Choctaw Nation

12 Ramadan 1438 / 8 June 2017

Dedication: To bearing witness
A family elder used to live in a very small Oklahoma town with a population of a little over 1,000 human beings – almost  40% of whom were Choctaw Nation, 54% white, 1% black, and 5% all others. He moved there to serve as a physician for a Choctaw clinic located in one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen – and have yet to see. Generous, committed, a snorter when he laughs, and the very fulfillment of the absent-minded professor trope, the doctor was loved by his patients so much that they would bring him fruits and vegetables from their gardens, including squash, peaches, and walnuts.
His family was one of two Muslim families and the only Bangladeshi family in that town. The closest masjid that held Friday congregational prayers was 1.5 hours away.  A self-assured and proud Muslim, this doctor kept a beard and regularly wore a topi; his wife, who could not speak much English at the time, wore colorful hijabs to match her colorful saris, shalwar kamises, and jilbabs.
When their land lady, a white Baptist woman in her 90s who owned two llamas and made her own moo moos, first saw them praying, she was genuinely curious and asked after they had finished, “So … are you … Jewish?”

They said no, so she guessed again.

“Ah. So you must be…Catholic?”

Being Jewish or Catholic was the strangest thing she could imagine. Muslim as a category of religious difference was not even on her radar — at the time.

So she learned from her new neighbors who Muslims are. She also learned to love them until the day she died.

On the day of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, this elder continued to see and treat his patients as usual throughout the day.  Before he went home, a Choctaw elder who was his patient approached him and said, “If white people give you trouble, you let us know. We will protect you.”

In that moment, the Choctaw elder had the wisdom – rooted in a long communal memory – to understand that this new Bangladeshi Muslim doctor did not know the kind of racial violence his patient sensed was coming.

In that moment, the doctor didn’t fully understand what his patient was saying — until he saw the glass shards of broken beer bottles littering the path that led to the front door of his home where his pregnant wife was waiting, shaded by the most gorgeous magnolia tree I have ever seen.

———-

We bear witness to those who stood, stand, and will stand for us expecting nothing in return. Our hearts in turn stand and beat for them in prayer and remembrance; a prayer and remembrance that asks for the integrity, dignity, and courage to do the same; a prayer and remembrance that travels dimensions and penetrates the sky and earth; a prayer and remembrance that is affirmed and repeated by every angel bowing or prostrating, by every leaf and blade of grass, by every rock and grain of sand, by every conscious being in the water and on land, by every sunrise and sunset, by every moon birth and as it wanes, by every celestial body known and unknown. Amin. Amen. Let it be.

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