I knew I would love Afghanistan before I even arrived. As a student of arts, it is easy to romanticize the Middle East, drawn to its exotic mysticism, history and culture.
My first nights in Kabul were spent sleeplessly listening to the helicopters passing overhead, wondering what was happening and where they were going. At 4 a.m., the city would receive its wakeup, every Mosque sounding out the call to prayer, rousing Afghans and expat alike.
In each country, the call to prayer is slightly different, and while Afghanistan is far from the worst, I certainly didn’t welcome the local Muezzin intruding on my sleep.
But it didn’t take long for my body to tune out the nightly chorus of Kabul, much as those living near railways learn to adjust to the noise of passing trains. Ten months later, I now appreciate the intrusion of prayer time throughout my day as I have realized how much there is to learn about my own faith from my Muslim colleagues.
Christians and Muslims obviously have very different beliefs. As Christians, we need to be firm on that, and not compromise what we know to be true from the Bible. But there has to be a dedication to learning from our neighbor while holding true to our faith.
Think of Malala Yousafzai’s recent statements to Jon Stewart on the importance of turning the other cheek. Or of Eboo Patel’s tremendous work in the area of creating interfaith dialogue. These are Muslims who have lived out something that is beautifully true. And, as is often said, all truth is God’s truth.
In that interest, I’ve seen three things Christians can learn from Muslims about Prayer:
A majority of the Christians I know will spend the first part of their day in morning devotions, rising perhaps 30 minutes before the rush to get ready begins in order to spend time with God. But I’m not sure I know many how would wake at dawn, no matter how early it falls, in order to pray.
To me, to get up with the sun each day demonstrates an uncontainable excitement for God. There are far too many mornings where it is all too easy to hit the snooze button and simply relegate God to later in the day.
Utilizing the call to prayer as a reminder to take time out and invest in a relationship with God teaches a discipline that can often be lacking. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you must stop in order to read, worship or reflect. It puts God at the center of your life and physically demonstrates that He is more important than any other concerns you may have as they come second to Him.
Seeing the preparations for prayer that Muslims go through can change the way in which we approach God. Removing their shoes and washing their hands, face and feet; they are making themselves clean.
While the blood of Christ has already done that for us, it is a poignant reminder that our God is a Holy God who we should come before with reverence. He may be our Father who loves us, but that does not mean we should come before Him lightly.
One of the beautiful things about the cross is it has removed the barriers between us and God, so that we can raise our voice to Him, sharing our needs and joy whenever it strikes us. But maybe we should also picture who God truly is when we talk to Him. He is the God of Moses who said “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) And the God of Revelation 4, who shines out from His throne like precious stones.
Praying five times a day, whether at the Mosque, in the office or in the home creates a sense of unity amongst Muslims, whether they are literally together or spread throughout the world.
I was raised in an evangelical Baptist church, so it was not until I came to Afghanistan that I first experienced the liturgy. I was surprised by how much I enjoy it.
One friend who has recently been working her way through The Divine Hours explained how praying a prayer that you know someone else somewhere else will be taking up after you feeds into a community that represents the true body of Christ, regardless of denomination or location, creating “a cascade of praise before the throne of God,” as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Divine Hours.
In some ways, it is easier to be a Christian in Afghanistan than it is in England. There is a value and worth placed on religion that is often dismissed within secular cultures. Although Christians and Muslims obviously disagree about a lot of aspects of who God is and how we relate to Him, there is much we can learn from each other.
Sofya Shahab is a humanitarian aid worker traveling the world and learning more about God each day. When not debating the finer points of international politics she can usually be found dancing her way through a local bazaar or searching for the perfect cup of tea.