How do you preach the way of the Lord Jesus to a Muslim who, a minimum of seventeen times a day, prays not to know the way of the Lord Jesus?
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Muslims is the requirement that they pray five times a day to Allah. The times for prayer are tied to the sun's positions during the day, and are generally performed near dawn (fajir), shortly after midday (zuhr), in the afternoon ('asr), just following sunset (maghrib), and at nightfall ('isha').
This obligation, one of the "Five Pillars" or Sunni Islam and one of the "Ten Pillars" of Twelver Shi'i Islam, is called salat (singular salah). It constitutes the formal worship ritual in Islam. The informal prayer of a Muslim is called dua'a, and is not similarly regimented.
Each salah consists of a highly regimentalized prayer form composed of the repetition of units called raka'at (singular, rak'ah) which are a combination of postures and actions (standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting), and prayers in Arabic. The prayer is preceded by obligatory highly-ritualized washing or ablutions, called wudu.
The minimal obligatory (fard) number of repetitions of the rak'ah for each of the five salah periods varies from two to four depending upon the time of the particular salah, so that ordinarily a minimum of seventeen fard or required raka'at are performed during a day. Other obligatory raka'at may be added depending on certain circumstances, including the season, with varying levels of obligatoriness (fard kifayah, sunnah kifayah, wajib). More raka'at are often performed voluntarily in imitation of Muhammad (sunnah mu'akkadah) or as an act of supererogation (nafl).
Although the combination of actions of words and even the number of salat are not provided for in the Qur'an (being found in the Sunnah and based upon the practices of Muhammad), they are certainly institutionalized as part of Islam.
For the purposes of this article, the details of the prayer regime are not as important as the central characteristic of each rak'ah. As part of each rak'ah, the Muslim prays the first, short chapter of the Qur'an, the al-Fatiha. It is known as the "Mother of the Book" (Umm ul-Kitab), "Mother of the Qur'an" (Umm ul-Qur'an), and "the Foundation" (al-Asas) because of its central role in Islam:
Bi-smi-llahi -r-raḥmani -r-raḥim
Al-hamdu -li-llahi rabbi -l-'alamin
Maliki yawmi -d-din
'Iyyaka na'budu wa-'iyyaka nasta'in
Ihdina -ṣ-ṣiraṭa -l-mustaqim
Sirata -l-ladina 'an'amta 'alayhim gayri-l-magdubi 'alayhim wa-la -d-dallin.
In the name of God, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.
All praise and thanks is for to God, [The] Creator, Owner, Sustainer of the Worlds.
The Entirely Merciful, The Especially Merciful.
Owner of the Day of Recompense.
You alone do we worship and You alone we seek for help.
Guide us to the Straight Path.
The path of those whom Your blessings are upon, Not of those who You have cursed nor of those who have gone astray.
To the uninitiated Christian, the al-Fatiha seems innocuous, even praiseworthy. How many Christians do not pray in the name of God, give praise to God, invoke his mercy, recognize Him as judge, and seek for help to stay on the right path and avoid evil? Does this not seem something even a Christian could join?
To think that a Christian could pray the al-Fatiha is a huge mistake, however. There are certain precise meanings given to the terms "those You have cursed" ('alayhim gayri-l-magdubi), and "those who have gone astray" ('alayhim wa-la -d-dallin) with which those unfamiliar with Islam would be completely oblivious. The former refers to the Jews, and the latter to the Christians. So, for example, do the classic Sunni Qur'anic exegetical texts Tafsir al-Jalalayn and the Tafsir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas interpret it.
Any reasonably-informed Muslim will know that he prays, at least seventeen times a day, that he never become a Jew or a Christian. He indoctrinates himself multiple times a day that Jews are cursed or the recipients of God's anger, and that Christians have "gone astray" by belief in the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation of God in Jesus, and are therefore not to be followed.
The upshot is that a minimum of seventeen times a day, and oftentimes more, a Muslim will be praying that he will never know the Lord Jesus, "the Way, the Truth, of the Life," who is the only way to the Father. (John 14:6). As a result of the errant guidance of his or her supposed prophet, the unfortunate Muslim is praying to God in a manner completely contradictory to the will of God.
The Muslim has grasped one half the truth, that "there is one God." (1 Tim. 2:5a). But he or she prays never to find the other part of that truth: that there is only "one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5b). In short, without knowing it (and in fact, probably thinking exactly the opposite), the Muslim is praying himself or herself into hell by affirmatively rejecting the Lord Jesus who is the only means for getting him or her to Paradise. Thank God, God, in his mercy, will not listen to this latter prayer uttered, most of the time we must assume in charity, in utter ignorance.
