Safe Harbor – Holiday Thoughts for 2015 ~ Sam Allen
In Approaching the Qur`an: The Early Revelations, the scholar Michael Sells describes the pre-Islamic tradition of hospitality that existed in Bedouin societies and that was folded into Islam through the Qur`an. The central figure of this hospitality in poems was the karim, or the generous hero who literally would give you the shirt off of his – and in this gender-inclusive society, her or their – back by sacrificing his camel mare. His camel mare was his most prized possession and something dear to the karim’s heart, but if someone came to his tent needing it, he would give her freely. The Sufis, according to Michael Sells, see this sacrifice as a form of self-annihilation that makes the seeker become one with the Spirit or with the god they seek reunion with.
I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and hospitality these days, particularly in the wake of seeing news stories of people who are or who are deemed as strangers coming to our shores and living with us and worshipping in places that some Americans might think about as strange. Indeed, I once found Islam strange and it was only war that brought me back to an understanding of our shared humanity and what binds us in the sacred.
Human life. That’s what we celebrate on Christmas. Something potentially holy coming from the East – a place not so far away in either these times or in Jesus’ times. Palestine and Turkey are literally bus rides – or raft journeys – away from Europe, and a trek of a thousand miles from Asia. Caravanserai flanked the road that the Three Wise Men probably took, and the Persian Empire guaranteed safe passage to those travellers seeking to welcome a new spirit into the world.
This was the place into which Jesus was born. A place touched by traditions of Asia, of the Middle East, and, unfortunately in some ways, of imperialist southern Europeans, the Romans. A place of convergences, both celestial (if you believe in such things) and of hardships. Again, not too different from today.
Ginger, Zoroastrian wise men following a star, myrrh, and humble yet holy lambs. At this time, many of us imagine the East as a sacred space, a place of wonder and of pilgrims awaiting safe harbor.
I know it’s been overdone in the news, but let us remember the pilgrims at our doorstep today. Let us be safe harbor for those who who need our solidarity and our gifts of love. Let us be the karim who welcomes those strangers who need us right now. In time, you will find that they are not so strange.