Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims
A Christian Woman in a Muslim Land
Christine A. Mallouhi
Monarch Books, 2004, 184 pp. ISBN 978-0-8254-6051-7
Christine Mallouhi, an Australian, is married to an Arab Christian. She has lived for nearly 30 years in many different Muslim cultures and authored Waging Peace on Islam. Christine’s experience can help Christians live honorably among Muslims. I hadn’t intended to take notes on this book, but when I was nearly half way through I had run across so many valuable insights, that I couldn’t resist it.
“Conservative Muslims’ sense of right and wrong is more acute than that of Western Christians. In spite of the fact that we consider ourselves to have a strict spiritual/moral worldview, we are surprised to discover that conservative Muslims do not view us as a spiritual people because of our behaviour and dress. Clothing is an important, and necessary, way to make a statement. If you live in a Muslim community you will notice the different clothes used for weddings, circumcisions, mourning, and to show religious affiliation.” “Local people often asked me why I dressed so conservatively for a Westerner, and many enquired if I was a Muslim. I usually told them that the Bible teaches that godly women should dress modestly, and since I have submitted my life to God through Christ, I want to be modest in their country as well as my own. So, if they recognize godliness and decency by a certain type of clothing then I will wear it while in their country.” (83-4)
“If we want to be respectable then we need to know what decent and indecent dress in other countries is. I have seen some Christian women in conservative countries, where most women wear a veil, appearing in the street in shorts. The Western equivalent would be to go out completely naked.” (86) “My advice is to be sensitive to the culture, because it is helpful for your relationships.” (92)
“Women and men worldwide use voice inflection to show interest in each other. … When speaking with the opposite sex you need a cooler manner. Westerners tend to be a bit naïve about this, but Muslims are aware of these boundaries. … avoid lengthy eye contact, adopt modest postures, watch the tone of voice, keep your general demeanour more reserved.” (99)
“By voluntarily submitting to the same restrictions that our Muslim friends live under, Christians can walk in their shoes. There are few ways in which Western Christian women can truly identify with Muslim friends, or can understand their struggles, because our life is different, but we can choose to try to take on their point of view and live in their world. Identify with Muslim women in as many ways as possible and share Christ’s life within those boundaries. This seems to me, to be what living the Gospel means and leaving a model of faith that can be copied.” (118)
“If secular and Muslim women can give up personal preferences and submit to Islamic customs that they do not agree with, surely Christian women can do the same for our testimony. Christ left all his glory to become one of us, in order to show us the way home to the Father. We have an opportunity to lay down self for the sake of Christ. We have an opportunity to follow in the steps of the One who laid aside everything to enable us to receive his word.” (119)
“Typically, Christians arrive in foreign cultures intending to ‘disciple’ others. It’s not too long before they realize they need to learn a lot from those they came to teach. We must be guests before we can be hosts.” (124)
“Being like Jesus does not mean confronting everything all at once, even if we do not agree with it. …Jesus always treated individuals with honour and dignity, whether poor or rich, but he did not forcibly turn the class-system institution upside down during the years of his ministry. He turned it upside down by leaving an example of redeemed relationships for his followers to implement at the opportune time. … As unknown outsiders, Christians need to adapt to the culture in order to gain a hearing.” (128)
“We keep our bearings in Christ by not taking on an attitude that discriminates or denigrates people on the basis of status, yet all the while understanding its importance in the culture and manoeuvring within it.” (130)
“Friends will never say they cannot help. They may not come as they promised, but they will not say ‘No.’ … Arabs do not belong to themselves; they belong to each other. …In the Arab world there is no individual; there is only community. The Western attitude of being an individual in control of your life, and not dependent on anyone, is totally foreign and seen as deviant and dangerous to the group. … Arabs define themselves in terms of the groups they belong to. … It is groups that are unique, not the individual person. Any group member represents the whole group.” (136-37)
“Muslims tend to live in collectivist societies. These societies believe few things need to be spelled out, as people are socialized to learn them from childhood. … But this fact is invisible writing between the lines and is not obvious to an outsider. European society is individualistic. Everything is spelled out, leaving little to the imagination, and life is described by the legalities…. When individualistic members come into a collectivistic societies they do not know what is assumed between the lines. This will take a lot longer to learn than the language…. We may not realize that we don’t actually know what’s going on.” (138)
“The bottom-line value for relationships in family and society, and in theology, for Muslims is honour. For Westerners and Christians it is love.” (140) “Moreover, a call to make an individual decision to follow Christ as a personal Saviour in response to his love for us is just not in their frame of reference. If it is perceived as changing camps and joining the Western Christian camp then it is naturally viewed as dangerous, and more commonly as traitorous! It breaks the cohesive bond to others in the community. This presentation of the Gospel threatens all the most sacred foundations of Muslim societies: honour, authority, and loyalty. Following Christ will challenge our loyalties. But that is after we have understood what the Gospel is all about. We first have to hear it as good news, before we work out the implications on our particular family and culture. We need to understand the web of society, and the deeply held beliefs of people, in order to work out how to tell the story of God’s news so that it sounds like just that: good news.” (141)
“When Christ glorified God on earth, he poured his life into his disciples. This is how we also glorify God on earth. We pour our lives into others, and receive from them, until we both manifest the character of God.” (147)
“Follow Christ’s example and live with your friends, joining with them in all the affairs of daily life under their conditions. People do not only need the Book in their hand with instructions how to live. They need your hand in theirs, sharing their lives along with the Book. This is the heart of the Christian message. God did not rely on a book of instructions. Christ came and lived with us.” (149)
“For Muslims to feel comfortable with our spirituality they need to feel comfortable with our hospitality. … Hospitality is not just serving food; it is a lifestyle, … a generous heart. …The community Jesus lived among did not divide life into secular and religious; neither do Muslims. … Scripture asks us to have the same humility to do things ‘their’ way that Christ had to do things ‘our’ way.” (153) “Hospitality and an open home are crucial for anyone who wants to demonstrate Christ’s love to Muslims.” (155) “If you want deep relationships with people you must invite them to eat with you.” (162)
“Christians need to beware that we do not come to the Muslim world tainted by the arrogance of the secular West: saying by attitude that we are leading the world in science and technology and are going to teach these people how to live. We cannot afford to be arrogant. … Muslims distrust the motives of the West.” (164) One way to embody grace is to listen to their point of view. If we enter a house where there is pain and anger, we should care enough to hear and learn their story and try seeing things from their point of view. (165)
“Muslims do not want to hear the theological beliefs of not-very-nice people. Neither would anyone. If by your non-verbal communication you told your Muslim friend that he or she is not important to you, and by your appearance and actions that you have few moral or spiritual aspirations, then there is no point in telling him or her about your faith that changed your life and made you into a new creation. This new creation may not be looking so good! We embody the message. When Muslims do not believe our creed, nor understand our message, the truest witness is our lives. We need to live in a way that looks godly to Muslims if we want them to listen to our message.” (178)
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