But this raises a significant question. How do you preach the way of the Lord Jesus to someone who, a minimum of seventeen times a day, prays not to know the way of the Lord Jesus? That is a very good question, if one difficult to answer.
Muslims are notoriously difficult to convert. As Hilaire Belloc wrote in his book The Great Heresies: "Islam is apparently unconvertible. The missionary efforts made by great Catholic orders which have been occupied in trying to turn Mohammedans into Christians for nearly 400 years have everywhere wholly failed. We have in some places driven the Mohammedan master out and freed his Christian subjects from Mohammedan control, but we have had hardly any effect in converting individual Mohammedans."
In his book Survivals and New Arrivals, Belloc observed: "I think it true to say that Islam is the only spiritual force on earth which Catholicism has found an impregnable fortress. Its votaries are the one religious body conversions from which are insignificant."
There are many reasons for the notorious difficulty in converting Muslims. I might mention some, though the reasons I present are hardly constitute an exhaustive list. And which of those I have listed are the more important is a matter certainly arguable.
First, in Muslim countries, where Islam enjoys the protection of the police power of the state, there are severe legal punishments associated with conversion, even, in some of the more rigorous Islamic countries, the death penalty. This is a huge impediment.
Second, since Islam is more than a religion--it is an entire religious, cultural, economic, social, and political totalitarian scheme--when a Muslim converts he loses everything--family, tribe, social status, and so forth. He is ostracized from kith and kin, he is largely unprotected, and there is no mechanism in Christianity to substitute for that loss.
Third, in Muslim countries, Christians are severely restricted in spreading the Gospel through all sorts of legal and social impediments. These impediments are still found, perhaps not in their total rigor, among Muslims living in Western countries, especially those segregated in ghettos such as the French banlieues in Paris, or Shari'a zones in London, or even in the United States in Dearborn, Michigan. From a young age, Muslims receive only vicious propaganda against Christianity. Rarely do they hear the other side of the story fairly presented.
Fourth, the moral dissipation of Western societies (which the Muslim associates, wrongly, with Christianity) makes them think that their system is morally superior to the secular systems of the West. (Though here they tend to ignore their own dissipation and moral failures.)
Fifth, the West's (particularly American) interference with Islamic nations (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan) is often confused with a Christian crusade. This is, in fact, false, for the interests of the secular West generally and secular America in particular are hardly aligned with Christian interests in the region or Christian interests generally. Christians know how anti-Christian their secular governments have become, but Muslims do not seem to separate the two.
A sixth reason I would suggest, however, is found in the Muslim's own prayer regime.
Is it any wonder that Muslims are resistant to Christianity when their supposed prophet inoculated his followers against the truths of the Gospel by having them pray a schizophrenic prayer to God that shuts them out of the Gospel's life?
Objectively measured in the light of Christ, the Muslim is praying to the one God, on the one hand, while praying, on the other hand, that he or she never be found on the only way to that one God: Jesus Christ. Thus, the Muslim is placed in a sort of prayer doldroms, where the prayer up is exactly negated by the prayer down. The Muslim's supposed prophet gave him a sort of pushmi-pullyu kind of prayer, where the prayer to the one God is contradicted in the same breath by a prayer against Christ.
Regardless of the reason or reasons for the Muslim resistance to conversion, and regardless of whether we succeed or fail in our efforts, we are called to preach the Gospel to all nations, and baptize all of them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15) It is uncontrovertible that this mandatum of Christ includes--perhaps even a fortiori in our day--the Muslim nation, the Mulsim umma.
Until God's spirit works in the Muslim lands and among the Muslim peoples, however, and Muslims are given the grace of conversion, it seems that we as Christians ought to do a number of things.
First, invoke the prayer of Jesus on the Cross for Muslims: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) I believe, as do those missionaries who work among Muslims, this is true for a huge number of Muslims.
