I was brought up in a strictly Presbyterian family where we all went for Sunday service with the exception of my grandfather; i will tell you about him someday! Later on when i started living with my mum in the big city we started attending Baptist church, i guess in an urban setting the conservative ways of the Presbyterian Church were not in sync with what urban folk believed in.
Urban folk wanted a church where they could listen to the sermon in English and mingle with others of their ilk; learned folk. Where they could arrange for barbeques on weekends, talk about share prices and where prime land was available. They felt the conservativeness of the older churches was a tad too restricting. I mean, no modern chic would see herself donning a long dress with a blue head scarf labelled ‘women’s Guild’ on it. They were more at peace going to Church in shorter dresses and trousers and designer clothes. To them, God only looked at their souls, not their outer appearance.
You could have looked like something else on the outside but a saint on the inside; quite a valid dimension of reasoning depending on where you are sitting or standing. Well, i knew that what you portrayed on the outside was a manifestation and product of the inner being! Life had taught me that much.
I think the pastor looked at their physical but pretended to care about their souls. If at all he cared for their souls he would have been kind enough to suggest more respectable attire in a house of worship!
Conservative Christian ideology required women to be well dressed in a house of worship. For the many years i knew my grandma, her head was always covered and i think that’s quite appropriate.
We never missed Sunday school when we were young and that inculcated a firm belief in God. It was quite in order to be born again and be proactive in youth ministries and my mum, in spite of not being born again took me to lots of Christian camps. It was in one of these camps that i experienced the being born again thing.
I guess i was around thirteen or fourteen when i attended the camp. The theme was to guide youth to becoming fishers of men, just like Jesus had instructed his disciples. The camp took just about a week, we intermingled, boys and girls, played games, had devotion time, breakfast together blah blah blah. The only thing we did not do together was sleep in the same quarters.
So on the last night of the camp we all sat around a huge bonfire sharing our experiences at the camp. I remember most said they ‘found’ Jesus while there as a result of which they got born again. It was quite emotional, the testimonies and as the others shared their joy of finding Christ i was struggling internally trying to evaluate whether i had also found Christ, albeit unknowingly.
To say the truth, i wasn’t sure i had found him but since most of the teens seemed to have experienced it, i also did. Partly due to the fear of being stereotyped as the pagan in the group who denies Christ and also the fact that Jemimah had also found Christ.
I had grown very fond of her, a bubbly, chubby, good hearted chic i had interacted with during our regular group games. I remember there was a day we just sat in the field, talking about everything and nothing, and then we headed back to the dining hall hand in hand. I felt we had a future together……:) She sat on the same log with me during the testimonies, a huge bonfire in the middle and apparently she had also found Christ; much to my amazement.
Automatically, there and then i also found him.
Way back then i had never interacted with any Muslim. I knew of Islam as a religion mentioned with a cursory glance during CRE lessons. In History, they taught us about the Arab slave traders who also contributed to the spread of Islam and the emergence of the Swahili dialect.
While in primary school i had a classmate called Suleiman, we all called him mswahili coz he was Muslim. He was not only different from us due to his very dark complexion but also coz he cleaned himself with water after doing his business in the loo; all and sundry used tissue paper or leaves (in cases where the urge to relieve oneself happened while near a bush!).
He also ate with his hands while all other students were taught to eat with spoons and on weekends he went to some funny class called madrasa to read Quran. We all knew he hated pigs and most kids loved teasing him about it much to his chagrin.
And in our own neighbourhood we had a Muslim family who we also termed as waswahili; not because they were from coast but largely coz they were Muslims. The older man from this family owned a huge plantation of orange trees; village rumour had it that nobody ever stole from it coz there was a time a thief was found stuck on one of the trees he was plucking oranges from.
I always kept a safe distance from his plantation and his black cat too coz people said it was a jinn that talked!
To all, Muslims were a bunch of ridiculous people who worshipped Satan and had cats that were jinn and could transform into cows, goats or even people. They even said that one of the younger kids was a transformed cat!
I remember hearing a story about another Muslim family in our village who were burnt alive in their house just because the locals conceded that they reared jinns.
That was what i knew about Islam, all based on clichés and an unfair perspective of the way of life that i have to embrace as the best thing in my life.
And upto date, almost six years since i reverted, all i have seen is a lot of stereotyping and a poor perception to what Islam represents. Muslims are being wrongly castigated based on the actions of a few, blamed for almost everything bad that happens in the universe…..i would not be surprised if we got blamed for global warming as well!!
But again, on one side it’s not an overly bad thing, i mean, nobody ever kicks a dead dog!