I am a pastor, and recently, I challenged my church to respect Islam, know about Isalm, and become friends with a Muslim person. I don't know nearly enough about this religion that has over 1 billion adherents. So, I need to meet my own challenge.
I began by visiting a Muslim center near where I lived. I just showed up and asked someone to tell me more about the faith. I am still unsure if I will develop any further friendship out of that visit. But, I have in mind the faces of people I can pray for. And that's a good place to be.
One element of Islam is an understanding of the five pillars. I am going to share those five pillars here and offer comments on how those five pillars are relevant to Christians. The information I offer here on the five pillars of Islam comes from the following website http://www.islam.com/pillars.htm.
1) To bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah and that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the messenger of Allah.
My understanding is that 'Allah' is the Arabic word for God. If Christianity were expressed in the Arabic language, then we would call God 'Allah' (just as we would call God 'Dios' if were speaking Spanish). So, I see this as a Christian value - declaring that God is worthy of worship, and God alone.
I do not believe that Muhammad is the messenger of God. On this point, Christians and Muslims would have respectful disagreement. Similarly, I do believe Jesus is God in human flesh and is to be worshiped. Muslims do not believe Jesus is God. So, again, on this Christians and Muslims would have respectful disagreement.
The potential for great offense is here. Muslims do not accept the divinity of Christ. Christians do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet. I think this first pillar is important because we can agree on monotheism. And we can peacefully accept that there are profound, irreconcilable differences between the faiths. Christians must pray that our Muslim friends would see the truth about Jesus.
2) To observe prayer (Salat).
Prayer is clearly a Christian value. I think we have much to learn about diligence and commitment from our Muslim friends. The devout Muslim prays five times a day, facing Mecca. Christians would do well to adopt such rigorous spirituality. Occasionally pre-written prayers are helpful. Praying the Psalms or praying a prayer-book is good. This might be part of a Christian's prayer - life.
However, we really believe that in Christ, we have a personal relationship with God. A big part of our prayers must be personal - personal confession, praise to a God we truly know, thanks for specific blessings, and request (not just for stuff, but that God's will be done in our lives). I don't know if Muslim prayers are this personal and individualized. Sometimes American Christians will make their faith too individualistic. We are a part of the body of Christ. But we also each have to work our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
3) To pray Zakat (alms giving).
I definitely do not know the intricacies of Muslim theology of giving to the needy. Clearly it is a central part of Muslim faith, the third of the five pillars.
For Christians, giving is not a "payment" and we would never frame it that way. We give as a Spiritual discipline, as a way of acknowledging that all we have is from God. The benchmark or starting point is the 10% tithe. We structure our lives so that 10% of what we take is given to our church.
From there, we operate under the principle of generosity. This is a defining value of the church in the New Testament. Christians are not called to give 10%. Christians are called to far exceed that amount, so that the needy are fed, the orphans are cared for, the poor have a fair chance, and most importantly, the Gospel is advanced in the world.
It seems that Muslims give out of duty, although I don't to misrepresent. The wording from the website to "pay Zakat." Christians give from the heart's generosity, and as a spiritual discipline.
4) To perform the pilgrimage to the house of Allah (Hajj).
In response to a woman who was concerned about where proper worship should happen, Jesus said, "The hour is coming and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him." It's not where we worship, for Christians, it is how.
My understanding is that the Muslim pilgrimage is for the purpose of worship. Christians may go to worship in special places - the National Cathedral; historic places in Europe; the places of the Bible times (Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece); and, maybe famous international churches (Like Saddleback in California or HillSong in Australia). However, it is not necessary to go to these places.
The more important Christian journey is to go on trips of evangelism or compassion - mission trips. I firmly believe every Christian should go on missions, even if it is a short-term. Every Christian, if possible, should go on a mission trip in his or her life. Most Christians should go on some kind of mission trip every year. Where the purpose of the Muslim pilgrimage is for worship, the Christian mission trip is for service, works of compassion, and evangelism.
5) To observe fasting during Ramadan (Bukhari)
Much like the second pillar, prayer, this practice in Islam is an admirable demonstration of spiritual discipline. Americans in general have a serious obesity problem because we are addicted to excess (the 1 lb hamburger or the all-you-can-eat foot buffet). Spiritual discipline in the area of food is a serious issue for Christians and especially for Christians in an affluent society. Gluttony is a sin.
Jesus fasted. Jesus also feasted. Many Christians take up various sorts of fasts during Lent (the seven-week period leading up to Easter). I have done this and found it to be a valuable spiritual exercise helping me refocus on my walk with Christ by way of my rumbling stomach. However, nothing in Christianity suggests that this spiritual discipline needs to be reserved for Lent. Fasting can happen at different times during the year.
As a way of being evangelistic and combining the 2nd and 5th pillars of Islam, Christians might consider doing this. During Ramadan, Christians can fast and pray for Muslims to come into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. If the opportunity is there Christians can share their faith with Muslim friends during this time. This exercise would be demanding, but it would respect at strong Muslim tradition, it would show our hearts for God and for our Muslim neighbors, and at the same time the fasting would draw us closer in our own walk with God.
I hope what I have done here is help Christians see the five pillars, respect them and respect the noble tradition of spiritual discipline in Islam, and at the same time to appropriate these traditions into Christian practice.