We live in “temporary” campus housing, so several families have moved out and in since we arrived two years ago. The family next door moved here from Florida this year; the parents are originally from Bangladesh. We loaned them some things and helped with home projects when they moved in. They have shared homemade Middle Eastern desserts and freshly picked berries with us. We are friendly but haven’t gotten to know each other very well yet. One thing I did know was Mama could cook. For months, delicious curry smells have been wafting through our windows. On Friday we received a last-minute invitation to dinner at their house. Hooray! Two new Pakistani students were also there; it might sound weird, but I always find it refreshing to be in the minority. The food was exquisite, and the company was delightful. Sophie ate her weight in rice, and she and Judah were soon whisked away to be cuddled by the high school girls. Dave and I lingered with the adults over dessert and milk tea; we talked about religion, travel, food – wonderful topics for new friends from different places . I’m both sorry and happy to say that it’s the most time I’ve ever spent talking with Muslims.
I literally did not know any Muslims for the first 20 years of my life. I just did not come into contact with any. I probably ran into a few in college but didn’t make it a point to find out. In St. Louis we lived in a very diverse area: I regularly interacted with people of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent. We had great international restaurants and grocery stores within a few miles. We also spent time with some of Dave’s international students, mostly Chinese. Then we moved to West Virginia, where 94% of the population is white. However! there are over 30 countries represented at Concord. We’ve enjoyed the company of students from Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Russia, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Amazing, right? It’s one of the many reasons I am thankful for Dave’s career choice.
In any case, my recent interactions with people of the Islamic faith have been interesting, enlightening, encouraging, and challenging, to say the least. Our dinner on Friday just topped it off. I have learned about Islamic beliefs. I have felt challenged to read the Bible more and know it better (a student we met the other night has memorized the ENTIRE Qu’ran!). I have been encouraged to know that we can talk about religion without having a heated battle (duh). Of course, I think it would be great if they became Christians, and I’m sure they’d be delighted if I converted to Islam. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about two families of different ethnicities and religions enjoying an evening together. Why don’t we do that more often? So now there is a simplified Qu’ran on our dining room table. I might just take a gander and see if I can come to understand our neighbors a little more before our next dinner together.