When he walked into the room I noticed his spectacular beard, very nice robe, and Fes Sarik head covering. He greeted our host and welcomed us to Sidon. He was very kind, gentle, and very educated. He has written at least 15 books on a variety of subjects. One of those books chronicled his first visit to the USA. He told us that story and how his experience in the US was very different from what he had always been taught. Growing up, he was taught that all Westerners were the same. He clumped people from the US and the UK into the same category. Before he visited the US, he wondered how he would be received. Would he be welcomed? Would people be hateful towards him? But what he found was that most people were very kind and welcoming. He learned that people in the East were a little different than the West. The North and South had their own flavor too. What was common though was that most people were very kind and friendly.
I found that before my trip to the Middle East, I shared many of the same thoughts as my new friend from Sidon. How would I be received? Would I be welcomed? Would people be hateful towards me, an American? I learned first-hand, the same lessons that Mohamed did. I was very welcomed and people were very friendly. You know, loving God and loving others will become a lot easier when we start viewing people the same way that God does, as the human beings that God created in His image.
Our new friend Mohamed would end up being our tour guide for the day which was amazing. I'm not sure anyone knows more about the history of Sidon, including its rich Biblical history. I was quite impressed that Mohamed was so well versed in Biblical teaching. He quoted the Bible with an amazing familiarity and focused more on the things Muslims and Christians had in common than where we differed. I found that quite refreshing as a starting point for dialogue and getting to know each other. I realized that although Mohamed and I had a very different view of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there were many things we could agree on, which produced a rich dialogue for getting to know each other, something I would not have experienced had I built up a sad boundary fueled by right versus wrong or good versus bad. For anyone reading this who lives on the far extremes of viewpoints on this subject, let me say this because this is an injustice we must correct in our society. Muslim does not equal Terrorist! I shouldn't even have to say that, but the sad fact is, some people have bought into that thought and I believe that is its own form of evil and hate. We must love as God loved! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I get kind of fired up about injustices in the world!
At one point we walked up to a church with lots of history, St. Nicholas Cathedral. Tradition says that it was here that the Apostles Peter and Paul had a discussion about the Great Commision. Peter was more Jerusalem centered and Paul's focus was more focused on reaching the whole world. Looks like Paul ultimately influenced this conversation as Christianity would spread around the world. Just to stand in front of this church was cool thinking that these two Apostles had walked these streets.
The tour of historic Sidon ended with a visit to the local Mosque where Mohamed served as the Imam. The inside was nice, but simple, a trait that makes up most mosques. He showed us where he would stand to preach each week. On the wall was a very unique clock board that listed several times in the day. Those were the times throughout the day when people were called to pray. If I remember right, there were six times listed on this board. I guess number 6 was above and beyond.
As I pondered these things, the thought came to me that the only sure way to bring peace to the Middle East was to LOVE and FORGIVE. That's why I am a follower of Jesus because His ways work!