I asked to pray alongside a devout Muslim in Phuket, Thailand. He faced west, toward Mecca; I looked upward, facing the ceiling. He kneeled on a rug; I stood on the floor with outstretched arms. Our styles were different, but our intentions were the same — we both wanted to connect with God.
Normally, I don’t interact in a spiritually intimate manner with those of other faiths — especially with followers of Islam in shopping-mall prayer rooms. But throughout my world travels as a missionary, I have appreciated how Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims alike consistently devote themselves to practicing their faith — even when it’s inconvenient.
There are undeniable differences between the core beliefs of each faith, but at the same time, there is often overlap in the methodology, or how followers attempt to interact with their deity. These common spiritual disciplines include (but are not limited to) fasting, prayer, solitude, alms giving, scripture reading, and service.
Much to my surprise, I realized there is much Christians can learn about interacting with God from the habits of those who follow different creeds. With this in mind, here are four lessons Islam can teach us:
1. Prayer should be paramount.
Prayer is of utmost importance in Islam. In fact, it’s listed as the second of Five Pillars (with confession of faith being number one). Muslims are required to pray a whopping five-times a day facing the direction of their holy place. Their first call to prayer is at dawn, and they pray bowing on a mat called a sajjāda.
I can relate. When the sun rises, I’m usually lying prostrate as well — only I’m on my mattress and facing my pillow. I wish I prayed more, but I’ve placed an unconscious moratorium on any serious activity before 8 a.m. Even on Sunday mornings, I’ve attended a Bedside Baptist service more than a few times.
Jesus models prayer as a cornerstone to the Christian faith as well. He tells His followers in Matthew to “Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The book of James also says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
Christians would do well in taking a lesson from the Muslim’s prayer calendar. Throwing up sporadic supplications driving to work or between classes certainly has some benefit. Yet, making an effort to daily set time aside in focused prayer is invaluable.
2. Fasting is more about feasting.
Each year, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk during the holy month of Ramadan. They rely on this time to “ . . . purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice.” And for 31 days straight.
I’m no stranger to this discipline. Once, I abstained from eating candy for the duration of Lent — an entire 40 days without any sweets, if we’re counting. Impressive, I know.
Fasting grows our faith in two ways. First, it frees our time to connect to God when we’d otherwise be munching on a burrito. Second, the pangs of hunger remind us how much we need Him in our lives. A friend of mine once said this practice shouldn’t be seen so much as fasting from food, per say, but instead, as an opportunity to feast on God.
It’s amazing that followers of Islam are also required to abstain from smoking, sex, and drinking liquids during their holy season. A “Facebook Fast” has merit, but it’s incomparable to what our Muslims brothers and sisters endure. Remember, the blessing is not in the amount that we give up, per say, but in the amount of godly things that are replaced.
3. Hospitality is meant to honor the stranger.
It’s difficult to miss the extreme hospitality travelers often receive from Muslims in the Middle East. Once, in a random shop in Jerusalem, the owner doled out fresh bread and hummus for me and a friend to enjoy. Also, recently in Central Asia, another friend was affectionately “adopted” into an Islamic family upon her first visit to their home.
I wholeheartedly agree with going the extra mile for guests. For instance, last month I allowed a newlywed couple to sleep on our blow-up air mattress for a week. Though I didn’t cook them a fresh meal, the lovebirds had access to all the leftovers lingering in our refrigerator.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for hospitality (philoxenos) actually means “the love of strangers.” It’s one thing to invite our usual gang over for a Super Bowl party, but showing “benevolence . . . to those outside our normal circle of friends” is the true meaning of this practice.
It’s unbiblical that Western culture is so private. How can we love even our neighbor when our doors are locked and our windows boarded? It wasn’t Jesus who marketed the term, “stranger danger.” Instead, Christ says that when we invite outsiders to join us, we do this unto Him (Matthew 25:31-46).
4. Storing scripture.
Muslims are encouraged to memorize as many passages of the Qur’an as possible. They believe that God will bestow many blessings for their efforts. In fact, every year Muslims who have memorized the Qur’an travel from around the world to compete for the Dubai International Holy Quran Award.
My 15 minutes of spiritual fame involved memorizing all three chapters of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That was seven years ago. I lost my place in the spotlight since then, but I do remember my hours of mental travail to accomplish this feat.
Overall, it’s impossible to follow the What Would Jesus Do model if we really don’t understand how He lived in the Bible. Memorizing scripture places Jesus’ ways at the forefront of our minds and forms our will to His.
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In a social-media world that always has us watching talking llamas or deciphering the color of a woman’s dress, it’s easy to become distracted from what matters most. Important character growth and hearing God’s voice are often only achieved through engaging in these trustworthy disciplines. And if members of other faiths are dedicated to this process, then it’s probably time for me to fire Pastor Pillow.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.