EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Sharbat Gula is once again on the cover of National Geographic. She first appeared as a teenager in 1985, one of countless refugees from the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Her luminous green eyes enthralled the world, and the search for her identity has drawn on a range of technologies, including iris recognition biometrics. Now she’s been found, and her 30-year-old face seems at least a decade older than that. It’s been a tough life.
Though most Muslim women have escaped the war and displacement that Sharbat has suffered, life has been anything but blessed and fruitful; it has been bad for them, and for Muslim society. As Islam scholar Bernard Lewis has recently observed in articles, interviews, and his book “What Went Wrong?” Muslims have crippled themselves by denying basic freedoms to half their population, the women.
Life under the Taliban was particularly difficult for women — no work outside the home; no school; the requirement that a male relative go with them when they went outside. But one has only to see a pompous Saudi businessman with his harem of four burqad wives to realize that the pollution flows from the very font of Islam.
It prompts me to think of the splendor of my own Christian mother’s life. We lost her two years ago, but her influence continues strong. And it strikes me how impossible that influence would have been had she been the typical Muslim woman. Here are 10 memories we would not have had:
1. When Dad was doing naval chaplain duty at Camp Pendleton, she alone drove us kids from Arkansas to Southern California and back so we could all join in the experience of Disneyland, the Pacific surf and a Dodgers game, with the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns along the way.
2. A journalism major from the University of Michigan, she was graciously relentless in correcting our grammar, and always ready to help proof a high school term paper.
3. When we visited her parents in Detroit, she often took us to the museum, where as children we became familiar with the works of such diverse artists as Auguste Rodin, Pieter Bruegel and Diego Rivera.
4. She was an inveterate hostess to men and women of every race, nationality and creed. When I think Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think of a host of foreign students and other unclaimed blessings from the community around our dinner table.
5. She loved books and would read them to us each evening before bed. One night it would be the poems of Vachel Lindsay, another a history of Scotland, with the exploits of Robert the Bruce (Dad did his Ph.D. at Edinburgh, and they never got over their love of Scotland.), and another, “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.”
6. She loved dogs. (Muslims count them filthy and despicable; you don’t shake hands if you’ve just touched one.) She read us books such as “Lad: A Dog” by Terhune, recounted the story of Greyfriars Bobby, and helped us nurture every beloved mutt that came our way — Tippy, Dusty, Lady, Wolf, treasures of our childhood.
7. She could organize to beat the band. As PTA president, Ouachita Baptist University alumni secretary, Woman’s Missionary Union president and co-director of the local Christmas store (a charitable center for those who couldn’t afford gifts), she made things click, and folks loved her for it.
8. She had a great sense of humor. Whether joining in the round of good-natured jabs and practical jokes among the Ouachita staff, running with my father, an incurable cutup, or telling her favorite funny stories to dinner guests, she was a joy.
9. She loved church music, of which there is virtually none in Islam. She ordered my first trumpet when I chose band and later encouraged me as I joined in the Sunday morning fanfare at the beginning of “God of Our Fathers.”
10. She loved Jesus. She led me to the Lord one morning between Sunday School and church, and she traveled to the interior of Brazil to hold the spit tray for a dentist who’d come in the name of our Lord.
My mother was a Proverbs 31 woman, and Proverbs 31 is unthinkable for most Muslim women.
In the terms of current dispute, my mother was a complementarian rather than an egalitarian. She believed the Bible taught gender role differentiation, and she proceeded to live magnificently with respect for and within that understanding.
Lest we get too smug at the spectacle of Muslim society where wives are treated as virtual servants or house pets, let us be wary of another spectacle, another opportunity to write, “What went wrong?” For what if we lost the best contribution of half our own society, the women, as they were driven by the notion that they should be men?
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.listten.com.