Abdul and Jesus and Me

Abdulkadir answers the door the way he always does: a smile, a nod, a quiet “hello,” and a handshake. His smile is a little pinched this day, though, the handshake awkward. He’s just had shoulder surgery a few days ago, and his right arm is in a sling, his face flickering with grimaces of pain.

“Come in,” he waves, lefthanded, indicating the narrow hallway to the room beyond. I shrug off my shoes and walk through to the snug but sunlit living room. There I place the flowers I have brought for him, my get-well gift. I remember the way he came by my house after I broke my foot, concerned for my welfare.

“Flowers,” I say as awkwardly as his handshake. “For you, or maybe for Halima—since she has to take care of you.” Abdul’s wife is just coming down the stairs, adjusting her hijab as she descends. “Hello, Halima,” I say to her.

Halima smiles and nods her own quiet “hello.” She quickly takes charge of the flowers, the awkwardness defused. With a tut of pleasure she disappears into the kitchen to find something for a vase.

Abdulkadir motions me toward one of the couches while he takes his place in the corner chair. It looks well lived in, pillows and blankets placed strategically for him to find a pain-free position.

A movie is playing on the computer monitor, streaming from somewhere. The film looks Middle Eastern, the language Arabic, but dubbed. I wonder what the original language had been. Farsi, maybe? Or maybe Kurdish, Abdulkadir and Halima’s mother tongue. Anything is possible in this household, forced into multilingualism out of harsh necessity.

“Qahwa? Shai?” Abdulkadir asks, as he always does. Coffee? Tea?

“Qahwa, please,” I reply, as I always do. One small cup of that strong Turkish coffee is enough to buzz me through a whole day.

A string of Kurdish zips from Abdulkadir to Halima and back again. Abdul settles back into his chair with another grimace, and we settle into our regular pattern of stilted conversation. They have been in Canada for a full year now, and their English has improved enormously—no more Google Translate, most of the time. My Kurdish still amounts to zero.

As we talk about his surgery, their children, my family, and more, my eye keeps being drawn back to the film still streaming its dubbed Arabic. Something about the scene strikes me as familiar. A group of men getting out of a boat at a lakeside village. One of them standing out from the others, strikingly handsome.

“Isa,” Abdulkadir says, noticing where my attention has turned.

“Jesus, yes,” I say in reply. “I thought maybe it was a movie about Jesus.”

Abdulkadir looks at me with a smile in his eyes. “Isa is good.”

“Yes, Jesus is good,” I respond, knowing it’s inadequate. I remember my religious studies classes, my previous inter-faith experiences with Muslims. Jesus, whom Muslims call Isa, is revered in Islam as a miracle-working prophet and teacher, even a bringer of the gospel—though not the crucified Son of God.

I have a hard time reconciling this reverence for the peace-loving Jesus with the flag of Kurdistan on the wall, adorned with the silhouette of a gun. But then I can’t always reconcile Christian reverence for the peace-loving Jesus with our own justifications of violence abroad to secure a homeland for ourselves.

We watch the handsome, Middle Eastern Jesus for a while. He teaches his disciples by the lake. He talks to a woman in the village.

“Maryam,” Abdulkadir says, another connection made.

“Jesus’ mother,” I reply, nodding. A virgin mother, according to Muslim theology. Does Abdul believe this, which I as a Christian find so difficult to believe?

Halima brings the qahwa and some almond cookies. We eat and drink in silence, the three of us, watching the Muslim Jesus. He heals a woman bent over with pain. He raises a child from the dead, bringing life to a whole community.

I remember last year during Ramadan, Abdulkadir and Halima sharing a meal with us at 9:30 at night, breaking the day’s fast. Normally this would be done with brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, all living nearby. But their family is far away, shattered to the ends of the earth by war and terror. Even Abdulkadir and Halima’s teenage sons are separated from them by an ocean of sorrow and pain. I and my family were there instead, taking their place, inadequately, awkwardly.

I remember, over that Ramadan meal of spiced rice and grape-leaf rolls, Abdulkadir beaming at me: “You are our brother.”

“Yes, we are brothers,” I remember replying with a smile in my eyes. “We are all sisters and brothers.”