I couldn’t understand why the more we talked about Jesus, the more outwardly pious my friend Imani became. When I first met her, she rarely bothered to cover her hair with a headscarf. She wore shirts not long enough to conceal her hips, and she didn’t seem to care about her evening prayers. Her mother, on the other hand, adhered to strict rules about attire and was never seen in public without her full hijab, allowing only her eyes to peek out. The hijab, a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women, seemed to hold no appeal for Imani. As a young college student, Imani did what she wanted to do, following the fashionable trends trickling in from Europe.
Imani was downright excited about Jesus. She wanted to learn everything I could tell her about Him. Peppering me with questions, her eyes sparkled with zeal and curiosity. “No one has ever told me these things before! I did not know how powerful He was!” she would exclaim as we wound our way down the cobbled, narrow streets of the old city.
The more we talked about the Messiah, the more Imani changed, at least on the outside. She suddenly began wearing a headscarf. I had learned that I could determine how religiously conservative a friend was in that particular culture by the way she wore her headscarf. From what I could tell, the tighter the scarf, the more devout the girl. At least, that is how it seemed in public. Imani bought a special headband to wear under her scarf to make sure no unruly hair escaped. The scarf fit as tightly as possible. She was making a public statement of her serious devotion to God.
While we had once met for afternoon walks in the park wearing casual but conservative clothes, now Imani arrived in her full hijab. And we never met during prayer time because the new Imani now prayed faithfully all five prescribed prayer times daily. When we did meet, the discussions about Jesus grew, and we began to read the Bible together.
I was confused. Why was my friend becoming more Muslim the more she learned about Jesus? It took me a long time to realize we were experiencing conflicting beliefs of how one attained honor before God. Honor looked one way in her life, another in mine.
Ascribed Honor and Achieved Honor
Social anthropologists suggest there are many “honors” in the world. Across world cultures, honor is understood and expressed in many different ways. However, the two universal ways honor is received or bestowed can be explained as ascribed honor and achieved honor. The two paradigms provide a helpful framework through which we can begin to recognize and understand honor. No matter the varying definitions of honor around the world, humanity approaches honor through these two basic avenues, though at any given time in history, one might be more prominent than another in a culture, particularly in that culture’s approach to God.
As a follower of Christ, I believe my value to God comes from outside myself. By declaring me valuable, my Savior Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself. Not only did He confirm that I matter, He redeemed me and sealed my worth with His shed blood on the cross. When I placed my trust in Him, He purged my heart of sin and made me a new creation. His actions, His efforts, and His obedience established my honor before God. I bear His name now and I belong to His family. Nothing can separate me from His love.
As a Muslim, my friend Imani, however, believed that she had to work hard to win the approval of God. Her honor and value to Him had to be earned by her own actions, efforts, and obedience. Worth before God depended on her behavior. The more she heard about Jesus, the more she wanted His acceptance. So she behaved in the only way she knew how to: in accordance with her own set of religious rules, which dictated how to get God’s approval. She dressed carefully to demonstrate her chastity and faithfulness. She prayed more. The rules of Islam became her roadmap to honor. For her, value to God had to be earned. For me, it could never be earned by my own actions. Rules had been abolished by Jesus’s sacrifice.
We did not know it, but we were exemplifying the two primary human approaches to honor: ascribed honor and achieved honor. Ascribed honor is honor received through no action of one’s own. It can come through one’s bloodline, family, or birth order. Ascribed honor can also be determined by the amount of wealth, land, or power one’s family has.
Achieved honor, on the other hand, can be earned. The United States of America has been built largely on this glittering possibility. Men of no position back in their native countries could come to America and work their way to positions of achieved honor. Such an opportunity was not available to them at home in cultures where one’s ascribed honor, or that into which one was born, dictated one’s path in life.
When I became a follower of Jesus, I understood that through Christ, honor and worth had been ascribed to me in the eyes of God. Jesus accomplished that, not me. I further understood that I could not accomplish it on my own because I am an imperfect human who falls short of the holiness of God. In my lack, God provided a perfect Savior to stand in my place. When I accepted God’s given sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my own shame and sin, I gained a position of belonging in the family of God and a guaranteed place in heaven one day. Not only that, I entered into an intimate relationship with God and began to experience His great love for me. I was ascribed with the honor of belonging to God like a child belongs to his or her father.
As a Muslim, Imani believed that her honor and worth before God depended on her own ability to achieve it by following all the rules of Islam. In order to gain God’s approval and live a good and responsible life, Muslims are exhorted to satisfy the five pillars of Islam: shahada (faith), salat (prayer), zakat (charity), saum (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca). Beyond those five global admonitions, Imani’s culture has an abundance of religious rules pertaining specifically to women. Outward appearance, such as wearing the hijab, is only one of the ways women demonstrate their faithfulness. For even the most devout woman, though, heaven is never guaranteed. After all their efforts to please God, many Muslim women report that they still feel He is distant and does not really know them. They are trapped in the belief that they must achieve honor before God through their own behavior.
Excerpted from Covered Glory. Copyright © 2019 by Audrey Frank. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97408. www.harvesthousepublishers.com. Used by Permission.
Audrey Frank is an author, speaker, and true-story teller. She and her family have spent over 20 years serving Muslims overseas and the in the US. Audrey is a popular international speaker on the honor-shame worldview and its impact on the Muslim woman’s journey to Christ. She trains women and men in the global mission community to engage the unreached with the Gospel of Christ. Her most recent book, Covered Glory, is available now from Harvest House Publishers. Audrey has a BS in Communication Disorders, an MA in Speech-Language Pathology, and a BA in Biblical and Intercultural Studies, but her greatest credential is that she is known and loved by the One who made her.