(In case you don't already know, iftar is the evening meal during Ramadan when Muslims break fast.)
I don't have a lot to say about our evening, in part because I've scarcely had any time to sit and think--about anything at all--over the last few days. St. Stephen's doesn't begin for Clare till the 31st, and until then, she's got Mommy's 100% attention and energy, until it runs out (typically, at about 10:00 a.m., sigh). But I am determined to share something about it, since it is a rather nifty idea on the part of the IDC to organize these "cultural exchange" type opportunities for people.
It was a bit awkward (how could it be otherwise) to just go to someone's house when you've never met them before and share a dinner, especially such an important (and lavish!) one as this, but awkwardness is a small price to pay. And it's kind of a crazy thing to do, sign yourselves up to entertain total strangers in your home, so I reckon if you're going to do it, then you're ready to welcome whatever crazy lot shows up on your doorstep. And we were probably an intimidating crew: me with my visible tattoos and bare arms, my husband with his priest collar, our wild-eyed 4-year-old in tow. And we were, absolutely, welcomed without reserve.
Our hosts took their teaching role very seriously, offered a lot of information and answered all sorts of questions. Wikipedia can now teach me nothing about iftar I didn't learn firsthand. :)
It occurred to me while talking about the Quran, and the translations of it for personal use and study versus the use of liturgical Arabic for prayer, that there must be some really sophisticated and interesting discussions on hermeneutics in Islam, and in interfaith or comparative religion discussions drawing in an Islamic perspective on the notion of interpretation. Something to look into. I said something about it before I could stop myself--the sort of theology-nerdy thing I do. :)
I didn't, however, talk much religion or theology (whether Christian or Muslim) with the women. Mostly, we talked about kids (our hosts had a daughter slightly younger than Clare), teaching (one of the women was a high school science teacher in Turkey), travel (wish I remembered more about my long-ago trip to Turkey), and whatnot. It didn't feel any more awkward, to me, than trying to get to know people outside my teensy nerdworld of theological acedemia generally does. Brent wondered--asked me on the way home--if the general silence of the women (not total) during the general conversation at the dinner table and during dessert bugged me. To be truthful (should I tag this #badfeminist?) it didn't, particularly, because 1) I wasn't given signals that I shouldn't contribute, and 2) I more or less assumed that the women's unease with conversing in English had more to do with it than anything else. I could be wrong, of course. But these men were proud of their wives, spoke of their accomplishments and (former) careers in Turkey with respect, and showed a lot of regret that relocating meant starting over and a lot of social isolation for them.
And frankly, as I said to Brent, I have a hard time faulting another religion for its symbolic manifestations of patriarchy (modest dress, hijab, possibly, silence) when I grew up in a tradition no less patriarchal, only our signals of it are so culturally acceptable to us that they are invisible. We'll call it a problem when we see it in a hijab, but we'll gloss right over it when it comes to women speaking with a mic from a pulpit. What's the difference? Who gets to throw the stone, here? I'm certainly not going to generically condemn a whole religion as hopeless and evilly sexist...because I'd have to condemn my own right along with it, just to be consistent.
[aside: I'm bracketing violence against women here. but again, I suspect it's easier to see and condemn violent acts against women when they confront you in unfamiliar forms. and, of course, Christianity is not blameless in this respect either--the stats on battered woman seeking shelter and advice from pastors, for example, are dismal, and the advice they often get justifies why.]
Anyhow. That's not much of a description of the evening as a cultural experience, I mean, I haven't bothered with talking about the food (delicious, unbelievably delicious) and whatever. But the whole point, as far as I can see, is less all of that than just the act of "breaking bread together in peace" (Abilene Interfaith Council's motto, and I've never heard a better).