I am writing this from Turkey, where we have been helping to lead a tour focusing on Paul’s missionary journeys. This has been more of a learning experience than a teaching one, which is what I expected when I took on the assignment. Nor was I disappointed in my desire to view a Muslim culture up close. What was an unexpected treat, though, was the opportunity actually to attend a Muslim circumcision party.
Muslim boys get circumcised when they reach puberty—at some point between the ages of seven and eleven years. The boy whose party we attended was on the young end of that range. By the time we met him he had been wearing his sultan’s costume—standard attire for the occasion—for several days. A young man about to be circumcised is treated like royalty during the one-week buildup to the surgical event. His parents keep him in the public eye, taking him from mosque to mosque and making the rounds of relatives’ and friends’ homes. Then the evening before the actual circumcision they throw a party.
The party we attended was a big one, with 400-plus people gathered in a large banquet hall of the rural resort-hotel where we were staying. Our Muslim guide encouraged us to look in on the festivities—“They love to have visitors,” she said. Sure enough, the members of our American group were greeted as welcome guests, with the boy and his parents posing for photos with us.
One of our fellow travelers, a veteran of Turkey tours, told me that he had once witnessed a circumcision party where the young “sultan” arrived by helicopter amid great fanfare. This party was not quite that spectacular, but it was certainly a lavish affair, with clowns and face-painting for the children, and a number of dancing groups in traditional garb, each of them executing lengthy ritualized routines.
The party-goers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely—with the obvious exception of the guest of honor. The young boy seemed forlorn; my guess is that he was not looking forward to the next day’s surgical culmination of his week of local fame.
While the guests were being served a meal that consisted of at least a dozen courses, a man on the platform played on a keyboard. The tunes were familiar to American ears. When the strains of “I Did It My Way” filled the air, I glanced at the boy, imagining that if he knew the message of the song he would appreciate its sentiments, even wishing that he could choose for himself how the next few days would go. He showed no evidence of familiarity with the tune.
Neither did he pay any attention to the next number the keyboardist played: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” But at that point, I prayed a silent prayer on his behalf—that there might come a day when he would learn the message of that song, and come to take deep delight in the sweetness of its sound.