On the day that Anders Brehing Breivik, driven by hatred of Islam and of his country's political establishment, unleashed death and terror on an unimaginable scale in Oslo and Utoya, I lay on a treatment table in the Accident and Emergency department of my local hospital. The doctor attending to my pain and shock was a gentle young Muslim called Ali.
I had tripped and fallen in the street, dislocating my elbow and generally battering my face. Ali, softly spoken and with the kindest eyes a rather anxious female patient could wish to see, placed a canula into my arm and said “are you OK, Jill?”. I confessed to being a little frightened. Ali took my uninjured hand, “We will look after you” he whispered.
As morphine was administered, I talked with Ali. He was from Sudan, had studied medicine in Hungary and was now working in A&E in this small Suffolk town. “It is nice town” he said. “All people are friendly”.
The anaesthetist warned that the sedative they would use while resetting my elbow gave rise to rather hallucinatory effects on regaining consciousness, “so try to find some pleasant thoughts as you go under” he advised. Turning to Ali, I asked him to tell me about his children. His pleasure was evident and I learned that his wife and children, would soon be joining him in England after a separation of seven months.
“They are good children” he told me, “Two little girls and a boy. They are kind and very sensitive”. That did not surprise me. He told me that the boy was named Osama, “But not like the bad one”. Ali's best friend, also called Osama, had died in a drowning accident, “so I call my boy for love of his memory”.
He continued to talk to me as I slid into unconsciousness and the last thing I remember registering were his wise words about allowing children to save as much face as was compatible with necessary obedience.
Later, Ali came to see me in recovery and we talked a little more about faith and love. He had not heard of Quakers, so for simplicity's sake, I told him that we worship in silence and are dedicated to peace. “Ah, good. Peace is good” he said, smiling and nodding his head. I thanked him for his care and wished him blessing, for himself and his family. He touched my face and caressed my shoulder in a manner which would not have been possible for a European man to do without seeming over familiar. It was his blessing.
I believe that what was shown to me by Ali went beyond the care a doctor gives to an injured patient. We had made contact on a very human level and it was the tacit acknowledgement of the God whom we call by different names and worship in different ways which enhanced that experience.
For me, Ali was the true face of Islam. It is easier to understand something with which we may limited or partial knowledge when we find it incarnated in an individual of transparent goodness. It is Anders Brehing Breivik's tragedy that he has either never had that encounter or permitted himself to believe in the possibility of its existence.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger  You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen