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When my husband won a coveted Fulbright Scholarship as a visiting professor in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, I was excited about accompanying him and living in a modern Middle Eastern country that liked Americans.
Our hopes and aspirations were dampened, however, when we learned we would not be posted in the thriving capital of Amman but in a northern town close to the Syrian border. In customs and practices it was more like being in the 14th century! Bedouins from the desert frequently brought their camels and sheep to town. We had to get purified water imported by truck even while living in university housing, and if I wore jeans on campus, my faculty husband was reprimanded.
It was going to be a long year, I thought!
I had come to Jordan prepared to love the experience, to learn some Arabic, and immerse myself in the community. But instead I felt shut out. Gloomily the year stretched out before me.
My journal entries at that time are very telling: “I hate it here. Being stared at like an alien. Being sequestered in our apartment unless I am accompanied about town. I long for friendship, conversation … .”
I also wrote in my journal that I’d started to pray about my situation. I was reading the Bible, specifically the book of Exodus, so I could understand the culture and history of this land.
Many places in Jordan pointed to the days of Moses and the Israelites’ quest for a homeland. I began to see that the present-day conflict over where the Palestinians should live and who had territorial rights went as far back as the days of Exodus.
As the months rolled by, my journal entries reflected a yearning to know how I fit into this experience and how to see it in a more positive light. Then in a sharp contrast to my first month, were these words in my journal: “I love this place! And I love the time to write and ponder what I am learning!”
What was I learning? I was turning to the writings of Mary Baker Eddy for comfort and solace. This statement was especially helpful: “The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 571).
What was this cement? It was universal love for my fellow man—whether he was the university guard who leered at me during my dawn walks, or the student who harassed me in the public taxi! I prayed daily to see universal love unite us all in bonds of love that extended beyond Muslim or Christian brotherhood.
My prayers were within the Christly framework that I loved, drawing on Jesus’ life and his treatment of the people he met. Even in that dusty, northern town, I had no doubt that my every effort, no matter how small, could reflect that Christly example of embracing the world, my brothers and sisters, a little at a time.
Like cement that is applied slowly and carefully in building, little by little I did my foundational work to unite all hearts together. This love had to be applied over and over, smoothed, just like the “cement of a higher humanity.”
I prayed daily to see universal love unite us all in bonds of love that extended beyond Muslim or Christian brotherhood.
Then things started happening. A university professor invited me and my husband on an all-day excursion with his family to explore the Gadarene area of northern Jordan, in the middle of Ramadan. This month-long Muslim holiday is observed, among other things, by daytime fasting from food and drink. We were to break the fast with his family (to join the family in a meal after the day-long fasting required by Ramadan) at the end of the day.
I knew about this area from reading about Jesus’ healing of the Gadarene man who was insane and was dwelling in tombs (see Mark 5:1–15). It was a special day. In addition, the professor asked for my help with editing his doctoral thesis and with his English.
In addition, one of my husband’s students invited us to her home to “break the fast” with her very large, extended family. She also wanted us to experience Eid al-Fitr, or the celebration, at the end of Ramadan.
I loved being a Western woman at this gathering. The family’s delight at welcoming the “Professor and his wife,” entitled me not only to mix with the men, but also to go into the more secluded areas with the women and girls. I was able to see all the family’s social groupings.
Later on, my husband and I developed deep friendships with a Syrian-Palestinian couple, and we spent stimulating evenings discussing topics such as eternal life, matter-based living, and spirituality. An Iraqi professor and his wife became fast friends as well. She became a confidant, and also my Arabic language teacher.
Loving and seeing humanity in a purer light gave me inner peace and daily freedom in this northern desert land.
Recently, I was delighted to see this love for humanity embraced by my daughter through a program for high school seniors that included a trip to Israel. When she got back, she researched global religions and their impact on humanity with two of her classmates.
She also presented their research to students, parents, and teachers. She loved learning about Islam and dispelling misconceptions about Muslims. One of the quotes she posted on the presentation wall stated: “Islam teaches tolerance, not hatred; universal brotherhood, not enmity; peace, and not violence” (Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan).
Mrs. Eddy advised her students, “… to be charitable and kind, not only towards differing forms of religion and medicine, but to those who hold these differing opinions” (Science and Health, p. 444). What grand lessons my Jordanian experience taught me about my fellow man and moving beyond unhappiness or hatred. And it was beautiful to see how easily my daughter learned this love in her research on Islam.
Mrs. Eddy instructed members of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship who were going out to lecture to the public to be “charitable towards all, and hating none” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 338–339). May this be our prayer, healing us of any hatred or separation and cementing us all together in love.
Sharon Carper is a retired US State Department officer. She lives in Ballwin, Missouri.
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