Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can I pray with a Muslim?
Victor Edwin SJ
I enjoy meeting Muslims in their homes, mosques, in the university class rooms, and in their places of work. Such meetings establish and deepen relationships.  Several years ago I was introduced to the Awan family by a mutual friend.  The Awan family live in the Turkman Gate area in New Delhi, close to the famous Ram Lila Maidan. Over the years our steady ‘reaching out’ brought us closer to one another. The family considers me as their son. I feel it is a privilege to be loved by a Muslim family as their son.

Some time ago, the father of the family told me: “The media portray Muslims as violent people. There is an effort to paint Islam as one of the main sources of evil in the world. What do you feel about such propaganda? Are such efforts based on a mixture of ignorance and prejudice?” These words express fears and concerns of Indian Muslims and demand a personal answer from a Christian son.

The apprehension and distress of Muslims are not unfounded. Both subtly and overtly the media portray Islam as a religion of the sword. Several academic as well as popular accounts that were published in the past two decades depict Islam as inherently violent. 
In the context of such negative publicity on Islam: can I stand with the Muslim family that considers me as one of its members in their moments of fear? Will I identify with them continually even if the propaganda against Muslims keeps mounting?  How would I express solidarity with them as their Christian son? These questions keep coming to me every time I visit them.  I feel that sitting with the family and talking to them on faith matters, sharing concerns, and partaking in family meals are sacred moments of dialogue. Over time, I have noted some moments of deep silence that prevails punctuating our conversations. I have come to consider those moments of silence as moments of prayer. My solidarity with them is deepened in those sacred moments of prayer.

I gather myself and direct my attention towards God on those moments. I am convinced that God whom I recognize as Father, as Jesus revealed, is the One God to Whom Muslims surrender their lives and turn their hearts and minds in prayer. The Church teaches that Christians and Muslims “worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth.” I am convinced that the father of that family too raises his heart towards Allah, the one God. In those rich moments of silence I am deeply convinced that we pray together. Together we respond to God’s redeeming grace that embraces all men and women. I believe that the Spirit of God binds both of us in prayer.

A recent Catholic Church’s document: Meeting God in Friend and Stranger beautifully explains such possibility of prayer together. The numbers 135 and 136 of this document expresses this in the following way:

Pope John Paul II explains that his initiative of inviting all religions to Assisi in order to pray for Peace was rooted in his conviction that every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person. This perception that every authentic prayer is the Holy Spirit’s activity means that all genuine prayer is in fact the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one God at work within us. It is the Father, through the risen Christ, who bestows the Spirit when we are moved to pray; and when we pray it is in fact the Spirit prompting us to pray to the Father through the one Mediator, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It follows then that although other religions are not Christian, and we must not call them such, they are in the Spirit related to the Church in one and the same movement of prayer, prompted by the Spirit, through Christ to the Father. 

When the Spirit of God binds both a Muslim and a Christian, is there anything specific a Christian brings into the experience of praying together? A Christian brings in an eschatological perspective into the experience of praying with a Muslim.  A Christian bearing the seal of the risen Christ not only recognizes that the Spirit of God is crying Abba Father in the praying hearts of every member of the human race but also glimpses that the intimacy with God as God’s children that is realized in the Risen Christ. A Christian prays as a son or daughter of God to God the Father in and through Christ. This is the newness in Christian prayer that binds us even more closely with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Our love for Muslims is deepened and qualified in the light of Christ who embraces all humanity and especially those [Muslims] who adore with us one God.   

Over the years I have recognized that not only we can pray together ... but it is also essential that we do pray together. In prayer we express our solidarity for one another in a profound way. We assure one another that we are united in prayer. Prayer intensifies our love for one another.  In the ambience of love, we share and listen to joys and sorrows of one another. Our faith convictions are tested and confirmed and as a result we grow in our openness towards the other.   I believe prayer is essential for deepening interfaith relations. V. Courtois, a pioneer in Christian- Muslim relations in India wrote: “This study of Islam should lead to greater love and better appreciation of Muslims. Insistence should always be made not on what separates Christians from Muslims, but on what may rapproach them, bring them closer to each other and to the Heart of Christ.  We study them not as enemies but as Brothers [and Sisters]. To study we shall add much prayer.

Turning my heart to the counsel of V. Courtois, I pray that through my life and attitude I may be able to communicate my love for Jesus. Muslims respect Jesus as a Prophet. Silent moments of praying together somehow may help the Muslim family to understand that I love Jesus in a way that is different from their understanding. They know that Jesus is precious to me. I pray that they may come to know Jesus and love him. I think it is the mission that I am involved in. My mission is to help others to know Jesus and love him. 

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