iHOPE Empowers

Islam & Christianity: How Prayer is Different (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Summary

Muslims work hard, praying five times a day. What are those prayers? Does God answer them? In this insightful episode, you’ll hear from Safiiya, a former Muslim from an Islamic-ruled nation, who shares an insightful, insider perspective on the differences between Islam and Christian prayers. Find out how these differences can help you point more Muslims to Christ.

Episode Notes

Muslims work hard, praying five times a day. What are those prayers? Does God answer them? In this insightful episode, you’ll hear from Safiiya, a former Muslim from an Islamic-ruled nation, who shares an insightful, insider perspective on the differences between Islam and Christian prayers. Find out how these differences can help you point more Muslims to Christ. 

Learn more about iHOPE Ministries at iHOPEministries.org. 

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Episode Transcription

Narrator: Today on the iHOPE Empowers Podcast.

Safiya: There was a point where I was thinking, what is the point of this? My prayers are not getting answered. I don't feel close to God. I feel sadness and depression and oppression in my life. And the people surrounding me are suffering in their spiritual life.

What is the point of this? And I did wonder God. Where are you? 

Renod:Have you ever held back from sharing your faith, especially with people of other faiths and cultures? Welcome to the iHOPE Empowers Podcast. I'm your host Renod Bejjani and here's a fresh dose of inspiration and road-tested principles that will embolden you to share Jesus with Muslims and other non-believers. 

Renod: Did you know that Islamic prayers are very different than Christian prayers? On today's podcast. We're going to dive deeply into the most important differences between Islamic and Christian prayers.

Then we'll embolden you with simple, effective things you can do through prayer, to lovingly point Muslims to Jesus. So whether you're just curious about Muslims or you're already actively engaging, there'll be something for you. Sharing the good news of Jesus with Muslims is not a skill typically taught in the church and most likely your Christian friends aren't aware of the need.

That's okay. We're here to help. iHOPE is a story of everyday Christians. Like you coming together to change the way believers think about sharing Jesus with Muslims. And when we work together, we can change this. While our neighborhoods have been growing increasingly diverse, most Christians lack the courage, confidence, and know-how to start spiritual conversations and share their biblical faith with Muslims.

This podcast will empower you to point Muslims to Jesus, by praying with them in the name of Jesus. And you're going to love our guest, Safiya. She is a former Muslim who is now a follower of Jesus. She has an amazing testimony of how God worked in her life to lead her to Jesus as Lord and Savior, and you'll want to hear our previous podcast where Safeeya shared her amazing testimony.

Now, before you hear from Safiya today, let me tell you what you can expect in this episode. First, Safiya will unpack the most important differences between Muslim and Christian prayers. We'll also share stories to illustrate how simple it can be for you to pray with a Muslim in the name of Jesus. And then finally, I'll share with you some practical, next steps that you can apply, including the most fruitful gospel prayer ever. So let's get started 

Safiya, please tell us about yourself and give us a summary of your testimony.

Safiya: Thank you so much, brother Evernote for having me. I am so excited to share with you my experience as I was raised as a Muslim. So I was born and raised in the middle east in a very devout Muslim family with a Sunni background family. Where it's very important to keep the five pillars of Islam in our everyday life as an obligation from Allah. Saying the Shahada which is the creed that there's only one God, Allah Mohammad is a prophet praying five times a day is very important for every Muslim fasting in the month of Ramadan, going to pilgrimage and giving towards a Zakat or Muslim charities was the way in the life that I lived.

I started wearing the hijab from the age of three and I wore the Abelia after the age of 10. And my family was devout. My uncles are Imams. I lived in a 98% Muslim population city. And, in my heart, I truly honored Allah and what was instilled in me from a very young age. 

My mother was an Islamic school teacher. So I did have to learn the Koran and memorize Surahs accurately even recite that in competitions. One thing I've witnessed when I was eight years old when I went to Saudi Arabia was the beheading of a woman. And that shook me up and put fear in me about my fate. And I started thinking and wondering, who is God?

