Series 9 - Comparisons Between Islam and Christianity
The Prayer of the Lost
IV. Daily Requests
1. It is You, Whom We Serve
In the Fatiha, the Muslim addresses Allah personally for the first time when he utters the practical, daily requests. He says, “We serve you alone as slaves.“
In English, there is no word that conveys the exact meaning of the Arabic word for “serve“. Therefore, we will attempt to provide a translation that comes near to the original meaning: “To you alone do we offer ourselves as slaves. We are servants enslaved to you, unable to decide whether we wish to serve or not. We cannot free ourselves from our bondage to you. We must wait upon you at all times. We are your property. You may do with us as you wish.“ Every Muslim, whether he is a committed believer or not, has this attitude toward Allah.
A Muslim's service to Allah entails all spiritual and material aspects of life, aspects which cannot be separated in Islam. According to Islamic law, religion and politics are united. The Islamic concept of the kingdom of Allah must be realized today in the present world. All areas of life are understood as integral parts of the obligatory worship of Allah. Very often, the Friday messages at the mosques are delivered with a political slant, touching on foreign and domestic matters. These often start or motivate political demonstrations and attempts to overthrow governments.
One of the words for “mosque“ in Arabic is ma'bad, meaning “place of worship“. This concept stems from the root word for “slave“. Mankind must praise Allah. They are not free to live for themselves. They remain bound in their submission to Allah.
When a spiritual dignitary calls for a holy war, the Muslims under his leadership are expected to participate. This was the case during Muhammad's time. Even today religious and political leaders expect the same. However, the desire for war expected after such a summons is rarely ignited today. The personal motivations of the one giving the order are all too evident. Wars fought for religious causes are often more brutal than those fought for other reasons. It is not for nothing that the Qur'an says repeatedly: “Kill them wherever you find them. Lay an ambush for them and seize them wherever possible“ (Suras al-Baqara 2:191ff, al-Nisa' 4:89-91, al-Tawba 9:5, etc.). These words are not designed to be strategic suggestions from Muhammad; rather, they are understood to be inspired commands from Allah.
Allah is no god of common peace. His goal is the ultimate spread of Islam, whether through business dealings, the sword, or by economic and military means. All prevailing options are to be harnessed, and all tactics employed. Islamic worship encompasses all areas of life, from the adoration of Allah to Holy War.
In Arabic, there is a word preceding this testimonial request that strengthens the Islamic confession of loyalty to Allah. When praying, the Muslim does not say, “We serve you as slaves,“ but, “You alone are the one we serve.“ These words emphasize the exclusiveness of Allah as the one being worshipped. As long as a Muslim remains a Muslim, he will not worship or serve other gods; he is geared toward Allah only.
All aspects of a Muslim culture is of a theocentric nature, whether the family, the economy, education, politics or religion. Everything is a part of the world view that is centered in Allah. Therefore, if a Muslim falls away from Islam and becomes a Christian he is to be warned and then punished. If he fails to return, death awaits him (Sura al-Nisa' 4:90, al-Nahl 16:107). No one is permitted to step out of his slave-relationship to Allah. A Muslim belongs to Allah for time and eternity, and he has no right to leave him. Freedom of religion does not apply to Muslims, even if Western-styled laws have been enacted in Islamic countries. This is a right granted only to the non-Muslim foreigners who happen to be living or working in their countries.
In Islam, repentance means a return to Allah and an acceptance of his religion. The main issue here is not a change in lifestyle or a repudiation of one's bad character. What is most important is a willing submission to Allah. Illustrating this, Muhammad, after being joined by some Bedouins from the Arabian peninsula, said, “Do not say, 'We have believed,' but say, 'We have surrendered ourselves to Allah and his ambassadors' “ (Sura al-Hujurat 49:14).
