Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Better Understanding

“Give us the courage to follow You even if it means taking the risk as You did, of being misunderstood.” (Keith Miller)

On Saturday morning I sat in the front row of a class full of about 50 Muslim women (aged 20 something to 70 something) at the mosque across the street. I wore a head covering like everyone else, and one of the teachers referred to me during class as being a Muslim.


I definitely feel stretched when there is ambiguity of my identity, because I don’t want to be deceptive. I felt better the week before when I had the chance  to share with a few classmates, who asked me during our break time if I was Muslim. “My faith shares a lot of similarities with Islam, but it’s not the same. My husband is researching Muslim minority culture and I joined the class in order to learn more about Islam.”


Not everyone there understands my identity, but by looking almost like everyone else with my covered head (apart from my white skin and big nose), and by taking the risk of being misunderstood, I can be a learner of Islam, just like “one of them.”

We have two classes together every Saturday morning over the course of this year: the Basics of Islam and Beginning Arabic. In this opening class of our second week, the teacher shared what she thought was most important for Muslim women to know about Islam. It was fascinating.

She started by asking us who we have the closest relationship with. There were a few mumbled answers around the room “Parents.” “Mother.” “Parents.” I was thinking “Husband” and was really surprised not to hear that relationship mentioned. The teacher wrote “Mother” (the one who has given us the most) at the top of the list. Then “Father” (the one who provides for us). Then “Children” (because of all we do for them). Then “Husband” (almost as an after thought.)

Then she said that when we were in our mothers’ wombs, all our mothers really did for us was to eat, drink, and sleep. Who was it who actually gave us life and took care of us in the womb, causing us to grow and develop? Zhen Zhu. (The True God. Another way to say "Allah" ). After we were born and we drank our mother’s milk, where did that milk come from? From Zhen Zhu. Who gives us the ability to walk, talk, and see? Zhen Zhu. So, while we say that our closest relationship is with our mothers, in fact our real closest relationship is with Zhen Zhu.

Our teacher stressed that as we learn about yi ma ni (Islamic faith), it is not enough just to zuo li bai (worship), without a change in our si xiang (thinking). An inner change is necessary. We can’t just focus on the outward.

Then she asked us what in life makes us the most happy, gives us the greatest feeling of success? All the women in the class were silent. So she wrote on the board “Ernu cheng cai” (our children making money). She walked closer to my seat and said, “Let’s see what the foreigner thinks.” “Can you understand me?” she asked to clarify my language ability. I nodded, so she said, “What gives you the greatest feeling of success?”

I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Seeing my children truly love other people. Not putting themselves in the highest place.” She wrote my answer up (haizi ai bie ren) on the board and said to the rest of the class, “Isn’t that interesting? We Chinese would say, “Having our children love us. She said having them love other people.” Then she turned to me again, “So what would you say makes you feel the most disappointed?” I answered, “Well, that would be the opposite. When I see my children putting themselves above other people. Being selfish.”

Our teacher went on to talk about how easy it is to forget about Zhen Zhu when everything is going well for us, and the way we want it to. Actually, she said, we should thank Zhen Zhu for illness and hardships because they help us to remember Him. He is the one who gives life, death, health, peace... We shouldn’t see hardships as a punishment from Zhen Zhu but as a test to help us grow. Zhen Zhu is always with us and we can always depend on Him.

Then she talked about the position of Muslim women. Our identity comes from being mothers. We are the lights in our homes to our husbands and our children. And we have dual responsibilities: societal and spiritual. We can’t neglect either one. If we don’t set an example of honoring our parents and our in-laws, of loving others, and worshipping Zhen Zhu, how will our children learn?

She held up as an heroic example a woman who came to speak with her after our last class, in tears, because she had just enrolled her 4 year old son in a 3 year boarding school to memorize the Quran. She wanted him to store up yi ma ni (faith) in his heart before starting school at age 7. Our teacher challenged us, "How many of you would be willing to do that with your child?"

Finally, she talked about how the wisdom of Zhen Zhu is not the wisdom of man, and how we are His representatives on earth. His ultimate purpose for us is to worship Him. Our worship includes a fear of Him, which is good because it helps to keep us from doing wrong (just like if there was a policeman standing in the doorway). We need to persevere in truth, in our worship, and in our lessons.

Then she gave a slight bow, blessed us with "Peace be upon you," and walked out the door. I silently thanked Zhen Zhu for this devout and passionate teacher giving me a better understanding than I've ever had of a Chinese Muslim woman's heart.

As I read this quote today, I thought about my class:“May we try to understand them as we in turn would like to be understood...May we see with their eyes, think with their minds, feel with their hearts. Then let us ask ourselves whether we should judge them...” (William Barclay)


  1. Very fascinating! Thanks for that report. Keep 'em coming!

    1. Thanks for your note, Ann! I'm excited about what I'm going to learn at my next class.

  2. Your experiences are eye opening, Jodie! I'd love to hear more about what you are learning in these classes. I'm not so sure I would be as brave as you, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Surely the Holy Spirit is guiding you! I pray God will continue equiping you with discernment and wisdom as you reflect His love to these people.



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