It all started when I tried to get a conversation going with the woman sitting beside me. Usually I keep to myself on airplanes, but her head covering made me curious.
“How long have you worn a hajib?” I asked, once we were in the air.
“It’s a hijab,” she said, and when I apologized for bungling the name, she let me off the hook by saying, “Actually, I’m amazed an American knows what it is.”
“I think head coverings make Muslim woman look mysterious,” I said, in a blatant attempt to redeem myself further. The broad, radiant smile that spread across her face told me that I’d succeeded. Like a lot of middle-aged Reformed church ministers, I’m not normally that smooth with Muslim women, but I’d heard a Muslim woman say “head coverings make us look mysterious” just 12 hours earlier on a television program. By parroting back that comment, I opened the door to a fascinating conversation.
As we talked I began to fear the inevitable moment when she would ask me what I did for a living. After all, who wants to spend nine hours trapped in an uncomfortable airline seat next to a minister? I don’t even like talking to ministers all that much and I am one. Add in the historic tensions between Muslims and Christians … and I expected the worst. Of course, before too long, she did ask.
“Is that like a missionary?” she said after I told her about my job. Now I could see this was only going from bad to worse. Here it comes, the death to America part, the down with Christians part - I was certain all the ugliness and misunderstanding between the West and the Arab world was about to get dumped on me.
“I love missionaries,” she said happily. While I was picking my jaw up off the floor, she told me the first school she’d ever attended had been run by Catholic missionaries who were wonderful, loving people. Then she surprised me again by saying, “I just wish your country could figure out how to send more missionaries than soldiers around the world.”
What a startling, brilliant idea.
Ten years into the “War on Terror” and I can’t help but wonder, What if we took her seriously?
Yes, it’s simplistic and naive, but estimates are that the United States has spent over $1.2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, 7,000 coalition troops have died, along with thousands upon thousands of Iraqi and Afghan citizens.
Aren’t there other ways we could have responded to the horrors of 9/11? I can’t help but wonder what else we could have done with over a trillion dollars. Or what other purposes those thousands of lives could have been put towards. I dream of a day when the hard work of reconciliation is favored over the simple option of violent retribution and when tenderness is favored over coercion.
“But I’m only one person. What difference could I make?” you might ask.
Individuals are doing all sorts of creative things to promote peace. Look at the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children that does exactly what its name sounds like. Or check out the work being done by grieving Israeli and Palestinian parents to bring a non-violent end to that conflict. People reaching out in love can do what governments cannot.
Missionaries instead of soldiers - that really is simplistic and naive. Simplistic and naive like Jesus commanding us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. Who ever imagined a Muslim woman might suggest we follow the Christian way?
This is the third installment in Think Christian's Ten After 9/11 series, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Previously, Gideon Strauss considered the question, “Did 9/11 make America a more, or less, Christian nation? and Brian J. Auten explored the concept of a Biblical sense of security.