The pride of Muslims, resulting from this exclusive dependence upon Allah, is understandable, for it seems to them that they are placed higher than all “unbelievers“. Muslims are convinced that all other gods are nothing and that all other religions are false and blasphemous. They believe that they alone know the true god, that they alone are on the true path. All other people are to be converted to Allah. Owing to his submission to the exalted, sole god, a Muslim feels superior to all other people; hence, the saying, “as proud as an Arab!“
2. It is You, From Whom We Seek Help
A Muslim's total dependence upon Allah makes his request for help possible. More precisely, this cry means: “We seek our help from you alone. We are not relying on neighbors, friends, or anybody in a position of power and authority.“ But this attitude is valid in theory only. Reality shows us an endlessly complex and tangled web of corruption and deceit. Everyone looks for mediators and helpers in the government, schools, jobs and everywhere else. But this proud attitude makes it nearly impossible to openly help a Muslim. Such a suggestion would be insulting to him. He accepts gifts or direct help on rare occasions, unless of course if they have originated from Allah. Quite often, food, money, or clothing can be given to needy families only if one secretly leaves these gifts lying at their door or at some other private place. Otherwise, the honor of the individual or clan would be jeopardized, which would mean that Allah has stopped caring for them, owing to their unworthiness or guilt.
A Muslim seldom says “Thank you!“ to his benefactors, because all that he receives is understood to have originally come from Allah. It is from Allah alone that a Muslim seeks help. Thus, it is Allah that moved a person to offer help, and the praise goes to Allah and to none other.
A Muslim not only prays to his lord during the five regulated prayer-times. He also has the option of uttering self-formulated prayers at any time. Those calls, as in all religions, mainly consist of requests for help. However, the prerequisite for such prayers is different in Islam. Whereas disciples of Jesus Christ regard themselves as sinners unworthy of receiving God's help -- yet, who have gained access to the Father through the justifying blood of Jesus -- a Muslim considers his prayer an urgent request for help from his lord because he is his slave serving him. The worthiness of the petitioner or the legitimacy of the request is not what initially matters; rather, everything depends upon Allah who may or may not meet the desired request.
Whoever enters into Islam as a slave of Allah has a fundamental right to divine aid. He has stepped into the circle of those who are qualified, those who alone can expect help or guidance from Allah.
In Sudan, an Islamic agricultural-development farm was started, in an effort to reclaim the desert through irrigation with water from the Nile. Over the entrance of this farm are the words from the Fatiha: “You alone we serve [as slaves]. From you alone do we seek our help.“ Any individual among the millions of unemployed Sudanese who wants to work on this farm is welcome to do so, provided that he accepts Islam and circumcision. General developmental assistance from mere humanitarian sources appears absurd to a Muslim. Only those who are walking along the true path of the Shari'a can expect to receive help.
3. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
With the daily requests, Jesus teaches his followers to pray for the bread necessary for each day's needs and no more. In our present age of freezers, refrigerators, canned goods, bank accounts and life insurance policies, we have lost the earnestness and power of this request to a large degree. Only he who has experienced dire need, has been unemployed for a long period, living without any means of support, or who, as a refugee, has lost all possessions, will be able to comprehend the privilege of this prayer for help.
Why does Jesus teach us to pray for the needs of each day only? The reason for this is the existence of our Father who is in heaven. He lives and does not change. He is more important than bread, income and health. He cares for his own. His people can trust him and speak with him about all their needs. He will provide what they need if they faithfully ask him.
A child does not concern himself with the affairs of his parents. He does not think about the supply of provisions in the basement but asks his mother for a sandwich, for clothing even for toys, and he is certain that he will receive whatever he needs. “My father cares for me“ is the vital, basic experience in this small boy's life. It would be unnatural for him to ask for enough sandwiches to last him an entire week. It would also be unthinkable that he should throw himself to the floor before his parents in adoration, in order to receive an apple. The child is not a slave. His parents are always there. They give him whatever he needs. There is a personal relationship between them which is based on deep truth.
If the young lad were to ask for something harmful, such as a razor blade to play with or poison to drink, his parents would certainly not grant his request, even though he were to kick and scream. It is the love and wisdom of parents that determines which requests are granted. In the same way, it is the goodness of God that determines which of our prayers are answered. He knows whether granting our request will bring good or harm to us.
