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A parishioner gives a reflection and and a counter view of the Middle East

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A parishioner gives a reflection and and a counter view of the Middle East


When on picks up a newspaper these days especially a tabloid one, it is easy to come away with a sterotyped version of the middle east and its people. In the next article  from our magazine a parisoner gives us an alternative view based upon her experiences and travels to the region.

Editors Note. Now read on……….

Experiences from the Middle East

 

 

I was asked if I would care to share my experiences of my trips to the Middle East as a reflection .

I think I heard ( I have hearing problems) in a Mass one Sunday that we prayed corporately for Christians, Muslims and Jews to understand and appreciate our common heritage of faith. I was pleased about this.

I have a brother Jon, who has worked in the Middle East for 25 years. He learned Arabic from the beginning and has always made friends with the people living in the cities he worked in.

I had the privilege of visiting him and his friends and their families in Egypt, Oman and Syria over those years.

All his friends were Muslim.

Flying out to Egypt in the late eighties was a huge venture for me because I had never been outside of Europe (we couldn’t afford for my husband to come too). Egypt did indeed hold some surprises.

‘Oh look!’ a man stooping to give money to a beggar on a busy pavement! I noticed that on the first day and lost count of the number of times I witnessed people giving in this way. There was a lot of poverty. Near Jon’s flat lived an old man in a lean- to shack and for years the neighbours, in want themselves, had kept him supplied with food.

It was so interesting- the calling to prayer from the mosque several times a day; the prayer mats unrolled in people’s  doorways for them to pray on; the ‘nsha Allah’ (if God wills) that studded everyday conversation.

Then came opportunities to chat. There were many, because being Jon’s sister, his friends treated me as their sister, with love and respect. I did enjoy that. What a deep sense of responsibility people had for the members of their families, especially their parents. Faith in God was absolute and universal.

I enjoyed feeling safe too in the streets of Cairo. I hadn’t felt like that since the 1950’s in Jersey where I grew up.

‘So’, I thought, ‘that’s something sadly we have lost in the West’.

The headlines in one of our newspapers about a teenager in Manchester hitting an old lady and stealing her money didn’t seem that shocking to me. But disbelief that such a thing could ever happen was the unanimous response of all Jon’s Egyptian friends. I realised that for me, uncivilised behaviour had become the norm for us. Regretful progress.

‘Could Egyptian society be more civilised than Europe’s?’

After all, cars and scooters were parked everywhere with the keys left in them, unlocked: front doors left open. I appreciated such a society.

A few years later, I visited Jon in Oman. I felt that the beauty of their country had seeped into the Omani people. It was a land of colour, of enlightenment, where women’s education was encouraged, where classical music dominated the national radio programme all morning, and where I experienced local hospitality once again.

Imagine a small town, bathed in sunshine! Imagine walking through woodland in 30  degrees Celsius or more where you had to keep feeling the water in the stream to see if it had cooled down. No hustle and bustle pf Cairo here.

We had been invited to midday lunch. I was welcomed into a simple room by the sisters, mother and aunts of my brother’s friends. No furniture! The men ate elsewhere.

The women were so cheerful together, such a bond between them. It was obvious that they enjoyed their lives- not a whiff of suppression here. Security of role, stable government, opportunities available for women who wanted it. We all ate from an enormous single, circular, enamel tray- dated goat, chicken and rice- with much jovial laughter. There was just our tray and the one the men used for their meal (beside the saucepans) to wash up under the garden tap. Warmth, tenderness and kindness exuded from the whole family.

Syria was the last Middle Eastern country I visited, this time with my husband John. A beautiful country with people with whose  government had resisted the West partly in order to encourage traditional, indigenous trade. It was there that we saw oxen ploughing the fields. We saw the same kindness in the market place where adults stopped to buy from young children because they knew how poor those children’s families were. Teachers were gentle, children were gentle, families were gentle. Oman had been comparatively prosperous, it was true, but it was Syria that we saw again the kindness of strangers to the disadvantaged.

I liked the spaces created centuries ago along the famous Straight Street in Damascus, part of which is a thriving market; chapel -like rooms which lined the street for people to pray in, in between business transactions. We enjoyed the Umayadd mosque – which oozed peace and serenity and was well used as a place to come apart and rest awhile.

Again, we experienced that generous hospitality, this time in a tiny, overcrowded, third floor flat with just enough room to sit round a table. One very poor Syrian family among millions, welcoming us with such good will and generosity. That dining room had to double as a bedroom at night.

What endeared me to Muslims in all three countries was their respect for God, their respect for people of all ages, their attitude to the elderly and the poor, and their hospitality.

Many things surprised us and pleased us. People we met respected Jesus and spoke of Him with respect.

Last year a Muslim friend of my brother’s from Saudi Arabia visited our home. He wanted to bring us a gift. his choice?……………..A silver Cross and a Silver Crucifix.

 

Jan (and John) Moody.

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