Wednesday, February 17, 2010


For Western Christians traveling in the Middle East, the experience of being in a religious minority group can be disorienting. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and it begins as soon as you arrive, exhausted and jetlagged. There are mosques instead of churches, minarets instead of steeples. The sound of the muezzin intoning the call to prayer wakens you early each morning. You may see observant Muslims pausing to pray during the day wherever they happen to be. You will not see Christians doing the same.

As pilgrims in Egypt, we will be guests in a Muslim country. Good guests naturally wish to honor their hosts and respect their hospitality. We do so by learning about and appreciating the uniqueness of their land, people, and culture, by receiving gestures of kindness with grace, and above all, by giving them the benefit of the doubt. We are people of good will. We trust that they, too, are people of good will. We have every hope that there will be some benefit to our encounter with each other. Otherwise, why travel?

But we are pilgrims, after all, and Christian ones at that. We will not have the same freedom to express our faith publicly that we would in, say, Ireland. We must think carefully about how we can practice pilgrimage without calling undue attention to ourselves and possibly offending others. We must learn to carry our faith in our hearts—deep and strong—without the external supports we are so used to. And we must be glad and grateful when the rare opportunity to meet other Christians is offered to us.

There will be similarities as well as differences. We will find that in some ways, we are not so different from our Muslim hosts. with them, we can readily affirm that God is great, that there is no other god than God. Like them, we also seek to submit our wills to God's will. Perhaps we can even find in each other the welcome companionship of those who are seeking to live lives of faith in a world that is increasingly devoid of it.

Posted by Deborah Hunley

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