The Sheikh’s House

Yesterday we got out of Amman and visited a village where Bedouin people have been receiving Syrian refugees.  Each small team visited two refugee homes, and then we all met up for lunch at the house of the Sheikh.

The first house I got to visit had a mother, her son, her daughter-in law, and four grandchildren.  The youngest child was only 20 days old.  As my professor held the beautiful baby, she asked her mother if she wanted more children.  Her response was an enthusiastic yes.

That baffled me a little.  She’d only given birth to this child three weeks ago, but she was a certain yes.

Then I thought about it a bit, and I realized that child bearing is one of the most honorable things a woman/wife can do in Muslim culture.  To have children is to be useful.  And though I’m sure that with her Muslim upbringing, this woman truly did find joy in being a wife and mother, I can’t help but be bothered that her value may be reduced to only a producer of heirs.

Add to that our visit with the Sheikh and his family.  The Sheikh himself was arriving that afternoon from a visit out of country, so we stayed at his house waiting for a long time.  When I walked in, I was led past the front room where the men were sitting and into a room further back in the house where all the women and children were.  We were not reunited as a group until the Sheikh arrived and it was time to eat.

That didn’t bother me so much, because it was an opportunity to see the way that this family lived.  I met the Sheikh’s mother, wife, and one of his daughters, and spent a while doting on her baby.  They were sweet and extremely hospitable people.

Fast forward to lunch, which didn’t happen until 4:00 or later because the Sheikh got in late.  We all ate until we were bursting, as usual, and then sat together and listened to the Sheikh speak to us.

First, he welcomed our group to his home and his village.  Then he told us that Islam is a religion of love, and he respects us Christians because we also love.  He said that of all the countries, Jordan is #1 in terms of peaceful relationship between Christians and Muslims.  He said that he studies and teaches religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and he is glad to host Christians in his home and work with them to help the refugees in his village.

Throughout his little speech, I smiled and nodded, and I thought he was really eloquent.  What I couldn’t understand, though, is how he could be a professor of religion and say that Islam is a religion of love.  From what I know, the Qur’an doesn’t exactly promote love and peace with Christians.

And then there are the extremists, like ISIS, who also call themselves Islamic believers.  If ISIS and this Sheikh claim to have the same faith, how can their lifestyles be so different?  Clearly one of them is interpreting their Qur’an “wrong.”  Right?

When we got in the cars to leave, I ended up talking with a couple other students about a lot of this.  I can’t say we really came up with any answers, but I’m glad we could voice our confusion.  Asking questions and not having the answers is still progress, because at least we’re admitting that there’s a lot we don’t know.  There’s an English copy of the Qur’an sitting on my shelf right now.  I borrowed it from the library before I left home because I don’t think anyone can critique another’s beliefs without first trying to understand what it is that they believe.  Somehow I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.  Maybe it’s just not the right time.  But I know that I will soon, and maybe after that I might understand Islam a little better.

But which Islam?  The Islam of the Sheikh or the Islam of ISIS?

Something doesn’t feel right about that.  And part of me thinks that the Sheikh and his family know it.  But faith is a hard thing.  All I can hope to do is keep asking questions and seeking understanding, because maybe that will lead to growth for all of us.  It doesn’t help anyone to argue about who is right.

God, give me wisdom.

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2 thoughts on “The Sheikh’s House

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  1. It sounds like your group is having a rich cross-cultural experience. An audience with a Sheikh who teaches religions sounds like a wonderful way to begin understanding the religious complexities of the middle east. You’re grappling with some big questions. My only reservation about your question about Islam is that it’s binary: “But which Islam? The Islam of the Sheikh or the Islam of ISIS?” I don’t know the Qur’an, but I suspect that a peace-loving Muslim will find much justification for saying that Islam is a religion of peace, while a ISIS militant will foreground other texts. Similarly, peace-loving Christians may emphasize the Sermon on the Mount while “Christian” hate groups use other texts to justify violence and hatred in the name of Christ. As Christians, we understand the variations and complexities of our own religion, and resist distortions of Christ’s message of love. Your openness to the Sheikh’s perspective could be a starting point for understanding variations and complexities – and distortions – in Islam as well.

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    1. Joel captured my reaction exactly. There are perversions of Islam just as there are perversions of Christianity and most other religions (we saw ugly extreme Hindu Nationalism in India, and in Burma there is serious violence committed by Buddhists against the moslem minority, to name a few). This is an amazing experience for you; read that Qu’ran and ask questions. Seek out people who believe different things.

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