Footloose Begins Writing Again

After an absence of 39 months, Omaniphile is ready to write again.  In the interim, I have completed all classes toward a degree in Middle Eastern and North African Studies, lacking only my thesis, and have returned two more times to Oman, both times to study Arabic.   I am told the language is from heaven – on that point, I remain skeptical.  I am convinced there is something wrong with me; why else would I punish myself so much, so long?  But I know the answer:   is for love.

My love for all things Omani has not faded over time but has transformed.  I feared returning the second and third time, afraid the magic would pass and a different reality would reveal itself, but, with increased intimacy, my love has only deepened.  On my most recent visit, I felt a part of the people, the places, the rhythm of life all around.  I felt like family coming home.  And, I learned a new set of skills for traveling on my own:  how to pick up and return a car Omani style; how to buy a card for my phone; how to recharge my phone; how to honk for service outside a restaurant (being female has its benefits); and how to have my car washed (by a crew of six young men – three washers and three dryers).

It warmed my heart when the Kerek-tea vendor would recognized me as I drove up and would bring my favorite flavor and size without being asked, or when the shop attendants at the Nizwa Souk smiled happily in recognition at my return.  My first visit to Oman, I wanted to know only Omani citizens, but this time I realized that all these other people are part of Oman also, even more so than I was becoming.  I prefer traveling alone because, while doing this, I meet kind, gentle, generous, and friendly people everywhere from all stations of life and cultural backgrounds.  People are freer and more relaxed when I am alone.  I learned to love so many people!  And they seemed to like me back.  Or, so I choose to believe.

The relationship has changed.  I learned a phrase in Arabic that captures how I feel –  translated verbatim into English in means, “I feel warm.”   Adding a little connotative meaning, it says, “Omanis make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

So with this, I begin writing again.  Today is May 14, 2019, four years after Sultan Qaboos changed the direction of my life by sending a delegation to my little village.

Misfat al-Abryeen

 

Misfat al AbryeenWe woke hungry and early – long before dawn. After dressing, we trekked across the plaza in the dark to the administration building and our dining room. We were only the second group there. Our guide, presumably, was still in bed, probably well worn after a day of driving up the wadi and entertaining us with banter and information.

Dawn fell warmly in the jagged peaks and it promised to be a much nicer morning than the evening was before. Our guide eventually knocked on our door and off we drove, down the mountain again to a village near Al Hamra. The ancient village of Misfat al-Abryeen was a collection of old mud-brick houses set on a hillside. Most houses had been left abandoned after the government had build much nicer new homes for the residents across a lush gorge.

We parked along a road at the top of a hill and hiked down through the winding village streets to our destination, a preserved 400-year-old mud-brick house. There an older man and woman demonstrated the old ways of doing things – how to make traditional bread, how to grind flour, make perfume, and how to use incense under the skirt and underarms as deodorizers without catching one’s clothing on fire.

In one room we were able to try on traditional clothes. With assistance, we were transformed into Omanis. Tom looks really good in his wazar and I enjoyed the brief experience in my clothes, but it was really, really hot inside all that fabric. We were photographed by our assistant then joined our guide in a living room where we were served coffee.

Tom Grind Coffee

The man there had actually roasted our coffee first. We sat around the edges of the room and ate dates, talked and enjoyed the strong coffee. On the walls were a few photos of HM Sultan Qaboos and his family, including one of my favorites, which I had seen elsewhere. It is the Sultan with his father, also the Sultan, when he was about three years old.  I like to call this my pictures of His Baby Majesty.

Reluctantly we left. Along the way, on our drive up to the village we had met an italian couple and their son. We ran into them again and they joined us on our hike down through lush vegetation, across a little canyon and up the other side and eventually back to our SUV. Actually, the men continued on to pick up the cars – ladies and son rested and waited after we had climbed out of the canyon. My new knee had done about all it needed to do that day, I felt.

We said goodbye to our new friends – we would be seeing them again here and there, as our paths were scheduled to cross again. The drive back up the mountain to Jabel Shams was uneventful. Since the weather was milder, we again stopped at the edge of the Grand Canyon and took pictures. Directly across from us was a family selling various items they had made. I bought a rug and several items – one from each of four girls. They shyly refused to be photographed, but we got a few pictures of them in the distance when they were leaping in the rocks like young goats.

After dinner we went right to bed. In order to get to Nizwa for the cattle auctions, we would have to eat and leave extra early.

