For the next five weeks I plan on writing once per week about some of the things I have learned from Islam. I’m not saying the Muslims around me do these things perfectly. I’ll leave perfection to God. But I am saying there are things I’ve learned, that my Muslims friends have taught me, things that have begun to soak into me and the outworking of my faith. I’m also not saying I don’t see any of these things in Christianity or the Christians around me but it is important (to me at least) to acknowledge and honor some things Islam emphasizes and that Muslims do well.
Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward, Surah 33:35 Sahih International
Islam teaches humility before God and before humankind. Christianity also teaches humility before God and before humankind. Here, I want to discuss humility before God because honestly, I don’t see a lot of humility between humans. I see (in people of both religions and in my own heart) pride and fighting and greed and stealing (twice in one week) and I don’t want to delve into that.
So. Humility before God.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you 1 Peter 5:6
I have learned this before, the Bible is rife with references to the need to be humble before God. The idea that we are but dust and desperately sinful is woven all throughout the scriptures. That Christians express utter dependence on the saving work of Jesus is ultimate humility. The refusal to perform, the acknowledgement that all one’s good deeds will not save, this is deep, internal, faith-based humility.
But I haven’t seen a lot of physical humility before God. Perhaps this is because I grew up in the evangelical world, far outside liturgical structure, far outside the kneeling benches in Catholic churches. But the longer I am in Africa and the older I get, the more I understand how interconnected everything is. Our souls and bodies and minds and relationships. When my spirit is heavy, my runs slow down. When my body is weak, my relationship with friends suffer. When I raise my hands in church, my soul rises. When I bow my head low, my soul bows down.
This is what I see, vividly and every single day, in Islam. The physicality of humility through the five-times-daily prayer and then during Ramadan, through fasting.
I hear a lot of people say fasting is too hard, they have low blood sugar. They don’t fast because it makes them feel weak and tired.
As it well should.
This is what humility feels like and it is (partly) why fasting is a valuable practice for people of faith (reminder to self). The powerful, gurgling and grumbling, reminder that we are dependent on food is a picture of our dependency on God. The weakness fasting imposes reminds us that God is not weak, he does not rely on food for nourishment.
Even more clearly, the bowing of the salat, is a picture of humility. Putting the forehead to the ground, refusing to stand erect and firm.
I read The Shack, years ago, and one scene that always bothered me is when the man first meets the God character. She is African American, carrying a tray of chocolate chip cookies. His reaction is one of surprise, but he feels welcomed and loved.
It is a nice picture.
But ‘nice’ or safe and homey are not what I see when Muslims meet God in prayer and not what I think will happen the first time I meet God, no matter how many chocolate chip cookies he might be carrying.
I think we will fall on our faces, trembling, forehead to the ground, arms outstretched in the ultimate, “I am not worthy,” pose. We might feel welcomed and loved but we will also be completely, totally, humbled before God’s power, perfection, and awesome glory.
When I see Muslims praying the salat in front of the grocery store and outside houses, beside construction sites and inside my living room, it is a moving visual of the necessity of the soul’s humility before God.
If you are a Muslim, do prayer and fasting affect your heart attitude toward God? If you are not a Muslim, what do you do in your spiritual life to grow in humility?
*image via Flickr
*image via wikimedia