Our conversations were many and varied that afternoon, and yet I see in them the indelible fingerprint of the Spirit of One Who Gave His promised Son.
We are told to relax on the couch amongst the floral pillows, while our hosts bring us the leftover sweets from breakfast to tide us over until the next meal is prepared. My Muslim friend brews delicious coffee heavily sweetened and brings with it hot milk. Then we drink it at a ratio of three quarters coffee and one quarter hot milk. Bon appetite!
My Muslim friend busies herself in the kitchen, washing and cutting apart the carcass of a chicken, among other things.
My friend’s daughter introduces us to her pet gecko, which no longer has its tail, but does still change colour slowly if placed on something darker. We pet it politely. Its back is only slightly rougher than the back of my hand.
“What do you do for fun?” the daughter asks.
We tell her about our church youth groups of thirty to forty people, how we play sports or have socials Friday nights, go to Bible studies Wednesday nights, and sometimes sing in old peoples’ homes Tuesday nights. Sometimes we just get together with friends, too, for fun. She seems intrigued.
When she wants to have fun, she contacts a friend and they go out to eat or something, but she admits that her mom thinks she should have more of a social life.
We talk about our veiling. Our netted cap is to show submission to God and His order of authority and to give us the protection of angels. We are following the direction given in I Corinthians 11.
She tells us her veil is mostly for protection too. It protects her from the lusts of men by hiding the beauty of her hair.
We add that we agree with that. We comb our hair up in buns to hide its beauty for our husbands, should we ever have one someday.
She is fascinated that as Bible believers we see divorce as wrong. The Islamic religion does not encourage but does allow divorce. This leads into discussions of courtship practises.
Should she ever find someone she is seriously interested in, she would tell her mother. Then she and the fellow would meet to get to know each other in public places like restaurants or hanging out with friends, but they would not go anywhere where they would be alone. They also would not touch each other. This is to keep “bad things” from happening, but sometimes they still do.
We share how in our culture, if a young man is interested in a woman, he will often ask her father’s permission to court her. Then they will spend time getting to know each other, with their friends, at their own homes with their respective families, and although they are sometimes alone, they are supposed to be somewhere where anyone could see them, as protection as well. We admitted that sometimes “bad things” still happen. Each couple sets their own standard in some ways.
We talk about modesty. Sometimes she will dress Western, but only in their house. In public, she wears looser clothes than the average Canadian. She wears the veil whenever she leaves home. She did not even stay out on their second-story balcony very long, because she didn’t have her veil on.
We tell her that we wear our veils all the time, except to bed and show her the extra piece of fabric we sew onto our dresses for an extra layer of modesty.
We move to a corner of the house beside the kitchen with a small wooden table and three, beautiful stool-like cushions, where we will eat our meal.
She admits that throughout the day we have somehow touched on three of her insecurities. (For her sake, I will not say them here.) Corrine and I exchange a look, knowing that the Spirit is speaking.
We talk about Jesus, Who to us is more than just a great prophet. He died to save us from our sins and rose again to give us eternal life with Him. We tell her how we have a personal relationship, we can pray to Him all the time, about anything. He loves and knows us and wants us to love and know Him.
She listens, quietly, respectively, almost…longingly. Her mom always argues away our beliefs, but she is in the kitchen on the phone Skyping and returning congratulations to the family member who has called on this exciting day. Then she brings the phone over and shows our faces, as her honoured guests.
Then my Muslim friend shows us how she steams the couscous over the chicken broth. (Couscous, she tells us is derived from wheat. It has the same texture and flavour as coarse corn meal.)
Next, she layers the couscous, chicken, carrots, pumpkin, dates and raisins cooked in broth and cinnamon into a silver pan. She delights in telling us the cooking process as she sets the steaming pan in the middle of the table. There is barely room for our plates and glasses. Corrine and I bow our heads to pray, and she says the one phrase, Arabic blessing of their culture.
We dig in with a large spoon setting couscous, pieces of tarragon yellow chicken, orange chunks of carrot and pumpkin and the dates and raisins on our plates. When the food is on our plates, we eat it with spoons. I want more chicken. So I take another piece. Maybe some more couscous and pumpkin?