 

 

Beginning Again

After a long absence, I want to get back to my story.

A word of explanation first:  Since returning from Oman I have been in school, having started a Master of Arts program in Middle Eastern Studies. So much has changed in the 30 years since I last darkened the doors of a school room.

When I was finishing up my doctorate, I had been the very first person ever in our department to take my comprehensive exams on a computer, and that “personal computer” measured about 40″x40″x40″ – I think it was called a Data I Word Processor. It was about the size of a clothes washer but shorter.  I was so proud then to be at the forefront of technology.

Now absolutely everything is done on the computer – everything darn conceivable thing! Thankfully, on my first day of struggling with technology, I was surrounded by a sea of computer experts who had been whipping computers into submission since they were in diapers – literally. My arabic class sounded benign enough, but on that first day of class we sat at computers and were told to take a moment to sign into D2L. It went down hill from there and would have been a disaster but for the computer wizard sitting next to me that offered guidance at strategic points.

I had started school a couple of days late. This already was stressful; my habit had always been to have read ALL my textbooks before classes had even begun.  I hate being behind.  Two days before, I think, I had left Oman, flown to Tucson where I spent the night in the hotel – it was after midnight and I didn’t want to drive all the way up in the mountains only to return again early the next morning.  When I went to class the next morning, I was weary and thoroughly jet lagged. That was Friday – classes had started on Wednesday.

It was two weeks before I got past the time-zone sluggishness and that weary-to-the-bone, post-vacation exhaustion. Then, it was another two weeks before I felt I had caught up with classes, and only today, a month and a half later, that I felt I could take a little time to again return to the story of our trip to Oman.

Regrettably, with the passage of so much time, I know I will have forgotten much of the detail that made the trip so rich. Using photos, I’ll try to recover as much as possible. I left the story up in the Jebel Shams at a remote mountain camp where we would be spending two nights.

Nakhal FortThat day we had visited Nakhal Fort and I had taken an unplanned plunge in Ain a’Thawwarah hot springs.  We had taken an awesome drive up the Wadi Bani Auf. We had driven past terraced villages, the entrance to Snake Gorge, and through ancient villages, such as Balad Seet. Existence in these mountain villages was made possible only by the little mountain springs in the cliffs above that provided drinking water and enough extra for farm animals and their marvelous date palms.

With the increasingly high winds and dropping temperatures, we were so very happy to StoneCottage.jpghave our solid, stone cabin with a space heater in addition to central heating. Sunset had been glorious, with glowing skies swathing the undulating mountains in warm colors. We had enjoyed dinner with our guide, who had entertained us with amusing stories of his two wives.  I hung out my wet clothes from my plunge in the wadi pool and thankfully covered myself even over the top of my head.

The next morning we were to visit the village of Al Hamra.

 

 

Important Message

Again, I want to interrupt the story of our trip for a message, this one from Queen Rania, wife of the King of Jordan.  This is such an important and effective interview, I want to encourage everyone to listen to it.  I have admired the King for so long but have never heard from her before.  What a powerful message.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/4717153446001/exclusive-queen-rania-on-perception-of-muslims-in-us/?intcmp=hpvid1#sp=show-clips

The Kiss

Saying goodbye to Muscat and our decadent luxury, we loaded up an SUV, and with a new driver headed up the coastline then west to the mountains and a different look at Oman.

MarketVeggies.jpgFirst stop was the market in As-Seeb. On the outside were vendors selling vegetables and fruit from their trucks. While I was hesitant to approach, all these men were friendly and quite willing to be photographed. Then, inside the fish market, we were treated to fish auctions and aisle after aisle of fresh fish ready for purchase as buyer and seller haggled over the prices.

Fish MongerThis turned out to be an excellent place to further investigate wizars and their use, since everyone pulled up the hems in their long white dishdashas to avoid getting them soiled and smelly. I found out one should not look too closely when they were sitting on flat surfaces – they were not schooled in how to sit modestly in a skirt. Hiding the family jewels was not necessarily a concern, at least in one instance, although feet were carefully tucked away so they didn’t offend anyone. Priorities. I was able to get a good photo of one classic pose; the focus of my attention was not happy to be photographed but said he was willing. He was beautiful, absolutely timeless. Unfortunately, the lighting was not good. But his is still one of my favorite photos from the trip.  Notice the wizar.

