Only in Manhattan morning rush hour can you find a way to squeeze two lanes into three. The steady cold rain and construction in front of our hidden boutique hotel only added to the misery. I scanned the license plates as they crawled past looking for our Uber driver. Spotted! We had little time to throw our luggage into the back of his car as he stopped in the middle of 40th avenue. Horns blaring.
He turned in his seat quickly and looked back at me, “Drew?” I smiled yes and answered, “Ahmad?” Identities confirmed. We were on our way to LaGuardia.
He spoke in a heavy middle eastern accent. I asked where he was from. He was proud to tell me that he had just gotten married and would soon be a US citizen. But originally he was from a beautiful little country snuggled into the rugged mountains on the northern cross roads of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China.
“Oh, you are Persian?” I asked him. “Yes, I am!” he beamed with immense ethnic pride.
I shared what I knew of their ancient culture. It is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations dating to 3,000BC. The foundation of much of what the world enjoys now in science and math was discovered in Persia. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, was the monarch who released the Israelites from Babylonian captivity and decreed that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt.
Laurie had seen his prayer mat in the trunk of his car. I mentioned I assumed he was Sunni. He said yes. He was a devout Muslim. I asked him, “Are you dutiful with the Salah? Praying five times a day?” He looked at me with curious eyes in the rearview mirror and answered, “yes, either from my car or I quickly find a neighborhood Mosque.” I mentioned I respected his commitment, dedication, and reverence. He looked at me again.
From the front seat he asked me, “are you a Christian?” “Yes” I said. “We have much in common” Ahmad replied. I quickly added, “Tell me what you know about Christianity. Who is Jesus to you…peace be upon him.”
Ahmad looked at me again in the mirror. As if to say, “who is this man in my car that knows more about my faith than I know about his?”
Ahmad answered, “Jesus is a prophet. And he will be coming back for us.”
I asked Ahmad if it confuses him that I consider Jesus to be God. He said yes.
I offered to explain it to him. He said, “please.” Such sweet music.
As Ahmad navigated his way through the canyons of Manhattan. Through the tunnels and over the bridges I played Philip to this Ethiopian as we sat in his chariot. “How can I understand, unless someone guides me?”
We discussed Moses (Musa), peace be upon him, since he is revered as a prominent prophet and messenger in Islam. We recalled the story of Moses approaching the fire in the desert and finding it as Allah. Speaking to Allah through the fire. I asked Ahmad if he felt Allah was limited in how or where He can appear? He replied sternly, “of course not! Allah can be presented in any way He sees fit and able.” I told him we believe the same. As Allah became a fire to speak to Moses. We believe He became a man to speak to us.
He peered at me again in the mirror.
We then discussed Eid al-Adha, the ‘Sacrifice Feast’ in Islam. A holiday that honors the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of submission before God then intervenes to inform him that his sacrifice had already been accepted. I shared how we celebrate the same event as it reminds us of God justifiably ending our lives according to His law but then providing Jesus to intervene as a willing, acceptable substitute and sacrifice for our lives.
He looked at me in the mirror again.
“Thank you. I have never heard or understood that before.” Ah, even sweeter music.
There was no baptism of the Ethiopian that day but the Spirit of the Lord did carry Laurie and I away as we arrived at Dollar Rent A Car. I shook Ahmad’s hand and he saw us no more, and we went on our way rejoicing.
Pray today for Ahmad.
Pray too for a world where faith trumps fear. Where respect opens borders. And where love binds us all.