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5 Things This Christian Learned From Islam, Part 5: History

Part 1: Humility

Part 2: Community

Part 3: Respect

Part 4: Consistency

islam history

History might appear to one of the more black and white topics to study. Dates are irrefutable, the facts of a person life can be supported with clear evidence. But history is also seen through the eyes of the present and through the eyes of those with the loudest voices, the most influence in the present. Those voices and that influence in my life growing up were evangelical Christians and white, American, wealthy and well-educated men. Primarily. The history I learned was presented as truth, not as perspective. And while there is truth to most of what I learned, when it came without being placed in a larger, more global and inclusive context, that truth got warped, twisted slightly or massively out of shape.

Even in current events, this is painfully clear. Take for example, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel is perpetually presented in western media as the victim, ever retaliating or acting in defense against uncompromising Palestinian violence. To the Palestinians, and to my husband’s Muslim students and my Muslim friends, Israel is the aggressor. Palestinians are the victims struggling for their right to survive.

Which is true?

That depends on your perspective.

I am learning from Islam to view news, stories, and history with a critical eye. To ask questions, to look at the wider context, to pay attention to who is telling the story and carefully weigh multiple sides.

I am also learning new history. Not that the events are new, but the people, the heroes, the battles, the ground-breaking developments, are things I’ve never heard of before.

How about during the Crusades when the so-called Christians invaded Jerusalem and slaughtered every Muslim in sight? Let blood run in the streets so deep it reached the stirrups on horses? Ilearned that the Christians were heroes, marching onward in the name of God. That they were pure, holy warriors (though I will admit that I was always skeptical of this).

SaladinBut what about the Muslim heroes during the Crusades? Like Saladin?

His reportedly noble and chivalrous behavior was noted, even by Christian chroniclers, and despite being the nemesis of the Crusaders, he purportedly won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart who led the Third Crusade.

Even more important, to me, is the history of men like St. Francis of Assisi who worked for peace and interfaith dialogue, more of a hero than Richard the Lionheart. Or the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, a Muslim who was so merciful that some Christians believed him to be a secret Christian. As though they could not fathom a merciful Muslim.

Instead I learned of Muslim aggressors, violent terrorists. Or of heroic Christians, slaughtering the wicked in the name of God and peace and freedom.

I am learning about the development of the modern world and about how much of that came from Muslims.

The word ‘algebra’ is Arabic, from the book “Hisab al-jabr w’al muqabala”, written around 830 by the renowned astronomer and mathematician Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi. When translated into Latin, it caused a sensation in Europe – 310 years later. Where would Newton have been, without the Arabs? On what would he and Leibniz have based the calculus? Whither Maxwell and Einstein, without Islam?

(for more on mathematical developments from Islam, read here.)

One reason it is important to have a more balanced view of history is that it will inform our present day worldview. The differences in perspectives on Palestine and Israel does not come from the here and now but rides on the stories, the heroes and villians of the past.

Do you think history as we learn it affects the way we see the present day? Who are some lesser known heroes we in the West need to learn about?

*image via Flickr

*image via Wikipedia

5 Things This Christian Learned from Islam: Consistency

Part 1: Humility

Part 2: Community

Part 3: Respect

Muslim chaplain ministers at Camp Leatherneck during Ramadan

How long does it take to create a habit? In the 1970s a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics” set forth the 21-day idea for creating a habit. The problem with this number is that is not based on solid research. Brain Pickings reviewed a book that suggests it can take anywhere from 21 days to 254 days to form a habit, depending on how hard the particular habit is and how badly the person wants to form it.

Developing spiritual habits is harder for me than I’d like to admit. Some are engrained and I do them almost without thinking, like praying for help in a crisis or trying not to speak with words that dishonor God. Some are conscious choices but don’t feel difficult because I have made the same choice so often, like tithing or reading my Bible in the morning. Others are much harder and I often forget about them entirely, so they aren’t habits but I’d like them to be, like fasting or spending more concentrated, focused time in prayer.

I don’t think it is easy for my Muslim friends to form the habits of praying five times a day or fasting for an entire lunar month each year. I also don’t think all of them follow through on these disciplines, just like few Christians spend that concentrated time in prayer or go without food for a significant period of time on a regular basis.

In Islam, each prayer time is roughly the same, some are a bit longer and some contain more spontaneous interaction with God, but the overall structure of the prayer is consistent from time to time, from day to day. There is a steady, unbreakable constancy to the rhythms, movements, and words as well as to the time of day. Like the stomach starts to growl around noon because it has developed the habit of being fed then, my friends who pray consistently feel a stirring in their spirit at regular intervals throughout the day.

When the habit is developed, the body and soul start to anticipate the experience. Of eating, of praying, of giving.

Some might assume the ritual prayer to be dry and rote because of this daily consistency and constancy, and this is true, for some and some of the times. But going through the motions anyway, maintaining the attitude of seeking God opens up the spirit for a fresh taste of him.