After leaving the fish market, I was surprised to see that we drove past the location of the Royal Cavalry on our way out of town.  Since this was a public place, I felt there would be no harm in taking a photo.  The well-manicured exterior hints and the immaculately groomed grounds within.Exterior Wall

From there, we went on to visit Nakhal Fort where we climbed endlessly while learning Nakhal Fortabout Omani life and culture of the time. Here we met a whole series of gentle museum/tourism specialists who added to our positive view of Oman with tKiss.jpgheir sweetness.Our guide, a former English teacher, met the first of his many students that we would run into all over the country.  They had not seen each other in a long time so they did the most touching, absolutely precious-to-see social ritual of nose kissing.  It happened quickly, and I was in the car so I didn’t get to photograph it.  At my request, they did it again, with some embarrassment (as seen here), while being filmed (such a kind pair!), but I learned later the camera did not record it (the sun made it impossible to see what the camera was doing).

Nose Kiss
The Nose Kiss 😉

So, I am attaching a photo of a postcard instead.  This is done only between men.  I can’t imagine anything cuter to behold!

Heading up a wadi, we stopped at a quiet serene (except for the people) pool Ain a’Thawwarah Hot Springs. Two young girls were swimming, so I stepped out onto the rocks first, then into the creek itself. In spite of warnings to be careful, I ended up slipping on the rocks and taking an unexpected plunge. A bath did hurt, and by the time I was out of the water again, I had met a German couple from Stuttgart, which was not far from our home in Heidelberg.

The two little girls were delighted with my swim but our guide, I think, was a tad embarrassed. I suppose I had broken a million rules on the conduct of females in public.  Other females past puberty were sporting black shrouds and milling discretely on the sidewalk and patio.  He got over it after awhile, though. We ate our first meal in an informal, outdoor setting – we had a short power struggle over where we would sit, the men preferring the shade, and I, still soggy wet, preferring the sunshine.  We compromised but putting a table half in in sun and half in shade. Afterwards, we were ready to travel up the Wadi Bani Auf, the most beautiful (they say) mountain road in Oman.

The mountains have a brown, muddy-surfaced appearance – looks a like Gaudi had been here practicing for Sagrada Family. Eventually, we arrived at our mountain camp in the Jebel Shams. It was already cold and got even colder as the sun went down.

That evening we had a wonderful talk with our guide in the campground restaurant. He was very willing to discuss the ongoing problems he had with his two wives.  It seemed that wife number one, with two children, was not fond of wife number two.  Number One was in Sohar in the north and Number Two lived in Salalah in the south.  He also was free in sharing his experiences on his Haj – he called it his hike. It was our first glimpse into the heart of a muslim. His experience to me sounded very much like a conversion experience in a Christian church, and he was very sincere and tender in his description of his feelings about it all.  I felt we experienced real fellowship that night.

After dinner, we returned to our cabins – so glad they were concrete and protected us from the winds that were by then very strong. Thankfully, I was out of the wet clothing and dressed in my warmest clothes by now.  Still, I passed on a shower. Even with a little extra heater going to add to the regular heating of the cabin, it was still very cold.   I would wait until we were down below in the desert, I thought. (Had I realized what was awaiting us there, I would have showered here!) So, to bed we went, staying close for warmth, and looking forward the next day.

 

Wizars and Masars in the Opera Galleria

Galleria

January 5th was our last day in Muscat.  The day had been added onto our trip expressly for a Folk Concert that was to take place outside the lovely National Opera.  The First Royal Band was to perform traditional music, but in the end it was cancelled for “technical problems”.  But, we had a fun day anyway.

Late in the morning, we took a taxi to the Opera Galleria where we enjoyed seeing the luxury shops.  There was an Omani Heritage shop there selling a variety of crafts.  Included among their merchandise were wizar.  Our search was over!  A couple of months earlier, I had brought conversation to a complete halt at a charity banquet dinner table when I asked if anyone knew what Omani men wore under their dishdashas.  I guess that even for people that know me this was a bit unusual.  A dear friend who had spent a lot of time in the Middle East (spy) explained a few items I might expect to find there, the most interesting of which was a thing called a wizar.

