Although we were friends for life, 10 years had passed since our last embrace.
So much had happened. And yet it was just like yesterday. And we both agreed – we don’t look all that much older.
“Except,” she confessed, “I have grey. Lots of it. I’ll show it to you sometime. Under here.” She pointed to her hijab (headcovering).
Friendship Immediately Post-9/11
Our family met Nameera in January 2002, when she came from the Middle East to our city to pursue a graduate degree. She had originally planned to study in the LA area and had begun her program just weeks before the events of 9-11. Her family called her immediately home.
Undaunted by the current climate of fear and Islamophobia rippling throughout the U.S., Nameera returned with her family’s blessings, albeit to a much safer, quieter city.
We met her right as she stepped off the plane at our modest airport and took her to the housing she had arranged.
A Friendship Like No Other
I am grateful that many of my relationships have stood the test of time. But this friendship with Nameera has served as a unique glimpse into a life very different from my own, and yet mysteriously connected. No question. We remain friends for life.
We share the same birthday, though we are years apart in age. So we try to remember to connect each year at that time – at the very least.
But even more so, my friendship with Nameera was my first deep connection with someone from the heart of the Muslim world. While I had known others, Nameera and my worlds became deeply entwined over the two years she lived in our area.
We learned much about her beautiful country of Oman and her Muslim beliefs. We could see her dedication to God – a deep reverence, respect and longing for truth.
She got to know our three young children. She would babysit them. And she got down on the floor and read books to them, played games with them, laughed with them.
The Key: Respect One Another's Backgrounds and Beliefs
Nameera also fell in love with the gatherings we were having in our home each week. Ten to 20 students, sometimes more, would come together for meals, games, sharing, learning, exploring the Bible and worship. Nameera was in the thick of it all.
One time my husband asked her, following a prolonged session of worship together, “I know you don’t worship God with music in your Muslim worship. Is this okay for you to do?”
Nameera responded with a glint in her broad smile, “Well, I’m not sure. But I know I love it.”
We were not out to convert Nameera. And she knows that. We were there to love her. And we still are. I think that’s what has kept our friendship strong and, indeed, made us friends for life. She has realized, through thick and thin, that we love her. Period. And we are her home away from home.
As she raced to the finish line to complete her master's degree program, I was helping her proofread her thesis and print it out. She just made it on time. By about three seconds! So, the graduation was sweet.
And then the saying goodbye. Nameera had too much stuff. We let her off-load some of that on us last minute. She and I embraced long and hard.
Fast Forward: Still Curious
Nameera is in the final stages of her PhD elsewhere in the States. And, in less than a month, I expect to attend her graduation!
We couldn’t get enough time together with Nameera during her weekend visit to our city. Because she was also playing tour guide for two teenaged nieces from back home, our time was part sightseeing, part reconnecting. We did have several sacred moments catching up, though. Our discussions centered on questions about the future, faith, and hope.
One discussion with Nameera was poignant. It took place after dinner, once the teenagers had disappeared. She asked my husband and me, “Can your children choose to not be Christian? How will you feel?”
This was an intriguing question coming from a Muslim woman. This topic within her society remains taboo.
We responded with, “We both believe that each of our children will have to determine if the faith they have been raised in [as followers of Jesus] is what they will continue in as adults. It has to move from being ‘their parents’ faith’ to their own.”
We dove into more detail on each of our kids. But we ended with, “Of course, we will be sad if they choose another way. But love – real love – is not compulsion. It is risky. You take the chance you may lose. But if you win? Then it is real.”
We could see the wheels spinning in Nameera’s head.
Keeping Close Through a Shared Love
Love binds us. We differ in our pursuit of God, our pursuit of truth. I arrived at mine through reason and commitment during my college years and have been growing ever since. Nameera follows along the path of family and societal authority to find her truth.
But I cannot deny, we share a common heart for God. And this binds us. We are, no question, friends for life.
Although I have many other Muslim friends now, Nameera retains a very special place in my heart. I see and understand her Muslim identity and her genuine love of God. It has impressed me in my own journey to live out a life of faith.
If you have one, can you share briefly a cross-faith friendship you may have, one that has endured and grown richer over time? What do you think has made it stick?