Visiting a mosque to understand Islam.

Introduction

The online visitation of a mosque helped knit the information together that I had learnt in class through lectures, reading material and guest speakers. It also helped to overcome previously held misconceptions and distrust of what goes on behind the walls of the mosque as well as given me some understanding in how to prepare to evangelise Muslims in a cultural acceptable way.

Key beliefs and practices of Islam

One of the major points that stood out about, the architecture was how they were able to blend the ancient buildings with modern feeling. The building design was a mix of austerity, practicality and starkness.

Through its beautiful and artistic building design, the calligraphy around the dome, and the artistic art around the building, the mosque instils a sense of awe. You enter the reception area and take your shoes off. From there you enter the absolution hall, which is like a common bathroom area, where the washing of one’s body becomes an outward expression of cleansing of wayward thoughts and preparing their mind to concentrate on prayer. From here, the entering of the prayer hall is not taken lightly. Upon entering the prayer hall, you are automatically directed to face Makkah, The direction in which you are to prayer, through a Mihrab, which is a decorative niche built into the wall.

There are 5 pillars in the prayer area with writing which symbolise each key area of faith. They being:[1]
1.) Iman – stating there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.

2.) Salah – the importance of prayer being the back bone of Islam and that prayers must be prayed 5 times a day.

3.) Sawn – regular fasting and the month of Ramadan, which fasts, food, water and sex between sunrise and sunset.

4.) Zakah – giving to those who deserve it, the poor and indigent.

5.) Hajj – a reminder that it’s the duty of every able bodied Muslim to make the journey to Makkah.
There is also a lot of quoting of their scripture which goes around the inside of the dome and it’s important to note, that all the writing is above eye level, signifying the high view of the Quran, Allah, and the lowliness of humanity.

The Mosques have a practical layout with the shoe racks, absolution area and wide open spaces making the movement of people easy. The minaret towers used to call for prayer and the clocks on the wall made certain that visitors and worshipers new the time of prayer. The prayer room faced Makkah Yet, it was stark in that there were few creature comforts and though the mosque was built to show the immensity of God; it denies any sense of intimacy with God.

Ironically, though the layout of the mosque is supposed to allow king and peasant to stand together and pray together as equals under Allah. But, in the Blue Mosque, there is a stair way in the prayer hall to an elevated room, which is the Sultans prayer room.

Overcome misconceptions.

The main prior misconception I had about Islam was regarding the vast difference between Islam and Christianity. Upon closer scrutiny, I find there is much commonality between Islam and our own faith. Though, in making this statement, it’s also important to nuance it; so as to avoid syncretism and the denial of our own faith.

According to the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, Muslims have four directions to follow[2], directions which are very compatible with Christian values.
1) Our faith should be true and sincere,

2) We must be prepared to show it in deeds of charity to our fellow-men,

3) We must be good citizens, supporting social organizations, and

4) Our own individual soul must be firm and unshaken in all circumstances.
The architecture of our traditional places of worship have a minaret or a tower. Both Muslims and Christians use it as a call to prayer across the countryside. The Muslims use a voice, and Christians use bells.

We both believe there is one God – yet disagree on his prophet. We both believe that prayer is the backbone to our faith – yet disagree on intimacy and the way to God. We believe in fasting, though how its practiced is different and while we don’t have a month of fasting like Ramadan, many practice lent leading up to Easter. We practice and believe in generosity, social justice which is worked through our giving to individuals and causes. And we practice a type of Hajj – Muslims to Makkah – and the Christians to Israel. As well as supporting others less fortunate than us, both the Mosque and the Church have a way of a collecting monies for the ongoing upkeep and running costs of the building. And we both meet together for around an hour on a weekly basis to hear a sermon or some form of teaching based from our Scriptures.

It’s also worth noting, that Muslims view Jesus with high regard as being a prophet of God and that he will return at the end of the world. Though once again, we differ in how we understand Jesus.

A way to reach Muslims.

A Muslim prayer hall has recently opened across the carpark from our church, I intend to frame this section around a proposed way of reaching out to them.