Doing a little more research, I learned that the wizar was actually Indian and had been adapted for use in Oman.  It is a long piece of fine cotton fabric about a yard wide that is wrapped around the waist like a long skirt.  I learned that European women loved to use them as festive table cloths.  Some of their husbands enjoyed wearing them at home with a long-sleeved shirt instead of blue jeans.  Well, I set my sites on buying a couple and succeeded in embarrassing any number of male shop attendants as I came in, a Western woman, inquiring about their underwear.  The search had come up dry until we came to the Galleria heritage shop.  The salesman there was clearly accustomed to Western women’s odd requests and didn’t blink an eye when I told him what I wanted.  Rather, he opened up a cabinet to reveal a whole series of wizars of various styles and lengths.  I picked out two that I liked (can’t wait to have folks eat dinner on my Omani undies!!)

Another shop I enjoyed at the Galleria sold masers, which were worn on the other end of male bodies.  These were the awesome scarves wound around the head into marvelous turbans.  Tom and I had bought a couple at one of the stores that failed to stock my wizars (or SAID they didn’t).  I think we had paid about $120/scarf.  At the Opera shop, I learned that these were on the very low end.  I saw masers priced at $2500 and higher!!! The vendor was very sweet and showed me a wide variety of styles even though I had explained I couldn’t afford them but just wanted to appreciate them.  We saw him later and he again greeted us warmly.  Love Omanis so much!

Galleria2We followed our shopping with dinner at a traditional Omani dinner at a restaurant next to the plaza on which the concert was to occur.  After eating, we were shown around all the rooms and told what they were used for:  among them, one more private room for couples, and another for the Sultan and his staff when they wanted privacy.  The latter had a sliding door rendering the room sound proof when closed.  As we left, our hands were again sprinkled with rose water.

There was a conspicuous absence of activity in the plaza, so we walked over to the main door of the Opera.  It was here that we learned that the concert had been cancelled.  While we were disappointed, we were downtown and had seen a huge Lulu’s department store earlier.  Tom flagged down a cab and we gave him directions.  This was the only time a cabbie had taken advantage of us while we were in Oman, but it was our own fault – we failed to clarify the cost of the trip before we got in.  We paid at least twice what it should have been – shame on him!  He was a poor representative of his country.  Lulus’s reminded me of malls we used to see in Germany.  I don’t remember their names.  And there was a mall with similar structure in Seoul when we were there; felt very familiar.   Lulu’s was lone store in a bigger mall, which we also toured.

When we were done, we again found a cab, returned to Al Bustan, and packed our bags.  The next morning we sadly had to leave.  We had experienced a beautiful week in wonderland, a true second honeymoon for us.  Actually, a first honeymoon, after 46 years! (When we got married, our honeymoon was a drive around Lake Superior up into Canada during the last week of January.)  At the hotel, everyone knew this was our last night and each was especially nice (and the cynical Susan says, tip time!).  Carlton-Ritz definitely stands a head above all the others.  We had had so much fun here.  It was a New Year’s Celebration we would never forget and a week of bliss as we pampered ourselves, or rather, let them pamper us!

Cooking Class

Now, back to our story.  On Sunday, we had had the incredible experience of visiting the Royal Cavalry HQ and the lovely runners and jumpers at the immaculately-groomed facility in As-Seeb.  We had been blessed to see General Alshahwarzi in his own habitat, surrounded by a clearly-devoted staff, and dressed in Army khakis, handsome and absolutely immaculate .

We had had photos taken, which were to remain private and for our own use only.  And, General Abdi had given us lovely personal gifts, including a photo album book and history of the Royal Cavalry that I had been waiting for, to become available for purchase, for months, but it hadn’t.  It was like he had read my mind.  Sadly, we planned to get together one more time before we left but through SNAFUs, that never happened before we had to leave town.  He had an event at the mosque with his son on our only available night, and we missed an email inviting us to dinner at Al Bustan, with the same group as before, on Friday night.  We were gone anyway, two days before, and didn’t get the invitation for several days later when we came out of the mountains and deserts to Salalah.  God willing, the General will be coming to our races again this year – it is a testament to Omani character that they would take an interest in our tiny little races.  I continue to shake my head in wonder at this little fairy-tale kingdom.

The next morning, our cooking class was scheduled – this had to have been the funniest part of our trip.  Scheduled through Ocean Blue Oman, with Clara Zawawi, owner, and Anna Palaszynska, who seems to be the General Manager, the event was to occur at Bait al Bilad, their fully restored and authentic village house on the beach of Qantab, the fishing village that lies along the Gulf of Oman, near our hotel.  They also offer guests an authentic Omani dining experience, surrounded by the jebel (mountains) and the sea, but today we were going to learn to make an Omani meal ourselves.

