• Sarah Malik writes about her experience exploring Christianity as a Muslim woman. (Getty Images)
The rituals and concepts of Christianity (the Trinity! The catechism!) were as exotic and curious to me as Ramadan must have been to mainstream Australians.
By
Sarah Malik

27 Mar 2019 - 1:52 PM  UPDATED 16 Apr 2019 - 12:09 PM

In year six, our class was transformed into a scripture class one hour a week. As the Muslim kid in the room, I am promptly ejected along with those with ‘no religion’ to the library where we spent our time reading young adult fiction.

I remembering sadly fingering the shiny brown bibles on my way out jealously, wondering what taboo power they held that I was barred from.

The rituals and concepts of Christianity (the Trinity! The catechism!) were as exotic and curious to me as the mundane rituals of my life – the month-long Ramadan fasts punctuated with nightly feasts – must have been to mainstream Australians.

I remembering sadly fingering the shiny brown bibles on my way out jealously, wondering what taboo power they held that I was barred from.

I engaged with them only through film and television, and in this way cultural artery of so much of western secular society remained a mystery.

I grew up with biblical allusions everywhere, from the headlines in the newspaper to the flowery analogies used by judges in my law readings who quoted from Genesis. There were parables about loaves and fishes and lilies of the field and mountains and mustard seeds in pop songs and literature I struggled to understand.

On television, I watched church leaders at Easter in long robes, giving communion and slipping wafers on to the tongue of the faithful.

But I was a millennial seeker. In my early 20s I tried everything from meditation to new age retreats. I didn’t want to convert though (as Gandhi said, “Your own religion is like your mother, you might like other mothers, or have problems with your own, but you can’t just swap them,’’ - or something to that effect.)

That’s the attitude I had towards religion. While I wrestled with trying to understand my place as a second generation migrant feminist western woman of colour in a complex and heavily politicised legal tradition treated with suspicion in the west – my experience with other faiths and their new age spin offs did not carry the same intensity.

While the colonial and missionary political history of Christianity jarred, I fell in love with the centrality of love within the New Testament

It was with a joy and without heaviness, I explored them and made them a part of my spiritual arsenal, trying to see if they could expand and deepen my own relationship with faith. While the colonial and missionary political history of Christianity jarred, I fell in love with the centrality of love within the New Testament. The critique of the power structures, the idea of loving your neighbor and not letting those without sin cast the first stone, resonated with me. The politics of liberation theology and the Dostoevsky-esque celebration of the poor and the outsider was powerful. As a working class Muslim woman of colour who often felt on the outer in a white landscape, this message of uplifting those on society's margins deeply resonated with me.

The Song of Solomon was thrilling to me and the psalms were meditative. I visited St Marys Cathedral in Hyde Park, sat in the pews and lit candles at night on my midnight student meanders through the Sydney.  It felt strange to be in a de-segregated space with shoes, my head uncovered sitting on a chair instead of the floor.

I also understood there were schisms and complex questions around female autonomy, and critiques of power and authority in every tradition that mirrored my own. They were conversations I was not privy to but was interested in eavesdropping in.

For me these conversations on how others are working to understand and express their spirituality through their inherited traditions in the modern world – and tackle the questions around gender, sexuality and the controversies raging around power, politics and authority – are deeply important. It’s a conversation that is happening within all the major faiths and remains vital in a world where religion continues to be a force that is deeply part of our human psyche, culture and communities as well as both powerful and divisive.

The SBS program Christians Like Us  airs over two nights at 8.35pm, Wednesday April 3 and 10 on SBS.

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