Our Father in heaven is not stingy. Sometimes he even grants prosperity, which can be a spiritual inheritance to those whose ancestors worked, hoped and endured faithfully. However, prosperity often means a great temptation and demands responsibility. Those who amass money and possessions, without giving to those in need quickly corrupt their own character along with their family's.
We should realize the importance of the fact that Jesus' prayer was not given to us in the singular or “me“ form; it is meant to pass over our lips in the plural form. It is not fitting that we should only think of our private needs. Jesus also teaches us to pray for the needs of our friends and neighbors. It is unfortunate that during the Christmas season most of us only buy gifts for ourselves and those we love, never thinking of providing a little joy for the foreigners living among us, the prisoners or the handicapped.
The daily petitions in the Lord's Prayer also motivate us toward a brotherly concern for mankind. Our Father is a God of love. He prompts us to think not only about Christians but also about Jews, Muslims, Hindus and followers of other religions. Industrial nations must reconsider their traditional views and try to understand the developing countries in which the father of a family often earns only ten dollars per month. Those who open their eyes and look at the facts will conduct themselves differently during the often bitter disputes that erupt over wage increases in the West, for the small increases they gain usually amount to more than the total yearly income of many wage earners in India and Bangladesh.
The Lord's Prayer trains us in intercessory prayer and gives us a global vision of mercy, so that we can entrust others to our Father; after all, he lets the sun shine upon the evil as well as the good.
Jesus gave a deeper meaning to this comprehensive request by his piercing words:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!“ (Luke 11:9-13).
Jesus left no room for misunderstanding when he taught that man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God (Luke 4:4). Spiritual nourishment is just as vital as daily bread. This means that mere developmental assistance without genuine Christian teaching is superficial and in the end harmful. People in developing nations must learn to think, work and act responsibly toward others. A renewing of the mind in each individual is necessary, if aid to developing countries is to be truly effective. Only then can productive work be carried out by faithful workers. Without being converted to Jesus and our Father in heaven, we will not find lasting love in us for our fellow man. Without thankfulness for his daily care, it is seldom that someone would be ready to invest his time, energy and money in the lives of difficult people. Without a salvation experience, there can be neither lasting social work nor a true commitment to communal living. Those who provide aid to developing countries without explaining the Gospel clearly will find that the people whom they trained will take the first chance they get to steal the very tools and materials with which they were trained. Whoever has not experienced a cleansing of his conscience through Jesus Christ will hardly be motivated to clean his tools thoroughly after work, to prevent residue or rust from forming. Bread alone is not sufficient. The Spirit of the Father should be at the basis of everything.
Whoever utters the Lord's Prayer with true spiritual intent will not forget to be thankful. Quite frequently, those who pray ask for help, blessing, health and success. But the time and energy they invest in giving thanks is meager indeed. Mature believers express their thanks to God and man in word and deed. Whoever is thankful remains steadfast in joy and lives confidently. We really want to thank our Father in heaven for all he has provided for us, his children.
4. And Forgive Us Our Trespasses
This brief unique request does not appear in the Fatiha; it is not even hinted at, because the awareness of sin in Islam is superficial. The Qur'an certainly provides many names for shame, crime, adultery and lewdness in all their different forms. But this has nothing to do with a shocking realization of real sinfulness before the holy God, or our acknowledgment of personal guilt. In general, both are missing from Islam.
Thanks be to our Father in heaven for this request in the Lord's Prayer! What a privilege it is that we Christians can acknowledge, grieve over and confess our sins clearly. With these words, Jesus frees us from all inferiority and superiority complexes. This request plucks out our pride by the roots and plants our attitudes in the ground of reality. We are all nothing but sinners. No one is better or worse than anyone else. No one is good but God alone (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:18). Our Father in heaven is the true measure for us all. There is no occasion for anyone to boast, be he great or small. There is room only for brokenness, acknowledgment of our deficiency, and the confession of our state of total corruption.
No one will confess his sins to another unless he can completely trust that person. However we should admit our deeds, words and thoughts with stammering lips before our great and holy God, where we will receive his mercy. It is our Father who is our Judge. He knows, understands, loves and bears with us. He has planned our forgiveness and redemption before the foundations of the earth. Our forgiveness flows from the wellspring of his loving compassion. Therefore, we are encouraged to confess our sins in front of him, even though this means the death of our very “self“.
