I felt a little silly walking up to strangers in a café and starting a conversation out of thin air. It’s one thing to befriend a stranger in a grocery aisle. This was something else entirely.


My friend and I deliberately chose a café near the university where visiting college teams had met new friends. University students are generally delighted to practice their English with a native speaker, and I could always use some Arabic practice.

From the entrance, we chose two girls sitting together surrounded by several empty seats. One had long flowing black hair, and the other wore trendy hijab. Again my inner voice wasn’t very reassuring: we are in our thirties, and these are 20 year old university students. Won’t they think this is strange? I felt we were worlds apart.

They invited us to sit. We made small talk. Manal, in hijab, talked about how much she liked music, and how she had started listening to rock and roll since she began to cover. On the radio overhead, she heard a song she knew. “Do you like Shakira?”

My friend and I looked at each other and chuckled. “Her tunes are kind of catchy, but the words are pretty scandalous.” We were starting to give an image of just what kind of American women we are.

The country where we live is known for its eclectic musicalmixes in cafes. Sometimes an operatic Silent Night is played back to back with profane rap music. It’s a world where James Taylor and Michael Jackson coexist, so we shouldn’t have been surprised when she asked about the next serenade. “Do you like Backstreet Boys?” she probed.

My friend and I looked at each other again. I hadn’t thought about Backstreet Boys in at least 10 years.  “Not reeeeallly…” one of us trailed off.

And then, out of nowhere, Manal came up with a connection, a song she’d heard that we might know. “Have you heard that song Praise You in the Storm”?

Incredulously, my friend and I looked at each other once again. This Muslim girl in the heart of the Middle East knows Casting Crowns? Thinking through the message of the song, I realized, that sounds about right. My friend probed why she liked the song, what it meant to her. Manal had turned this into a spiritual conversation.

And suddenly I realized…we may not be worlds apart like I’d thought.

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