In April 2016 we held a meeting of Christians and Muslims to reflect on our prayer lives, to look at the similarities and differences in how, when and why we pray. The meeting, which took place at The Institute for Leadership and Community Development, had four speakers two Christian and two Muslim and about 40 people of both faiths were there to listen but particularly to discuss what prayer meant to them. The speakers came from different traditions within Christianity and Islam and presented their own perspective around the questions of how they pray, why do they pray and what happens when they pray? Much of the evening was spent with small groups of Christians and Muslims talking together about those questions?
What came out during the evening was, perhaps not surprisingly, that there was much similarity between our attitudes towards prayer. I found it particularly interesting to see how much passion there was when people talked about their own prayer lives. The sense was that there was something very deep and profound happening for both Christians and Muslims when they pray; this is not just ritual, not just out ‘going through the motions’ or performing a task, this was a deep spiritual connection.
Shaykha Safia Shahid spoke about the five daily times of prayer for Muslims, something that non-Muslims can often see, and perhaps dismiss, as mere ritual yet when she spoke there was such passion about what that meant for her daily life. She explained how it constantly reconnected her with Allah, how through those prayer times she was aware of his presence in her life day by day it was a very moving and powerful speech. Nicky Tapper spoke from her Pentecostal tradition and talked about her prayer life again with passion, hers was a much more informal expression of prayer one that can bubble over into all of her life. There was no set rhythm or patterns, no particular prayer books, and yet just as deeply felt compassion that is the more ritualised prayer that we heard about from Safia. In the groups we found this similar passion, this same deep yearning for a spiritual life that came through the pattern and ritual of prayer, but also the informal crying out to God our heartfelt needs.
The second two speakers again came from different traditions within Islam and Christianity. Shaykh Muhammad Yaseen spoke about the informal prayer within Islam from his more Sufi tradition; he talked about the yearnings and the praying to Allah and what that meant for him in those more informal times. Rev Larry Wright shared his ritual of prayer, how he prays at least four times a day at set times of morning, noon late afternoon and last thing at night. He explained that he draws upon the spiritual tradition of scripture and prayer books, how he looks to the Saints as an inspiration for his prayer life. Through all these discussions and talks there was this real sense that prayer was something very deep and profound for both Christians and Muslims. This was not just shouting at the sky or empty words but something really deep, a passionate crying out from our spirit.
Interestingly, perhaps, some of the differences that came up were within the faith traditions rather than between them, there was significant difference between a Pentecostal and catholic pattern of prayer, whereas there was real similarity between the way Larry and Safia described their daily patterns of prayer. Yet there were also differences on how we talked about God praying through Jesus Christ for the Christians, being submissive before Allah for Muslims. One of the interesting differences came up with a question was asked about how do we pray and make sense of all the bad stuff going on in the world? Do we blame God or do we see God as being somehow apart from the sufferings that we see going on in the world? Nicky, wanted to make it very clear that she did not in any way blame God, that she saw that this was people’s own choices which she linked back to the story of Adam and Eve and how they made the choice to disobey and that actually God grieves suffering in the world, but as humans we have to bear our responsibility. Shaykh Yaseen, however, saw it as God permitting things but not delighting in suffering or evil, he explained that he believes that nothing happens outside the will of Allah and yet he is not pleased with what people do but neither can we just say he is apart from it.
Perhaps, once again, the most significant part evening were the discussions, where people had chance to talk to another person about their own personal prayer life. Rarely do we get the opportunity to talk to someone from another faith about our own prayer life in an atmosphere where it’s acknowledged as a good thing, where people are eager to understand and share deeply about their own struggles and joys with prayer. We asked groups to consider how they cope when God doesn’t answer prayer, or doesn’t answer as we want. Many people said that was a very important part of the evening, to get to some of those difficult challenges of prayer and hear how other people actually grapple with that rather than just hearing the right answer or the theory.
Talking about prayer is perhaps something that in Britain we haven’t got used to doing in public, we might feel a bit embarrassed I will be laughed at or ridiculed? Yet in the right environment it can be one of the most interesting, and profound discussions to have, one that doesn’t just stay at the point of prayer but leads on to other interesting insightful and useful conversations. Where we don’t just learn another faith, but have opportunity to share deeply with new found friends.
You can watch a video of the event here https://vimeo.com/164685440