On Loving Your Neighbors

I wrote this for Venn Magazine in March, 2015. It seems it may be worth repeating.


Recently, I saw an article entitled “Why You Need More Muslim Friends.” While a little saddened by the fact that such an article was even necessary, I thought it was worth sharing on my Facebook wall. The response came quicker than I expected. An acquaintance of mine wrote that I could love Muslims all I want, but he would keep hating them.

His response caught me off guard. I wondered how many others felt the same way. And that led me to ask a few questions.

When you say you hate Muslims, do you really know who it actually is you hate? Do you hate the Muslim women in Saudi Arabia who are not allowed to drive? Do you hate the Muslim children who are maimed or killed by the bombs sent by non- Muslims? Do you hate the Muslim laborers who move to a foreign country to work and live in very harsh conditions for $3 a day and send 90% of that money back to their family, whom they don’t see for a years at a time? Or how about those Muslims in Egypt who formed a live chain around the Christians to protect them during prayer?

Do you hate the perfect stranger who stopped when our friend’s car broke down, called a tow truck, paid for the tow truck, and offered to let the guy borrow his own car while the garage was sorting out the problem? Do you hate the Bedouin lady who gave my crying son one of the toys she was selling and insisted my husband took a seat in the shade to calm the boy down? Do you hate the man who practically ran to our car when he realized we were looking at the map, gave us directions and invited us over for tea? Do you hate my friend’s principle who gave him money to help pay his son’s hospital bill, or my other friend’s vice principal who showed up at her house a couple days after the new baby arrived with a box of beautiful baby clothes and so much food they had to invite people over to finish it? Do you hate the Saudi couple we met at a hotel breakfast and who made us laugh till we cried with the stories of their 3 boys?

These are the faces of Islam that you are not likely to see in your everyday life – or ever. I, however, live in a Muslim country. These people are my neighbors in the most literal sense of the word. They have welcomed me into their homes, and I have welcomed them into mine. We broke bread together. We laughed together. We talked about religion, and women’s rights, and travel, and education. They kissed my baby and called blessings upon him, and I kissed their babies and said they’d been willed by God. They even walked with me through my son’s birth.

It’s rather obvious that we are not Muslim. Even our visas state we are Christian. Yet, this has never been a problem. This particular Muslim country has quite a few churches, and, ironically, we have found a more vibrant, dynamic, and welcoming church community here than we ever did in the Bible Belt. We feel safer here than we ever did in southern Georgia. Around here, when it is time to go back to their home countries for the summer, expat moms worry about giving up the safety of our children running around freely and our purses being left in our unlocked cars.

Do not misunderstand me – there are some barbaric traditions carried out in parts of the Muslim world. The things ISIS does cannot be justified. Yet, judging all of Muslims by ISIS is like judging all the Christians by the Westboro Baptist Church. The man who kills his unmarried daughter because she was seen with a man represents all of Islam no more than a man who says he hates Muslims represents all of Christianity – or even all of the Southern Baptists.

I wonder if we hate people not because of who they are, but because of who we are – humans. Faulty, messy, broken humans who have such a hard time forgiving, letting go, or much less loving a group we do not understand. We can come up with dozens of excuses, but in the end hatred, like love, is always a choice. It is easier to hate and fear than to use critical thinking and do thorough research. It is easier to be enslaved by these powerful emotions than to break their bondage, but since when is easy slavery preferable to hard-earned freedom?

Maybe we break away from hatred when we know people, real life people, rather than mere headlines. In fact, maybe that article was right after all. Maybe we all need more Muslim friends.


More Mosques: Thursday’s Pictorial List

Four local mosques: a pictorial list for Thursday.

There are, as you know, some lovely mosques around.  We’ve hardly photographed any of them, but these are all interesting in some way, shape, or form, and I thought I’d share.  None of these are amazing photos in themselves, and since they were all taken with my iPhone, there is considerable lens distortion in some images.  Still, I hear there is no better camera than the one you happen to have with you, and I think you might enjoy a look.


1) In downtown Al Ain, this mosque, mostly hidden behind the palms and the fountains in this image, is perhaps the most modernistic one that I’ve seen in town. The green lights up top are clocks, which display the time in English and Arabic, as well as the date and month.


2) This one is about the size of a small gas station and I think it’s picturesque in it’s own way.


3) More attractive in person, this one has a couple of tall minarets and is what I immediately think of when I think of the word “mosque.”


4) This reminds me of Alderaan (I told you I was a Star Wars nerd). Sort of spaceship looking, yes?

The call to prayer is echoing gently off the apartment complex’s facade as I write, and I think that signals an excellent time to end this post.

OK, So There are Cool Things in Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, this is cooler than things in Cuthbert.  I’ll admit it.

I bumped into my friends, the same ones I mentioned before, as they were getting ready to  tour the Grand Mosque, and I ended up going with them.  (It was free, since Shawn was driving, so I am still saving my fils, in case your wonder) If you’re in the neighborhood and want to see the Mosque, be sure that you take a tour (usually at 11:00am and 5:00pm, but be sure to check their schedule).

You can look up all kinds of information about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but I will offer a few neat tidbits: it is among the 10 largest mosques in the world; it contains the largest carpet in the world; it has one of the largest Swarovski crystal chandeliers in the world; it’s an all-around neat place to tour with a guide who is willing to answer all sorts of questions.

The photos following below were snapped with my iPhone, so the resolution isn’t exactly stellar.  I look forward to Jenia arriving so that we can get some nice photos with the Canon (there are other reasons I look forward to her arriving, too, but I’ll leave those to you to deduce).

The Mosque grounds are still under construction, although the building itself has been open since 2007.

There are all kinds of marble inlaid into the floor.  The domes are topped off with 24K gold.

The columns are inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Looking through the main entrance into the courtyard.

A shot of the floor.

This is one of the small chandeliers. The big one is, well, bigger.  Notice the flowers on the wall–they’re made from various kinds of marble, and symbolize the gardens that will be found in heaven.

The carpet was made in Iran and installed in the mosque in one piece.

When we finished the tour, the light outside was simply magical. If only I’d had Jenia’s good camera with that sweet 15mm lens! For the evening’s light alone, I’d recommend the evening tour.

The ladies in the group all wore long skirts and sleeves, and covered their heads with scarves.  We had to kill a little time before the tour began, which wasn’t a problem, but by the time we made it inside, that air conditioning sure felt good to them.  In truth, they keep it very cold inside.  “This light is magical,” I told Shawn as we stepped out and put our shoes back on.  “Yeah,” he muttered, holding up his camera–the lens was all fogged up (again–this happened when we first arrived and got out of the car, too) and it took forever to get back to normal.  It was worse when he took the lens off, and then the inside of the camera fogged over, too.

The moral of the story: The Mosque is great.  But keep your camera in the case and let the temperature adjust before you bother trying to take any photos.