Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Defining Characteristic

By Belinda

I recently read about the conversion to Islam of English broadcaster Lauren Booth. This isn't a commentary on the propoganda frenzy that has ensued, or a critique of her conversion, but I was struck by a couple of aspects of her story and wanted to write here about them here, today and tomorrow.

It was October 31st and I was on my way back home from England again, feeling, as I often do, that my heart straddles two continents.

One of my rituals en route is to pick up a Daily Mail for Paul. He loves to catch up on some fresh English news. It was Sunday, so it was The Mail on Sunday that I picked up this time and reading the paper made the three hours of my bus ride from Birmingham to Manchester airport, pass quickly.

The paper had an article by Lauren Booth, entitled, Why I Love Islam (...and so do my daughters.)


It was the "why" part of the title that grabbed my interest. Why would a contemporary western woman gravitate to Islam? While I am sure Lauren Booth is well known to everyone in Britain, I didn't know her or anything about her. I now know that she is the half sister of Cherie Blair, the wife of the former Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, which makes her conversion to Islam rather provocative.

One of the pivotal experiences Lauren Booth described was arriving as a journalist on the West Bank. The Israeli authorities had kept her suitcase and she was walking around the centre of Ramallah, shivering, when an old lady grabbed her hand.

Talking rapidly in Arabic, she took me into a house on a side street. Was I being kidnapped by a rather elderly terrorist? For several confusing minutes I watched her going through her daughter's wardrobe until she pulled out a coat, a hat and a scarf.

I was then taken back to the street where I had been walking, given a kiss and sent warmly on my way. There had not been a single comprehensible word exchanged between us.

It was an act of generosity I have never forgotten, and one which, in various guises, I have seen repeated a hundred times...
Interestingly nothing in the article defined the woman as a Muslim--perhaps Lauren Booth assumed that she was. What struck me though, was how profoundly an act of such kindness impacted her in a world full of cynicism and selfishness. And yet the act was a demonstration of the very spirit implicit in Jesus's radical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:40-48 (New Century Version)
40 If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.41 If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles. 42 If a person asks you for something, give it to him. Don't refuse to give to someone who wants to borrow from you.

Love All People

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemies.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.[b] 45 If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.46 If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that.47 And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don't know God are nice to their friends. 48 So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
I was challenged to consider the old woman's generous and spontaneous kindness as a benchmark for the walking out of my own faith. If I saw someone shivering in the street outside my home, would I invite them into my house and raid my own closet to clothe them?  While I know so many do quietly give and live the message of Christ, what impact would it have if we lived the Sermon on the Mount--if I lived it?
To be continued tomorrow...

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