A Muslim. A woman. A Muslim woman. A refugee. A migrant. An Arab. An Asian. Lost. Needy. Among those I am called to. My ministry target group. My neighbour. My friend. My sister. Loved by God.
When I think about the women who live under Islam, what are the first descriptors that come to my mind?
Friend and sister are words I often use. I want to emphasise relationship. I want to get past seeing them as someone I come to do something for. I want to connect with them as a person, to get beyond seeing them as a target I am aiming for.
But do I really accept them as my sister? It is so easy to say but is it as easy to live? Are they really my friends? Do I share the things of life, the journey of the everyday with them? Do I let them share with me as much as I want to share with them? Can I be helped, ministered to, cared for by them? Are these relationships mutual or one way?
I have discovered a sense of superiority in myself because of my relationship with God. Now that is not easy to talk about. The more I live and work among women from within the house of Islam, the more I realise that while I love them, while I ache for them to know the hope and freedom of a relationship with Jesus, while I want to call them my sisters and friends, I often do so as one who feels I have everything to give because of my relationship with Jesus. I’ve got it. They need it.
I have been rereading the Biblical narrative, looking at how often the lessons of faith are taught to the people of God by the outsider, the one who does not belong. And I have found that challenging. As a cross-cultural worker, I have been confronted by how often I feel I have everything to give, everything to teach, everything to bring because I am a follower of Jesus.
I hear the words of Mahatma Ghandi challenging me: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Let’s started with the story of Tamar, a Gentile woman who becomes a named part of the lineage of Christ. We meet a woman on the margins, one who does not belong, confronting and challenging the centre. Judah was from the family of Abraham, chosen to be a blessing to the nations. And yet it is the foreigner, the marginalised, the weak, the vulnerable who speaks God’s word and brings his work to bear among God’s people.
Jonah, from the chosen people of God, was so upset with God’s grace being offered to the Ninevites, forgetting that the purpose of being the chosen people of God was to be a blessing to the nations. Jonah struggles with the generosity and largeness of God’s compassion. I too have been confronted by my brokenness as I look at the favour of God generously given to Muslims.
It was a woman who the disciples wanted to get rid of from their presence, who confronts their theology of God’s love, grace and compassion. (I know I have written about her before, but after struggling with the story for so long I have come to love it.) Here was a woman who was in desperate need who comes to God. His disciples are offended by her in their midst, a woman who could pollute them being in their presence. The conversation goes too far for my comfort if I am honest. But in doing this, Jesus confronts the prejudices whereby the disciples think they are better than this Syro-Phoenician woman. My Muslim friends and sisters can confront my own prejudices and brokenness, showing me something of what the heart of God is really like.
I think of the blind man in John 9. Someone must have sinned the disciples declared. Jesus says no, this is so the glory of God can be revealed. I am amazed by the things I see as I look for evidence of the glory of God being revealed among the women I live and work among. They show me about the hospitality of God. They challenge my ideas of generosity, giving me fuller pictures of what the amazing generosity of God looks like. They open up for me fresh understandings of family and relationship, what it means to belong to the family of God.
Then there is the parable of the good Samaritan. The judgment of the priest and Levite, their concern for ‘right’, their lack of compassion are all shown up by another outsider who shows us what a true neighbour is like. I have received such acts of care from Muslims, some of whom I knew, some I still don’t know. A meal from a neighbour after I had travelled, helping me after I had been harassed by a young man, seeing me to safety in the midst some unrest in the city. Acts of love that didn’t ask who I was, whether I was one of them or not. Simply, ‘you are our neighbour’.
Several times I have heard it said, if they don’t accept Jesus we will move on from that friendship, after all we don’t have unlimited time. There were of course those that Jesus was closer to and spent extended periods of time with. When he met the blind man, or the Syro-Phoenician woman, or Nicodemus, or the woman caught in adultery his ministry to them was profoundly personal, deeply relational, bringing them from the margins to the centre to include their story in the whole story of God at work in the nations. It was a passing encounter, but it was so much more than that. It was life changing. It came from compassion, that feeling with, co-suffering.
Who do I think you are? You’re my teacher and friend. You’re my sister who holds the mirror up to those places in my life where my theology and my practice are different. While I am privileged to be in the family of God, that is for the blessing of others. Moved by compassion, longing that you too might know Jesus, help to learn how to be a blessing. My sister, my friend.
Featured image: IMB Photos
(c) When Women Speak … October 2020
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. 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).