Acasia – Originally written in 2016
I am a Christian in a Muslim nation. I do not feel or worry about the threat of persecution. I remember my first experience worshipping at the local church. It looked like what I would describe as heaven, people from every nation and tongue, assembled together to praise and celebrate Jesus. Before arriving, I had a phone conversation with a person who once visited this part of the world. She mentioned underground churches and said I would get in trouble if I read my Bible in public or had Bibles mailed here. But, that’s not true, at least not in this particular country or within my experience. There are several known and fully operational Protestant and Catholic churches in town. Yet, I know this is not the case for my Christian brethren living in parts of the world where the pronouncement of their faith is met with assault, imprisonment or even death. I acknowledge that I have what some would title “religious privilege” and “cavalier faith”. I do not, nor have I ever worried about being targeted for celebrating Christmas, listening to praise and worship music in my car with the windows rolled down, assembling people for open invitation Bible study at my house or attending a church service in a publicly identified building in broad daylight. Nope, not once, not even while living in a Muslim nation. Hell, weeks before Christmas, local grocery stores had Christmas Decorations on full display and on Christmas Eve, a lady in her hijab wished my husband and me, and everyone else in her check out line, a Merry Christmas!
So I’m trying to figure out how I, a Christian living in a Muslim nation, had such freedom and opportunity to openly assemble in church buildings, and go to weekly Bible Study without fear of being ratted out. I wear my cross jewelry without being deported or having it ripped off my body, or walk around in my jeans and t-shirt without the fashion police forcing me to throw on a black robe. And yet Muslims in America, which is not, nor ever has been, a Christian Nation, have folks drafting plans to ban them. These same folks are the ones who would deny black and brown folks the right to vote and “Make America Great Again”. Amirite?
For those still living in this bubble or haze of xenophobia and islamaphobic ignorance, here’s what I’ve experienced as a Christian living in this particular Muslim nation:
- The worst of it: Crazy @$$ driving, awful commuter traffic (because traffic doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world – sarcasm*) and hot @$$ summers
- The source of growing pains: Not being able to eat, chew gum or drink in public from sun up to sundown during Ramadan, which provided empathy for Muslims living in non-Muslim nations during Ramadan. In fact, I could eat in my house and considered Ramadan a great time for my own fasting; The term “Inshallah,” or “God willing” which many expats translate to “one day but not today” or “maybe”; witnessing the transient workers out all day during the hotter months to build skyscrapers and new high rises; the instant, skin melting heat and thick, dusty air that gets stuck on your lungs; construction at all hours of the night when living in the city.
- The amazing parts: The diversity of people, who are kind and humans (not monsters not radicals not terrorists), there are your hipsters, your gym rats, your cobras (men who rock thobes and ghutras (traditional head piece) that look like a cobra, your fabulous women who look like they stepped out of a catalogue and reminded me of the glorious days of the Ancient Egyptians who probably invented fashion; the food, including pesticide free produce and succulent restaurant selections; the western-inspired clothes and music played on the radio; the dates growing off the date palm in the summer; the colorful farmers’ market in the cooler months; the random person walking their camel, riding their horses down the road or kids pushing the mule and cart; my favorite Indian or Pakistani bicycle DJ playing music and turning heads while pedaling around the neighborhood; Joss Stone performing at the Spring of Culture concert; color runs and desert camps for National Day; the Harley motorcycle rides; the Friday Brunches featuring live music and incredible food stations; the ability to get news in other languages than English and Arabic; rain after the hot season; the fancy cars and home decor; movie theaters with food delivered to your seat when you order from an iPad; the fact that you can order anything and have it delivered, including a Snicker’s bar and a Dairy Queen Blizzard; the souk (aka market place) and learning how to barter/bargain for a good deal on scarves and trinkets; epic rug flops with delicious food and “magic” carpets; henna boutiques and massages; the malls; addictive karak (pronounced kah-rack) tea and saffron infused Arabic coffee; the distinct and hypnotizing perfume; the pearls; the beautiful weather from November through April; the genuine hospitality; the language; the daily call to prayer and soul stirring reminder that God truly is Almighty
Would you know, they even have a U.S. Appreciation Week! But of course no one thinks that “radical Muslims” would celebrate our beloved nation.
