Over Christmas break, my brother (Jeremiah) and I visited a
family living in Oman. Oman is a country in the Middle East bordered by the United
Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Indian Ocean. In our two week stay, we
learned more about the Arab and Muslim culture than we could ever have learned through
an outside source.
Our intentions were to spend time with our Lord Jesus through prayer and worship, encourage and support the family we were visiting, and spend time with dear Arab friends and family, all the while experiencing the culture of the Arabs. The focal point of this first article (hopefully of many), is the Muslim “Call to Prayer”. This was one of our first experiences that introduced us to the culture that we had jumped into with our friends across the sea.
We arrived in the night, and rode from the airport to the house of our friends and fell straight asleep when we got there. As you might suspect, the first thing that Jeremiah and I woke up to was the sound of the call to prayer at 5 a.m. It was at this moment that we both realized we were not at home anymore. We did, however, become familiar with the call fairly quickly, because it was always faithful to calling five times every day.
To a Westerner, the call to prayer sounds a lot like Arabic singing, but please make no mistake - though it may sound similar, it is not singing! There are no songs of worship to Allah in Islam. The call to prayer is essentially a chant by an Islamic leader that occurs at each mosque within a specified 15‑minute period. As such, they are not being chanted all at the same time, nor are they spoken by the same person. Nonetheless, though they are not simultaneous, they are all chanting the same thing – “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Messenger”. This is chanted three times, which is a ritual custom in the Arab culture, at every call to prayer.
Although a devout Muslim is expected to attend each call to prayer, there are some exceptions for a Muslim who perhaps cannot pray during the call. While prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam, charity is another. If one pillar (e.g., prayer) weakens, build up another (e.g., charity). For example, as we were walking down the street, many men would slow to a stop and would ask us if we needed a ride. We would politely decline and move along. The Arabs are very hospitable in nature, but there was also a compelling reason for such acts of kindness and generosity. If a Muslim misses prayer, it can be made up by a good deed (i.e., charity). In fact, we didn’t even have to take the offer and catch a ride, but the offer itself was considered a good deed, and therefore took the place of the prayer. Essentially, what was once a necessary prayer became obsolete due to the good deed that took its place.
In the Christian faith, prayer is not so systematic. As a result, perhaps the Christian’s prayer is not so frequent. Prayer is bare minimum for a Muslim in the Islamic culture, whereas prayer is more of a last‑ditch effort for a Christian in the North American culture. Certainly, our modern religious cultures across the globe have room to be tweaked at the least, but there are some important truths about prayer that is worth understanding, and beneficial to our overall view of what prayer is.
For a Christian, prayer is not only what keeps you from destruction, but prayer also thrusts you forward in a relationship with Jesus. There should not be a stagnant prayer life in a follower of Christ.
Regarding deeds, the God of the Bible intends for prayer to direct us from good deeds to godly deeds. Good deeds can come from a wide variety of sources, while godly deeds can only come from godly sources. Godly deeds are good deeds, but good deeds are not necessarily godly deeds. Therefore, one can conclude that good deeds can come from anyone, while godly deeds can only come from one who has received instruction from God Himself, and personal prayer to the Lord is how you receive it. If Abraham had relied on his common sense to do “good” before the Lord, then Abraham certainly would not have offered the promised son before Him. However, Abraham relied upon the Lord’s understanding, and therefore received instruction for a godly deed that could not have been conveyed to him through the sole principle of good deeds.
Prayer is not just another good deed for a Christian; it is what leads to life, understanding, and godly deeds with a godly character through a relationship with Jesus. Therefore, prayer cannot be replaced by anything in the life of a Christian. For a Muslim, prayer is law, but for a Christian, prayer is love, and love is life. We must pursue it.
Finally, Christians are called to pray. We must pray for those who suffer, and are in need. We must pray for those we love, as well as those who are lost. God is doing amazing works in Oman, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, and there are dear Muslim friends who are searching for truth, and I believe that truth is in Jesus. We must pray for them, and hold them close to our hearts as God continues His work for His people.
Isaac Redman is a 22-year-old youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Church. He is a servant of Christ and loves music and the outdoors.