Many pray openly five times a day, fast publicly from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan, give alms to the poor, and publicly repeat the shahada (confession of faith): “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the apostle of God.” What is not public is that most Muslims (perhaps three-quarters) are into folk stuff, mixing so-called orthodox Islam (five pillars and strict monotheistic beliefs) with popular practices. Here, life revolves around charms, amulets, curses, blessings and a whole lot of fear.
Whereas non-Muslims in the west may joke that there are only two things we can count on–death and taxes, Muslims, as a rule, do not joke about such serious matters lest such levity invite a premature occurrence. But as to its universal and unavoidable reality, there is no doubt, for in the Scripture of Islam death is called “the certain.” The Qur’an says: “And serve thy Lord until there come unto thee the hour that is certain” (Surah 15:99).
Islamic traditions about Jesus are one indication of how much Muslims respect Jesus. When Muhammad took over Mecca in AD 630, he cleansed the Ka’aba of idols, and destroyed all icons except the Virgin Mary and her son. Those he covered with his coat. Another tradition says that in all humanity only Jesus and his mother were not touched by Satan at birth. Muslims say they honor Jesus more than Christians who claim he was crucified by the hands of cruel men. They reject the cross for these reasons: theologically it need not happen; morally it should not happen; historically it did not happen. As someone succinctly put it: “Without the cross, there is no Christianity, and with the cross there is no Islam.” This article suggests that by building on what is known of Christ in the Qur’an, Christians can lead Muslims to consider God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Jesus had to die and Easter is God’s vindication. We have a message of hope for Muslim friends.
Missionaries among Muslims often testify that the most effective apologetic the Christian worker has is the power of the simple gospel, rooted in Old Testament prophecies. Thus, when Jesus faced the cross, he appealed to Scripture. In talking to Muslims, Christians must stress that the cross was not a mistake, or a defeat, but the redemptive act of Almighty God, planned before the world began (Gen. 3:15; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Mt. 1:21).
Prior to the cross, Jesus said to his mystified disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled . . . They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Lk. 18:31-33). In witness, Christ must never be left in Galilee, when he set his face toward Jerusalem. Only there “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:6). We must not join those who say, “Come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). After his passion, Jesus asked a penetrating question of two disciples on the way to Emmaus: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). This is the same question we must ask Muslims. Later, in order to convince some in the “upper room” who doubted, Scripture says he showed them his hands and his feet (Lk. 24:40).
In conclusion, Christians have much in common with Muslims, but in the end, we must focus on the message of Easter. Samuel Zwemer’s comment bears repeating, that the Qur’an leaves the door open for dialog, and that a loving but bold presentation of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of Jesus will not alienate the Muslim heart. We can make much of titles and miracles that describe the person and work of Jesus in the sources of Islam, but must move on to terms, like “Light of the World,” “Bread of Life,” and “Resurrection and the Life.” We must stress that through his death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and triumphed over the last enemy, death (I Cor. 15; Heb. 2:5-18). The cross is central to the Gospel (I Cor. 1:23; 15:3-4). In the Qur’an, Jesus is embryonic and mysterious, but Muslims can be encouraged to seek Christ above and beyond their own book: “We made her [Mary] and her son a sign for all peoples” (21:91). I will never forget a Pakistani Muslim villager who gave three reasons why he thought Jesus was greater than Muhammad: “Your Prophet was a Prophet from birth, ours became one at age 40; your Prophet did miracles, ours did none; your Prophet is alive, ours is dead.”
6 Things Christians can Learn from Muslims about Prayer
Pakistani Muslims, like their counterparts around the globe, bow to pray. Prayer is living and it involves motion and movement. There is a specific posture to each phase of the prayer. They stand, bow deeply, lower their foreheads to the floor, and sit. Pakistani Muslims understand intuitively the deep connection between body and soul and spirit. Their whole bodies are involved as they prostrate themselves humbly before God. They know they were created to worship and for them prayer is worship. The older I get the more I am realizing the profound truth that was modeled for me as a child. We are whole people. Our bodies are not disconnected from our inner reality. We go together, my body and I. As I watched Pakistanis, with their heads lowered before God, as they kept their bodies in line with their spirits, in seeming submission, I was challenged to bring my own self in alignment. Nowadays I occasionally raise my hands in supplication. Often I sit. Occasionally I pace out my petitions, walking back and forth before the Holy Throne of God. Often I kneel. Occasionally I bow face down before God, acting out what is true—that He is God and I am not. My prayers are directed to a Living God and often they are moving and motional.
My entire theology on prayer expanded as I watched with childlike curiosity my neighbors pray. For them, prayer wasn’t static and quietly compartmentalized. Prayer was a part of every single day. There were no exceptions. If you were in the middle of something, you stopped to pray. If you were busy and distracted, you were called back to prayer. No one was exempt: the rich prayed, the poor prayed, the villager prayed, the city dweller prayed, the tribal elder prayed, the plains person prayed. They were a praying people and that influenced me in significant ways. Prayer became for me a normal requisite to a normal day.
Pakistanis also understood the benefit of community in collective accountability. It was assumed: you pray, I pray, we all pray. Business contracts were paused while prayer mats were unrolled. Conversations over tea, kitchen gossip, homework all took a break for prayer. If your brother-in-law wasn’t praying you knew something was amiss. Everyone prayed. I love that community element. I love the structure that provides for a populace. There is routine and rhythms built around the call to prayer. It was this measured out, predictable schedule that warmed my heart to liturgical prayer. The stage of my heart was set for the high church’s loyalty to traditional written prayers. I love that those words have rung out in churches around the world and around the centuries. What stability is procured in that! I’ve always been intrigued by the monastic commitment to praying the liturgical hours. This official set of prayers marks the hours of each day and sanctifies the day with prayer: There is regularity in it. There is holy rhythm and purposeful pacing.
The muezzin begins with a recitation of the Islamic creed. Millions of Muslims repeat back to themselves, no less than five times a day, what they believe to be true. There is great benefit in learning this lesson from our Muslim friends. We have the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. What if we too deliberately remembered what is true? What if we recited back to our weary-from-life souls the character of God, his faithfulness, his sacrifice, his provision? Imagine the reassurance that might wash over our reactive emotions, our crises, our desperations, our superficial happiness? We could learn a lot from this repetition of doctrine throughout each of our days.
Growing up, I watched a whole community decide collectively to connect with God. They were given regular opportunities to have their obsessions with fickle and frail things pried away. I would love to claim that I learned this lesson as a child. I did not. But as I think of it now and reflect on it more, I wish I had. How often I’m distracted! How often I forget to remember my living connection with the Living God. I wish to live spiritually connected to the God who loves me and initiated relationship with me. I long to live from that reality all day long! Punctuating my day with intentional prayer would certainly help.
The idea that we can talk to God baffles me and strikes me as marvelous. I firmly believe that every prayer need not start with “Dear God” and shouldn’t necessarily end with “Amen”. Some of our deepest groans and yearnings float up as prayer. A thought unbidden of a faraway friend surfaces memory and prayer. To-do lists sighed over are heard by our kind Father as the true prayers of our overwhelmed hearts. Tears and sorrows become intercessions and laments. If we bounce our hearts up to the divine we live out our prayers. I watched my Pakistani Muslim friends stop, toward the end of their ritual prayers, for the silent session of “dua”. This was the space in their recitations for them to lift up their hearts in prayer. They prayed for whatever was on their minds: a sick relative, a final exam, a financial need.