Devotion to God is expressed outwardly in Islam. A man with a long beard and no moustache demonstrates how closely he desires to emulate the life of his Prophet by choosing to look like him. The head covering for a woman is a clear indication of her submission. Reciting the Qur'an while on public transport is a common way to pass the time here in the Middle East and fasting during the month of Ramadan is essential. This year the summer heat makes not drinking during daylight hours a difficult task but the communal 'breakfast' each evening is a fun celebration. Ramadan is a month of expressing devotion to God through activities such as attending the mosque, prayers and giving alms. Prayers are performed with the whole body, as one bends and kneels with the face to the floor in submission and reverence.
Living in a predominantly Muslim country showed me how much I try to hide my devotion to God. I remember once wanting to read the Bible on a train in the UK and feeling too awkward to produce such an obvious book. Prayers times are hidden away, not out in public, and fasting kept quiet. Emerging from this secretive nature of my devotion to God was a necessary step to show that I also value spiritual things and take my beliefs seriously. I met a couple in North Africa who, on setting up a Prayer Room in their house, were told by their M gardener, 'But I didn't think Christians prayed!'
A language teacher of mine was upset one lesson because her mother was ill so a friend offered to pray with her. After we prayed to Jesus, who is known to have worked healings in both Christianity and Islam, she shared that the words had touched her. Something of the Presence of God had met with her as we opened up a space to be spiritual together.
It is all too easy to lump people together who are en masse different from us. We recognise that each person is an individual only when they are like us enough to see the differences! Classing people together by nationality or religion can highlight many similarities but it also glosses over a whole host of differences. Each person has their own heartaches and happiness, as Proverbs 14:10 reminds us, 'Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.' What if we were to treat each person as an individual, rather than seeing an homogenous mass and offer the kinds of things Jesus did?
Jesus asked a blind man, 'What do you want me to do for you?' in Luke 18:41. The question must've seemed absurd to all around who could quite clearly see the man's ailment, yet Jesus still asked. He did not presume to know what the man wanted or offered to help before he was asked. He gave the man space to express his need and only then acted on his behalf.
What if this was to be our response to our Muslim friends and neighbours? We would make clear our devotion to God through showing that we pray as we ask them, 'What can I pray for you? What do you want Jesus to do for you?' My friends ask me to pray for their exams, for health, for their families, to get married one day - all such normal things whichever part of the world you live in. I make it clear that I pray in the name of Jesus and pray they would know His power working in their situations.
Many Muslims use the month of Ramadan to seek God and get closer to him. Why don't we stand with them in their prayers, that they will meet God?
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I once spoke with a man who cried out to meet God all through the Night of Power, a very special time in the Musim calendar when it is believed the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to The Prophet. When nothing happened, he decided to continue in the outward actions of the religion but stopped believing in his heart. Later he met a Christian who gave him a book on the Trinity and while reading it, heard an audible voice saying, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" repeated three times.
Freaked out, he called his Christian friend who explained that he'd heard the voice of Jesus and showed him where Jesus said that phrase in the Gospels. Having encountered the reality of Christ, he decided to follow His teachings. When asked why he didn't feel God responded on that Night of Power, he answered, 'I was asking the wrong God.' I wonder though, if God hears those hearts that are truly seeking Him and answers in a way they are not expecting.