AT A low point in his life, Jacob fled from his family because
he knew that his brother Esau would seek revenge for being cheated.
He sought refuge with a relative on the far side of a desert. There
he prospered, married, and became a father.
But, through all those years, he was restless for home, and,
after the birth of a son to his first love, Rachel, he resolved to
return and face the consequences of what he had done.
With herds, servants, and family, Jacob made the long journey
that would end in a showdown. He sent messengers ahead to ascertain
his brother's mood, and was alarmed to learn that Esau had gathered
an army around him. He dispatched lavish gifts, made his family as
safe as possible, and spent the night alone.
In the dark hours, according to the most mysterious narrative in
the Bible, he confronted a stranger, and they fought. The men
seemed equally matched. The account encourages us to imagine the
stranger wrestling Jacob's head until he had no choice but to look
him directly in the face.
At that meeting of eyes came a moment of intense undertstanding.
Jacob believed that he had encountered the divine. His new insight
into the human condition was so significant that he named the place
the Face of God (in Hebrew, Peniel). But the event scarred
him, and he never walked with ease again.
The next day, Jacob faced the meeting with Esau which he could
delay no longer. The storyteller ratchets up the tension, preparing
the reader to expect carnage. Jacob limped toward his brother,
bowing lower with each step. He felt the terror of Esau charging
toward him, and hairy arms crashing down on him with their
sickeningly familiar smell. But then he realised that the hands
were not strangling him, but embracing him.
Esau raised Jacob to his feet, and they wept together for the
wasted years. And as they looked at each other, Esau said something
intensely significant for all who pursue peace: "At this moment of
reconciliation, I realise that when I see your face I am seeing the
face of God."
Countless centuries later, this is what I want to say to Muslim
women who wear the full-face veil - the niqab. I walk past you on
the streets of Croydon, and habit has led me to avert my eyes,
because I sense that is what you would prefer.
I welcome you in my town. I do not believe your behaviour is
irrational or inappropriate. I do not hate you. I am not scared of
you. I respect your desire to be modest, to be liberated from
society's obsession with physical appearance, and to take your
I want you to be able to choose how you dress, and would oppose
any attempt to have your chosen attire banned. I want you to take
joy in worshipping the God of Abraham, because that is the God whom
Nevertheless, I make this polite request. I know that you revere
Jacob, because I have read the references to him in a translation
of the Qur'an. I have learnt something very significant about the
human face from the story of Jacob.
Please will you consider finding the courage to remove your
veil? Because, when I see your face, you will teach me something
profound and beautiful about the God whose heart is set on
Peter Graystone develops pioneer mission projects for the