I had a lunch meeting a few years ago at an Italian pizzeria owned by a Muslim man from Egypt. As I sat waiting for him I read a news report of a man who walked into a store to rob the owner. The owner’s reaction to the thief made national news.
The Pizzeria owner shook my hand and prior to my presentation he said to me “I hope you do not mind but for the course of this meeting I must look you directly in the eyes.” I thought “okay, not a normal announcement, but maybe he wants to make sure I am not misrepresenting what my company will do.
My imagination took flight and I thought “maybe his Egyptian culture has taught him how to tell if you lie.” Voodoo? Maybe. As I was caught up in my little fantasy world his words cut into my rapidly expanding scorpion king ridden realm.
He looked me in the eyes and said “please do not take offense, you see, your clothing is…(he hesitated for a moment seemingly searching for the right combination of words)… a bit revealing and I could be tempted towards sinful thoughts”.
I sat there in my ankle length sundress, shoulders exposed, blinking back offense. But the sincerity in his eyes told me he truly wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings or worse yet – make me feel as those I was being inappropriate.
What impressed me was his recognition that the onus for his thoughts lay with him. Not me, my sundress, naked shoulders or wannabe cleavage. This is the beauty of listening;I heard him display the very thing we all profess to want but never handle.
His open honesty disarmed me in a positive way. His attitude towards life, money, women, children and religion really lifted my spirits in a direction I did not realize I was not facing…up. In the line of work I was in then(marketing) in order for me to be effective I must know what your vision is. I need to learn why you are in business, what your philosophy is, where your challenges lay. Sometimes that conversation overlaps into your personal world especially if you are a small business or operating as a start up.
Initially when I walked into his establishment I calculated the meeting taking about 20 minutes. We ended up talking business for 5 minutes, we spoke life for over an hour.
He spoke of his pregnant wife and the difficulty involved in teaching a young child living in this modern world to love a religion characterized as terroristic. It was difficult enough when he had to explain his child that he could not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Easter,or even Thanksgiving. Contrary to media portrayal of Muslim men he admitted that as a father it hurts him to see pain and confusion in his childs eyes.
In Islam you must show a child the proper way to pray or drink water or void that water-these are rituals which come before the child learns to love the religion. So, living in our materialistic world, before a child even understands the simplicity and beauty of his heritage he already may have a hidden distain for it.
He told me that prior to opening this new establishment, he was a partner in another place. They sold the place and at first his partner was paying him regularly – then he just stopped. Now, I know you are thinking…which way to court because I would sue the pants of this so-called partner. He had the right to. He had the means to. But the question he asked was “why?” What is the arguement about? Money? Is money worth the aggravation? Is it higher than God? Is it necessary for him to prove the man is wrong? The man knows he is wrong. He did not take him to court. He went to him and said “here is the amount you owe me, if you decide to pay me – great – if not, I will get it back from God…you will then owe God.”
This lifted the burden of anger from his heart and shortly after he was able to open the very place I was sitting in. For you or I this could be a profound struggle but for this businessman life was not that complicated. His life is based on the principal of Ramadan. Fasting.
Have any of you ever fasted? What was the reason? To cleanse your body of impurities? Certainly this is a worthy reason. After all the stomach receives garbage every single day without a break. Lord knows what mess is caked up inside you, depending on your age…you may be chock full of filth. Just like your car you have to have maintenence and upkeep of your temple to run properly and continue functioning at full capacity.
The real reason for fasting is to understand suffering. To suffer.
To feel suffering. If you are hungry, tired, running on empty – it is a feeling that does not go away. You remember pain, discomfort. So when you are full/fed – you will see the world with diffrent eyes. You will recognize the rumbling of another man’s pain and you will take steps to alleviate his worries, his discomfort
When he explained it in his soft gentle compassionate way, I thought to myself “It’s so simple”. Empathy. Without empathy you can not be a fulfilled human being. We should all participate in the Ramadan Season…fast…purge yourself of anger, jealousy, gossip, hating, envy, distain…your spirit carries these things every single day…how are you functioning properly? How can you recognize the grumblings of another’s hunger? And when you hear it…how will you empathize?
Maybe if we fast away the filth caked on our hearts – then a man walking into a convenience store with the purpose of robbing the owner, being given $40 and a loaf of bread from the owner – won’t be national news…it will be the norm.