Several weeks ago, our upstairs neighbors said they wanted to celebrate our sons' arrival with dates and water. The kind of dates that grow on a tree. . .of course. Due to a misunderstanding on my part about the difference between a general (we ought to get together sometime) invitation and a specific (I'll be expecting you in the next few days) invitation, our families never did get together for that party.
This morning, I went upstairs to invite them for dinner this week. My friend invited me in for coffee while she checked her calendar, and after a few minutes she asked her house help to serve us water. It turns out that the offer of dates and water was intended as a show of regard for our family. The dates and water were from their recent pilgrimage to Mecca, and the water came from a well that they believe is the same one God showed Hagar in Gen. 21:8-19. They believe the well is miraculous, and it is considered a great honor to be offered this water.
Now, in the US, we generally look at Paul's teaching about whether or not to eat meat offered to idols and try to look for some overarching principle that we can glean from it since that specific issue isn't one we typically have to wrestle with. It just doesn't seem to relate to our everyday lives. But for Muslim background believers, eating meat offered to idols (or in this case, a false god) is a very real issue. Is it a sin to drink water that Muslims believe is holy, even if they know, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8, that there is only one true God? What about the Sacrifice Holiday, when sheep are slaughtered to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah? Like the Christians in Corinth, some in this part of the world believe that there is nothing inherent in the water or meat that can defile them, while others have what Paul calls a weak conscience because of their former associations and feel that to accept these things would be sinful. One young woman told me that only Christians with a weak faith would eat the sacrificial meat, while those who are truly strong in the faith would not.
So, life here has its complexities. To drink the water or not. . .