And why did I see this? And what is my religion about, which I did not before? I did notice that my prayers were not being answered. I did notice that there was a distance between me and God. And I did notice that I had the pressure to be the best Muslim I could be but don't question. And then when I came to the United States for a visit is when a war happened in my country. My country was invaded by a dictator. And it was very bad. And my family and I could not return home and we received asylum status to be able to legally stay in the US and now I'm living in an American culture with the American religion called Christianity.

And the way of life is very different in the west versus the Islamic world. But I strove to be the best Muslim I could be even in a Western culture, but, for eight and a half years, I came across many American Christians. And I went to college and worked at companies and no one shared their faith with me.

No one explained to me the meaning of Christmas or Easter or the meaning of the cross or church, nothing. And I wondered what was the meaning? What do they celebrate? What is this about? But I would say I saw their faith in Christianity in the eyes of TV. A lot. And I thought that's what Christianity was about.

The American culture and Christianity is the same. One day my grandmother passed away and I was mourning her loss. I became depressed and just felt literally at that moment, far away from God, the furthest I've ever felt in my life. And that moment, a lady at my job felt sorry for me, gave me a hug that gave me peace, and invited me to the biggest church in that area.

And then when I walked into this Christian Church, I felt the love of the people and acceptance and embrace. And I was given the word of God the Bible. And it was from Isaiah 61:1 was the first scripture I heard about the prophecy of Jesus that He came to heal the broken hearts of the captive free and open the eyes of the blind.

And in the book of Luke, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. And I wanted to know more about this Jesus. And I read the book on my own. I started seeing my heart being changed. I just started seeing miracles. In fact, I started seeing an answer to my prayers for the first time. And you know what? After two and a half years, I knew I had peace.

I had no doubt that Jesus is the true living God. And He rescued me and brought me out to save me. And He even gave His life for me. And I'm so grateful that I am a follower of Him now. He's changed my life. 

Renod: Praise God. Now I can call your sister. Yes. You mentioned prayer. So let's teach a little bit about prayer to our listeners. So prayer is a common belief among all sects of Islam. Now in Arabic, it's called Solat, and Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Now, Safiya are these prayers of petition, or are they ritual prayers?

Please describe that for our listener.

Safiya: I would say. They are both Muslim. Because when they are coming to a time of Solat prayer, which is regulated by the Islamic calendar five times a day. They are truly on their knees petitioning Allah for an answer to their prayers. But it's also a ritual because it's an order and a structure and memorization of the Surahs when they're doing it. 

Renod: Now just so our listener will understand what is a Surah?

Safiya: A Surah is a verse from the Koran. 

Renod: Can a Muslim perform these five prayers at any time or is there a set schedule? They must follow.

Safiya: Yes they can they can make up prayer. So if they get sick or if they're not able to pray at a certain time because they're working or going to school or something's going on yes, they can make up prayers. 

Renod: Prayer centers I've noticed in mosques are always pointing in a specific direction. And so are the Muslims that are praying. Why is that?

Safiya: It's really interesting. All mosques around the whole world are pointing to Mecca. They're pointing to the Kaaba, which is in Mecca, which is a black box, which has a stone inside of it. And all Muslims around the whole world where the mosque is built, the pointer or the member, which is the place where the Imam prays and everyone follows him. It is pointing all towards the Kaaba. 

Renod: And what is the significance of that black box or the Kaaba.

Safiya: If I can just share with you some of the history briefly Mecca is the birthplace of Islam. And that's where the prophet Mohammad brought the Islamic religion to the people who are called Muslims, now followers of Islam. And there was a stone, supposedly that came from heaven that fell into that place. And they erected that as the box to center of prayer around the whole world for all Muslims to follow. Just briefly, that's what I will share with you from the history. In fact, even if you go to stay at a hotel or I've even seen it on a plane, wherever you are, the pointer points towards this particular location. And that's where Muslims point and pray towards. 