Second, pray to the Blessed Trinity and the entire heavenly court of saints, particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christians martyred by Islam, for the conversion of Muslims, perhaps even seventeen times a day. I have seen where one visionary in France advocated praying the Rosary for the conversion of Muslims, adding the prayer, "For the Holy Wounds of Jesus and the Tears of Your Mother," on the large beads, and "Gentle Father, let them know your Son," on the small beads as a means to that end. Regardless what form is used, and none is prescribed by the Church, we ought each day be praying for the conversion of Muslims to Christ. For this appears to be an instance where for "man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:36)
Third, we should nurse within our selves a love for Muslims (to be distinguished from Islam), and we should make sure never to develop any sort of hatred of them. Befriend them. The only hatred we are allowed against Muslims is what used to be called odium theologicum, a theological hatred, which is a hatred of the antichrist doctrines of Islam only, and which must exist without even the least residual upon the Muslim person himself. An odium theologicum should never translate into an odium Mussulmanorum, a hatred of the Muslims themselves. If you begin to hate Muslims, get out of the fight until you lose your hate.
Fourth, fast for the conversion Muslims, for it seems that the spirit of antichrist under which they burden is the sort of stubborn spirit that comes out only with prayer and fasting. Perhaps a more rigorous fasting on Fridays for their conversion would be a valuable practice. (Mark 9:29)
Fifth, we should imitate St. Paul and not be ashamed of the Gospel; rather, we should be eager to share our Gospel--even if it includes, as part of it, discussion of those tough truths that Muslims do not like to hear, including the immorality of their supposed prophet, the falsity of his doctrine, and the errors in the Qur'an--knowing with the assurance of faith that the Gospel is "the salvation of all who believes," and that no one is excluded from its blessings. (Rom. 1:16)
Sixth, as part of this proclamation, we must follow the advice of St. Peter: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame." (1 Pet. 3:15) This means that we should not only know our own faith, but that we should also familiarize ourselves with Islam. Muslims are often as ignorant of the Gospel--especially the Gospel as it is understood by the Catholic Church--as we are as ignorant of their religious tenets.
Seventh, be forewarned. Speaking to Muslims about the Gospel and criticizing the Muslim faith is often the situation of being like sheep among wolves. Muslims seem to suffer from a strange joinder of an inferiority complex and chauvinism, so that they are overly sensitive, sometimes even irrational, to criticism and overly aggressive, sometimes even irrational, in stating, defending, or vindicating their position.
To be sure, most of what they do is inspired by a sincere belief, however erroneous, that they are defending the honor of God and of his supposed prophet, whom they hold in as dear regard as we do Jesus. (Although some of it is just old fashioned human pride and base emotion.) Therefore we should be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16)
Eighth, we must see to it that our freedom of speech in matters religious never be impaired, either by secularists or by the Islamists seeking to impose, directly or indirectly, the standards of Shari'a. The proclamation of the Gospel ought never be muzzled, especially where it contradicts the doctrines of secular humanism or political Islam.
In dealing with Islam, there is no room for false irenicism, unrealistic ecumenism, or foolish optimism. You cannot always presume good faith or a deep knowledge on the part of the Muslim or the Islamic leaders. The Muslim ethic is extremely result-driven, and so the end often justifies the means. I have found there to be much dishonesty or just plain falsity in the arguments of Muslim apologists or religious leaders and in their efforts at proselytism. After all, the Muslim may believe that "Allah is the best of deceivers," (Qur'an 3:54) and among certain Muslims (particularly the Shi'a) taqiyya (calculated dissimulation or hiding the truth) or half-truths might be ethically practiced. At the same time, do not generalize. I have met Muslims who are wonderfully cordial and forthright.
In studying Islam, one also has to be aware that some scholars, even in the West, are deeply compromised by their reliance on the petrodollars of Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Many of the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies programs in the United States and elsewhere have been endowed by Muslim money, a lot of it. Follow the money. You cannot believe all you read, and often, those with least financial resources and those most maligned by the Western media, end up having the most truth.
Eighth, develop a thick skin because, in a land where multiculturalism and secular liberalism (where there is no truth but what is relative) reigns, you are sure to be called a bigot, Islamophobe, or intolerant, or worse. You will be maligned for defending Christianity, for criticizing Islam, and suggesting--what is the great liberal secular heresy and sin of those in the liberal West--that there may be an objective truth when it comes to religion. In Muslim countries, as we all know, the reaction against criticism of Islam or its supposed prophet can get close to irrational, maniacal, and even--frankly--demonic. This is also calculated to prevent criticism and challenge to Islam.
