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Redman: The family of the Middle East

Last month, I wrote my first piece regarding the experiences my brother and I had while we stayed in Oman with our friends who live there. We learned a lot from our experiences, and as there is so much to discuss, I wish to break it down into subjects. In this piece, I intend to highlight the structure of the family unit in the Middle East, explain how the culture is built around this structure and discuss how we may be able to apply this to bringing the Gospel of Jesus to such a nation.

The first day we were there, an Arab family invited us to eat with them in their “majlis” (place of sitting). The majilis is similar to what Americans would call a living room combined with a dining room, with a couple of exceptions: there are no chairs or tables. Instead, cushions are placed on the floor resembling a couch and they are all connected around the room.

So there we were, sitting in the majlis, smelling the frankincense that was smoking up the room. Members of the family began to walk into the room and everyone would stand. In Arab culture, when anyone walks into the majlis for the first time of the day, everyone stands to greet them.  Additionally, the individual entering will greet each person already in the majilis with a handshake and a nose kiss, accompanied by a warm welcome, “As-salaam alaykum” (Peace to you). `

In our experience, the youngest male that was old enough to do chores would lay out plastic on the floor, bring in loads of great food and then everyone would sit around the food on the floor where there was just one gigantic platter of rice and meat which would either be goat, lamb, fish, chicken or camel, and we would give thanks and commence to eating.

However, since this was our first time with them, they wanted to treat us to a nice meal in the park -  so we packed up everything and migrated to the sunny, grassy park on the outskirts of town. All of this experience was very delightful, and the family was incredibly hospitable and funny.

The typical Arab gathering will consist of much humor and plenty of practical jokes. They also bestowed upon Jeremiah and me much patience as they taught us how to eat rice with only our right hand. As you can imagine, eating in this style takes some practice!

 And so, as time went on, we were privileged to spend more and more time with different Arab families in similar fashion. Jeremiah and I were very pleased with the relationships we built with them and the friendships we now have. What stuck out more than anything else was that Arab families have one main thing in their lifestyle that binds them, and that is the time they spend with one another.

More than I have ever seen before, Arabs love to sit with their families and friends and hang out…all of the time; it’s what they do, and it’s who they are. On the contrary, the culture we are used to is a rat race filled with hustle and bustle. The Arab culture is far on the other side of this spectrum! 

Family and religion are the biggest fundamentals of the Arab culture, and everything else is minor. Even when Arabs get married, they typically stay unified with the family of the husband. Also, throughout the day, the husband and wife are not seen together very much. Men and women are strictly separated for the most part. This is because the Arab culture is very lawful in its tradition. The law that abides in the Islamic faith is the law of the land. There is no separation of the two, but the national laws are congruent and dependent upon the laws and the pillars of Islam. In this society, there is strength in the unification of belief. Family is everything, and family is dependent upon the religion of Muhammed. Because the ties of religion, family, and culture are so interwoven, one cannot be undone without all of the rest unravelling. An Arab cannot truly live in their culture without one of these elements or they will be facing serious consequences.

This leads us to the incredible challenge that Arabs will face when confronted with the truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The Gospel conflicts with every facet of the Arab culture. It is not that an Arab rejects the idea that Jesus could be the Son of God, or that he or she is offended by the beliefs of someone who does believe that the Gospel is the truth, but that an Arab is afraid to accept it as a possibility due to the consequences that would follow if indeed they believed the Gospel to be true. Arabs are forced to be afraid of questioning their religion. They stand to lose everything they have ever known; and quite possibly their lives.

Jesus says in Matthew 16:25 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.”

An Arab that reads this passage will better understand His meaning along with the reality of losing his/her life than the average person; especially compared to someone who grows up in the freedom given by the United States.

Jesus also brings forth a strong truth for an Arab when He says in Luke 12:53 that “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother…” and so forth. The truth of Jesus and His salvation will divide those who believe and those who practice such religions as Islam. An Arab knows the gravity of the consequences that would follow after converting to Christ.

Never-the-less, some Arabs find a way to muster the courage to believe in Christ because God continues to reveal Himself to them, particularly through visions, dreams, and supernatural confrontation. Normally, there is a nearby Christian that these Arabs can go to so they can understand. This is why God is still calling His children to these parts of the world, for He is still working and saving souls, against all defiant odds. Perhaps in God’s grace, He knows this is what it takes for people in such cultural chains to have the courage to follow Him in spite of what they are sure to lose.

Let us remember to pray for Arabs who are in secret search for the truth, and who are seeking for salvation through our God. He is good, and He is able! Let us be willing to pray, understand, and go when we are called.

Isaac Redman is a 22-year-old youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Church. He is a servant of Christ and loves music and the outdoors.