Seeing the Face of God

Growing up, I cannot recall a time I got into a car with my father that he didn’t recite this short prayer in Arabic before departing. It came as naturally to him as breathing.

I was blessed with two incredible parents who loved each other very much, not unlike most of my friends at my Christian elementary school. What made me different—other than my black hair, dark eyes, and olive complexion—was that my mother was a Christian and my father, a Muslim.

I grew up attending church and Sunday school weekly with my mother and four siblings. My father did not object but paid tuition so his children could receive a Christian education as well. I didn’t fully realize my Dad wasn’t a Christian until I was about 10 years old.

I attended a vacation Bible school with a friend that summer, where I learned about letting my light shine for Jesus. The teachers asked our class to go around the circle and name someone we knew whom we could tell about Jesus’ love. Most of the kids couldn’t think of anyone who didn’t already know Jesus, so I was quite proud when I could say, “My dad.”

I don’t think my prepubescent teachers knew what to do. They were mortified. They prayed. They considered my family lost souls—my father for rejecting Jesus as his Savior, and my mother for sinfully marrying and having children with an unbeliever. I hadn’t thought it was a big deal until then. I left with a sinking feeling. The message to me was clear: My parents made a mistake. I never should have been born.

I won’t argue about the biblical teaching against marrying an unbeliever. The marriage happened, and that’s between my parents and God. I do know that my Muslim father has been a gift to me. I’m sure there are lots of things Christians can learn from Muslims about devotion to God, the practice of spiritual disciplines, prayer, tithing, and reverence. My dad has taught me lessons in all those areas. But what I’ve learned about most from loving and living with him is Christ.

Living Like Jesus

My father was born in a village in southern Lebanon, not far geographically or culturally from where Christ walked the earth. His father died before he reached adulthood, and he grew up without a country. He spent his formative years

in Lebanon, Kuwait, and West Africa, moving among family members. This gave him incredible insight into what Jesus’ life was like.

There’s a quote in one of my favorite books that says, “The gold of the Gospel carries with it the sand and dust of its original home.” My dad carries with him some of that dust, and throughout my life I’ve been discovering it.

If you know anything about Middle Eastern culture, you likely know about its hospitality. Whenever guests came to our home, the visit usually went something like this: My parents would greet the guests—whether expected or not—as if they had been waiting all week for them to arrive, even if they had just seen each other the day before. My father would sit them down, ask about their well-being, and entertain them with stories. He’d ask if they wanted anything to eat or drink. Regardless of their response, food and drink would be placed in front of them with every expectation that they would enjoy it.

I’ve been told many times how blessed I was to have a godly Christian mother. And I was. But I was also blessed with a father who gave me incredible insight into the culture and personhood of Christ, the generous spirit of God’s grace.

My father has always wanted to give me so much, offering the opportunity to grasp at everything he never had the opportunity to hold. He sees his children’s failures and mourns our mistakes. It’s not hard for me to imagine a God who loves me enough to die for me because my father has laid himself down many times for his children over the years. Unbeknownst to him, he has emulated Christ.

Embracing Imperfection

It’s not easy to find good things written about Muslim fathers these days. In our post-9/11 world, the usual reports tend to focus on “honor killings,” arranged marriages, and children kidnapped and taken to the Middle East. Just try Googling “Muslim father” and you’ll see what I mean. These ideas are contradictory to the Muslim dad I grew up with.

Like most fathers, mine wanted me to dress modestly when I hit the teen years. He didn’t demand that I wear a burqa or hijab, just a shirt that covered my belly button and a one-piece swimsuit instead of a bikini.

Like all dads, other than the heavenly Father we all share, mine isn’t perfect. He isn’t a perfect father or a perfect Muslim. That’s another important lesson I’ve learned from him—how to live as an imperfect person.

We Calvinists tend to spend a great deal of time and effort shrouding ourselves in guilt for who we should be and how we should live in Christ. My father has shown me consistently how to live life—love life—free from feeling overwhelmed by my inability to do everything right.

We recently had a conversation about tithing. I shared with my father how challenging it can be for my husband and me to give 10 percent to the church each month. I asked my dad, “How do you live knowing that you’re falling short, that no matter how much you try to improve, there will always be something?”

“You just do what you can. God understands.”

Opening the Curtains

First thing in the morning, my father likes to start his pot of water for coffee on the stove, then, before sitting down on the sofa, to open the curtains and say, “Let’s see God’s face this morning.”

For me, God’s face has been reflected in the face of my Muslim father. My dad taught me that God is all around us, not only in the natural world but in the hearts and minds of those we encounter daily. He taught me how to love people—unconditionally, radically, faithfully, and generously. From him I’ve learned how to talk to God wherever I am, to see and reflect God’s love to others, and when I fall short, to rely on the understanding of a God who is higher than I am (Isa. 55:8-9).

I find my rest in the arms of Christ. I pray that someday my father will open the curtains and do the same.

discussion
  1. Do you know any Muslim people? How are they received in your family or neighborhood?
  2.  Shannon says there are lots of things Christians can learn from Muslims. Do you agree? Discuss Shannon’s examples if you do not have any personal experience with Muslim culture.
  3. Shannon describes the hospitality traditions of Middle Eastern culture. What impresses you about her description?
  4. Is it possible not to believe in Christ and yet be a witness to him? Discuss.
  5. Shannon talks about Calvinist guilt. Do you experience this? What do you think of Mohammed’s advice to “do what you can do. God understands”?
  6. What impact does Mohammed’s morning ritual of opening the curtains and saying, “Let’s see God’s face this morning” have on Shannon. What saying or practice do you use in your home that influences the faith of your family?

About the Author

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans is the mother of three young children. She and her husband, Kevin, and the kids attend Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.
X