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Revelations: Lifting cloud of 'us-them'

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS
Aug. 24, 2012 at 3:24 a.m.
Updated Aug. 25, 2012 at 3:25 a.m.

Jennifer Preyss

One of my new favorite holidays is the day after Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr.

I don't personally celebrate the holiday, but for the past three years, I've joined the Muslim community at the Victoria Islamic Center to write an article about their observance of the end of Ramadan - a 30-day holy month of fasting, prayer and philanthropy.

For Muslims, Ramadan is the holiest season of the year. And Eid al-Fitr is celebrated as many Christians might celebrate Christmas morning: with gifts, multi-colored lights, new glittery dresses (for the women), family time and food. Lots of food. Did I mention food?

Since I'm usually the only female in the Islamic Center not dressed in a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering, it's fairly easy to determine I'm the non-Muslim in the room. It's easy to determine, therefore, that I don't belong.

But that's why I love the Muslim community in Victoria; they never make me feel like I don't belong among them.

Rather, they go out of their way to include me, to make me feel like family, or a welcomed friend, especially during Eid al-Fitr.

As I circled the crowds greeting the group with a traditional "Eid Mubarak," (Happy Eid) and taking notes for my Monday article, I was commanded by at least five people to "Eat something, Jennifer!"

Several of the women, and the Imam, handed me a plate and ordered me (jokingly, of course) to go get some food.

As a general rule, I tend to decline food on assignments for ethical reasons. And Eid is probably the worst day to have journalistic ethics because there are so many things I want to eat when I'm there.

As I floated through the crowd of familiar faces that morning, catching up on life with many of the women, and a few of the men, I ended up in a conversation with one of my favorite Muslim ladies about the blessings and heart of God.

She knows, I'm certain, that I'm Christian. Yet our differences in faith have never impeded our ability to openly discourse about religion.

She spoke candidly about a personal matter in her life, and I listened as she spoke of God's hand in the matter.

Toward the end of the conversation, she tilted her gaze to the ceiling and said, "You know, serving God is about what's in your heart. We can do things for God, but what matters is if our hearts are good ... I think you have a good heart, Jennifer."

I stared at her in silence for a moment, and tried desperately not to let her see the emotion on my face.

It was probably one of the sweetest compliments I've ever received. And not because I believe I have a good heart. I pray all the time for God to heal me of my selfish heart, and unwillingness to serve him and his people.

But for me it was an exchange of a moment of trust. It was evidence that my three-year attempt to remove the "us-them" cloud was beginning to lift. It was evidence that it is possible to share meaningful moments, and sweet relationships with people of different faiths, from different countries, of polar opposite cultures.

It was a moment where that one phrase proved that if we all attempted this intercultural exchange on a daily basis, we would never have to ask each other, "Do I belong?"

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss

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