My pastor in the US used to say, If you don’t feel like praying or singing, pray and sing, and while you do it, ask God to change your attitude. In other words, be consistent and ask God to meet you in your weakness.

When something is done consistently, there is less room or time or energy spent on making decisions about it. When it is time to pray, and prayer has been done many times before, you pray. When it is time to get dressed and you have dressed modestly many times before, you dress modestly. When it is time to fast and you have fasted many times before, you fast.

I have many examples of consistency in these things from people who have invested in my faith – parents, pastors, teachers, and friends. And now I am grateful to be surrounded by people again, here in Djibouti, who aim at pursuing God with a challenging and motivating consistency.

They help me to waver less and to trust that God will meet me in my weakness while I am acting according to my spiritual desires, even in the moments I might feel spiritually dry.

How do you maintain consistency in your spiritual practices? What are the most challenging things for you to do on a regular basis? (for me: fasting and focused prayer continue to be struggles)

*image via Flickr

Five Things This Christian Learned from Islam: Respect

Part 1: Humility

Part 2: Community

quran respect

I love casual. Blue jeans and a t-shirt. Sport pants and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, messy ponytail, as little makeup and jewelry as possible. When I was young we dressed up every single Sunday for church and I mean in a dress, with nylons and nice shoes and braids in our hair. For the evening Sunday services my parents allowed us to wear pants or even shorts in the summer but that always felt borderline scandalous.

Now, I show up to church straight from practice with the Girls Run 2 team wearing black sport pants and a Love Somalia or Minnesota Gophers t-shirt and florescent yellow Saucony running shoes.

This kind of casual seems like a good thing – we don’t need to dress up for God or for fellow believers. We shouldn’t feel burdened to impress anyone, we aren’t supposed to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear. Authenticity is more important and right than putting on a mask of outwardly having it all together.

But. This kind of casual spills over into the spiritual realm and I don’t think that is a good thing.

When that happens, God becomes a sort of buddy, a chum. Jesus becomes a peer. We barge into the presence of God, forgetting that he is holy and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) and that we are but dust.

We do have the freedom to do this, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus we are able to approach the throne of God with confidence, and once in a while it is absolutely appropriate to hurtle ourselves toward God, desperate for him. But other times, how much more appropriate to bow low, to tread lightly, to acknowledge our baseness and his mightiness, our unworthiness and his ultimate worth.

Who dares to claim President Obama is a buddy, even after meeting him? How much more so with the Creator?

Muslims would never dream of performing their ritual prayers without first washing and declaring the intention to pray. This is a clear physical symbol of the washing Christians believe they receive through Jesus and I appreciate the visual reminder of our need to be cleansed. The time they take to wash is time spent preparing the heart, contemplating God’s holiness.

Perhaps I should start taking a few minutes, seconds even, to acknowledge God’s holiness when I come to him in prayer? Maybe not through physical washing, but through gratitude for the forgiveness offered.

Another way I see Muslims’ respect for God is in the way they handle their scriptures. The Quran is never left on the floor, never placed beneath another book. It sits, often, in a stand on the highest shelf in the room. Sometimes it is wrapped in a cloth and when taken down and unwrapped, some Muslims kiss the Quran. No Muslim would dream of reading their Quran on the bathroom or of writing in it.

It is important to realize that comparing the Quran to the Bible is not accurate. The Quran is more accurately compared to Jesus, both believed to be the Word of God. One in written form, one in the form of human flesh. So to compare my treatment of the Bible to Muslims’ treatment of the Quran isn’t exact, but it is still striking and it also causes me to consider how I treat Jesus. Do I treasure him so reverently?

I don’t think our treatment of scriptures or ways of approaching God need to be the same. My dad writes all over his Bible and I have never questioned his absolute respect for God.

Years ago my dad left his Bible in the Louisville, Kentucky airport, at a table that is still burned into his memory. There was no address written inside, only a phone number. A wrong, outdated phone number. The Bible was clearly loved, treasured, valued. Notes scribbled on nearly every page, sermon notes, important dates, prayer requests and answers, insights from daily readings. The person who found the Bible instantly saw how important it was to the owner, figured out the correct phone number and address and Fed-exed it to my dad.

I once described the condition of his Bible to a Muslim friend and her reply was, “He must be a sheikh.” A religious teacher, because he loved God so much and spent so much time in his word.

So while our practices will differ, I think there is still value in growing in our respect, in knowing that though I can wear sport pants or shorts to church, I need to remember my low aspect before a high God. If physically washing or if wrapping the Bible in a cloth and kissing it when we pull it down to read it, helps us remember this, that is a beautiful thing.

Do you think American evangelicals have lost a sense of respect for God or his word? How do you remind yourself of God’s perfection?

*image via Flickr

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