The meal is relaxed and enjoyable. We eat ravenously, as by now it is after three in the afternoon. My Muslim friend clears the table an sets out yogurt an d fruit. I politely eat a tangerine, but I really do not have room for another bite. My Muslim friend is on the phone again, returning congratulations to another relative. When she returns she urges us to eat yogurt. It will aid digestion.
We plead that we are too full.
My friend tells us about a vitamin that is found in the seed of an apricot that doctors say will prevent cancer. My friend trusts Google.
Over on the couch again, we discuss scripture memory. In the Islamic religion, good Muslims memorize scripture, at least some special portions of it. Then when they are in distress or dying, they can say these passages to themselves. They name a couple of them in Arabic.
We talk about how we memorize scripture, too, that even when we don’t have a Bible with us, we can have the Word with us. I admit that I don’t memorize as much as I should. But suddenly it is there, and I am quoting, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Other verses tumble in my mind.
My friend and her daughter tell us how they believe in fate allowing bad things to happen as a test for us.
We share how we believe God allows bad things to us to prove our character, but we can be nothing without His help. It is because of His presence and strength that we can come through situations like that.
My friend argues about the Trinity. She says Muslims worship one god, not three. It is an old conversation, one we’ve had before. This time, I decide to try an explanation that my mom told me about. “You are a daughter right? Obviously, you had a mother and father and you need to respect them and help them.”
She nods. “Do you have siblings?”
She tells me how many. “So, you are a sister. As a sister, you have a different role. Mostly, you are a supportive friend, but sometimes you probably give advice.” I pause. “And you are also a mother to your daughters. You have to teach them what to do and this is different than being a daughter or sister.”
She nods. “So you are a daughter, sister, and mother, but you are one person. It’s the same with God, He is One God and yet three persons and they each have their own role.”
Her answer is non-committal, and she launches into reasons why the Bible is inaccurate. She argues that over time it has changed but the most noble Quran has not. She has many more arguments scientific and historical to prove the Quran. I have never read the Quran, and I have also been told that you will never convert a Muslim using logic.
She tells us that she watched an Islamic prophet, may peace be upon him, on YouTube that said the Torah says Mohammed will come and Mohammed’s name is in there.
I tell her that I don’t believe this is true. The Torah (books of Moses) is the first five books of the Bible. I have read them cover to cover twice and never read the name Mohammed. She wrinkles her eyebrows and says she will send me the link when she can remember the name of the prophet.
She winds up by comparing our two religions and saying, “We are the same, no?” Corrine and I shake our head, and my Muslim friend looks disappointed. She argues this way every time.
We prepare to leave and my Muslim friend sends us out the door with leftover sweets. She tells us it would be a shame to her, if we left hungry and had to go to McDonalds afterward. We take them home, happy to show these little souvenirs of our trip into a very different culture, just a couple hours outside our door.
We thank her for inviting us, and she tells us that it is better to have us there than for her and her daughter to be alone. They would probably just watch things on YouTube. I know she must be lonely.
We leave the apartment building and step into the street where half a dozen Pride goers wave flags and exchange greetings of “Happy Pride!” We meet a man in a green weaving down the side walk, clutching a bottle in a paper LCBO bag and yelling incoherently at his buddy behind him in red. They glance at us curiously. We hop into my car, and I hit the lock button before putting on my seatbelt.
It takes us twenty minutes to creep down Younge St. jammed with cars and bikes, pedestrians overflowing the sidewalks. We are stuck beside a place with white tents for a couple minutes. The music throbs in my car. Corrine and I wonder at it all. I mean to say, “There’s so much evil here.” Instead, my mouth says, “There’s so much Jesus here.”
Corrine heartily agrees. We discuss what Jesus would do if He were here. We know He wouldn’t leave. Corrine says how he would look for the hurting, lonely, and broken ones on the fringes of the crowd and take time for them.
At last we take the exit to the Gardiner, and we are on our way home, wondering why the hurting city with all its people is not our home. And I pray for Toronto’s church and for its broken people.
You see, despite all the rainbows and celebration, many in the city still have not found what I have.