This is the newest blog post from my colleague Pastor Scott Dunfee, of St. Steven’s in Gladstone, who is currently deployed as a chaplain in Afghanistan.
Submitted by Scott Dunfee on Wed, 11/19/2014 – 7:06am
“Asalaam o Alaikom!”
That’s the traditional greeting and response in Afghanistan:
“God’s peace be with you!”
“With you also, God’s peace!”
Sometimes a person will place their right hand over their heart when they say these words. The response is then accompanied by the same gesture of the right hand over the heart. It adds a dimension of deeper sincerity and spirit to the greeting: making it literally “from the heart”; “from my heart to yours”; “heart to heart”. Sometimes a person will bow their head as they place their hand over their heart—another gesture of sincerity and spirit. As it says in the Holy Quran: “Why do you not bow to the one whom My Own hands have made?” (Sad 38.75).
Sometimes, as people pass each other, they simply mouth the words, “Asalaam o Alaikom”, but the visible sign of greeting, the gesture of placing the hand over the heart, is made. Sometimes there are no words—the hand is placed on the heart as people pass each other and the head is slightly bowed as in a nod… and the eyes say it all. It touches my heart deeply when Afghans give me this greeting or respond to my greeting in this way.
In this land that is so full of violence and terror, this greeting takes on great meaning and purpose: God’s peace be with you!”… “from my heart to yours”… I acknowledge that you are “one whom God’s own hands have made”!
It becomes such a repeated ritual, that sometimes Coalition soldiers greet each other this way, too. So, there are no Afghans present, but a German greets an American this way, a Macedonian greets an Italian. It takes on great meaning and purpose to be in uniform—even wearing helmet and body armor—and to greet another member of the military similarly dressed and bearing arms, by placing one’s right hand over the heart and saying, “God’s peace be with you!”
It is a reverential ritual in the midst of the violence and terror, the guns and the bombs… that says there is something more than the violence and the terror… and that our hands are for something more than guns and bombs. That’s so important in a place where guns are everywhere… and sometimes it seems the violence and the terror is all there is… and it will never end!
Somehow it is an expression of our common humanity and vulnerability, … divinely created, … and our hope in that common bond and our Common Creator.
We have a similar ritual in the Church: The Sharing of the Peace. But we only do it in church. Perhaps, we need to take it out into the world—like the Afghans do?! Out into the violent, terror-filled word?
I think Jesus told us to do that!
“Asalaam o Alaikom!”
Pastor Scott Dunfee
Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy