To Consider: Her Hope for Heaven

The following is the lead article in the November/December issue of Intercede, our bimonthly prayer publication. To download the full version of Intercede, click here.

Intercede Cover Image Nov:Dec

Her Hope for Heaven

By Lynda Hausfeld

Muslim women comprise a tenth of the world’s population. Whether we live in Houston, Havana, Hyderabad or Hong Kong, they are our neighbors. That makes them ours to invite to heaven.

But we hesitate–not because we deliberately ignore the fact that God commissions them to us for heaven’s glory (Acts 17: 26)–but because we don’t know how to invite them. For very legitimate reasons, our perspective of who they are hinders us from initiating and nurturing redemptive friendships that are most likely their only hope for heaven.

Satan, the enemy of their souls and ours, knows that Christian and Muslim women friendships are their key to heaven, so he does all he can to impede loving encounters between us. He makes us mutually fearful and suspicious of one another, by telling them we are blasphemous infidels and by telling us they are unreachable jihadists. The only truth in his tactic is that as father of all lies, he delivers what both Christian and Muslim women know they can expect from him: damning deception.

So who is my Muslim neighbor? The purpose of this text is to help us understand her better, and feel less presumptuous about expectations that have kept Christian and Muslim women in separate camps–in spite of the fact that we share the same grocery aisle or beauty shop chair. Our goal is to expound upon truth that fosters friendships between us, so that Christian women can feel empowered toward outreach to their Muslim neighbors everywhere.

We have quite a bit in common with our Muslim neighbors. Just like I am not the same as every Christian girl, she is not the same as every Muslim girl. She deserves friends who are careful not to stereotype her, in spite of all the understandable reasons Christian women might be inclined to do so. It is really helpful to understand from the onset that our Muslim friend will muddle through interesting assumptions she has of us, as well. Perhaps the grandest joy of friendship with Muslim women is discovering how alike we are, even in the most contrasting of contexts.

Because Islam was birthed in Arabia, and because of the importance given to the Quran’s original Arabic text, we might think that most of the world’s Muslims speak Arabic. However, only 350 million of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims reside in or are from Arab nations. Unless she is specifically from the Arab Middle East, Egypt/North Africa or the Arabian Peninsula, our Muslim friend’s mother tongue will likely be Urdu, Persian, Turkish, Bahasa, or Tagalog. If she has settled in the West, it could also be English,
Spanish, French or German.

I traveled to France to do some work among a group of very conservative Muslim women. Because of this, I expected these Muslims to veil. Finally, after seeing only unveiled women for a whole day, I mustered the nerve to ask my hostess where the Muslims were. “What? You don’t see Muslims?” she asked. Smiling, she pointed them out to me: “There is one. The lady crossing the street is one. Over at the corner, she is one. The storekeeper is one. They are all Muslim women!” My friend kindly reminded me that in Paris it is against the law for a Muslim girl to veil for school or work, so most women whose life takes them outside the home will not veil. I apologized for my shortsightedness; I had known of the law’s passage but had not anticipated its real implications.

The veil is a relevant topic because typically it is what distinguishes Muslim women from the rest. The practice of veiling was originally implemented for the protection of the prophet’s wives and other believing women, who at the time (sixth century) were being victimized by lascivious pagan men. It became an important expression of modesty and submission, for a woman who veiled did so in obedience to Allah and for the sake of her husband and community’s honor, who as a good provider should require that she do so.

Modesty is central to a Muslim woman’s faith expression, but how or whether or not she even wears the veil is as varied as the cultures and communities she represents. In some places veiling is so meticulously practiced that a house’s curtains and outer walls serve as added layers of protection for the Muslim woman against a dishonorable world. In others, the historical trajectory of society and culture diminishes the severity of veil practice, in some places to the point of its non-existence. In Iran, a woman must cover all but her face and perhaps her eyes. In Kyrgyzstan, she might wear a simple headscarf. In Istanbul, a female Muslim university professor might be indistinguishable from a renowned secularist, but a Muslim TV anchorwoman in London might stand out because of the veil she chooses to wear on camera.

Veil or no veil, what most Muslim women value is the modesty it represents. Whether she is a traditionalist, a moderate or even a modernist, your Muslim friend esteems modesty as a practice that honors Allah, Islam, and her community. All of her good practices are part of what helps her earn a place in Islam’s paradise after her earthly life is done. Modesty itself is not merely about the veil. It is about public comportment and how women relate with other men, especially. A good Muslim woman will generally express herself moderately in public, very intentionally avoiding inappropriate attention. Eye contact or handshakes with men who are not family members will be guarded; even very powerful Muslim women know the value of graciously deferring to others in public contexts–reserving hilarious laughter or rebuke responses for safer, more honorable settings.

Almost as important as modesty is our Muslim friend’s regard for hospitality. It is part of the honor culture into which Islam was birthed, which remains key to Muslim life and works. Indeed, Muslim hospitality is the picture of an open heart. When we are invited into our friend’s home, she makes us her honored guests. Our host will serve us the best of what she has, in the most honorific way possible. She will want us to linger, and she will cater to our enjoyment. The hospitality she extends to us will far surpass the pleasure of good food and company It will open the door to friendship that has capacity to sweetly–and loudly–live Christ in her presence.

Our Muslim neighbor values hospitality, and she needs ours. We can make her feel very special in our homes, too. She’ll appreciate our help navigating grocery stores and beauty salons, school systems and hospitals. We can explain our community’s events and subdivision association expectations, and knowing what we know about her modesty values, we can invite her into our circle of virtuous, safe friendships. She relishes our presence at her celebrations, and she anticipates the pleasure of being at ours. When she struggles, she wants our prayers. She strives to be obedient and righteous enough for paradise; she needs us to tell her that Christ is her righteousness and heaven is God’s free gift to her.

Shirin Taber, the Muslim child of an Iranian father is a believer today because of a friend’s extreme act of hospitality.* Shirin’s Catholic mother, often feeling overwhelmed by her cross-cultural marriage, was befriended by a Christian neighbor who lovingly journeyed with her through some insecure times. She encouraged Shirin’s mother to know Christ personally. Just as things were looking hopeful for the marriage, Shirin’s mother fell ill with cancer and died. Shirin’s devastated Muslim father did not know how he would care for his three children, so to help him Pamela and her husband took them all in. Shirin credits Pamela’s grace and compassion with her own journey to Jesus. Pamela always encouraged Shirin and her brothers to know God personally just like she had done with Shirin’s mother. At age 15, Shirin chose to follow Christ. God made Shirin’s family Pamela’s neighbors, so that they might know that He is God. Pamela’s selfless hospitality touched the soul of this family with love that could only be His, and Shirin received it. All of Satan’s ploys–his intention to destroy Shirin’s family–crumbled to nothing in the face of true, Christ-like friendship and hospitality.

Satan builds enmity between Muslim and Christian women to keep us apart, because he means for all to perish. He knows the dangers of our friendships. Christ brings us together so that Muslim sisters who would otherwise never know the hope of heaven will be able to find it in us. Be it resolved, then, that as followers of Jesus Christ who commissions us with the privilege of sharing hope for heaven with the Muslim neighbors He gives us, we choose to recognize and rise above Satan’s murderous schemes which are against us all–to love Muslim women with Christ-like practice and passion, so that we all will enjoy Him forever, together.

* From the book by Shirin Taber, Muslims Next Door: Uncovering Myths and Creating Friendships (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004)

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a reply