Islam cannot acknowledge a Father-God. It is true that Muslims pray to “the Forgiving One“. They read over 111 times in the Qur'an that Allah forgives. However, not one of them knows Allah actually has personally forgiven him his sins, for this is to be revealed only at the Last Judgment.
Christians know that, in this life, they have been granted full and complete forgiveness. They experience this grace daily. It was Jesus himself who gave us this decisive request. He is the Lamb of God who carried away the sin of the world. He reconciled everybody with God. Had he not been crucified, there would be no reason to ask for forgiveness of sins. God does not arbitrarily forgive “when he will or whom he will,“ for his holy law would accuse us before him throughout eternity. Our Father is always truth and love simultaneously. He is goodness and holiness in one. Jesus took all our sins upon himself because of his great love. He was judged and tormented in our place and has justified his followers once and for all through his substitutionary death on the cross. We are freed from our guilt and bad conscience by his grace. Jesus has saved us from the wrath and judgment of God. “The chastisement for our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed ... For by one offering he has perfected forever them that are sanctified“ (Isaiah 53:5; Hebrews 10:14).
Christians are not obliged to pray five times a day, nor to fast for an entire month or to embark on a dangerous pilgrimage. They need not constantly make offerings, dealing severely with themselves in hope that God may “perhaps“ be merciful to them. They do not have to secure their own salvation through their own striving, for it has already been accomplished. They no longer live in an age of law but in one of grace. They are released from all demands and legalities, for Jesus fulfilled the entire law, suffering the punishment for all the sins of human history. He who believes in Jesus is justified forever. He who refuses Christ's pardon will never find a helper on the judgment day.
Now that Jesus has reconciled God with men, each committed Christian can adore his heavenly Father with a spirit of thanksgiving. We sacrifice our time and energy, so that his kingdom may come. We do not serve God only with a hope of being justified and saved by our good deeds. On the contrary! We dedicate our life, time and money to the service of our heavenly Father, out of a spirit of thanksgiving because we have already been saved.
He who has grasped this great privilege is able to sigh with relief and is freed from psychological or religious pressure. He leads a life different from non-Christian's. Were we to ask a Muslim if he had received forgiveness of sins, he would say, “Perhaps, hopefully.“ Were we to continue questioning, he would respond, “If Allah wills.“ But he can never be sure if Allah wills, for no Muslim has the heart-felt assurance that his sins have been forgiven. He has no Lamb of God that died for him. The eternal flames of hell await him, because the sum of his good deeds will not be enough to cancel out his evil deeds.
It is particularly typical that the fifth request in the Lord's Prayer not only says, “Forgive me my debts.“ The Lord's Prayer is in the plural form. Therefore, we are not only to acknowledge our own sins, to regret, confess, hate and overcome them; neither are we to keep the gracious gift of salvation for ourselves alone. No, we are also called to intercede for our neighbors, friends and relatives -- as well as for all Muslims and Jews -- that the Lord would open their eyes to see their lostness, their bondage and the danger of their eternal damnation. We are bound to pray for each individual to repent, to return to his Father in heaven, fall before him and by faith receive his love and grace. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life“ (John 3:16). Whoever accepts the forgiveness of his sins is also called to be a priest of the Most High. The Lord's Prayer encourages him to practice this privilege for everyone by faith. The love of Christ drives us to do so.
Christ bound himself personally to the requests of the Lord's Prayer. He made our sins his sins, prayed for our forgiveness and bore the penalty for our sins in his body, even though he himself did not commit a single sin. “For [God] made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him“ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ is God's Lamb and the true High Priest simultaneously, who prays the Lord's Prayer with all his being and who pleads for us before the Father. His prayer has been answered! We depend on the grace and spiritual care of our Savior for every second of our life.
Have we already thanked, our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, for the forgiveness and pardoning of all our sins through his atonement? It is the joy and privilege of each Christian to praise the Triune God for the reality of the redemption in Christ. Even before we utter this prayer request, we can know that it has already been heard. Where then is room for our praise and thanks, our devotion and service? The apostle Paul willingly made himself a slave of Jesus Christ out of a spirit of continual praise for this wonderful salvation. In the same way, may the name of the Father be hallowed among us, so that his kingdom will come and his will be done in and through us. That is our devotion, our “Islam“, and our song of praise and worship. It is not demanded of us, not forced. There is no pressure, no law, no slavery; rather, all we do is motivated by peace, joy and love. Christian missions are the expressions of our thanks for Golgotha.
5. As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against us
The little word as can shake up every committed Christian, for we pray: “Father, forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors.“ Seen from another angle, this could mean, “Do not forgive me my debts if I am not ready to forgive the sins of my adversary. He has hurt me too much, insulted me, wronged me, persecuted me and hated me! I can never forget this.“ Again, this could mean, “Forgive? Yes I will try. But forget? Never!“ If we entertain thoughts like these, we are indirectly praying, “Father, forgive me, but never forget the evil I have done.“ Now, no one would want to utter such words! Maybe with a little inner struggle we could force ourselves to say, “I am prepared to forgive and forget, but I never want to see this person again! If I ever see him on the street, I'll just cross over to the other side to avoid him.“ This would mean, “Father, forgive and forget all my sins, but I do not ever want to meet you throughout all eternity.“ Such words coming forth from our hard and unrepentant hearts would bar us from the glory of our heavenly Father's immediate presence.
A meditation in the school of intercession, with special emphasis on the Lord's Prayer, would crush us. Perhaps we would then be ready to give up our reservations toward our enemies and to forgive them wholeheartedly. But would that be enough? Jesus expects more from us than just forgiveness. He calls us to a level of spiritual maturity that makes it possible for us to love our enemies. We truly love the Father once we have begun loving our enemies. “God is love, and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him“ (1 John 4:16). That is why Jesus taught his followers this lesson: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven“ (Matthew 5:44,45).
Moreover, when there is a dispute, it is seldom only one person who is to blame. Perhaps we are only responsible for five or ten percent of the entire problem, either because we used too harsh a tone in our speech, did not inform the other person in time, or prayed to little for our neighbor. It is a privilege to be able not only to forgive the sins of another but also to ask him to forgive our shortcomings first, when he feels that it is we who are at fault. The way of humility is always open to us. It does not hurt us when our proud “I“ is ground to dust, for self-justification is the disease of mankind, indeed, his very self-deception.
However, thoughts of self-denial are foreign to the mind of a Muslim. He never experienced real forgiveness from Allah. That is why he can never simply forgive. Allah to him is like a salesman who measures man's good deeds against his evil deeds. It's a matter of right, payment and revenge not of forgiveness, love and substitution. Only when all the demands of the law have been met can forgiveness be extended. Therefore, blood revenge is the logical result of the spirit of Islam. He who forgives an enemy commits a crime, for then the demands of justice will not be satisfied. This principle was already at work in the Old Testament: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness“ (Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:11). In Islam, every offence demands a severe punishment or a payment of debt. Should someone be generous, overlook the offence and choose to forget the whole affair, he would be guilty of an additional offence. The demands of the law must be met. Therefore, for those under the law of the Old Testament and under the law of Islam, the following principle is still valid: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth... ear for ear, blood for blood“ (Leviticus 24:19,20; Sura al-Maida 5:45).
Those who live in the spirit of the New Testament can hardly understand such thinking, because they have been converted to another way of life and they have been programmed to forgive. But from where do we get the right to forgive? Isn't the forgiveness we extend shallow, or even faulty? On the contrary, Christ did not bear only our own individual sin on the cross, he also bore the entire guilt of all mankind. For this reason, we can forgive everyone at all times. Jesus has freed us from the compulsion for revenge. His crucifixion has made this possible, and this compels us to forgive our enemies gladly.
