Mosque Prayer Questions

(Edward H. Schreur is a guest blogger on Think Christian. He served as the pastor of the Protestant Church in Oman from 2006-2008.)

What can be learned from praying in a mosque?

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman is a landmark and, surprisingly in a land ruled by sharia, opens for visits by Christians and other non-Muslims. I visited on a Wednesday morning and was inspired by the grandeur. Completed in 2001, the Grand Mosque can accommodate 20,000 worshippers and features marble paneling, a Svarovski crystal chandelier that spans a length of 14 meters, and a hand-made Persian carpet consisting of 1,700 million knots, made in a single piece measuring 70 x 60 meters, woven over the course of 4 years by 600 female weavers.

After I walked around the perimeter of the main hall, I realized that, most of all, I was in a place of prayer. Muslims gather for prayer at the mosque five times each day. They assemble in rows, stand and kneel, touching their foreheads to the ground in an act of submission and devotion.

As a Christian in a mosque, I wondered how Muslims would be treated in a church. Are churches open for visits by Muslims? Would a Muslim be permitted to enter a church, walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary, gaze at the architecture, and ponder the meaning of the pulpit, table, and font?

What about prayer? If an Omani man visited a North American church prior to a worship service, wearing his traditional dishdasha, what would happen if he knelt for prayer? How would people react if he took off his shoes at the sanctuary entrance as an expression of humility, walked barefoot to the chancel, and repeatedly knelt and stood as he prayed?

Would observers be supportive of his simple act of prayer? Or territorial about Christian space? Would church members be troubled that he prayed to Allah or pleased that he followed his conscience? Would they be afraid of what could come next?

Back in the Grand Mosque, I realized that I wanted to pray. Wearing a longsleeve button-down shirt, blue jeans and flip-flop sandals, I knelt on the plush carpet and closed my eyes. There were less than 10 people in the main prayer hall at the time. But before my knees became stiff, I was nudged by a guard. He wore a military-brown dishdasha, with a pistol and club on his belt, and asked what I was doing. After my answer, the guard explained that prayer in the Grand Mosque is for Muslims only. He correctly presumed that I am a Christian. With a red face, I apologized.

When I was alone in my car, the questions came. Why was my prayer stopped? Did the guard act unilaterally or on the grounds of established policy? Was my Christian prayer offensive to him or only out-of-place in a mosque? Was the guard motivated more by politics than religion--did he see an opportunity to trump an American who was far from home? Was it a matter of power and control? There are times when Christians oppress Muslims but at that moment the guard had power and control over me. Was he concerned that I would proselytize curious Muslims? Was I considered to be a bad influence?

I am grateful that the Grand Mosque opens for visitors. I hope that churches are open, too. And I pray that both Christians and Muslims can discuss the questions that arise from visits to one another's places of worship with open minds to where the best answers lead us.
(This reflection first appeared in Perspectives.)

Comments (17)

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My son just asked me last night what he should do if a Muslim friend invited him to a mosque. As a Christian, my son wanted to make sure he wasn't offending anyone of a different faith yet he also wanted to plant seeds of friendship, should the opportunity arise.

We talked about it for a bit and concluded that the best course would be to attend, observe all the customs (including prayer) but to know that when doing so, his prayers would be toward the Christian God.

When he asked about bowing to Allah, I was a bit stumped and still am, but what we decided was that he could best represent God in that arena by showing true respect and love for others beliefs and if bowing was the custom, then when it was time to bow, he would do so with Jesus as the person he was bowing before, not Allah.

He hasn't been presented with the chance yet but I find it timely that you would write about this not 24 hours after my son and I discussed it ourselves. I particularly appreciate your questions on whether or not Christians would be welcoming to Muslims. I think it's one that needs honest reflection and I'm thankful you brought this to the table for discussion.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religons in the world by percentage. However, Islam grows primarily by having high birth rates and immigration. It also grows by conquest and the imposition of Shariah law. Christianity grows by persuasion or conversion. In 2007 Christianity gained 7-8million more adherents than any other religion. (http://www.bible.ca/islam/isla...

I am not surprised that Mr. Schreur was discouraged from praying in a mosque. He was an outsider. Cultural conformity in dress, appearance and language is highly valued in Islam. Burqaas, head scarves and baggy men’s pants are often enforced by law in Muslim countries. In most of the evangelical churches I know, muslim visitors would be an exciting and welcome event. In reality, many people would be secretly praying that God would open their eyes and bring them to salvation. People would bend over backwards to make them feel at home. I know we would. Appearance or dress is rarely an issue in Christianity. People attend services in hawaiian shirts, shorts, suits, cowboy boots, saris, sarongs or any type of garment one can imagine. Christians happen to believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
I'm glad you have such a positive view of evangelicals, but I don't know about that. Do you really think if an Arab man walked into your church alone the security wouldn't search him for a bomb? Do you think people wouldn't treat him with suspicion? I hope that they would be welcoming, but I'm skeptical, especially given how easily people who read this blog justified the torture of some (we think now) innocent muslim men because of the way christians are allegedly treated overseas.

I also think it's important to acknowledge that Christians converted by conquest and high birth rates in our history as well before we sound too superior.
Bethany:

I am only speaking out of what I know. All my experience has been in Oregon, Washington and California. I KNOW this about our church because I have gone there 30 years, know all the pastors, my brother has served on the Church council, my father is a greeter and leader. This is a 5000 member Foursquare Church that is very evangelistic and confident in the power of the Holy Spirit. And I honestly feel like most or all of the evangelical churches I have attended in the past would also be excited about having him. The church I attended in my 20s was a black charismatic church who welcomed everybody (I'm white) and he would have fit right in. To tell you the truth, he might even be invisible because we have a multitude of races and cultures meeting here. I know as a house group leader in the past of 30-50 members I would welcome him. Maybe this is a west coast phenomenom or the result of going to very evangelistic and sometimes unconventional churches. I have the feeling that in a traditional, mainline protestant church with organ, steeple, choir, men in suits and ties, perfumed women dressed up, hymnals etc, in the midwest the poor guy would stand out more and create more fear. But maybe I am wrong.

I respect you and enjoy your blogs but I would have to take offense at this statement: "given how easily people who read this blog justified the torture of some (we think now) innocent muslim men because of the way christians are allegedly treated overseas." Nobody here believes in torture because Christians were persecuted overseas. That equation doesn't exist. That is a very low, demeaning opinion of the readers of TC.
I'm sorry to have offended you. On returning to the torture thread I only find one reference to the persecution of christians overseas, but I still read that one reference as a justification of torture. That one statement troubled me quite a bit, so it stuck out in my memory.
I don't mean to incriminate you personally, I believe that you and your church would be welcoming to muslim visitors if you say they would. But I still believe mainstream american culture has made americans very suspicious of muslim men especially. I hope, for the sake of the gospel, that I am wrong about this one.
Very interesting report of your experience. No doubt that God was taking care of you. If you had ben "caught" in Saudi Arabia, or other country ruled for sharia, testifying about gospel to a muslim person, you could have been hold for police and condemned to prison. We must pray for muslims and even send missionaries to teach them about the only way of salvation, Jesus Christ, but we can't expect to be accepted or tolerated in those countries. So, be careful next time.
Bethany:
It's funny to observe that you took offense easily but you didn't care about offending others with your expressions. I quote you " I have the feeling that in a traditional, mainline protestant church with organ, steeple, choir, men in suits and ties, perfumed women dressed up, hymnals etc, in the midwest the poor guy would stand out more and create more fear."
I don't think I'm wrong seeing in your words a clear disdain for "traditional protestant churches" and their customs. I would like you to explain me why praising the Lord with organs, hymnal and wearing formal clothing is so disgusting for you.

Are you trying to say that a place with a band of christian rock performing for a group of women without perfume, dressed in unordered clothes and men dressed as to attend to a football match it is a better scenary to praise the worship the Lord than a traditional church with a group of 'traditional' Christians dressed in the best possible way, to present themselves before God and singing solemn music to adore him?
It seemed that, for you, formal suits with ties, that most men would use for an interview with the President of USA, and nice garments and perfumes, organs, choirs are inappropriate to be used at a place as solemn as a church in a moment far more important than an interview with a high human authority.
If you prefer going to church with broken and wrinkled jeans and a shirt without ironing you are in your right, but do not try to sell the idea that the respect, the order and the reverence are old fashion items that shouldn't be used any longer. There is no possible comparison between christian music played in an organ and sung for a reverent congregation and the noise of the so called "christian" rock music indistinguishable of plain worldly dancing music.
If you have read about Namaan the Syrian in the Old Testament, you would know that he faced the same perdicament with regards to bowing to a foreign god. He was grateful that God had healed him, but because his master was an idol worship, he had to bow to the idol along with him. Namaan ask God through Elisha to be forgiven of this particular act. Elisha told Namaan to go in peace.
This is unacceptable. How can we Christian pray in the house of other gods? Do you think our God want to live in mosque? Similarly why would people of other faith want to pray in Christian church? Their gods are not in a christian church! There is no point of offer a prayer where the gods (which you pray to) couldn't be found.
Oops. Sorry. I'm the one who made the comments about traditional churches, not Bethany. She's much nicer. We got to keep our offenders straight here.

My point was that when there is cultural uniformity in dress, ritualized clothing (whether ties, wing tips and hats or Burquas and beards), ritualized temples (steeples, domes) that outsiders stand out like a sore thumb. I love praising the Lord with a hymnal, I grew up that way though haven't used a hymnal for a while, but I know every hymn of the church by heart. I wore a choir robe too and can sing the harmony part to "When the roll is called up yonder". Steeples are nice, but I'm glad we gave up the antiquated 30s and 40s organ music (as Paul said, "I say, not the Lord"). These are just cultural issues, not right or wrong. The first century church put up no such barriers to the uninitiated, they met in houses and wore no special clothing, had no choirs or specialized musical instruments. I apologize if I offended, but realize I paid my dues by sitting through long years of traditional American Church.

I would hope that if a moslem man came to our congregation he would pay no attention to the furniture or clothing and that what he would remember is the love and genuine acceptance he felt and the contagious joy he experienced in worship.

To tell you the truth, I can kind of see Mek's point. Although Ed Schreur went to a Muslim temple, he conformed to all their religious customs. So if he is asking why a Muslim can't come to a Christian Church, spread out a prayer rug, take off his shoes and begin kneeling and chanting, that is not a fair comparison. That would be disrespectful. It would be like Ed going to a mosque, putting on a choir robe, standing up and singing a few choruses of "when the role is called up yonder".

To Mek's point though, I feel that I could go into a Hindu temple and speak to my Father in Jesus name because as Paul says, their idols are nothing, I am protected by the blood of Jesus and Jesus is Lord over all. I'm not sure why I would want to, but I could. Remember Samson praying in the idol temple?

 

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