Fatimah Asghar, “If They Should Come for Us”
May 26, 2019: Grace Church (Charlottesville) for Judah Nicholas Beck Kreider’s dedication
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Jesus offers these words to his friends on his last night with him. Their evening together began with Jesus, taking the feet of his disciples into his hands, pouring water over each one and scrubbing them clean, then with a towel massaging them dry. As they ate their last supper, Jesus tells them that he loves them, that he will miss them, that he will always be with them, in their hearts, in their love, in their lives together, through the Holy Spirit, the divine comforter, the divine advocate, the presence of God.
From chapter after chapter, from John 13 through 17, Jesus gushes about his love. His heart can’t hold all of his feelings. He floods the room with his words, thoughts rushing through his mind. He repeats himself—“I have loved you,” he says these words three times, word for word, a confession of love. On this last night with his friends, Jesus is a mess of emotions.
“My peace I give to you,” he tells them, as they await tragedy. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Violence lurks in the night. But there, in that room, they are fortified with God’s peace.
I teach the Sunday School class for seven and eight year olds at my church. Last year the kids wanted to make cards for our Muslim neighbors, because they were worried, worried because of the Islamophobia in our country. So I laid out on the table paper and scissors, glitter and stickers, crayons and markers. “I’m sorry,” one child scribbled on a card, “I’m sorry our president says mean things about you.” Another kid drew a big heart and wrote three words inside, “We love you.”
Our Mennonite kids entrusted me with their love notes, adorned with sticky globs of sparkles. I took the stack of cards with me to Friday prayers at local masjid, the mosque. After the imam welcomed and introduced me to his congregation, I handed out the cards to the people in the front rows, explaining our children’s concern for them, passing along their love.
One after another they embraced me, then the imam set up a chair for me to sit along the wall while they prayed, so I could stay with them. Soon people streamed into rows, kneeling down on the carpet close to each other, side by side, making room for latecomers. I watched as a father led his son across the room, near to where I sat. They waited for the prayers to begin—the father resting on his legs, his ankles crossed behind him, and the little boy beside him holding a toy dinosaur, a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
He scooted closer to his father to carve out a spot for the dinosaur, which the boy placed down on the carpet in their row, the three of them side by side—father, son, and dinosaur—in line with all the others gathered for prayer.
I saw the child lean toward the Tyrannosaurus and whisper, perhaps explaining the prayers: when to kneel, when to stand, when to lift hands to ears, when to say the takbir, “Allahu akbar.”
Soon the muezzin began chanting the adhan, the call to prayer, his song filling the room as the faithful joined their voices, calling out to Allah: God the most compassionate, the most merciful.
The congregation stood and bowed and kneeled in a synchronized movement of reverence, humility before God and one another. Beside me the father guided the son in their worship, and the son waited until after their salaat, their devotion, to check back with his toy dinosaur, holding its tiny arm.
There, in the masjid, with the father holding his son’s hand, the son carrying his Tyrannosaurus, I remembered one of the ninety-nine names of God in the Quran: Allah Al-Salaam, God the giver of peace. And I offered my own silent prayers for peace, as Jesus promised—“Peace I give to you, let not your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid,” in my mind I prayed as I listened to their voices, to Arabic words I didn’t understand but experienced as beautiful, a restful beauty, a calm strength, a spirit of comfort and support, lives fortified by the peace of God.
There is a hadith, a verse in the Quran, saying, “Verily God is beautiful and loves beauty.” There, at Friday prayers, I glimpsed the truth of God’s beauty: a child following the movements of salat, of devotion, and guiding his Tyrannosaurus Rex in the kneeling and standing and bowing.
That’s the world I want, where children learn to pray, where Sunday School kids write love notes their persecuted neighbors, where people can gather for prayers, for Shabbat, for worship, in peace, in salaam, in shalom.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says to his disciples, to us. We are people of God’s peace, laboring for a world where no one lives in fear, a world abounding with grace and beauty, visions of God’s beauty, like that child bowed with his dinosaur, like this child here, Judah Nicholas, who will be dedicated today, consecrated before God and all of you, because we believe in a world where God calls us to nurture life, to care for Judah’s life.
We hope for a world where he can thrive, where our neighbors and the children of our neighbors experience the fullness of life. We believe in the God of life, in a world held in God’s hands, like Jesus holding his disciples close, Jesus holding us close, washing us with love, refreshing us with peace.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, “and do not let them be afraid.”
Instead, open your life to the One who sustains us with glimpses of beauty, and look forward to the moment when all the mysteries of God will be revealed in your neighbor’s love, when you claim them as kin, when you sew your life to theirs, so that we won’t be lost, none of us lost.