Muslim call to prayer stirs seminarians’ witness for Jesus
SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP)--The adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, echoed through the streets early Monday morning. Starting quietly, the call gained momentum and volume as it stretched on for what seemed like an hour. The call dominated the night, penetrating even the jetlag-induced snores of the Americans who had just arrived in this Southeast Asian country.
Over the next two weeks, members of the team of American Christians from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, whose names have been changed for security concerns, heard the call to prayer many times. But to them it never lost its poignancy. Five times daily the call beckons Muslims in this country to bow in repetitive prayer at mosques, their homes or wherever they are at the time.
Wherever the team of Christians went in the country to serve and minister, the call to prayer was there as well. Nowhere was it as loud as at a conservative Muslim university the group visited.
A large part of the group’s time in the country was spent in English classes at universities throughout the city. Students there are eager to learn English as a second language. In a country where employment is often hard to come by, knowing English is a plus.
Until now, Sally, an American serving in the country, had not had access to this particular campus. But when a Christian instructor at the university arranged for the American group to take part in several classes, she knew God was at work.
Following a professor to his classroom, Jim and Hillary thought this English class would be the same as the others they had each visited. They anticipated a short time of introduction followed by conversations in small groups. This time, however, something different transpired.
“For some reason, the professor went right on with class as usual,” Jim said, “so Hillary and I sat back and listened to a lesson about prefixes and suffixes of the English language. The only time we got to talk to the class was when I explained the word antidisestablishmentarianism to the class.”
Both Jim and Hillary were initially frustrated with the situation. But they soon found that, instead of the class learning from them, they were learning much from the class.
“What comes to my mind with that university was when the call to prayer was heard,” Hillary said. “I remember some of the students leaving the class to pray and one girl who prayed there [in class] for a short while.”
“I distinctly remember thinking how hard it would be to leave that religion when it is so engrained in the culture and so much a part of one’s life there,” she continued.
Jim also had the surprising opportunity to talk at length with another of the school’s instructors. Her style of dress indicated she was very conservative, and though she was completely covered except for her face and hands, the bright colors of her hijab (the Muslim head covering) hinted of her uncommon openness to new ideas and her interest in other cultures. The conversation started with a question.
“When the call to prayer started, I asked her if the person voicing the call was reading music or making it up as he went,” Jim said. “She told me that the call is not considered to be music. It is literally begging Muslims to come to prayer. She told me, ‘If Muslims pray five times each day, it gives us a higher score with God.’
“I was so shocked because she actually believed that praying five times a day will help her reach a score high enough to enter heaven,” Jim continued. “I had read it before but had never had a Muslim explain it to me that way.”
Jim talked to the instructor about how in the New Testament Christians are taught to pray without ceasing. Sometimes Christians forget to pray during the day, he admitted, but they are nonetheless called to be in constant fellowship with God. The teacher was interested in sharing her beliefs and learning more about Jim’s faith, so the two exchanged photos and addresses at the end of the class period. Jim is waiting for a response to his first e-mail to her.
While God was opening unexpected doors for Jim and Hillary, He was paving the way for another team member, Adam, to share the Gospel with a poetry class. Adam spoke to a previous class about jazz music. When the instructor of that class heard his “expertise” on jazz music, he quickly asked him to teach his upcoming poetry class.
“I told him that I knew nothing about poetry, but he insisted that I look over his list of songs he had prepared,” Adam said. “As I looked over the list, I saw a heading that said ‘African-American spiritual songs.’”
Included in the list of spirituals were songs like “Go Down Moses” and “Precious Lord,” along with many others about Jesus.
“I was truly shocked that God prepared the way for me to turn a poetry class into a time to talk about music that spoke about Christ,” Adam said.
The teacher gave Adam full control of the class time, so he began by recounting the story of slavery in the United States. He then asked if any of the students knew who Moses was.
“I was completely shocked to find out that no one knew,” Adam said. “I began with the years of slavery among the children of Israel. They were amazed as I told them the story of the acts that God performed through Moses.
“About this time the call to prayer began, but not a soul moved. I began to speak about how God brought the children of Israel across on dry ground. It was awesome to tell a story that so often we forget -– not only the meaning but also the power in it.”
With that, Adam sang “Go Down Moses.”
Next, Adam invited the students to help him illustrate the powerful encouragement the slaves received from the spirituals. Adam and several students pretended they were slaves working in a field. Suddenly, the slave owner entered and took everyone but Adam away to either be killed or sold.
“I asked the class, ‘What happens now? Do I curse God for taking away all my family and friends?’ I said, ‘They are all dead or traded off to another place.’ Then I kneeled down and began to sing ‘Precious Lord,’” Adam said.
The lesson was clear: Only faith in God will hold a person steady during tumultuous circumstances. Adam then began to sing the hymn “Amazing Grace.” To his surprise, everyone began to sing along.
“Do you know what that song means?” Adam asked. None of them knew, so he, verse by verse, explained it to them:
-- “I once was lost but now I’m found....”
“I used the illustration of when I came to their country I was lost and in need of a guide to get where I needed to go. This was the best part,” he said. “I told them that the only guide in life and beyond life was Jesus Christ the Messiah. You could hear a pin drop. Some students tuned me out, but others listened and followed my every move.”
-- “Was blind but now I see....
“I told them that only Jesus the Messiah could remove the blindfold off our eyes,” Adam said. “And when He does that, we only see Him. He is the center of our focus. They all stood up and clapped for me. I still don’t know why!”
The group even found a couple of new friends who dropped everything to take several of them from the university back to Sally’s house.
When they arrived, the group invited the couple to eat lunch with them. They so enjoyed spending time with the Americans that they returned to Sally’s house on several occasions that week. In this couple, the group from America saw how best to reach out to Muslims in Southeast Asia -– through relationships.
As group members continued to minister in different parts of the city and the surrounding countryside, the call to prayer was a frequent reminder to them to pray that the seeds planted at the university campuses would grow into a rich harvest in that region of the world. However, the one calling Christians to prayer is Isa Almasih, Jesus Christ, and His call is one of hope both to Christians who serve there and to the Muslims who are yet to believe.