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Five Things This Christian Learned from Islam: Humility

islam and christianityFor 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.

  1. Humility
  2. Community
  3. Consistency
  4. Awe
  5. History


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.

islamic salat

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

Maybe We All Need To Be Heckled

The word heckle comes from the process of turning flax into linen. Billy Bryson, perhaps not the world’s greatest historian but certainly one of the best at making history fascinating and humorous, writes about the process in his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

“Some twenty different actions are required to separate flax stems from their woody stems and soften them enough for spinning.” Heckling is one of these actions, all of which involved “pounding, stripping, soaking, and otherwise separating the pliant inner fiber, or bast, from its woodier stem.”

In other words, the point of heckling was to render flax pliable and useful.

Have you ever been heckled? I mean in the more modern sense: mocked, teased, shouted at, laughed at, mimicked, with the intention of shaming you?

This happens to me often. I’ve decided it’s a good thing.

I don’t like when it happens. I get angry, I feel that shame, sometimes to the point of tears or revenge. But still, I’ve decided it’s a good thing.

I am a pretty selfish, self-centered person. Just ask anyone who lives with me. I tend to think my way of doing things is the best way (even when it fails). My perspective on the world is the accurate one (even when I’m ignorant). My version of events is the right one (even when I swear I left the keys in my purse and Tom finds them on my desk). My interpretation of what ‘you’ said is more precise (even when I wasn’t really listening). My choices are more appropriate (even when I make them mindlessly).

In other words, I tend to think far too highly of myself. Until the Holy Spirit steps in with a little, and much needed, humbling.

I walk by a group of Djiboutian kids and they make fun of how I walk. They’re right, I do tilt my hips side to side in a goofy way. They laugh at my clothes. They’re right, I’m totally without style. They mock my accent. They’re right, I haven’t studied enough.

In short, they heckle me.

Even when they are wrong in their words, for example I am not a whore. I don’t earn a living as a prostitute. I don’t need to give them Lucy’s water bottle, even if they are wrong, they still put me in my place. They still give me something to think about.

Because they stir up my ugliness. They make my insides writhe with anger and bitterness. I lose my patience and lose my temper and lose control. They also remind me that I am not doing everything in the best possible way, that my way is not the right way. They reveal that I sin. Not that I make mistakes, but that I sin. I do things that offend God and are hurtful to human beings. I am so far from perfect, my way is so far from the right way.

In a January Runner’s World magazine article about the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy, there is a story of a woman who approached the RW booth at the expo, before the race was cancelled. She was afraid to race.

“I might get heckled,” she said. She was also afraid of having bottles thrown at her (I’ve had that), or worse (had that too).


runners get heckled often in Djibouti

I wondered if she had ever been heckled before and realized another good thing about heckling (besides that the more you say/read/write the word, the funnier it gets).

Being heckled makes you courageous. It lets you know that you will survive people mocking you, that you will survive people not agreeing with you, that you will survive even losing your temper. Because of grace. Because of new mercies every morning. Because of the promise of being a new creation. Because God knows we aren’t, never will be, perfect. And because we are called to live and love and serve and walk past that group of punks in our imperfection, relying on God’s presence to make us courageous and his grace to lift us up when we fail.

Heckling takes me from my stiff, firm, proud state and renders me pliable, maybe even useful.

Have you been heckled? How have you turned it from a negative to a positive?

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