As we hopped into our taxi, we realized we had no idea of where we were going other than the name of the village.  But it was a small village, right?  So we didn’t worry, though the taxi driver seemed a bit concerned.  Anna had pointed the house out when she took us on the sunset sea cruise along the shores another day, so I knew in a general way what we were aiming for.

We found two colorfully dressed native Omani women sitting under a tree working, so I stopped to ask if they had any idea where Bait al Bilad cooking/restaurant might be.  Actually, this was a cooperative effort since they didn’t speak English and my Modern Standard Arabic (though I worked very hard on it) was basically useless here.  One of the women knew what I wanted and shouted out directions to the driver.  Oh, dear . . . my only criticism of anyone here  . . . to be as kind as I can, let me say she had an “uncultured voice”.  Should they ever need an Omani Eliza Doolittle, however . . . or a raucous crow voice imitation for a commercial . . . .

Anna was talking with a neighbor while standing in the dusty roadway looking down the IMG_0710road in our direction.  It may also have occurred to her that we had no idea of where we were supposed to be.  We hugged and then she led us to their tree-covered, Mexican-style walled patio.  We were introduced to our tutors for the day and our work began.  The two village ladies were dressed in bright colors just as the two ladies under the tree were earlier.

IMG_0713

For starters, Tom and I sat outside on cushions while they demonstrated good technique for making their very, very thin traditional bread.  The bread pro would take a handful of very soft dough, bread and water only I think, and would sort of slap it lightly against a heavy, centimeter-thick metal oval that had been preheated to the point that droplets of water would run off if flicked at the surface.  She made it look so easy, quickly covering the surface with thin dough without burning even one finger.  My turn . . . I tried and tried but one attempt after another found its way to the reject pile.  Then, it was Tom’s turn, but his sorry messes were put on the “good” pile.  Blatant sexism!

I tried again and ended up laughing and crying in frustration as lumpy messes flowed from my fingertips.  I vowed to buy my own pan and master this at home.  (Never give up!!!)  Thankfully, I have been spared further humiliation because we were far, far overweight and I couldn’t ship one home!

From here, we all went inside to prepare a hot dish and Omani doughnuts.  Tom and I cut up veggies and received explanations about the spices.  I was a little concerned when I saw garlics going into the mixture – I HATE garlic (a residual affect of too many years spent in Korea) – but I couldn’t taste it in the final product later (they must really put A LOT of garlic in Korean food for me to have acquired a life-long aversion to the stuff).  One of the ladies again demonstrated awesome dough-taming skills as she grabbed a handful of thicker dough this time, squeezing her fingers in a loose fist until a little glob appeared in the hole formed between her rounded thumb and fore-finger.  She would take a spoon each time a measured-portion of dough appeared and would cut it off and shoot it expertly into the waiting kettle of boiling oil. Never a splash.  We later would find these little doughnut balls for sale all over Muscat.

Finally, we were able to eat.  We had helped prepare a salad, too, and all was very prettily set on the table out in the courtyard of Bait al Bilad.  By this time, a third woman was IMG_0762present – maybe from Sri Lanka?  I forget.  But she looked just like my mother did in her wedding photos.  She graciously allowed me to get her picture so I could show my niece later.

 

IMG_0755.jpg

 

 

The food was oh so very awesome!  We left with our own set of spices and a recipe book so we could make the same good foods at home.  I still may try to buy that round bread pan . . . glutton for punishment.  Failure bothers me . . . it is very motivating!

This was without a doubt the most fun we had in Oman.  I don’t know when I have laughed so much.  I think we spent the rest of the afternoon out on the lawn of Al Bustan being served drinks as we read our books and enjoyed the sunshine, as visions of little doughnuts danced in our heads.

 

 

 

 

 

What is Jannah?

A children’s book may not be the best way to get an in-depth look at Islam, but it guarantees that everything will be expressed simply.  My third blog entry, in this pause from describing my trip, concerns the third book I found in a bookstore entitled, “What is Jannah?”  (As a side note, it is very difficult to read literature written by muslims about God because every time He is named they add apostrophes like, “glorified and exalted is He.”  The flow of thought is interrupted each and every time – it is giving me a headache!

This book begins with a father (maybe?) asking a boy if he remembers reading about Adam and Eve and the beautiful Garden where they had everything they could ever want.  The boy asks why God created beings who could do terrible things upon the Earth.  God replys that everything that happens, whether it is good or bad, is part of God’s plan. (I have always had trouble with this idea.   Christians will tell you this, too, but I think sinful persons carry out wickedness that has nothing to do with God’s plans.  Rather, his plan is achieved in spite of wickedness.)

The father tells the boy that everyone who does his very best to obey God will have the chance to live forever in “Jannah” after God “brings all things to an end on the Last Day and then creates them again.”  The child is then joined by another, a girl, and they ask what Jannah is, and the following pages cover the following ideas:

It is a Garden prepared for the righteous (Quar’an 3:133).  They will live in the presence of God forever (Qur’an 9:21,22).  People will be happy there and will have big mansions (Qur’an 9:72).  The righteous will be invited in with a greeting of, “Enter in in peace and security” and all hurt in their hearts will be removed. (Qur’an 15:45-47).  People will wear bracelets of gold, green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade, and will have raised thrones and comfy couches to lay on.  (Qur’an 18:31)  They will praise God who has removed all their sorrow, God who is all forgiving.  God will forgive all their sins, and they will not have to experience either scorching heat or biting cold anymore.

I receive the mailings talking about the 29 virgins for men killed in jihad and sent directly to heaven.  Indeed, I viewed one very creepy video of a slimy little mullah vividly explaining heaven, with the twenty-nine young women restored to virginity every morning so they are always ready and waiting for more sex.  I wish to God I could remove that ugly vision from my mind!  But this often-repeated image of heaven is an ugly vision, not the beautiful heaven that Muslims believe in.  It is a great disservice to continually use this as a way to make fun of and criticize a belief system we know little about and understand even less.

 

 

Islamic Values for Children

I think my break from telling the story of our trip is going to include two more entries – today’s blog on Islamic Values, and a final entry about the Muslim view of heaven, as explained to Children.  One of my goals in visiting Oman was to try to understand how Muslims could describe Islam as a religion of peace when we see nothing but the most despicable acts from their representatives on the news every night.  And their history!  Western Civilization’s experience with Muslims was always in the context of wicked and brutal war.  America created its own Navy because of Muslim Pirates in the Mediterranean Sea.  Down through history, Muslim nations have been the poster child for bad neighbors.

I am still grappling with this, but I am starting to better understand what is in their heads and hearts.  In my last entry, I shared the 99 Names of God in the Quran.  Today, I would like to share a list of values drawn from their religious writings.  I wish I could share the discussion of each that is found in the little book I found.  The values are as follows:

Thoughtfulness and Exploration,  Appreciating Beauty, Thankfulness, Caring for others, Generosity and Sharing, Sensitivity to suffering, Mercy and Forgiveness, Fairness and Justice, Living by the rules, Accountability to God, Being Self-Disciplined and Serene, Modesty and Humility, Cultivating Brotherhood, Unity and Harmony, Willingness to lead, Learning and Spreading the Message of the Quran . . . .

All right . . . we might have a problem with that last one because historically that has been done through violence and war – convert or die.  But keep an open mind to the others . . .

Faithfulness and Steadfastness, Hope and Patience, Courageous and Confidence, Seeking of Knowledge, Honesty and Truthfulness, Realism and Self-Criticism, Being a Lover of Peace, and, finally, Reflection and Spirituality.

These are the things that Muslim’s aspire to . . . it reminds me of the Fruit of the Spirit from our New Testament.  Clearly, the Islamic Extremists have missed something here and there.  But again – remember our loving Kansas Church:  who knows what they would do if given a chance to “lovingly” evangelize the world!  Nut jobs can be found everywhere.  Unfortunately, the islamic ones have guns, bombs, and place no value on lives, including their own.

Several times the people we met on our trip made a point to condemn the actions of the terrorists – they don’t understand what is happening in their world either.  One of our cab drivers had had his family business in Pakistan blown up by the Taliban; now he was a cabbie in Dubai trying to provide for a family back home.  In addition to knowing people everywhere are being killed in the name of God, Muslims bear the embarrassment of being connected in the eyes of the world with these brutal attacks.  Yes, some sympathize and support those doing the attacks, but many others don’t.  I plan to try to see Muslims through their own voices, as expressed in the values above.  We each are responsible for how we live our own lives only and for what we do with God, regardless of the religious label we give ourselves.

 

 

99 Names of God

 

I want to take a brief break from the record of our trip to share something I ran across in a bookstore.  Just before we left for Oman, there was a lot of popular debate concerning the question, do Muslims worship the same God as do Christians?  As far as I am concerned, we worship one God, the creator of the universe; they do, too.  Case closed.  Same God, but different beliefs about how to live one’s life to serve him.  Well, in a bookstore I came across children’s book written by a Canadian muslim for her child.  It is called, “Who Is Allah?”

Since most of the articles I saw written and addressing this question were quite negative, I was interested to read a muslim’s explanation of God in simple words a child could comprehend.  Seemed pretty good for non-muslims, too.  One part of the book lists 99 names of God found in the Qur’an.  I wanted to share those now.  This list was prefaced with the statement:

There is no one who deserves to be worshipped except Allah . . .

the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy, the Peace, the Faithful, the Guardian, the Mighty, the Compellor, the Superb, the Creator, the Maker out of Nothing, the Fashioner, the Forgiver, the Subduer, the Bestower, the Provider . . .

Find anything offensive in that?  Let’s continue . . .

the Opener, the All-Knowing, the Restrainer, the Extender, the One who brings to low, the One who raises up, the Honourer, the Dishonourer, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the Judge, the Just, the Subtle, the Aware, the Clement, the Magnificent, the Forgiving, the Appreciative, the Sublime, the Great, the Protector . . .

Aside from the British spellings, any arguments?  More . . .

the Sustainer, the Reckoner, the Majestic, the Bountiful, the Watchful, the Listener, the All-Embracing, the Wise, the Loving, the Glorious, the Bringer Back to Life, the Witness, the Truth, the Trustee, the Strong, the Firm, the Patron, the Praiseworthy, the Reckoner, the Originator, the Restorer, the Quickener, the Destroyer, the Alive, the Eternal, the Perceiver, the Illustrious, the ONE, the Eternal Support of Creation, the Able, the Winning, the Promoter, the Retarder, the First, the Last, the Manifest . . .

We are almost done now . . . I find typing these titles to be uplifting and spiritually moving even as I just briefly think on each . . .

the Hidden, the Governor, the High Exalted, the Righteous, the Relenting, the Avenger, the Pardoner, the Pitying, the Owner of Everything, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty, the Equitable, the Gatherer, the Self-Sufficient, the Enricher, the Withholder, the Distresser,  the Beneficient, the Light, the Guide, the Incomparable, the Everlasting, the Heir, the One who guides along the right path, and finally, the Patient.

This is the God worshipped by Muslims everywhere.  Is there anything in this that would distinguish their God from ours?   I think it profoundly unfair to let a bunch of ignorant terrorists define our image of Muslims.  Why should, “God is Great,” (Allahu Akbar) be surrendered to a bunch of murderous thugs?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful, as Christians, to be defined by the Westboro Baptist Church?  Why do people pretend to know what Muslims are and believe, having never talked with them about their beliefs, and then proceed to mistrust them on the basis of our own misperceptions?  Why focus on some embarrassing parts of their holy book that were written at a much different age for different people?  Just as we no longer follow certain parts of our New and Old Testaments, they ignore and discount parts of theirs.

On our trip to Oman, one of my favorite moments was an evening up in the mountains when we were dining with our guide.   He said he had made his “hike” to Mecca, I asked him questions about it and, finally, encouraged him to share his experience as he had confessed his sins and asked God to guide him, and be with him and in him forever.  His face glowed, there were tears in his eyes when I asked if was truly personal.  I feel that we had a meeting at the spiritual level.  He had shared, as best he could in another person’s language, the depth of meaning this moment had for him and the change it had made in his life.  It was as sincere as any sinner walking the aisle of a church after singing multiple verses of Just as I Am.  I don’t know what God expects him to do with Jesus Christ; no, he doesn’t follow “our formula” but he was as sincere as any person could be in his experience with God.

I believe that God has chosen to deal with Muslims differently, just as he dealt differently with Christians than he had done with the Jews.  I cannot believe that God would look at that level of love, sincerity and commitment, then say they cannot go to heaven because they had failed to follow the path proscribed for Christians.  God is a just God and merciful.    God gets to figure it all out in the end.

With the globe marked by evil everywhere, and with a new bombing almost everyday now, I think good people, God-loving people, need to acknowledge each other, support each other, learn to respect and love each other, and seek ways in which we can have fellowship together.  It is the government’s job to find and imprison or kill wrong doers.  It is God’s job to sort things out in the end.  Our job is to love and try to understand, and, if peace is what we want in the world, to try to make peace in our own small part of that world.