I was talking to someone close to me recently about a decision she had to make and after we had talked for a while I suggested, “Ask God to help you decide.”
There was a weighty pause. She’s not a practitioner of any religion nor an overtly spiritual person. I made my suggestion sincerely but it ended up uncomfortable, so I moved on with a slightly artificial tone. “Well, anyway…”
Last year my husband and I hosted an interfaith dinner and the thing I enjoyed the most was simply being in a room full of people who believed in God and talked about God and acknowledged God’s role in our lives. Granted, we each approached God differently, being Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons and Bahais. But we shared in common the concept of God as the creator and sustainer of the world, who is divine and worthy of worship. The three hours those guests were in my home were special; I was with people who believed in God and were all about sharing their beliefs.
Since moving to Texas, I’ve found that people here take religion very seriously, which is a good thing and in contrast to the stereotype of people in the “Bible Belt” being intolerant and obnoxious about their faith (which, I’ll be honest, coming from the northeast was something I worried about). As a religious person myself I appreciate it when people are straightforward about believing that the only way to salvation is through belief in Jesus as savior – not because I agree with them, but because their expressing their faith openly reinforces my right to express my faith. I also feel that it’s better to have faith – even exclusive faith – than to dispute the value of faith. And I’ve come across very few believing, practicing Christians who denigrated my faith or felt obliged to point out what’s wrong with it.
Nevertheless, I find that it’s not always easy to “speak religion.” People of faith, Muslims or not, have different levels of faith-oriented language. Interestingly, sometimes when I’m with other American Muslim converts we don’t mention God or use Arabic phrases as much as when we’re at the masjid or with “born” Muslims. It’s like we speak a different language, often a uniquely American language, with reference points of its own.
Feeling confident about expressing belief among non-Muslims is a learned skill, especially in that we’re a minority religion. Sometimes the line at the edge of inappropriate is a bit fine. (I nearly got kicked out of my Toastmasters club for giving too many speeches about Islam! But that’s a post for another day.) But while you’re testing the boundaries, there are a couple issues to consider. Am I obligated to share with others the faith I believe is the best way to live? Is it hypocritical of me to “tone it down”?
The bottom line is that I have to ask myself, when I make reference to God or prayer, is it worthwhile – and do I know where the line is where sharing it will alienate me – and Islam – from others? It’s important because as much as what we say, how we say it reflects what we believe.