As a Christian in the U.S., I never had to use secret codes or worry that my friends on Facebook will see my posts and links to sermons and report me to my family or the authorities. I didn’t have to fear that my church would be raided; and the only roster that I’ve ever been on helped the church determine its “guests” and new “members” while affording me the luxury of a welcome letter in the mail and a cute little gift bag to thank me for visiting. In the states, my biggest church-related “dread” was having to circle parking lots for a space at one of three full to overflowing worship services. I did this without fear of being arrested.
In the Muslim nation that I call home, I have driven, in broad daylight, to churches situated across the street from mosques, both assemblies dismissing at the same time. No bombings, no slurs or attacks. A simple acknowledgment and nod of the head before walking to our cars parked on the sidewalk for lack of available spaces. The only traffic jam I encountered was caused by a service so packed, we had to wait our turn to exit the grounds in our car – a car which had a license plate to clearly identify us if you couldn’t see our faces. In this Muslim nation, I have had a chance to attend events where most, if not all the folks in attendance practiced Islam, and I didn’t get kicked out or berated when they found out I was Christian. No one threw a hijab or abaya on my head and said, “You’re in Bahrain now honey, you need to cover up.” No one forced me to cover my hair, hands, face, body. No one dragged me to the mosque or shoved the Quran down my throat and called me an infidel for not knowing any Surahs.
Yes, I know, there are exceptions and no place is perfect. Yes, other nations and communities might very well endorse the aforementioned and I won’t dismiss that or pretend it’s not real. I’m grateful, though, that I have the freedom to wear jeans and a t-shirt, expose my face and drive my car, and converse with women and men and go to the pork section of the local grocery store to get an occasional slab of bacon or ribs. So let me be one of many to dispel the notion that Muslim societies are oppressive, violent, or any more dehumanizing than White supremacist America. Mine was a peaceful experience.
I’ll admit, I’ve taken my religious privilege for granted. I’ve forsaken the assembly and fellowship of the believers or corporate praise and worship in-person, and have soaked in the luxury of watching a sermon online. This, in part, stems from the burning, and confirmed, suspicion that predominantly white church leadership rarely speaks to social injustices plaguing the various groups that comprise its congregation, some groups of which I identify. But that’s another topic for a future post. The honest answer is that I have religious privilege. Like anyone who isn’t a member of the persecuted or oppressed or marginalized community, I can go about my day without once worrying if my loved one was murdered or detained for leaving their Bible in the car. I can rest at night because I don’t consider that this might be the night when I have to flee the neighborhood or go before the authorities and answer a series of questions on this Christian missionary or that pastor who was on trial for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can listen to Christian songs or watch sermons and videos on my computer without any of it being blocked and not once have I had to sneak a look at my Bible or hide my music playlist from family members who don’t believe in Jesus. And this has continued while living as an expat in a Middle Eastern Muslim nation.
These are thoughts on paper, but I’m blown away by this thing called religious freedom and specifically religious privilege. And I need anyone reading this, whether you are Christian or atheist, to think about the foolishness unfolding in the U.S. Really think about it. If you’re Christian, you know about the persecuted church. You know about the voices of the martyrs and the people who are threatened daily for their beliefs. If you’re an American Christian or a “Western” Christian, and I speak to you only because that’s the context of my Christian identity, I need you to step outside of your western, WASPY Eurocentric Christian privilege. Deny it the way GOD denied His very own deity to become a brown-skinned, middle eastern, Aramaic speaking homeless revolutionary, aka JESUS, and think about what’s going on. Don’t just think, do better. The church is already suffering from a serious hijacking and infiltration of its potential by various charlatans and cowards. Don’t let it continue. Don’t be on the wrong side of history. Don’t repeat the sins of any and all other “churches” that remained silent, complicit and passive in the face of fascist leaders and mass persecution.
Check your religious privilege and call to love and serve and remember that they, the clowns behind this, can and, if you put it past them, will come for you. Since All Lives Matter, show it, don’t just tell it.
This message was brought to you for the love of God and people.