We find it strange, being one of the few couples around this region actually living, loving, chatting, working, and living immersed among a predominately Islamic people and place, that no one asks us about what it is like to live among Muslims. Yes, 90% are Muslims in Mali, and my central work region is 100%.
Mali hit the spot light in 2012, and is still recognized as a key center of radical Islams activity in all North Africa. Mali has even been referred to as the “African Afghanistan”, though this is too pungent a term.
I have written several articles giving trying to give a voice to Malians paying the price, the ones standing up in peaceful resistance against the radical fundamentalist influences that have blossomed in Mali (Like the Imam recently killed for not supporting them)
I survey the articles acquaintances are posting about Muslims and Islam on social media, and i am simply horrified by the fear. An American friend who has been living and working in Canada as a professor for over a decade now, told me that while vacationing to USA this summer, he attended a church where the elders and leadership were all packing heat, yes pistols, on Sunday morning, because they fear a mass shooting or attack of some kind. Church leaderships are actually taking their leaders out for pistol training and certification.
Let me put it all down on paper.
We have been living and working among Muslims, off and on, for almost 21 years
We have now been living in a nation predominately Muslim since January 2011.
I am a Christian, and they know it, or assume it about any westerner.
I have never, ever been harassed, ostracized, or verbally attacked by my Muslim Neighbors in my community. We have had incidences with human jackasses, who were Muslim, but I have had similar incidences with western Jackasses, and even Christian Church jackasses, of the like. They are simply the jackasses you encounter in any given community as you do life. And, honestly, sometimes I have been the Jackass.
My Muslim neighbors are serious, convicted, but tolerant and kind. We live in ear short of seven mosques as they call to prayer. Did I mention that only fifty feet from my front door is the open door to a Mosque? My wife and I pass, greet, and am greeted by men on the way to prayer, every day. Not one Muslim person has given us issues, ever.
I chat with Islamic teachers about Islam, politics, life, community development, health, marriage, women, and yes, even my own Christian faith, without problems.
Have I ever disclosed to you that I earned a Theological Degree in Sacred Literature? (Read Who is this Guy ) I was a local church minister, ordained into ministry at the age of 23, who served local churches and communities in this capacity for many years. So, suffice it to say I am a spiritually minded person, my faith exists and it changes me. My faith changes how I see and interact with people. It has to. What we believe affects our worldview… if it does not, are we really believing what we are saying? How we see the world leaks out into our relationships and interactions with people. If our lips move, we are revealing how we see the world, and the person in front of us, whether we realize it or not.
So, for full disclosure, I will simply state that I have explored my own faith beliefs about the world, humanity, the condition of humanity, God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed Etc. I have read the Central Sacred Books of every major religion… I have come to my own personal conclusions.
So, sticking to our subject of Islam, there are things I respect and appreciate about Islam as a religion, as Muslim values, especially about community and family. There are also beliefs, practices, and cultural manifestations within the Islamic community, and Muslim friends, that I disagree with very much, others I downright dislike (Like the seclusion of women. and views of fate and shaming). But we get along just fine. This in a country with serious Jehadist, fundamentalist, and Sharia Law imposing incursions.
Where is this going? Those posting articles about Muslims, Hijab-Burka-Niqab debates, and Muslim immigration, by and large, are people who have no relationship with any Muslim. They do not have tea with any Muslims friends, Muslim women are not sitting and chatting with them in their child’s play date group. Frankly, if we had even one Muslim friend on our FaceBook Friends list, one family we really loved, would we not change what we are posting about Muslims?
No one asks my opinion. Just as well.
As a Humanitarian, I receive requests from people who want to come and “Serve Africa” all the time. Hell, if I wanted to play at being everyone’s Africa tour guide, I would be swamped with the volume of people wanting to use me as their experience agent. Maybe, I should do this full time, probably make more money doing that instead, of what I do.
People who contribute nothing to our program, not financially, not ever mentioning the agency we work for, not in encouragement to us personally, not in conversations about Africa with us, not in sharing our news, a picture, or story of what we do…….. contributing nothing to the program for the local people to have food security. Ya, those kind of folks, the majority calling me, (not all, but most) will ask if they can come to Mali.
Let me simply say, I am too busy working to play your tour guide. I don’t a bed for you, a fridge big enough for your water, I do not have a car to drive you around in, I have no way to pick you up at the airport except a taxi, and a 400 km bus ride to my place, you will have to hand wash your laundry, I have only one motorcycle that we use for our village work, my wife is on back… So how do we get you out there? What we do, how we live, and our living and work circumstance are nothing like any other international worker you know.
Could you please contribute something from the Canadian side first, for a while, then we might consider hosting you on the West Africa side. Is that too much to ask, really? I am not here to offer Africa experiences, we have work to do. Do something to help us here in Canada first…. then we will consider a contribution on the Africa side. But we see social media feeds, and the nature of what I see there about Muslims and Islam fosters little courage in me that you will avoid being an offensive ass to my community and neighbors. That task of not being an offensive ass myself is a huge enough struggle for my very own self.
What we really believe about Muslims and Islam leaks out into our relationships… don’t fool yourself.
Finally, we are back to Mali in a few short weeks, so I am digging out my “Invisible Humanitarian Cape”. You know, the magic cape that transforms me into the person I am supposed to be for Mali. Transforming me from that Canadian Fishing Captain, back into that slobbering human being trying to do something for a people he loves, a Muslim people, in a hard place….. we are often referred to a humanitarians, or development workers.
Frankly, it does not matter to me if you see what I do, understand what I do, or applaud what I do, or not. The more invisible what I do is, the better I like it.
However, I still find it strange that people rarely ask us our thoughts on Muslims and Islam, or Africa, in these times.
Seriously, I rarely have a chance to speak to people about my Africa life. Sometimes it leaks out, because I have contained it for too long, but as it leaks out on people I get the wide eyed look that reminds me to keep that “Africa” stuffed inside of me, or only let it for a maximum of thirty seconds…… tops.
Just as well, I’m not the person with deep insight, great writing skills, or articulate writing. I’m at the stage of life where I am tired of trying to analyse everything. I am no expert, I am my own fumbling Humanitarian twit in many ways. Maybe you know this, and this is why you never ask.