Renod: Also, what I've noticed is that generally men and women pray separately. And they also say their prayers in Arabic, the ritual prayers. Even though most Muslims don't speak Arabic. So tell us why is that?

Safiya: So the Koran is written in Arabic. That is the traditional language that is spoken in the middle east. And all Muslims around the world have to read Arabic Koran. And so in order to do the prayers, they have to memorize. The Koranic prayers, which is in Arabic, that is a traditional language.

But I do want to tell you that there are many Muslims that do pray and the Salat prayer and they do recite the Surahs in Arabic, but they don't necessarily know what it's saying, or maybe they might just know what that part is saying, but they don't know what the rest of the Koran is when they're reading it.

Honestly. I don't think many Muslims even question it. This is the way it is. This is the way to do it. And that's how they do it. But as far as Arabic-speaking people, they know what they're saying when they're reading the Koran and saying the Salat prayers and everything.

 In fact, even the call to prayer is very important for every Muslim to know. But when the call to prayer comes on, the Azan means that prayer is going to start as soon as Azan is finished. And that is in Arabic in every country in the world, announced on a loudspeaker in Arabic.

So if there's a country that does not speak Arabic, it is still said in Arabic. So they should know what that says. At least. 

Renod: When I go to visit a mosque or take a group of people, just for observation, we noticed that there is so much preparation required before a Muslim can pray and it's called absolution, but why doesn't he tell us, what is that like? What is absolution? What are the required preparation for Muslims before?

Safiya: I will answer that for you. But one thing I did not address about the last question is the men and women praying separately. Yes, that is very common, in the Islamic culture and the men I would men and women are with women traditionally, and also it's the same way in a mosque.

So men pray in the front part of the mosque, which is where the Imam is. As Imam is leading, the men are praying behind him and the women pray in the back behind the mat unusually or on another level. I never prayed with my father or my brother or my uncle. And they never prayed with me or my mom or my aunts either.

So that's traditionally the way it is. As far as to answer this question when a Muslim is going to go pray at a mosque, it is holy ground. That's how they see it. And you have to cleanse yourself. I'll just say specifically, men go to the men's area to be cleansed women, go to the women's area to be cleansed.

In the mosque, there are separate doors to go in. And it is a whole ritualistic process called the Wudu and basically, it is a cleansing of the hands, the arms, all the way to the elbows cleansing of the ears, the face, the hair, the feet. It all has to be clean before you walk into a place of prayer.

And, it's similar to Jewish customs too. When Jewish people went into the temple to pray, they would go to the mikvah, the cleansing. And so it's similar. I'm not saying It's a similar ritual, but it's very important to be clean before you go to pray and worship Allah. I do want to say one thing as far as being a woman this can relate to women, but if a woman is on a monthly time, she is considered unclean. So she would not be able to pray and she can make up her prayers after she's finished. 

Muslim women usually have to cover their hair. They always have to wear the hijab and everyone removes their shoes outside the mosque before they go inside. 

Renod: This reminds me of Yasser. One of my Muslim friends confided with me that this preparation, it's just the high-stress level that he feels and all of these things and rules and times and so on in order to get credit for his prayers. Now to our listener perhaps you feel the way I felt at one point in that is considering how you would feel if you had to do all this preparation before you thought God would consider listening to your prayers. 

Now, Safiya, before you became a follower of Jesus, how was it like for you and your family to prep for these prayers?

Safiya: There is a big preparation that is required. As a Muslim, when I was growing up, I didn't see any difference for me because to me, this is the way of life for the way I was raised. You have to pray five times a day, certain times when the Azan comes on, go do the wudu and pray. But there was a point where I realized it was just a thing to do.