A woman was once brought to Muhammad. She was pregnant by man other than her husband. Her accusers and witnesses asked Muhammad, “What shall we do with her?“ He answered, “Bring her back to me after she gives birth to the child.“ After a few months they brought her back and insisted that Muhammad tell them again what they should do with her. Muhammad was finally obliged to sentence her to death and said, “Take the child from her and then stone the woman immediately in front of my house.“ They did as he said. Muhammad was right according to the law.
Jesus encountered a similar incident. Some eyewitnesses brought a women to him who had committed adultery. They asked him, “What shall we do with her?“ he bent down and wrote something in the dirt. (We do not know what he wrote, maybe “Mercy“!) They insisted that he give an answer, so Jesus stood up and looked into their eyes and said, “Stone her!“ However, he added a striking sentence to the demands of the law. “The one among you who is without sin should throw the first stone.“ These words pierced their hearts and all of them left the scene silently one by one, the priests, scribes and even the apostles. Only Jesus and the woman remained (John 8:1-11). At that point, Jesus should have taken the first stone and thrown it because he really was without sin. But he did not do it. Did he break the law by not stoning the sinful women? No! he took her sins upon him and died for her. He had the right to pardon her, because he took her place and sacrificed himself for her, the holy one for the sinner. Muhammad did not die for the Muslims. Therefore he had to judge and execute the sinner. In Islam there is no cross and consequently no forgiveness, no forgiveness from God to man and no forgiveness between men. Only Christians have the capacity, the right and the obligation to forgive as God forgives, always, everyone and every sin completely.
Since Muslims reject the historicity of Christ's crucifixion as well as the need for salvation, they remain under the law and must either take revenge or demand complete compensation. Whoever reads the law of revenge in Iran, which Khomeini and his mullahs derived from the Shari'a, will be sickened. In it is written:
¡°When a cyclist who is blind in one eye causes another person to loose an eye as a result of an accident, the victim has the right to determine the type of compensation to be received, whether it is the good eye of the accused or a monetary indemnity equivalent to the loss of his own eye.
When the driver of a car causes an accident and, as a result, the leg of the victim has to be amputated, the victim has the right to demand that the leg of the driver be removed. Should wounds on the leg of the driver be found, these are required to heal before the leg can be removed, so that no 'unjust' claims are made.“
Several young Muslims studying at a mission school in Lebanon assured one another that they would no longer practice the law of blood revenge. But as the great feast, 'Id al-Fitr, at the end of the fasting month Ramadan drew near, an uncle roused one of the young men and challenged him, “How can you celebrate the breaking of the fast when you have not yet cleansed your family reputation, which has been dishonored?“ So the young man went home, got a gun, and shot the father of his friend who was chatting on the balcony of his house. Immediately after this incident, the young man jumped onto his motorcycle, raced to the police station and placed himself under protective custody. He was sentenced to prison for only a few years, because the matter was seen as one of family honor. When the day came for his release, his former friend stood at the door of the prison and shot him as he was released. This former friend then turned himself in to the police, placing himself under protective custody. Similar patterns often continue throughout generations. A wall of hatred separates the various clans. The law does not allow for forgiveness.
Islam is not a religion of love but of rights. That is why the unconditional forgiveness of an enemy's offenses is nearly impossible. Hatred is fueled and hearts grow hard. Even today such feuding often results in political tension and wars. Compromises cannot be reached, because the harsh demand for rights cannot be bent. Consequently, wars of extermination are waged, without hope of peace. He who tries to free himself from the law of revenge, attempting to espouse a pragmatic approach or to negotiate a partial peace, risks being shot like President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in 1981.
We seldom realize how much our Western culture has been influenced by the cross of Christ. We can reach compromises fairly easily, hope for mutual forgiveness and try to establish peace where hate is strong. Practices such as these have their root in the reconciliation that was established between God and man through the blood of Christ. Without the cross of Christ, there would be no reconciliation, neither with God nor man. The Father himself suffered the most as his only Son was being offered in our place, so that we, the guilty, could be justified and enabled to forgive those who sin against us, just as God forgives. But since Islam rejects the Triune God, it places itself outside the scope of grace, remaining instead under the curse of the law.