Recall, if you can, a time when a stranger surprised you with an act of overwhelming generosity and kindness. Can you think of a single time?
As a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Sudan, I was sent to live in Sahafa, a neighborhood in the capital city, Khartoum. If you can imagine a grid of flat, dry and dusty dirt roads and thousands of adobe homes, with a blazing sun planted in the sky overhead, you have a fairly accurate picture of my time there.
To eat, I'd go to a nearby "restaurant," an establishment with a small kitchen in front of about twenty banged-up, pastel-blue aluminum tables set out in an open field. The lucky few had the shade of a small Neem tree. Goats scrambled about to eat your food the second you glanced away from your plastic bowl. As you can imagine, the people were not rich.
The first day I ate at the restaurant, a poor stranger in a clean jelibia robe came up to the cashbox and insisted on paying for my meal. He wouldn't back down. He pleaded with me by invoking a long array of religious petitions. At the next meal, and each time afterward, I tried to pay for my meal and some poor soul would jump up, invoke God (Alaik Allah!), and insist that I allow him to pay for me. I tried several techniques to try to pay, but to no avail.
This went on for 6 weeks and never completely ended after my four years in the Sudan and my time elsewhere in the Middle East. From it all, I was changed by seeing that humans can be so godly and good.
Fast forward to September 11, 2001. By then I had discovered Rumi and other Sufi, Islamic mystic, poets and had started down the road of mysticism in Christianity. At the time of the attacks, I was working at a local community college.
To help create peace, calm, and understanding among our Muslim and non-Muslim students on campus, I started doing new presentations called "The Loving Side of Islam." Through the years, I found myself reading more and more about Islam and Sufism, and I discovered my own spiritual home in the Christian mysticism.
Through it all, I have found that Islam and Christianity, at their mystical core and practices, aim at the same desire for love with God and others. When terrible things happen in the Middle East, I like to remind people that evil bares its ugly head throughout history, in all places, and in all religions. Also, political and intellectual discourse often fails, but kindness and love inevitably win the day for there is no argument against them.
The Loving Side of Islam has evolved into a book and I try to keep the love moving forward through my Facebook page, "Mystic Pita: God's Love in Christianity, Islam and Judaism."
Dr. Brad Tyndall
Dr. Brad Tyndall works at Colorado Mountain College and teaches Sustainable Economics. He speaks Arabic and has worked overseas in sustainable development in the Sudan, Northern Yemen, Kenya, and Tanzania. Dr. Tyndall has his Ph.D. from Colorado State University and was a Fulbright Fellow Economist and has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer and an economics instructor for U.S. Information Service and U.S. Agency for International Development. He currently lives in New Castle, CO with his wife Audrey, with whom he is building an international Facebook community called "Mystic Pita" for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Visit www.mysticpita.com
"Touching God: A Journey, A Guide to Mysticism in Christianity and Islam"
By Dr. Brad Tyndall