After some time with another Christian based organization, I moved on to a small village. This was my first close encounter with practicing Muslims. In the beginning, I was especially uneasy around the women. They seemed strange to me; all covered up and keeping themselves separate from the men. But, being a woman, I was sent to spend my time with them, which I did, reluctantly at first. Their kindness quickly put me at ease. Without a common language, I felt their warmth and hospitality.
I was taken aback by the generosity of the Muslims I met. In every home we went to, we were honored, greeted with beaming smiles, starkly contrasting the destruction and devastation of the environment. Before they ate, they fed us. In most cases, I saw that they ate only what we left behind – preferring our contentedness rather than their own, in spite of their dire situation.
In a historic, 1,000-year-old city, during a strict 20-day, 24-hour curfew, no one could go out to get food or even for emergencies without risking being shot dead. In this context, I was astonished when I found out the meaning of Alhamdulillah, because nearly every person I saw said it, even when they were standing in front of the ruins of their lives. Even when their child had been killed, even when their existence appeared to me utterly hopeless and helpless. I couldn’t believe they were praising God amidst what looked to me, like misery.
Not only that, overall, they handled extreme hardship and destruction with such grace. True patience. What is this? I wondered.
I remember sitting at a relief center where we stayed for a few days. Sitting out under the stars and hearing the call to prayer; its sweet sound floating up into the night sky, offering an unexpectedly beautiful and hopeful alternative to the occasional sounds of small arms fire and tank cannons. I took out my audio recorder and captured it. The athan touched my heart. It was a beauty I hadn’t really experienced before.