Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chaptette 19: Insignificant Differences

So, two Muslims, a Jew, a lapsed Lutheran, and a Dean (religion, unknown) walk into a Doha shisha joint....

You might be able to tell who is who from the pictures. Muslims, clearly, wear dark shirts. The non-Muslims apparently favor khaki. Each side has its uniform, so we can tell each other apart!

My last dinner out in Doha was simply, incredibly, delightfully marvelous. From left to right around the table sat Ibrahim (a Palestinian-American), Hilmi (Sri Lankan), Mark (Lutheran-American), Craig (American-American, I think...Wait! Is Craig on the left of Mark, or the right? It's hard to tell), and John (Dean-American; I usually don't give last names, but his is just too rich to omit: Christ. Well, "Crist" if you want to get technical about it, but if I were an author I would have added the H, just to complete the religious circle we have going here). To "hammour" me (humor me, get it! bada bing!) that's what we ordered all around (yeah, we got totally "hammoured"!) [NB: Hammour is a popular local fish.]

And we talked. And we laughed. Hilmi has worked in conflict zones all over the world, and is now doing charity work in Doha. Ibrahim directs a large project for an American education non-profit; they are training teachers in Qatar. Ibrahim also has a Ph.D. in conflict resolution, and that's how he, Hilmi, Craig all know each other: they are all professional peacemakers.

And fine company. I learned more about Islam in our two hours together than I had learned in my entire life, safe to say. One key point: like Baptists, Muslims have no central authority, no highest leader, for the faithful. Each believer has a direct connection to God. Each cluster of believers has its own views about dogma, its respected leaders, and so forth. I learned much about "fatwas" (Islamic legal pronouncements, most typically concerning behavior) -- and how different scholars/leaders issue different fatwas, which are often in conflict, sometimes reversed, etc. Sort of like the Southern Baptist Convention (as I understand that mysterious, foreign religion). Equally important: this may come as a surprise, or maybe not, but these guys were hilarious....and very, very smart...and genuinely friendly, curious, lively, engaging, and kind.

After dinner, we smoked shishas. To respect my people, I ordered apple-flavored tobacco. I also had turkish coffee. And a Red Bull. And Meth. And crack. No wonder I have trouble sleeping.

Leaving the Souq, I see the lights of the Islamic Cultural Center in the distance. You can study Arabic there, for free. Maybe next time I will.

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