So I ordered this book, Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims, that Stacy recommended on her blog a few months ago. I'd written it down and when I placed my Amazon order recently, I sought this book since she told me I should read it. I finally got it and started reading it two days ago. The author, Christine A. Mallouhi, is an Australian Christian who married a Christian Arab man who grew up in a conservative Muslim household. Christine has lived many years in Arab countries and her book is aimed at people like me (basically Christian westerners) who have the opportunity to live in Arab cultures. In no way does she degrade Arab culture or make it seem inferior. Actually she is blatantly honest about how westerners are often perceived and how the ways we dress and act while in Arab countries can either confirm what they already believe or surprise them.
One example is when the author was mourning her father's death and a comment in a hair salon made her start crying, the Arab woman exclaimed, "Oh, this Westerner has feelings!" (pg. 120) The author had just explained that Arabs often considered us "cold." Actually I can relate to this because my Arab friend has often jokingly asked if I were a true Westerner since I am quite emotional. I suppose he thought all Westerners were not easily moved to tears. So I joke back that I must be part Middle Eastern and just don't know it! :-)
Some things that the author shares are not exactly new to my knowledge, however, reading them in black and white made me feel appreciation for my own culture. One, for sure, is the honor killings which happen on occasion. And how mere gossip or thinking that you dishonored the family can cause your father or brother or cousin to be out to kill you. But the thing that struck me too was the way males and females do not interact on the streets. For instance, Ms. Mallouhi said she is very careful how she talks to male friends. On the streets, they may give a nod of greeting or a curt hello, but never stop to chat for the fear of others thinking something improper is going on colors the way they treat one another. She gave these examples not to say they were wrong, but just letting us know how things are different in some cultures.
I'll admit this makes me feel strange because where I live it's so normal to stop and chat with people you know from church, work, the neighborhood or school -- even if they are male acquaintances. Shoot, I even stop to talk to strangers from time to time. That's just the way Southern culture is - we start conversations with people browsing the Walmart aisle with us or standing in line at the grocery store. In fact on Christmas Eve I met a man from West Virginia (WV) while we were waiting to pay for our purchases. I'd let a lady with a short order go before me and when the WV man got ready to leave, he turned back to say goodbye and wish me a Merry Christmas and I told him to be safe traveling to see his family in WV. That's fairly typical behavior where I'm from so not being able to chat with male friends in the Arab world would take some getting used to.
So while I'm thinking of that and how I find it unfriendly and stupid that gossip (which is sinful itself!) makes things this way, I keep reading and my anger bubble has no choice but deflate when I read this:
"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." (pg. 119)
Ah, Jesus again! Well, when you put it like that I reckon I can skip talking to my male friends to stop the gossipers out there!
Ha, ha....reviewing my trip to Damascus in light of this book, I am now wondering what kind of thoughts the Syrians had about me because I treated my Arab friends just about like I'd treat my male friends back home. Oooops! Thankfully Damascus doesn't seem as uptight about things as some Middle Eastern areas. Not that I've been other places to compare, but from what I've read and heard they just seem a bit more relaxed than, say, Saudi Arabia. Hmm, but maybe I'm wrong about that. Oh well.