Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan
First, we entered the courtyard usually midmorning at a time when it was not crowded with people going to one of the prayers five times a day. Always I observed the minaret that rose in a stately commanding way over the neighborhood built by tradition of function as the way to call people to prayer from high up so that the whole neighborhood could hear the call. I wondered how strong the loud speaker was in the mosque, having often been awakened early morning with the first call to prayer.
In mid morning the courtyard was generally empty except for a few neighborhood volunteers and an Imam. Especially in Baghdad always there were people coming and going seeking help, comfort, advice related to personal matters, community concerns, conflicts, or especially in Baghdad the disappearance of a relative. Sometimes we needed to wait for some time to meet the Imam or Sheik as the mosque leader is referred to in Baghdad. Someone would rush about in the waiting room as we sat among pillows on the beautifully carpeted floor to bring us tea in tiny cups. Another person would assure us that the Sheik knew we were there and would see us soon.
As an older member of the CPT delegation I often had to take the lead in the discussion as we were welcomed into the Sheik’s receiving room. When it was our first visit we carefully described who we were and what the Christian Peacemaker Teams do. There would be a few questions and interest that we have been working in Hebron for many years. Then after a brief silence the Sheik would comment that the Koran teaches that Jesus was one of the great prophets leading up to Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him, a phrase often repeated after his name is invoked). Some Sheiks refer to stories of working with Christians in the recent or distant past.
Then the discussion turns to nonviolence. There are questions about how we do our work, how people are trained, and how we have the courage to stand up in the face of violence. At some point in this discussion the ambiance of the meeting changes and very often the leader asks us if there is a Muslim Peacemaker Team and if there isn’t why isn’t there. We are told repeatedly that “Our Koran instructs us to work for peace like your Bible teaches you.” Now the connection has been made. This is the point when I feel the weight and support of the entire Christian world as it stumbles and occasionally walks boldly to live out the gospel of the Prince of Peace. We talk about how this can be done and then the discussion turns to specific human rights cases. And, we are asked point blank, how we can help. Already we are overworked with cases but we take down the information and promise to return to meet the family if security permits.
By this time we have been there for about an hour and a half and we would not want to take too much time from the life of these busy people. We hint that it might be time to leave. There is hesitancy about us leaving so soon. We understand the formulas of hospitality. Mosque assistants run in and out. It doesn’t seem right to politely depart. Other families from the community appear with emergencies. There is quick deliberation. Then the Sheik stands up and says we want to invite you to eat with us. By this time our legs cry out with numb messages from sitting as politely as possible on the floor. And, our brains are rushing wildly from a caffeine rush of to many cups of Turkish coffee always followed by tea. We consult quickly and decide that the right thing to do is for all or some our group of two to four is to stay for lunch.
We settle in now for at least an hour wait while a great feast of lamb, rice, vegetables and soup are prepared, always with a soft drink and ended with still another cup of coffee. It arrives on an enormous platter where there is plenty of fresh bread which we use with our right hand to gather up globs of food. Women in our delegation are part of the circle however Iraqi women are not. After twenty minutes of massive mouthfuls of food the floor is a total disaster and someone arrives to clear the mess. I wonder who gets to eat the ample left overs but I don’t ask.
Now we prepare to leave after agreeing on whatever next steps in our common search for truth and justice might be possible. It is now mid afternoon I worry if we have the person power and the time to do all the follow up that will be required. I worry how the world wide church will catch the urgency of our discussions. The last thing I am thinking about is my own security. My mind has gone into overdrive again thinking, remembering how our world works and what a massive commitment people who take the Prince of Peace seriously have made.
Last Saturday my CPT colleagues left a meeting something like this when they were picked up.