I don't know what I expected when I wandered into the Saudi Arabian exhibit at the World's Fair, but I wasn't there long before I wanted out.  Brown-uniformed guards watched our every move. Even before leaving the oppressive atmosphere of the exhibit I determined Muslims weren't anywhere in my future.  Let other people with different hearts reach out to these lost people -- I didn't want anything to do with them.


Within a year, however, God changed my prejudiced heart. My husband and I wanted to befriend international students, so one Friday evening we visited an international Christian coffeehouse at a nearby university. 


As soon as we walked in, a friend motioned us over to where he was visiting with two new acquaintances.  We sat down opposite this couple and I found myself greeting a friendly man and his traditionally dressed wife.  We chatted and found out that not only were they Muslims, but Hamid and Fatima were from Saudi Arabia.  Not only were they from Saudi Arabia, they were from Mecca. They were very Muslim of very Muslim.


Despite my former vow, we pursued what was obviously a divinely arranged appointment.  Rebuked by visiting relatives for their lack of American friends, Fatima and Hamid were thrilled to meet another couple with children at the coffeehouse.  We began to spend time together as friends.  That winter, we took their family to the mountains to go inner tubing.  The next summer, we spent a delightful day at the beach. We ate American meals together and enjoyed Fatima's wonderful Arabic cooking.


We began to see Hamid and Fatima not simply as "Muslims," but as unique individuals.  Fatima practiced her faith devoutly.  She often excused herself to the other room if it was the hour to pray.  She followed Islam's rules precisely.  While she might lounge in casual clothes when I visited her alone in her apartment, Fatima quickly snatched up a scarf to cover her hair before answering a knock at the door.  Yet this was the same woman who once went to a studio specializing in "glamour shots!"


My friend obeyed her husband, but she also had an intelligent mind and will of her own.  She completed her doctorate before her husband partly because she was waging a private competition to see who would finish first. 


While his wife was devout, Hamid seemed to follow Islam out of custom, not conscience.  He was opinionated and-by American standards-quite chauvinist, but he was not the tower of rage we expected from watching militant Muslims on the evening news.


Through their friendship we learned to love Muslims the way God did-one at a time.