Of course, I did it out of reverence for Allah and what was taught and instilled in me. But there was a point where I was thinking, what is the point of this? My prayers are not getting answered. I don't feel close to God. I feel sadness and depression and oppression in my life. And the people surrounding me are suffering in their spiritual life.

What is the point of this? And I did wonder God. Where are you? There are many times when I would open the window of my room and I would look at the creation of God. And so I knew there is a creator God, but I did not know Him and I wanted to know Him desperately. And the only God, I could cry out to us Allah because that's the only God I was told about.

 I was doing it out of obligation. For many Muslims that is all they know. They don't know any difference that they could pray differently or there is another person that can worship that is true living God, they don't know about it. 

Renod: That is so important. Now I want to come back and dive in deeper into this very important point. Safiya thank you for bringing that up, but before we go there, I just want to continue to set the stage. Just the rituals that are required for our listeners. So they have the depth of that. But I want to come back to this very important point.

You brought up. So as far as the ritual prayers themselves, they're not an easy task either. When I've seen it and I've tried to follow it, it's difficult because each ritual prayer is made up of a repeating unit or a cycle of kneeling. And the number of kneeling for the five daily prayers differ based on the time of day.

And as a Muslims performs the kneeling, I'm told that they are considering the position of their legs and feet, the position of their hands and fingers, where their eyes are focused, how much time they're reciting, how loud they are, and how they're moving their lips or listening. Safiya, how was it like for you and your family? Again, was it just common to do all of these things, it became routine, or was it difficult to remember all these various steps?

Safiya: As you do it repetitively, you get used to it. Even now I have not done the Salat prayer at almost 20 years of being a believer now, and I still have. I memorized. I still know the steps, and how to do it. And it's the raising of hands. It starts with that. And then you fold your hands in the middle of your stomach and then you do the prayers and then you bow, and then you put your knees down and prostrate yourself in a way on the ground with your knees down. 

And it's just about showing rituals to honor Allah. Look at this, why would we not bow our knees to worship our Lord? Why would we not? He's the creator. He created us to worship Him and I believe that's the good thing about the Islamic faith is the reference for a love for God, and how they worship him with everything. And for some people, it is hard. They have maybe knee problems or they have physical challenges that they cannot do, but they still do it out of reference to Allah.

By the way, if a person is handicapped or something and they cannot pray, they can pray from a chair. That's okay. If some people are on a plane or a flight, they can pray from their chairs. But most of the time it's good to be prostrating yourselves to Allah and praying that way. 

I don't know how to tell you this on a podcast, but it's a whole ritualistic way of praying the Salat prayer. And I still have it memorized. When you do it so much, how can you forget it? 

Renod: It's sort of like riding a bike or learning to walk. Now another thing just to set the stage, Muslims are highly encouraged to pray in the mosque. My understanding is they get more points from Allah or praying in a mosque.

Now, if they can't make it to a mosque, then they should stop whatever they're doing and follow all the requirements to go into the prayer at the appropriate time, regardless of where they are. So Safiya, how was it like for you and your family to do these daily prayers when you couldn't make it to the mosque?

Safiya: This is a good point that you're bringing up. I do want to say from the Koran. There's a Surah that says men are obligated to go to the mosque and pray, but women are not. So they don't have to. The mosque in front of my house where I lived in my country did not allow women. It was only for men.

So some mosques are only for men allowed to go pray and some bigger mosques allow men and women. Yes, it is very encouraging for men to go pray at the mosque. And for me and my family many times if my family prayed in front of our house, then my father and my brother, and my uncles would go pray there.

And I would pray at home with my mom and my aunts. And by the way, when you're going to be praying, you have to stand in line. And not necessarily touching each other, you don't have to touch, but stand in line and do this obligatory prayer. Some places during the COVID time are not able to pray together.

So I wonder how they prayed. Sometimes I wonder about that because you'd be close to each other. So I would say. Most of the time I prayed at home with my mom, but there were huge mosques in my country as well. So we did go to those spots and pray on special, eat holidays or special times if we could make it. 

