Sunday, November 22, 2015

Among Muslims

My tried-and-trues sending me off at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.  
Can you guess which one is me?

Seven years ago, an extraordinary thing happened in my life.

 I, an American Christian woman, was befriended by a pack of Malay Muslims.

You can read all the details here, but the short story is this:

What started out as a chance meeting on Facebook with a Malaysian Mob Wars buddy grew to ever-expanding circles of friends, now numbered well over one hundred. Right off the bat, we discovered that we all had very much in common.

We listen to the same movies and music.
We laugh at the same jokes.
We love our families and friends with the same commitment and abandon.
We share the same hopes and dreams for our lives.

Exploring ancient Portuguese forts in Melaka, white legs and all.

In the intervening years, especially during the two visits I've paid to their motherland, our relationships have deepened and grown beyond anything I ever could have dreamed. I've been accepted, adopted and very well loved by people who are quite a bit different from me.

And make no mistake, as much as I share in common with my friends on the other side of the world, there are many differences between us too.

Differences in culture and custom,
Differences in dress and social mores.
Differences in religion.

Especially in the early years, those differences frustrated me and confused me.

During my four months in Malaysia, when my dear friends took me into their homes and cared for me like one of their own, those differences sometimes left me feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable and very much alone.

But that is not where our story ends.

Blurry selfies during rush hour. 

My friends and I keep talking.

I've asked literally hundreds of questions which my faithful friends have patiently answered. They have asked a fair share of me. We care about one other enough to trustingly work through our differences rather than letting them come between us. Interestingly, as my Malaysian Muslim friends and I open new doors of understanding, I find that our differences actually make us closer.

Girl talk at the beach.

* * * *  *

In a world today that is torn apart with understandable fear about terrorist attacks, jihadist extremists and suicide bombers, differences between Westerners and Muslims have become an ongoing topic of conversation, often invoking confusion and fear.

But I hope that is not where our world's story ends.

Let's keep asking questions.

Let's listen to one another's answers.

Let's see if maybe, just maybe, we can open new doors of understanding between two remarkable but markedly different cultures. And maybe, in the end, those differences may actually make us grow just a little bit closer

My favorite Malaysian playmate and Malay language instructor.

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