Arab families are famed for their hospitality where food is the language of love. Culinary delights such as stuffed zucchini and vine leaves, hummus and tabbouleh are served in abundance. Although becoming rarer in our modern age, unexpected callers are welcomed with gusto even if the family is at the meal table. If there is still food enough left for you to join, someone might call out “Your mother-in-law must love you!”
When I met and fell in love with my husband, I had no idea that I was marrying a whole family too. His parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces form quite a gathering. Each member has their own opinions on how my children are dressed, where the cheapest vegetables can be bought and who is getting married next summer.
I only met my father-in-law a few times before he died, he was an honourable gentleman who loved his children and grandchildren.
My mother-in-law is a jewel.
Known to everyone as Im Shukri, mother of Shukri her eldest son, she is renowned for her tasty cooking and genial nature. She was engaged at 15 and married a few months after, becoming mother to seven sons and two daughters. She fed over twenty people daily as her children brought class mates and friends home. Even today, in her seventies, she can wrap twenty vine leaves in the time it takes me to do one. She frequently provides a banquet for the whole family with more than enough left over for unexpected visitors.
The other day, I was sitting outside with Im Shukri and her neighbour talking about love. In the Scriptures, we are commanded to love both God and others but what does that mean in practice?
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Devarim – Deuteronomy 6:5
Love your neighbor as yourself
Vayikra – Leviticus 19:18
My mother-in-law shared an illustration. Her family are Arab Catholics from Haifa where she grew up during the tumultuous years of transition from British rule. In the atmosphere of riots and retaliation, there were times when the Jewish residents of Haifa had to go into hiding. Arabs put their love into action by smuggling food to their Jewish neighbors. Young men risked their lives to help their friends and neighbors. And that’s what it means to love your neighbor as yourself; to offer the language of love through food and to encourage hope in the midst of conflict.