After Dinner

There is a Bedouin adage of sorts about hospitality, it goes like this: If an unexpected visitor arrives at your door, he should be welcomed, fed and given rest in your home for three days. He is your esteemed guest. Only after three days can you ask the person's name, where he comes from, and what he wants. 

This spirit of warmth and welcoming has, almost without exception, been our experience in the Middle East over the past decade. I was reminded of this a few nights ago as Max and I shared sushi, of all things, with an Omani friend. 

"In the region of Batinah, where I'm from, you must first share a meal together before asking about serious things. After the meal is cleared you can ask how is your family? how is your health?"  If you just sit down and ask about someone right away, he continued in broken English, this signals to your host that you are anxious to eat and then leave their company as quickly as possible.

Sure enough, after eating he leaned back and we talked about politics and shared stories for a few hours.

Throughout our years in the Middle East, Max and I have been welcomed into dozens of homes by people who were often not much more than strangers. They shared their traditions, asked about our families, and offered us their best meals. They lived Islam in a way that exemplified generosity, moderation, and sincere devotion.   

In this season of gratitude and reflection, I’m thankful for the many meals over which I’ve come to better understand Arabs and Islam. For the many friends we’ve made in the Middle East who have taught us how to build relationships on shared values despite coming from very different places. I’m thankful for the space it’s made in my brain and my heart.

If you are having a hard time separating the heinous acts of groups or individuals claiming to represent Islam from the regular folks with the same concerns and joys as you, lean on my experiences for a while. And if you have the chance to make real life connections with people who believe differently than you –don’t turn it down. In fact, seek after them. You’ll be surprised how much the people you get to know are different from the narratives we often accept about them. You’ll learn about their daughter’s acceptance into University. You’ll learn about their bad bosses and their favorite picnic spot. You’ll learn about their best chicken recipe and their retirement plans. You’ll find you have a lot more in common than you thought.   

All after dinner of course.