“Are you Muslim or Christian?”: Opening to the Third Way

At a religiously mixed private high school in Beirut, a grade 10 student in my class asked me, “Are you a Muslim or Christian?” “Why the question?” I asked. My students had asked me this repeatedly during the year and I had attempted to avoid answering but to no avail. “Because we just want to know. We’re curious,” another student said. “What difference would it make?” I inquired. What started off as one student’s question that day ended up sparking the curiosity of the whole class. Sensing a possibly illuminating and yet uncomfortable learning moment for us all, I encouraged them to tell me what they thought I was and why. One student confidently said, “I think you are a Muslim because you know a lot about Islam.”  “Yes, I agree,” said another, “you talk about Islam in such a positive way that you must be Muslim.”  “No, guys, Ms. Bahou is Christian because she is so open-minded.” “No, she’s Muslim because she is Palestinian!” yelled another. “I think she’s Christian because she studied in the US alone,” said the penultimate student, “And she doesn’t have to get married,” added another until they all pleaded for me to tell them what I was. Without mentally reflecting but letting the heart lead, I turned to the class and said, “I am both and I am neither, don’t cut me in half.” After a collective heart to heart reflection on our exchange the students realised they were unconsciously playing out fear-based narratives and perceptions of a divided society. They understood that they could choose differently and heal these fears through their own example.

When you think about what is your identity what comes to mind? Is it your profession or relations with others as a parent or spouse? Would you think about your religion, politics, nationality, culture, race or gender? A combination of these have contributed to our identity but they are layers of clothing for us to experience life. Our true identity goes beyond these without denying these facets but embracing them as expressions of something higher and brighter like different rays of a sun. We are living at a time where people are more divided than ever, driven by fear, anger, hatred and separation. In the midst of this turmoil human beings are being called to open our consciousness and transcend polarities of being either this or that in order to align ourselves with and for Humanity. In the wise words of Rumi, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” This is no time for playing small, it’s the time for us to feel and act on the call to make the inner shifts towards a higher truth and faith through the transformative power of consciousness and love creating a ripple effect across the globe. It is time for us to transcend polarities and embrace the Third Way which is the way of universal love. It’s not always easy. I often see myself falling into fear-based narratives but I have found that in renewing every day my commitment to healing and integrating such voices within me I embrace the Third Way, which is the Way of Universal Love beyond any duality.

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