As a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading about the Persecuted Church. As a result, I read a lot about Islam and how Christianity was treated in Muslim countries. I would never have imagined that 10 years later I would consider Muslims to be some of my closest friends from my time in Sheffield. Yet that is exactly what happened!
Back in September, I met Mahnoor. (She’s already introduced herself in 6 Questions with… and took the photos for this post.) She was my flatmate for a few weeks before moving out to live with three other Pakistanis because our flat was “too quiet”. Fortunately, she insisted that we meet up for coffee continuously… until I agreed!
All It Took Was a Hot Chocolate… and Breakfast Fries
Yeah, I’m pretty easy to win over when there is food involved. In fact, I think my friendship with Mahnoor is largely based around food and cooking!
It was in the Lucky Fox eating breakfast fries and french toast, that I realised how much we had in common. While there are a lot of differences between Christianity and Islam, e.g. who Jesus was, I was honestly shocked by how much we had in common. In particular, we are both big believers in modesty as a form of worship and honouring God. We also both believe in a person’s right to choose how they dress. This was just the beginning of our friendship and better understanding each other’s beliefs.
After Christmas, I found myself spending more and more time at Mahnoor’s flat. By the end of the year, I had been befriended by several Pakistanis, two Indians and at least one South American. I had definitely taken Sheffield’s #WeAreInternational campaign seriously without meaning to. From accidentally staying for dinner when it was meant to just be a cup of tea through to co-hosting a pancakes and pakoray party for Shrove Tuesday, being part of this crazy international community has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my life in Sheffield.
Alongside the amazing food and atmosphere, the joy of being friends with Mahnoor, Azka, Waleed and so many other people was that I was always learning. From debating whether or not belief in God made the world a better place with a Muslim-background-atheist through to comparing the core beliefs of Islam and Christianity, there was always a new point of view I hadn’t come across.
Mahnoor is the only person within the group who has continued to wear a hijab. (In fact, I’ve convinced her to start a blog about being a hijaabi.) Yet even that she turned upside down for me. Even though I believe in a person’s right to wear what they like, I still questioned how much the hijab was because of “rules” and “male dominance” rather than a free choice. Discussing this with Mahnoor, I realised that she saw it as liberating rather than constricting. By covering her hair, people had to focus on her face rather than be distracted by her dark locks. (Serious hair jealousy!) She felt she was taken more seriously as a result, with men and women focusing on her intellectual abilities.
Being friends with Muslim women also opened my eyes to just how varied they are. It’s a stupid reality but we all have ideas in our heads about what different groups should be like. If I’m honest, I thought that they would all be shy and male-dominated, who wouldn’t want anything to do with non-Muslim women. Hanging out with Mahnoor, Azka, Aroosha and the other girls completely put that to flight. I have never met a more varied group of girls. From firm belief in the quality of gender to dry humour, heavy doses of maternal instincts towards everyone to a desire to go on adventures everywhere, they were a crazy bunch. It proved that just as there is no one single type of Christian or no one female identity, Muslims are all individuals with just as much variety.
It’s All About Love
Christianity prides itself (or at least the Church prides itself) on being all about love. After all, Christ died on the cross because He LOVED us UNCONDITIONALLY! Yet in England today, I rarely see people going out of their way to love people regardless of who they are. Even making friends can take meeting someone several times before deciding how much we can trust/accept/like/etc them. Even my church chose to focus on “Join Us in Doing Good” as their 2017 vision because they realised how bad Christians are at loving people.
Being friends with such a strong group of international and interfaith friends was the complete opposite. I literally had to meet someone once and I was considered a friend. After sharing one meal, I was considered part of their flat family. Whether this is because of their culture, beliefs or personality, it doesn’t matter. Being part of a community that encouraged discussions rather than arguments made me feel loved. Getting told to help myself to any food on the table made me feel included. And on my last day, to have Mahnoor and Azka take me to the station made me feel connected.
So what happens when a British Christian and a Pakistani Muslim grab a coffee together? They embark on a friendship that goes beyond cultures and beliefs. And if you’re the British Christian, you might find yourself learning how to do community with love in ways you never expected.
The post When a Christian and Muslim Grabbed a Coffee Together || The Benefits of InterFaith/InterNational Friendships first appeared on CounterCultural. CounterCouture.