Are we listening well enough?

Are we listening well enough?

“ She’s just not interested in any faith conversations, all she wants to talk about with me is which foot is best to put in the bathroom first and ask me how many times and how carefully one needs to wash before prayers as a Christian.”  I’m sitting with a colleague who is struggling a little with the lack of progress she appears to be making in having  more than “small talk” with her Muslim neighbours in the area God has placed her.  “She’s happy to call in and drink tea with me but I feel we don’t get very far”

Another colleague has been facilitating a popular parenting course with women in a Muslim neighbourhood of the city. In giving feedback after the most recent course, most women talked of how the course had given them the tools to build stronger building blocks in family life, to set up good routines and to work out a rewards and consequences system. Then, one woman spoke movingly of her own personal empowerment as a benefit of having attended:

“You feel like a human, there’s not just an empty body living in the house …the course gives you purpose- you thrive”

Thirdly, was the response of a participant in English conversation class following the narrating of the story of Jesus birth. When this was  presented as God not sending down text or prophets but a representation of Himself to earth in order to show us what He is really like, she commented: “that is good news” . This, from a woman who teaches the Qur’an online.

As we reflected together we realized that all 3 conversations had occurred within the space of 2 weeks. Perhaps God was moving in people’s hearts, by His Spirit?

Much of what we are concerned with when engaging with Muslim women is day to day relationship building in a variety of settings and contexts. Whether we’re involved in visiting homes, language classes, parenting groups, craft, cooking or self-employment business development it can be slow and difficult to see any apparent “fruit”.  But I wonder whether, in eagerness to get to the SIGNIFICANT faith conversation we miss the smaller steps to such a conversation by not recognizing what’s really going on behind the question, comment or action and not seeing the opportunity to follow up.

So what is going on and what are the questions we could be asking?                                 What is important to the women we’ve been spending time with?                                                                                             As we walk alongside and continue to work with these women how best could we be sharing truth with them?

Could it be that Farhiya, concerned to know about the rituals needed for my friend to pray has questions around what would make her acceptable to God? How she can be free of fear of becoming tainted by djinn? Or what would take away the anxieties around whether she is clean enough to pray? Jesus had some strong words to say to those religious leaders who insisted on the outward rituals of purity which made the body clean but did little to address the impurity of heart and mind[i]. But suggesting that that Farhiya’s concerns of ritual purity and its implications in daily life are irrelevant aren’t going to help her restlessness of spirit[ii].  Stories of Jesus Messiah’s healing power over  demonic presence, chronic illness and death in Mark 5 demonstrate Jesus’ purity as being so contagious that when we come to Him we are healed, purified, given new life. What’s more, this gift of purification, once received, enables access to God at any time.

Why had Negat been made to feel that she had been an empty body? Having been in an environment in which she felt able to express the challenges she faces at home, and having been heard she may be open to learning of Hagar[iii] which has spoken powerfully and directly into women’s lives. Hagar, the woman, treated as a slave and “useful” simply for bearing children. Running away under severe pressure placed on her by others in her household and, in her lostness and desperation finding God who speaks words of affirmation and blessing to her so that she recognizes and names God as :      “El Rohi, the God who sees me.”

What was it in the story of Jesus birth that made Shazia see it as good news?         Christian women find a commonality with their Muslim friends in that, contrary to what is taught on Islam about prayer, they find a shared desire for God’s presence, His soothing and intervention in the anxieties and struggles of life’s challenges. A home visit where something of Jesus’ humanity on earth in experiencing hunger, thirst, disappointment in his friends, rejection from his own neighbours, frustration at the inability of people who should have known better to see who He was, could be the next step in exploring what Good News could be for her.

When Women Speak offer short and more extended courses online which enable women to reflect together on their conversations with Muslim women and consider what cultural, religious and worldview perspectives might be behind what is being said. We want to listen to these carefully before responding wisely, compassionately, and well using biblical stories and Holy Spirit inspired wisdom so that these conversations continue and develop into deep friendships of faith.

[i] Matthew 23:27, Mark 7:1-20

[ii] Hagar’s Heritage.( 2021) Moyra Dale p87. Regnum

[iii] Genesis 16:1–16; 21:8–21

© When Women Speak… July 2024

Miriam Williams has settled in the UK but has a long experience of cross-cultural living and interaction in a range of contexts. Knowledge gained from these experiences have been brought to bear on her current work and interest in enabling faith conversations between Muslim and Christian women at grass-roots level. She is passionate about seeking to ensure inclusion and accessibility to the things that matter so that transformative spaces are open to all; and sees links here to the way we do discipling.

2560 1920 When Women Speak

Leave a Reply

Start Typing