“You won’t circumcise your son, will you?”
An elderly Muslim widow, wrapped in her white sari, was sitting next to me on a low wall. It was sunset, and the kids were all playing on the grass. This lady is one of my favorite neighbors, as she loves to tease Elias by asking him if there is any water in the well and if she can give him a bath. Usually our conversation is about the weather, or about how the neighborhood had lots of ponds when she was growing up, or about some sick relative. But this afternoon the conversation was more interesting.
“He is already circumcised.”
“Already? I thought only Muslims are circumcised.”
“We also believe in one God, it’s just that we follow . .”
“Oh I know, I know,” The widow interrupted me. I guess she fully remembered a previous conversation about our faith.
“Do you know who was the first person circumcised? It was Abraham, and he is also our prophet.” I said. “We don’t have any strict rules about circumcision. Alot of our folk do circumcise, but some don’t. Isa taught us that what we do and what we think is much more important than things like circumcision and what we eat or wear.”
There was a slight moment of silence. Then the widow addressed another lady sitting nearby.
“You know about Isa? There are lots of stories about him in the Quran. His mother was Miriam.” I nodded. “One day Miriam was in the mosque, sweeping. She used to sweep in the mosque, you know? And one day, while she was sweeping, two angels swooped down and appeared in front of Miriam. Miriam was very shy, since she was a virgin, and she covered her face with her urna.” The widow threw her sari over her face and acted it out with great gusto. “Miriam went into a corner and hid. But the angels spoke to her and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Miriam! God has chosen you to have a son!’ Miriam said that she was a virgin and unmarried, that it wasn’t possible. But the angels touched her on both shoulders and from that moment, she became pregnant. Because she wasn’t married, Miriam had to flee over the mountains and there she had baby Isa. Isa when he was born, he told his mother that he was Messiah.” The lady who was the recipient of the widow’s story shifted and looked a little bit uncomfortable which caused the widow to explain in even more dramatic terms how Isa had no earthly father and thus was sinless and destined to be a prophet.

“The second the angle touched Miriam, her monthly bleeding stopped and a beautiful flower appeared in the mountains that Miriam had fled to.” With all the authority that an older lady has in this culture, my widow friend sat up straight and pronounced, “That flower still grows, and if you put that flower in some water and drink it during your labor, you will have no pain.”

The conversation turned to other things but left me with some questions and thoughts. A strange flower with medicinal purposes or a virgin birth, which one is more amazing? More hard to believe? Definitely the virgin birth! And how old is this story? Where are its roots?