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This past Friday I took the plunge and attended the local mosque here in the Antelope Valley. I’ve visited a few different religious houses of worship – a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, Catholic mass, many Protestant churches and some naturalist gatherings (does D&D count too?), but I’ve never been to a mosque. A friend of mine is in a comparative religions class right now and mentioned he was going so I jumped on the chance…telling him I have always wanted to, but was a little chicken to go on my own. I was surprised by the similarities and differences between Christian worship and Islam. Here are some similarities and differences:
No one listens to the announcements: is this not true of your church? No one listens…I often give announcements at Kairos and I don’t even listen. We have tried to stop doing announcements…but they are cancerous and return after you think you’ve eradicated them. No, it doesn’t matter what religion or creed you are…no one cares about your announcements.
Sermon trajectory: while this isn’t (I hope) true of my church, it is persistently present in many Christian churches…the sermon started with a note on love and being grace filled (my language) and moved swiftly to “you need to try harder”. Isn’t this often where Christian churches land…the “be better” sermon?
Reverence and irreverence: there was a very sanctified air walking in…it is silent, most people (men) don’t talk with each other but rather take a spot on the floor and pray. This is unlike evangelical churches…however, as the service went on people shuffled in late, not-so-quietly greeted the friend they were sitting by and then left early. This last part is pretty true of most every church and religious group around – there is always a mix of reverent and flippant followers. Wasn’t this true for Jesus?
Food: many churches have a potluck together, others have coffee, in our home churches we eat a meal together every week, the Lord’s Supper is a meal of sorts…this is a great element to have that many churches downplay. They have a full meal together after the service and a large space to eat at. There is a strong element of community and commonality that comes from eating together.
No shoes: quite an Asian element…as you enter the mosque you take your shoes of and enter barefoot. In face, many facets were culturally foreign to the West – incense, Arabic writings and spoken language, floor seating. Some of these (barefootedness, communal seating) could be wonderful in a Christian service if they were more culturally accessible.
No greeting: not in the Christian church setting – someone is waiting to tell you Asalaam Alaykum (peace be upon you) and you are to respond in-kind. But that is about it…there was no informal greeting or introduction, no place for new visitors to find out more information or fill out some communication. Actually, maybe that should go in the similarity section.
Acapella singing: there was the traditional call to worship, the adhan (Allahu Akbar), is lead by a male congregant. Outside of that there is no communal singing and no instruments. The entire service was beautifully simplistic. Made me feel that often we are over-produced and overly complicated in postmodern Christian worship.
No women: they were there, but not during the service they were sequestered in a different section. There is certainly no element of equality or equity of the sexes. Now, that is also true of many Christian churches (though, once again, not mine)…but they are too cowardly to own outright their misogyny. I wonder if this is actually an appeal to Islam…you do not have the same feminization of religion?
There are my takeaways…there was no sense of darkness or evil, no hostility and no pressure to conform. Overall it was quite the tranquil experience. I was impressed with the seriousness that the community takes their rituals (purification, prayer, posture) and it made me wondering how contrite we are in the rituals of Christianity (singing, Communion, etc.) I think the biggest take away was the connection between religion and culture. Both Islam and Christianity are “universal” religions…i.e. they are not tribal or ethnically centered. However Muslims are tied to a geographical location (Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem) and to a language (Arabic)…this is evident in the religious service and the tenants of the faith. While it is clear to me as an outsider how culturally contained Islam is, it is not quite so clear how culturally defined and limited Christianity or my particular expression of it is. I don’t have enough distance to gain see things in parallax. Where are the “stumbling blocks” of culture in the Western church today? They are no longer adherence to Latin or Rome, they are no longer ideologies of a “new Jerusalem” or Victorian mores. But maybe they manifest in the ideas of democracy, gender ideologies, literacy, etc.? What do you think culturally constricts the church in the West today?