Friends, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that 12 of us Yale Divinity and Law students have been invited to visit Saudi Arabia in October. Many of you have asked me where we’ll be going and what we’ll be doing. Those are excellent questions. And I don’t have any answers.
The truly unique aspect of this trip is that it is being arranged by our hosts, officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so we’re not responsible for any of the plans except to obtain passports and visas. Of course, we hope to visit holy sites, and we hope to have conversations with our hosts about Islam and Christianity (given the fact that they invited us due to our professor, Lamin Sanneh, an expert in world Christianity and Christian-Muslim dialogue). Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture was also responsible for the Christian response to Muslims’ “A Common Word,” so our seminary has demonstrated a commitment to the fostering of strong relations and peacemaking between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
For this reason, I have high hopes for the trip and trust that our hosts do as well. But I am getting peppered with lots of questions, and the most common question I get asked is, What are you going to wear? There are Islamic dress codes for women in Saudi Arabia, and of course everyone on the team, man and woman, is willing to wear whatever is suggested or required as a guest of another country. But I admit to wondering: will I wear a burqa? An abaya? Modest Western attire with a head scarf?
On a more serious note, I have wondered about the potential Muslim response worldwide to the threatened Qu’ran burning by an American pastor and whether this threat would compromise our trip. (The fact that this minister widely publicized his threat speaks volumes about the misguidedness of his proposal.) I was also, concerned, however, about how much the small sparks of a little man’s threats were fanned into flames in television coverage around the world.
I hope that this trip, and many others like it, will instead spark fires of mutual love, justice, peacemaking, and worship of God between Christians and Muslims around the world. If my recent joyous iftar meal with other Christians, Jews and Muslims at Hartford Seminary is any indication, these fires already burn, and we need to get busy proclaiming our mutual love and serving one another’s needs for all the world to see. On 9/11 of all days, I hope for this to happen.