Prayer Story for Alah Abda
Whenever I tell this story, there is an element of it which makes it an ongoing prayer for the person who became my friend for a short time. As I write this I’m reading “Walk Across the Room” by Bill Hybels, and I remembered this and another incident that were a lot like the examples he relates in the book.
We lived in Grand Rapids Michigan, had our five children, and our full size GM window van was ailing, so I set out to search for a replacement. In that search, in a run down area of town on a major route, I spotted a Dodge Caravan for sale at a used car dealership called Pyramid Auto sales. I had a look and spoke with a younger Arabic man about the features and price of the vehicle. It was a good price, and the salesman gave a verbal three month guarantee of the vehicle. It was a situation that almost fell into the “If it’s too good to be true – run away” category. But I was drawn by the vehicle and the feeling of authenticity or honesty I picked up from this salesman.
I bought the vehicle. As we were writing up the deal, I noticed a plaque with some arabic writing on it, and asked him what it was. “Those are quotes from the Quran” he said. That led to some small talk questions from me about what Muslims did with Christmas, since it was that time of year.
A few months later, there was a problem with the brakes on the van, and I thought I’d test the warantee promise. He did not hesitate when I mentioned the problem, but got a mechanic to put it on the hoist right away and get to work on it. They fixed it, no charge, no hesitation, no paperwork etc. I told him I was impressed he was a man of his word, that such trustworthiness was dying fast in our world. As the mechanic worked on the van, he and I retreated to his office and a conversation began there that was a huge surprise to me. I don’t remember how it began, I think he offered me a coffee but he did not take one and I asked why, or something like that. He said “We are in Ramadan.” Fortunately I knew what that was. I asked him how it felt to follow those practices of fasting and alm giving. He got up and closed the door and told me this “I do everything my religion asks of me and yet I don’t find it satisfying. I fast, I give alms, I keep my word, and yet I don’t feel better for it”
I have to admit I was stunned and completely unprepared. And I was a Seminary student! Shame on me and my education, I sometimes feel. I fumbled something about maybe that it was because his religion, like so many others, had people believing they could earn Allah’s favour by doing things. I think I even used the words ‘works righteousness’ which adds to my embarrassment. I tell you, it felt really really feeble, and I felt and still feel it was a missed opportunity. Who expects a car repair to turn into a cross-religious pastoral visit? I do now, more. But not then. By the time I had my mind and spirit on track with what was happening the mechanic had the van ready. I quickly asked Alah Abda if he would be willing to help me learn about Islam. I was in an Apologetics class at seminary in which one of the paper options was to do a side by side compare-contrast of two world religions, so I thought I could do two things at once – keep talking to my new friend and get material for the paper. He promised to get me some information, and invited me to visit the mosque on Friday for prayer.
The visit to the mosque is a story for another time. It was tougher than any test at Seminary! But the disappointing thing was that I never was left alone with my new buddy after that. I began to drop by for all kinds of reasons, but I was never able to be alone with him. I had a distinct feeling the rest of the workers had been instructed to keep a close guard on this person who was ‘weak’ in the faith.