Some time ago I visited a mosque in one of Europe’s capital cities, together with 20 local Christians, who attended the one day seminar I conducted there about how Christians should relate to Muslims.
We had made an appointment with the local imam, Mohamed, (not his real name) who was also the head of the Islamic Foundation in that city. Unfortunately Mohamed had forgotten our appointment and hadn’t informed others about our coming. Nevertheless, we were received very warmly by two Muslims, one from Qatar, one from Senegal. While they contacted Mohamed, we were brought to a large room on the first floor, with beautiful carpets (which was nice because we had taken off our shoes at the entrance). Although there was hardly anyone in the building at this moment, we were told that in four weeks time, at the end of the month Ramadan, the month of fasting which had started on the day of our visit, this building would hold more than 1.000 people.
Our two hosts put up some chairs and got cookies and drinks for us. Then they excused themselves because they were fasting. We were left by ourselves and after a while we decided to start to pray for the country and the Muslims and the churches and whatever God put on our hearts. So we divided in groups of 2 and 3 and sat on the carpet to pray. In our prayers we didn’t face Mecca (the direction of this was clear in the way the carpets were laid out), but prayed to our heavenly Father.
While we were praying, one of the leaders of the mosque, an Algerian man in his early fifties, came to us. He said Mohamed would arrive shortly and that meanwhile he would be very happy to show us around and answer any questions we might have.
Taking us to a bathroom, he explained that Muslims before they pray wash their face, hands, feet, nose, head, arms. These washings are performed to clean themselves before each other and for God before starting their prayer rituals. In the large prayer room downstairs, he explained more about Islam. Several people from our group asked questions about the role of women, the place of children in the mosque, the language that is used.
Meanwhile, several other Muslims had come into the room and sat down to read the Qur’an or listen in to our conversation with Mohamed, who had arrived. Several of those present started handing out leaflets and booklets explaining Islam. We asked Mohamed about the Qur’an and the relationship with the Bible. He challenged us to show which of the Gospels in the Bible was the original one given to Jesus. We weren’t ready nor willing to get into this discussion at this point in time. But the questions of our group became more personal: “Do you have assurance that your sins are forgiven?” The answer was ‘No, God knows. I hope that He will be merciful and that my good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds.”
Then the question turned to prayer. We were told that most of the Islamic prayers follow a clearly prescribed ritual with memorized words, but personal prayers are also used. In answer to our question, whether he had seen God answer any of his prayers, he said “ No”, and when he saw the amazement on our faces, he added: “No one can know, even Jesus wasn’t sure about whether God answered His prayers”.
Although the remarks and answers he had given us enough food for further discussion, we had been in the mosque for over two hours now and we had to leave to continue our seminar in the church. We thanked our Muslim hosts for their hospitality and kindness and for their willingness to explain something about Islam to us, and left.
We got a glimpse into the religious life of Muslims in general, and one Muslim leader in particular. What we saw filled us with sadness: despite the fact that his whole life is built around his religion, he has no assurance of eternal salvation and despite the fact that he prayed five times a day and leads others in prayer, he hasn’t seen God answer any of his prayers. We know that God longs to reveal His truth to them. He wants to answer their prayers, because according to Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. But how can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard or have such wrong views about?
The answer the Bible gives us is that someone has to speak the truth to them. Someone who loves them enough to spend time with them, building relationships, sharing their concerns, listening to their convictions, changing their misgivings, living out the original Gospel of Jesus before them. Are you willing to be that person?
Bert de Ruiter