Friday, November 26, 2010

Learning from Somali Muslims

As many readers of this blog know, I’m a Christian. Or, if the label “Christian” comes with too many stereotypes that I don’t want pinned on me (though I sometimes exemplify them), I’m someone who believes that Jesus’ life is our best representation of who God is (that God is Jesus), that God answers prayers, that this is a good thing, and that we need help to avoid totally messing up our lives. I could go on, but sometimes it feels as though it doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is who I turn to when my baby wakes up at 3am for the twelfth time tonight. What matters is whether I try to protect my money or give it away it joyfully. What matters is how angry I get when someone cuts me off in traffic or tells me how to raise my child. What matters is if I can grow old without becoming extraordinarily grumpy. What matters is how I navigate trying times. And there are always trying times, even if they seem trivial.

When I’m trying to make life changes, oft described here, I’m doing so because I think taking care of ourselves and the earth can be an act of worship. I slip into legalism when I’m least connected to God; when I don’t feel love I try to do the right thing, which feels burdensome and usually looks and feels artificial; when I’m trying to show someone somewhere that I really am better than them, when everything I say I believe says I’m not.

More than two years ago I wrote a post about how I came to be friends with some Somalis in Boston. It seems strange to talk about relationships with “a community”, since surely we are always in relationship with another person, not with a few thousand people at once. The context of that piece was that I had been requested to write specifically about the community as a whole. I wouldn’t write about my relationship with the Korean community in Boston. Because I don’t know “the community”. But Somalis tend to be lumped together because everyone knows everyone. Unlike South Africans. I met another South African in Boston when I was getting an ultrasound once. That's about it. Anyway.

Most Somalis are Muslim. Most Somalis in Boston are refugees. Many have experienced unimaginably hard times. My friends and colleagues are Muslim. For one colleague Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, was clearly about religious observance, a painful but necessary attempt to adhere to the requirements of her belief system. Raised in conservative circles, the feelings I had while talking to her, even if not the actual requirements of Ramandan, were very familiar. Which is strange because Christians say a million times over "it doesn't matter what you do" and then live lives incredibly guilty over everything we're not doing.

But my moment of connection was when a different colleague said that Ramadan was a time that allowed her extra time and focus to talk to God, and feel like God was listening and answering prayers for her and her family. There was something in that statement that touched me. Maybe the tentativeness of it-- “to feel like” just maybe, maybe God was listening.” For her, Ramadan wasn’t legalistic, it was joyful. And I witnessed in her life the fruit that I want for my own life-- deference to God for all in her life she can’t control, hard times that hadn’t taken root as bitterness, and overflowing generosity.

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