I sat around the lunch table and couldn’t help reflecting on the irony of it all. Here we were, celebrating the national Spring Festival (which Muslims don’t participate in) where our Hui friend’s family were smoking and drinking alcohol (which Muslims don’t consume) asking their non-muslim friend why Muslims in fact are not allowed to eat pork! This was not the Islam I had read about in most books.
I had never seen Friday prayers at a mosque before. On our way back from a trip to another city, we decided to stop and watch as the men assembled for worship.
It was a cold, cloudy afternoon, eerily quiet, the square almost void of people. A few minutes passed as I wandered around in front of the intricately decorated mosque, looking at the buildings and attempting but not succeeding to read the characters written on the walls.
As we sat on her lumpy sofa, eating fruit and drinking tea, we explained the Easter story to my sweet, elderly Hui neighbor. We explained that God sent Jesus to Earth and that Jesus lived a perfect life; He never sinned. We told her about His death on the cross and about His resurrection. We explained to her that for everyone who believes He was the perfect sacrifice, and for everyone who asks for forgiveness of their sins, He is faithful and will forgive them.
Hours before sunrise Mr. Ma, his father, grandfather, and 4-year-old son, Ibrahim, all rise and get dressed. Winter has almost arrived so they pull on their warmest long underwear before slipping into their finest clothes. Mr. Ma slips on black dress pants, a new white shirt and a nice grey sports coat. His son has received new clothes for this special day. He has a new white outfit that resembles traditional Muslim clothing with a colorful prayer cap (skull cap). The Ma men leave their mud brick home and walk down to the local village mosque where they find a tour bus waiting.
A couple days before I took this photo, I read about author Hannah Hurnard and her comparison between a chairlift and faith. The ride looks dangerous, because there’s no earthly support, and falling would be catastrophic. But there is a reliable power, working from above, that’s mostly invisible during the ascent. If the rider abandons control and simply sits in the chair, that overhead power will waft him or her to amazing heights. Nothing is achieved through self effort save abandoning control in the first place.
Though I’m not a Muslim, I was given the chance to learn Surah, or chapter 97 of the Quran in a class at a mosque. During the class, the Imam told a story related to this chapter, The Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr, ليلة القدر). This was the night Allah gave his revelations to Muhammad for the first time through the angel Gabriel.