Honestly, I liked going to the mosque and praying. It was just something about being in the community of other Muslims and, greeting each other. We greet each other with a kiss and ask how we're doing and encourage each other or congratulate each other, whatever. I really liked going to the mosque and praying, but most of the time we had to pray at home. 

Renod: Yes. So that sense of community is so important and so good and brings people together. Now, as far as the men, my understanding is that the men especially those who are required to pray at the mosque and set their entire schedule around that.

I mean, you're talking about a pre-dawn prayer that was changed according to the time of the sunrise. And then you got the morning, noon afternoon, and then the evening prayers. To our listener, I would say, can you imagine the discipline. And the effort required to make all that happen every day of your life.

So Safiya as you observe your uncles, your father, the males around you, how was it like back in the country where you came from? How did you observe them learn from them as they set their daily schedule around these five daily prayers?

Safiya: Muslims follow the lunar calendar. I believe in America, they follow the solar calendar. So it's different based on the siding of the moon. That is how the prayer times are set. Not every day is the same prayer time. It is. It could differ. And especially during Ramadan, it changes.

So every Muslim gets a calendar that you could buy there. It's every day of the whole year. The prayer times are set. There are six prayer times. But Muslims can do that extra prayer to receive extra credit, but really they have to pray five times a day.

That's how the schedule is set. It's by the prayer times. And sometimes in some countries, people cannot afford a calendar or they cannot see the calendar scheduled. So they rely on the Azan that comes on.

I would say many places in the Middle East go around the prayer times for the work schedule. Or some companies even have a prayer center in their company buildings. So you could just pray in that place. You could stop your job, your work, go to the wudu cleansing, go pray, and then go back to work. In my school, there was a room where we would go and pray.

 It's just an everyday part of life that is normal and no one questions it or anything. I would say if there is a supervisor of a company that is not Muslim, he will allow Muslims to go and pray for that 15-minute prayers and then come back and start working. 

Renod: Then when you came to the United States. You were still a Muslim, you and your family for eight and a half years after you came here. So how did you see that difference in terms of the schedule? Because now you don't have society all scheduled around those five daily prayers.

So what was it like for you and your family when you came to the U.S.?

Safiya: It was very hard because we were used to Islamic customs. Following the five pillars of Islam and not having a community, not having the call to prayer. I would say it was very hard because the schedule is not set around prayer and fasting in pilgrimage here in this part of the world.

So we had to make our schedule around the schedule of the west. No, I was not able to pray five times a day and do certain things that I normally did. And it was very hard, in the beginning, to get used to this for a few years. It's almost like we had to get our mindset out from the culture that we were raised in and live in the Western culture and try to adapt to it.

And it takes a long time to adapt. Still to this day, I would say I miss some things about my country and the way we did things. You just get used to that. In school, here in the west, there were no prayer centers, no prayer rooms, but there are some places now that do have it in America.

The university I went to did not have at that time any prayer accommodations? As I was working, I just got used to not praying as much because I was not able to in the times that I did it in my country, but here I could not. So the more I did not, in my heart, the more I sensed distantness from Allah.

And I was just getting away from how I was raised, 

Narrator: Next time on the iHOPE Empowers Podcast.

Safiya: One thing very important to know when we're going to share the gospel with Muslims, they don't believe Allah is made in the image of humans. Just the fact of Him being the son of Allah or son of God, just makes no sense in their vocabulary.

Renod:Thanks for listening to this podcast. A donor-supported series from iHOPE Ministries. For more bite-sized things to know and do to share your faith with intention. Follow us on Instagram @ihopeministries then go to ihopeministries.org and sign up for our weekly e-newsletter. If you enjoyed today's episode, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts and subscribe wherever you listen. Your review helps the show empower more everyday Christians with the courage, confidence, and know-how to share Jesus in our generation. See you next time.