But Islam has to be challenged. The Lord commands it. The good of the individual Muslim demands it. Caritas Christ urget nos. The love of Christ urges us to challenge Islam. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14)
Modernly, the Church is presented with two huge challenges: Islam and the loss of faith in the secular West. The New Evangelization is focused on the loss of faith in the West. Rome under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI seems to be beginning to focus on Islam. Recently, for example, the Vatican announced that Arabic will be used as one of the languages in the Pope's weekly addresses. Pope Benedict XVI has continued dialogue with Islam, as for example in his Regensburg Lecture, and has insisted on the use of reason in criticizing and identifying "pathologies of religion." He has also insisted on religious freedom and the freedom of conversion. He has recently gone on pilgrimage to Lebanon. He baptized a Muslim convert, Magdi Allam, in a highly-publicized way. The Church has had a synod specifically focused on the Church in the Middle East and has issued a post-synodal exhortation. This is all well and good.
But more needs to be done, particularly to those Muslims among us to whom we can evangelize without fear of reprisal from the law of an Islamic state which restricts the spread of the Gospel and makes conversions from Islam, in some cases, punishable by death. The pope, because of his public office, must tread gingerly. How many hundreds of thousands of Christians would die if he issued an encyclical against Islam? Why issue an encyclical to state truths we already know?
We laymen and laywomen, however, are not so constrained by the burden of a universal office. We can stomp about a little less gingerly and a little more boldly without inviting repercussions to the Church or to innocents. We ought to invoke the courage of St. Francis who personally went to the Sultan to spread the Gospel at the risk of his life.
Unfortunately, the Church has not prepared an official prayer for the conversion of Muslims. It ought to. But since the Church has not, I have therefore drafted one for my benefit and the benefit of the readers of Catholic Online. I intend to pray it every Friday during 2013. I hope some of you will join me.
Prayer for the Conversion of Muslims
Heavenly and Merciful Father, we come to the throne of your grace on behalf
of our Muslim brothers and sisters,
We ask that you free them from the spirit of antichrist,
We ask that you may open their hearts and minds to the light of truth,
and infuse them with the Light of Christ,
We ask that you might forgive them for they know not what they do.
We ask that they may be open to the saving truths of the Gospel,
We ask that they may reject the falsehoods of the Qur'an and of their misdirected prophet,
Muhammad, falsehoods which keep them away from you, the one God whom they seek.
We ask that you might teach them of the mystery of the one God they seek, the God who is Love.
We ask that you might let them see that the one God which they seek is Trinity:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We ask that they may learn that there is one God, and that Jesus Christ is his only begotten Son.
We ask that you might teach them the mystery of this Jesus Christ,
That Jesus is more than mere prophet, but that he is also the Son of God,
That Jesus is the one mediator between God and men,
That Jesus is also their Redeemer,
That Jesus is also their Savior,
That Jesus suffered and died on the Cross for them, so that they may be freed from their sins, and
That Jesus rose again from the dead, so that they might rise again from the dead.
We ask that they might see that God is not reached through law, but by grace and faith.
We ask that they may be given the grace of faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord,
that they might be baptized into His Body the Church,
and that they be freed from the sin of Adam and receive the Holy Spirit and sanctifying grace.
Send forth your Spirit among the Muslim lands and the nation of Islam, Oh Father God,
Fill their hearts, and kindle in them the fire of your love,
and they shall be created, and you shall renew the ends of the earth.
Allow them to see that there is no east or west in Christ, no Jew or Gentile.
Allow them to worship God in spirit and in truth and in freedom.
Allow them to see that violence in the service of religion is not willed by God,
but is rather a pathology of religion.
Allow them and their rulers to see that men and women must be free to accept the religion
that is true, and to follow that religion which, in his or her conscience,
he or she believes is true.
Allow them and their rulers to allow the spread of the Gospel in their lands, even unto the
steps of the Ka'aba in Mecca.
Allow them and their rulers to stop the persecution of the Church and of Christians in their lands.
Allow them to see that faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises
to the contemplation of truth.
Teach them to pray, as Jesus taught us to pray, so that we might pray the Lord's Prayer together,
so that the wolf and lamb feed together, the lion eat straw like the ox,
and only the snake shall eat dust (cf. Isaiah 6:25).
Allow us to gather together around the Lord's Table, and offer the one true sacrifice of the
Lamb of God on the Cross to the one-only God, in which we all may
share in peaceful communion.
Where we have sinned against them, either in charity or in truth or by the example of our lives, forgive us.
Where they have sinned against us, Oh Lord, we ask that we might forgive them their trespasses,
as you have forgiven ours.
On their behalf, we ask for the intercession of Mary, mother of all Muslims
as she is Mother of all nations and mother of the Church,
We ask all these things from you, most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ your Son,
Who lives reigns with you, in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas and practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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