Shadia: Dishing over questions of faith

One of the reasons I enjoy a happy and fulfilling life is because of the people in it.

They are a people who fear God, lead by example and strive, in their own way, for a better world.

And last week, I was reminded once more how lucky I am when a few of them gathered for a Ramadan iftar/dinner at my home.

My mom, Shadia, who is an excellent cook (I say this with total objectivity), prepared our food, and among her creations was one of Egypt's most popular dishes: kushary.

If you haven't had kushary, which is a combination of rice, lentils, two different kinds of pasta, tomato sauce, caramelized onions and garbanzo beans, you need to finish reading this column first, then go find a place that serves kushary (but only my mom's is the most excellent).

I made baklava because I make the best baklava (there's some bias here).

While everyone enjoyed my mom's food, it was the gathering that made it so special for me.

My home was full of friends from all walks of life. They included Muslims, Christians and Jews, and everyone, even the Jews, got out safely.

This was not the first time I have held this dinner. I do it every year and have done it for the past five years or so and always look forward to it.

What made the gathering especially enjoyable for me was the end-of-night conversation some of my Muslim and Jewish friends engaged in.

Meesh and I often discuss the concept of believing in one God, what the Koran — the last of the three monotheistic religions — says about Christians and Jews, how we reconcile and navigate our differences, and what it all means at the end.

There's a great deal of joy that comes from our conversations, and because we're not experts in the field, we end up with questions. A lot of them. Sometimes the questions are important, and sometimes they are not.

So when we, especially me, get our hands on someone with knowledge of the three monotheistic religions, we unload our questions and demand intelligent answers.

Hussam Ayloush is usually the lucky one, and he was this time as well.

Hussam, the executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations, is blessed with abundant knowledge on Islam and also the teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

We started with some easy questions: If a child is born to a Muslim father, does that fact automatically make them Muslim? (You know who I'm talking about, don't you? Mmm-hmm.)

We had other questions involving technical and tedious theological matters, like what constitutes a Muslim, spiritually, theologically or both.

We talked about the Torah, the Bible, the Koran and our prophets, including Abraham and Moses. We talked about Jesus as well. We talked about St. Paul's trip from Jerusalem to Damascus and his vision of Jesus and the letters he wrote about it.

And throughout our conversation, there was a common theme: our common roots and belief in one God, all the while my friend's 2-year-old daughter was walking around with some high heels she found laying around.

None of us became angry with one another, nor began fighting like it is depicted sometimes on television. Instead, we shared good food, joked a lot and laughed so much, I was overjoyed.

I thought to myself: This is what it's all about, people. And that's really how the Middle Easterners do it, in my world.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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