‘I’m not a bad person. I haven’t done anything really bad.’ ‘No one can keep all of God’s rules completely, I do my best.’ ‘I fast, I pray, I give to the poor. I’m a believer (i.e. not an infidel).’ The fundamental idea that we are all ‘sinners’ before God is absent in Islam, and so it seems that the message of salvation needs a ‘different’ starting place to communicate God’s love for us. A guilt-innocence view of our relationship with God speaks truths, but the message does not often resonate with our friends.
Then there is shame. We have broken our relationship with our Great Creator-God, we have shamed him by not honouring him in the way we live. We have rebelled and done things our own way, and this is deeply shameful to God, but God reverses our status of shame. There is much that resonates culturally with our friends when speaking about shame. A shame-shaped message of salvation, however, is built on a foundation that believes we were created for relationship with God. I am wondering if this message really speaks the life God offers for our sisters living under Islam.
How, then, can we journey with our friends so that they may encounter and know God? I don’t have a step by step formula. I wish it were that easy, but here are some lessons I am learning.
- Start with understanding who God is. Cultural and worldview understandings of those we share life with provide important background that shapes our message, and we do well to be learners in and of our context. But there is more. Our I-view courses have challenged me to consider understanding more profoundly who my women friends who live under Islam believe God to be and how they seek to relate to him. While the teachings of Orthodox Islam may encourage us to consider God as wholly distant and unknowable, we have been discovering that women relate to God through a number of different lenses. There are women living under Islam who will speak in relational terms, or the desire for relational connection with God. The mosque or piety movement reminds us that women want to live their faith truly, and they do this wanting to fulfil what they understand God’s requirements of them are. In many instances women are responsible for all those transition phases of life in the family and so they seek the power and blessing of God through a variety of different ways, to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities.
- How do women living under Islam in our communities understand and seek to relate to God?
- What does this show us about their search for engaging with/relating to/knowing God?
- Identify areas where they are ‘seeking’ God. Huda was married and had a reasonably good relationship with her husband and in-laws. She had given birth to three children, including two sons and so was respected and well thought of. She spoke of God blessing her when she had her first son after the birth of her daughter. It was an experience of God’s favour for her. Omar, her first son, was facing his first exams in school at the age of four and this created great pressure for Huda. How could she help Omar succeed? Huda fasted as part of a bargain with/desire to obtain favour from God. She went to the mosque and made prayers at the tomb of Syeda Zainab. She spent time at night reading through the Qur’an, and ask some friends to read with her, seeking to complete its reading before Omar took his exams. The burden that Huda carried was real and reminded me of Jesus meeting with the Syro-Pheonician woman. While her son was not ill, here was a mother who was desperate for the well-being of her child as she navigated the demands of her role in the everyday. Simply sharing that story with Huda drew her to wonder at God’s care for her with the burdens of her everyday; and drew her attention to the trust of a woman who did not belong.
- How are the ways women are negotiating their everyday expressions to their understanding of their ‘needs’?
- What encounters of Jesus, or stories in the Old Testament, speak of God into the particular ways that the women you encounter are seeking God?
- Reread the stories of Jesus’ encounters (particularly with women), and the stories he told, though a salvation lens. The woman at the well, the woman who had suffered with the issue of blood, the woman caught in adultery, the loving Father (or Prodigal son), the good Samaritan – each encounter or story gives us windows through which to view the salvation journey. I have noted a number of things thinking about salvation in the gospel encounters, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Jesus starts with the presenting need that speaks to deeper issues of belonging, identity, inclusion, community, cleansing, transformation
- He invites the person/s to tell their story, giving them ownership of who they are and the way that presenting need has shaped their lives
- Jesus reveals something of himself, either overtly in clear statements or through his actions
- He addresses the presenting need in the context of relationship, relationship with himself and with the community
- He sets people on a journey toward knowing God, a salvation journey
- What do I see in the stories of Jesus that helps me reframe the message of salvation for the friends I share life with who live under Islam?
- How can I integrate telling the encounters and stories of Jesus more naturally into my time spent with women living under Islam?
A last word
I do believe the message of salvation includes our guilt before God and the price he has paid; it includes the truth that we have shamed God and given our allegiance to others, and he bore our shame and has given us honour; it is a story of God’s power over evil and the defeat of death and fear. The truths of our broken relationship with God and the great work of Jesus are not changed by reframing our message. How I present it, what that message is for a woman negotiating life under Islam is what I am seeking to understand. I find in Jesus and his encounters and stories that the message is presented to draw people toward God and a living relationship with him in Jesus. For some salvation is a decision in a moment, for others it is a journey to relationship and life with God.
(c) When Women Speak … October 2019
CH spent nearly 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. 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).