the choicest mangoes. The servants panicked when they only saw green mangoes. As they looked from tree to tree, they spotted the parrots eating the fruit. They ran to tell the Rajah what happened.

The Rahah was outraged! He told the servants to immediately place a net and catch the offender. He was so angry that he said he would eat the bird alive. They caught the parrot quickly for he was still sitting there blissfully, enjoying his stolen fruit. They put the parrot into a dish and served it to the Rajah. The Rajah laughed as he ate the squawking parrot! The Rajah immediately has indigestion and the parrot seems to be flying in his stomach, still alive. The Rajah is indignant! He tells his servants that he wants the bird dead now and he asks them to wait with guns and daggers until the parrot comes out the other end.

The parrot was moving so much, that he came out quickly and as he emerged from the Rajah’s behind, the servants shot the Rajah in the rear. The parrot flew away. The Rajah sees that maybe the parrot was too clever for all of them and so he decides to punish his servants for not taking better care of the garden and of the outcome. The Rajah yells out to the flying parrot “Magical and clever parrot. Come and be in my court for you are wise and should counsel me in my kingdom.” The parrot, his wife, and their children come and live at the court where the parrot serves as the Rajah’s Vizier for years and years.

[old tale told by my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, to me and now, to our children – originates from Bannu, Tribal area of west Pakistan]

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

It’s not unusual to find my father at a party or gathering with a story ready to go. He is a wonderful storyteller and knows how to weave a fantastic story together. The most forgettable events can turn into a beautiful story in his hands. When my sisters and I were¬†little, he used to tell us stories to charm us into eating, sleeping or even tidying up the house. He still has a story at hand for his grandchildren and even as teenagers, they find them¬†as fascinating as I did.

I get my love for talking and telling stories from my dad. However, I do not know poetry from heart and I also mess up the details or endings. I watched an “I Love Lucy” episode once where Lucy messed up a humorous story’s punchline – I feel like that sometimes. Still, I think there is a value in telling a story.

In the United States, we find that we are given facts, statistics, and even small infomercials at times about all aspects of our lives – from work to family, from personal hygiene to what to eat.¬†With the advent of Ted Talks on YouTube, 15-18 minutes seems to be all you need to get a message across to someone. Someone sitting down to tell a story doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence.

Sharing information through a story is an ancient way to communicate. Walls and barriers seem to be relaxed¬†when someone says “Let me tell you a story…” We seem to visibly relax and ease into a conversation. It hearkens back ¬†to settling into our comfortable pillow and blankets for a bedtime story. It puts us at ease.

It was no surprise to me when I read that Jesus spoke to his disciples in parables. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus used the most parables. Since Matthew wrote the book for the Jewish audience, he knew the heritage and history of sharing the word of God through a story. They were used to telling stories and passing them down through the generations. The same feeling of sitting down, relaxing and settling into a story was what Jesus was doing to the large crowds that gathered to listen to him. This is still a wonderful way to not just learn the Gospels but also to communicate and share them with people from other cultures. There is always a point to the story, key players (usually a good and evil) and also a desired behavior or outcome. The stories are interwoven beautifully and they capture our imagination.

A good story is one that draws the receiver in, makes them listen, allows them to learn and think or reflect on the teaching. Stories are softened lectures. They make a point that the reader has to think about and they may not even understand what the story was about right away. There are many layers to the story that allows us to ponder and unfold at a later time.

One of the most important thing we can do is to share our own personal story with others. You can simply start with how you were as a child, or how you met your spouse or how your parents met. Those are wonderful things to pass on to the future generations and shared with elaborate details. We have done this with our children and even drove them to the place where my husband and I met. We have shown them the place where we got married and had our first home. It’s important to set down your traditions, roots and stories so that the next generation has something to hold on to.

Just as I shared the strange tale of the parrots with my children, a story can become a link to the past, to traditions and culture. It is a¬†legacy you give to your children. It is a¬†special gift that can be passed on to their own family and if it is told with passion and emotion, it’s something they will think about as adults. As a Christian, it is a legacy of the way God has weaved your life together and has shown you and your family His blessings. For those who believe, this can be a powerful way to witness to others and to show God’s love to others.

So the next time someone asks about your faith or about what you believe, instead of giving them a lecture or sharing the latest statistics, allow them to relax and settle into a story of something Christ told in His parables or how those parables have related to your own life story. It will become as a memorable event and will also allow you to share your background, upbringing, family, culture or traditions and connect in a deeper way.

Unity out of Diversity

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I have taught at several universities in California and Oklahoma over the last 18 years. Many times, I teach Cultural Diversity. Of course, there are trends, like women in the workplace or hot topics like the SONY Executive e-mails that made racist comments, but still, we continue to tackle the same issues over and over.

Many people don’t know that the term ” University” means ¬†“Unity out of Diversity.” (Uni= one Versity= groupings). Diversity has the similar word base, but in this case, the “Di” stands for division or separation. So in technical terms, diversity is actually about looking at groups separately. It’s good to start with word origins because we get confused sometimes when discussing terms that have an emotional charge associated with them. ¬†When you look at how the dictionary defines Diversity, you end up with more of a normative definition – how we have changed the term to represent it for our culture and needs today.

Diversity: the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization

When I work with businesses on developing a Diversity program or initiative, there’s almost a panic – what if we aren’t doing this right or worse, what if we leave something out? I guess I come from a totally different (dare I say “diverse?”) point of view. Having been raised in six countries gives me some insight to the United States. In Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, you mainly see one type of people – Arabs. Now, granted, there are ex-pat communities, but they tend to live separately and not really join the mainstream public. In Pakistan, it’s homogeneous – everyone looked the same. The only other group I saw was the Chinese and even then it was because they owned the Chinese restaurant we were dining at.

So, coming to the United States was a it of a culture shock (to say the least). There were different people everywhere. It didn’t help that we came to New York City first. Talk about diverse! Moving to California was no different – lots of people from all different backgrounds. In fact, it was very easy for us to find a tight knit Muslim community and settle in nicely. There were many here that spoke the language as well, so it was a small piece of home.

I think as Americans, we don’t stop to admire what this country offers us – a vast variety of groups that don’t have to give up their unique identity, but are able to function as a whole, My family and I never felt any pressure to be Americanized or to take on something we were not comfortable with. Now, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t face discrimination. Moving to the US was the first time I felt discriminated against, but it wasn’t for what you might think. I was in the fifth grade and no one would play with me. No one. When I finally got the courage up after almost two months of having no friends, to ask a girl who seemed remotely kind (=she didn’t say “eew, get away”) , she acted like she didn’t want to tell me. I then started crying and said that I had no friends. She was embarrassed, but was kind enough to tell me it was because I smelled bad. She even told me that maybe I should wear deodorant. When you cook with curry at home, you have to put the spices into hot oil so they develop their flavor. With long hair, that absorbs the aromas and some oil along with it, I am sure I smelled like what we cooked – and still do at times, but take a shower and wear some good deodorant now!

Trying to teach diversity from an immigrant’s eyes has a value. I think that I bring a little appreciation for what we have in the United States. In fact, on our money, it says “E Pluribus Unum”- out of many, one. I believe that is the strongest way to address diversity and the importance Americans place on the value of differing opinions, backgrounds and cultures.