About a week and a half ago, my wife decided that she was going to wear hijab for Lent. We came to the conclusion together that she would need a good reason other than ‘solidarity’ to choose to wear the hijab. There are a couple of reasons for this: Lent is a 40-day fast, and typically fasting is ‘giving up’ something for a period of time in order to ‘put on’ something else – give up a vice, and put on a virtue. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes people just choose to give up something, or they choose to put on something. If wearing the hijab for 40 days was just going to be for solidarity, it wasn’t really putting off or putting on anything. It was just a cool idea, in which case, I felt she should choose to do this during a different time period rather than attach this idea to the Lenten fast. Through our conversation, we decided that the virtue or practice that she would be putting on would be hospitality, by way of understanding what it feels like to be a Muslim woman in middle-America. She decided that she would also journal about her experiences in hopes of encouraging others to also learn what it means to be hospitable to neighbors, strangers, and enemies.
Two things I didn’t realize on Fat Tuesday: I would also be vicariously ‘putting on’ hospitality through her practice of wearing hijab during Lent. I didn’t realize that, whenever I go with her somewhere in public, I too was going to be looked at through different eyes by everyone else. Either people will wonder, “What the heck is that white dude doing with that Muslim chick?” or “Did those people convert to Islam or something?” or “Man, those Muslims really are taking over America”, or something in between all of those.
What this cultural exercise has taught me is that, sometimes, I’m not totally all-in. On two occasions, instead of letting the situation unfold organically, to see what people will say or do, I have undercut the whole idea by explaining that my wife is a Christian and is wearing the hijab for Lent. Why? Why, while at an Oscar’s party, did I feel the need to point out that we aren’t Muslims? What was I afraid of? Was I afraid we would be treated differently? Was I assuming that the strangers at the party would isolate us?
Insane as it is, I have realized through the last week and a half that I have a lot of prejudice against non-Muslims when it comes to hospitality. I assume that people will be unwelcoming to us. That has not at all been the case. I am very proud of Peoria, actually. We have received nothing but kindness (more than normal amounts of kindness) from people that are serving us food or helping us at the grocery store. It’s surreal. So far, in Peoria, being a stranger has not translated into being treated negatively, but more positively. I wonder every night if this is the typical experience of Muslims in Peoria, or if it is some sort of fluke.
The second thing I didn’t realize is that my wife and her Lenten fast would garner so much attention so quickly. Her blog, the daily journal, has somewhere between 150 and 500 views every single day, from places all over the globe. She has received so much kindness and thankfulness from neighbors and strangers alike. She has inspired people that she doesn’t know to consider what it means to be hospitable to neighbor, stranger, and enemy.
In fact, her interview with Vocativ.com is a prime example of how important her story has been. Vocativ uses technology that essentially searches the internet for areas of exponential activity, sees what the buzz is about, and then writes about it. They are staying ahead of the trends. So, my wife’s blog, which at the time of first contact with Vocativ.com had a total of 10 posts, was a blip on their radar. They were so inspired by her story that they decided to interview her. Now she has been contacted by the Christian Post in D.C. for an interview. I have no idea how far this experience is going to go in terms of spreading the message of reconciliation that we believe is happening in this world through Jesus by her simple act of hospitality and solidarity.
There is hope for us, all of us. When we choose to walk in the shoes of someone else, we learn things about ourselves and others that we didn’t expect. We become more capable of empathy, one of the most important human emotions. We learn that prejudice is a two-way street, and we are more able to point it out and repent of it when we see it in ourselves. In a time of utmost turmoil in our world, especially between Christians and Muslims, my wife has become a living example of what it means to love enemies (even when we wouldn’t identify Muslims in general as enemies).
You can’t love what you are afraid of. You can’t love what you don’t understand. But Jesus implores us to love neighbors and enemies like we love ourselves. My wife is demonstrating to the world how this actually works in practice. People are paying attention. While it may be true that one person’s love can’t change the world (although we believe that it can), love can certainly transform relationships within our own communities. It just takes a little creativity and purpose. What will you do to put on love?