A small group of young Muslims and Christians were sitting together in the studio, discussing on live television the possibilities for their country in a new era that followed political and social upheaval. They were taking phone calls when they received a call from a young woman. She wanted the young Muslim woman in the studio to understand what it was to be discriminated against in the everyday of living.
She explained that two days previously she had been standing at a bus stop with her daughter, waiting for a micro-bus to take her daughter to school. As a vehicle pulled into the stop some of the men and women who disembarked started shouting at her and spat on her. She was identifiably a Christian because her hair was not covered. Why should she, a native-born citizen of the country, be treated as though she did not belong?
The young Muslim woman in the studio broke down and wept as she felt the pain of this young mother. She had not understood, nor previously had conversations that enabled her to understand, what it was like for a woman like the caller, from the Christian community, to live as a minority and suffer discrimination.
The young producer of this show, a Christian, had taken a risk. She was targeted for criticism by both Christians and Muslims, but the programme opened new doors for understanding between communities.
Since I first learned this story I have often reflected on it, wondering how my relationships, my friendships, my work help build understanding between different communities where I am engaged.
Whether it is my Muslim friends living as a minority in my home country, or my Christian friends living as a minority in the places where I work in South Asia and the Middle East, discrimination creates patterns of isolation and fear. Minorities become insular, finding themselves defined over-against the majority. They become known by the things that symbolize their difference. They become a category, seeming to lose identity as a person.
The veiled woman in one of our Western cities is often faced with discrimination. Her dress makes her a visible target for verbal or physical harassment and abuse, simply because she is different. We criticize the way Muslim women are often victims of unjust systems in their home countries, and yet their marginalization and exclusion in the West can be equally painful. Research showed that there was a 375% increase in attacks towards Muslim women after the UK Prime Minister compared veiled Muslim women to letterboxes in 2018 .
What is our role, wherever the minority is: a Christian minority in a Muslim country, a Muslim minority in the West? Can we create safe spaces where the other is welcomed, categories forgotten and they become known as the person they are?
When I think of transformation I think of the vulnerability of inclusion; of being a bridge where differences can be crossed; where difference is no longer a line in the sand.
What could it look like where you are to create safe spaces for meeting and inclusion? What role could you have in being a bridge that enables meeting across differences?
© When Women Speak … August 2021
CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. She recently returned to a leadership role. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).