Dave Andrews from the Waiters Union in Brisbane, published “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections,” which he intended for Christians and Muslims to give to each other, and fast and pray with each other during Ramadan.[3] He has drawn the mutual Scriptures from the Quran and the Bible that refer to Jesus. While Dave Andrews doesn’t believe in proselytism [4]; and instead focuses on community building and social work – we can learn from his methodology and build on the common ground we already have for evangelistic purposes to reach Muslims during their fast in Ramadan.

An awareness of the nuances of what is known as C1 through to C6 converts is important when reaching Muslims[5]: for the best way forward may be to release them to become followers of Isa within their own cultural expressions of faith; for “when the gospel is proclaimed in culturally relevant ways, Muslims repent!”[6]
In this framework, building long term relationships with the prayer hall leaders where a dialog about holding a cultural awareness and prayer night/s: where a number of reflections can be shared from Dave’s book about Jesus, a time of prayer and followed by fellowship around non-offensive food.

It’s important that we lay a foundation with the congregation as to what Muslims believe, how their belief works out in day to day life and how they function within a family environment. In general Muslims have an extremely high view of their scriptures and can be shocked at our low view towards out own Bibles. They are always placed high on book shelves and handled with clean hands. Unlike many western Christians; they will never write in the Quran and are horrified that we will make notes in and highlight our Bibles. They will never place a Quran on the floor, or on a seat beside them.

Secondly, most Muslims don’t sing their praise and worship to or about Allah like Christians do; for they have little sense of intimacy with him. Interestingly, the Sunni, do have a sense of craving for intimacy with Allah – though there is a veil always stopping them from pushing through. For them, worship happens through their daily times of prayer, and following the other pillars of Islam.

Therefore to minimise culture shock and show that we take our Scriptures seriously – how we handle our Scriptures is extremely important. To overcome any potential offence from perceived congregational carelessness; having a clean skin bible on the lectern, and the use of data projection technology on the screens which are above eye level is the best way forward. And if song is used, perhaps one of two reflective songs about Jesus is the way forward.

Conclusion

Understanding Islam and Muslim people is a complex task: and while research can help develop an initial understanding and foundation of understanding their faith, cultural traditions, allay fear and suspicion; setting the goal of ‘prayerfully’ building long term relationships with Muslims is the only way to truly grasp a deeper understanding of their faith and culture, and more importantly, how to reach them for Christ.

Bibliography

Andrews, Dave, “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections.” (Prestons, Victoria: Mosaic Press, 2013)

Love, Rick “Discipling All Muslim Peoples in the Twenty-First Century” International Journal of Frontier Missions, (Vol. 17:4, winter 2000)

Massey, Joshua, “God’s Amazing Diversity in Drawing Muslims to Christ”, International Journal for Frontier Missions, (Vol 17:1 Spring 2000.)

Hussain, M.D Mohammad I, “Exploring Ancient World Cultures, Essays on Early Islam” (Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D, 1997)

Institute of Islamic Information and Education, “Moral System of Islam”, http://www.iiie.net/index.php?q=node/21,

http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/blue-mosque.html

http://www.thebcom.org/ourwork/interfaith/116-virtual-mosque-tour.html

[1] Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D. “Exploring Ancient World Cultures,  Essays on Early Islam” (Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D, 1997)

[2] Institute of Islamic Information and Education, “Moral System of Islam”, (http://www.iiie.net/index.php?q=node/21, accessed 4/05/2015)

[3] Dave Andrews, “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections.” (Prestons, Victoria: Mosaic Press, 2013)

[4] Through an exchange of emails, Dave Andrews clarified that he doesn’t believe in syncretism or proselytism; but instead believes that all are made in the image of God, and that God accepts both Muslim and Christian on that basis. Most Christians rightly disagree with this worldview and caution must be exercised so as to ensure we don’t allow the Quran to dictate what we believe about the “Word of God.”

[5] Joshua Massey, “God’s Amazing Diversity in Drawing Muslims to Christ”, International Journal for Frontier Missions, (Vol 17:1 Spring 2000.)

[6] Rick Love “Discipling All Muslim Peoples in the Twenty-First Century” International Journal of Frontier Missions, (Vol. 17:4, Winter 2000)

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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