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Passing the Peace to the “Beard Bosses”

By Josiah,*RMM worker in North Africa

The news is filled with hate and violence these days. One of our children is especially troubled by fearful thoughts. After reading a children’s story I remember as harmless, she often reports with consternation, “That story was bad.” I recently added a separate “kid’s corner” feature on my phone so that my children could access its educational apps and games without seeing news headlines that appear on one small tile of the welcome screen; the headlines alone provided plenty of fodder for fearful bedtime pondering.

Just as our daughter’s reading gives life to her fears, our media diet can make our own fears grow and impact our relationships. For example, in the midst of the recent rise of ISIS, a group of robed young men (many bearded) began using a school just up the street from our house for religious instruction. They always dress in the long, hooded robes that are traditional to the culture here, but wearing them to the exclusion of more “western” garb can signal a deeper religious orientation. When I walk by the building, I often hear Quranic chanting.

In my previous neighborhood, I experienced some “beard boss” men (this is literally how local people refer to fundamentalists) who studiously avoided greeting me with the phrase that both Arabic-speaking Muslims and Christians use: salaam u alikum, peace be on you. Talking with a local friend about the experience, I learned that the Quran commands Muslims to return an offered greeting, even if they think the greeter unworthy. After that, I was intentional about “passing the peace” to the “beard bosses.” Most responded with the expected reply: “and peace be on you,” sometimes followed by the addition of “and God’s mercy be on you.” The few who did not, I imagined, walked on with coals of fire on their heads.

One day, a group of ten or so of the young men from the Quranic school up the street passed my house. I was tempted to avoid eye contact and ignore them, but instead I greeted them, and they returned the greeting. Around that time, I failed in a similar situation: feeling testy and not wanting to hear about the beauties of Islam, I dodged a question from a religious leader about whether my children studied the Quran in school (they do not).

Young men—frustrated by economic barriers to marriage and hopeless about the future—are vulnerable targets for recruiters for conflicts around the world, and many have left this country to give their lives in order to kill on foreign battle fields. How can I introduce them to the One who has the power to transform Sauls into Pauls? Surely a simple greeting—rather than avoidance—will be a more likely beginning to that relationship.

While you may not live in a context where you regularly rub shoulders with “beard bosses,” there will be other neighbors who live without hope: a veteran marred by the hell of war; an immigrant who’s never been invited into a local home; a transgendered colleague who’s heard only condemnation from those who claim the Name.

John reminds us that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because [God] first loved us.” Our living in faith rather than fear will shape the course of our neighbors’ lives, possibly averting untold destruction in the future. We’d love to hear how you’ve chosen love recently in the comments below.