Islam - Lesson 7

Pillars 1 & 2

The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).

Lesson 7
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Pillars 1 & 2

Central Articles of Islamic Faith and Practice

Part 1

I.  Great Qur'anic Passage #6: Surah 112 “The Unity”

A.  One-third of the Qur’an – Second most quoted Surah in Qur’an

B.  Anti-Christian theme: “He begot none, nor was He begotten”


II.  Unifying Principles: Five Pillars (part 1)

A.  Confession of Faith (Shahadah)

1.  Phrase does not appear in the Qur’an, only its components/theology

2.  “I bear witness” – entrance into the “dar al-Islam

3.  “There is no God, but Allah”

a.  20:8, 112:1 – parallels with Hebrew Shema

b.  Allah’s sovereignty and unrivaled providence

4.  “Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah”

a.  Muhammad is the human conduit through which the Qur’an is revealed to the world; the final “seal” of the prophets

b.  Muhammad is the first to submit to Allah as an Arab Muslim

c.  Muhammad becomes the supreme example of a true Muslim

B.  Ritual Prayer (Salat)

1.  Du’a vs. Salat

2.  Call to Prayer (Adhan) by Muezzin

3.  Four aspects of Salat

a.  ablution (5:6)

b.  direction (qiblah) (2:144) (change: 2:115, 177)

c.  movements (rak’ah) (4:103)

d.  times (111:114)

  • In this preview video, Dr. Tim Tennent delves into the teachings of Islam and their significance in understanding the unique perspectives of Muslims and Christianity. The teachings of Islam are based on the Qur'an, which forms the foundation of their beliefs. Through this video, you will gain a better understanding of the key differences between the teachings of Islam and Christianity, and how they shape the worldview of Muslims.

  • Islam is based on teachings in the Qur'an. Knowing the teachings of Islam helps us to understand the uniqueness of the teachings of Christianity and the perspective of Muslims.

  • Arabia in the 6th century was a land where traders and raiders lived. Mecca was a city in which many religions were practiced.

  • In his early life, Muhammad was influenced by Judaism, Christianity and the Hanifs.

  • As Muhammad began telling others about his revelations, he was forced to flee Mecca and went to Medina. After he consolidated his power and influence he returned to Mecca.

  • The text of the Qur'an was revealed directly to Muhammad.

  • The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.

  • The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).

  • Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.

  • Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the fifth pillar of Islam.

  • Da'wah and jihad are two methods that the Qur'an describes for Muslims to approach infidels.

  • After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, he was succeeded by the four "rightly guided caliphs."

  • The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.

  • Many Muslims consider the Hadith an important source of information for guidance in how to live their lives.

  • Sharia is Islamic religious law which regulates both public and private aspects of life.

  • Different groups within the Sunni and Shia traditions have various perspectives on how the teachings in the Qur'an and Hadith should be interpreted and applied.

  • Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Yoruba and Maguzawa.

  • The Qur'an contains a description of Jesus' life and ministry.

  • The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.

  • Islam does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Islam has clear teachings in cultural areas such as the significance of beards, acceptable types of clothing, behavior and acceptable clothing for females, and food and dietary restrictions.

  • In order to make it easier for Muslims to understand and accept the message of the gospel, Christians can approach them with the assumption that they probably misunderstand the Gospel, that the number one stumbling block for Muslims is Christianity, and that the most effective approach is Jesus plus nothing.

  • Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam.

In this course, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Islam, its origins, and its core beliefs and practices. You'll explore the Five Pillars of Islam, the Qur'an, and the Hadith, and learn about the major Islamic sects, including Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufism. The class will also discuss Islam's relationship with Christianity and Judaism, highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue. Finally, you'll delve into contemporary issues in Islam, such as the role of women, Islamic law and human rights, and the interaction between Islam and politics.



I. Great Qur’anic Passage #6: Surah 112 “The Unity”

This lecture is entitled, “The Central Articles of Islamic Faith and Practice” and covers the theology of the five pillars of Islam that most of you have some familiarity with.

A. One-third of the Qur’an – second most quoted Surah in the Qur’an.

However, we will introduce this by yet another great Qur’anic passage #6 in Surah 112 entitled “the unity.” If you turn to 112, very short Surah, but a very, very important one. This Surah is extremely important. Muslims say that if you cite this Surah, you are reciting one-third of the entire Qur’an. That is how important this Surah is. It is actually related to the question earlier about, Why do you have this kind of disconnect with what Muslims believe and what they actually recite? Just read that one Surah. What you heard in Arabic is, “Allah is the one eternal god. He begot none, nor was he begotten. None is equal to him.” This Surah, as I mentioned, is one-third of the Qur’an and it is believed by Muslims, and there is no doubt, it is the second most quoted Surah in the Qur’an. The two most quoted passages in the Qur’an are Surah 1 and Surah 112.

B. Anti-Christian theme: “He begot none, nor was he begotten.”

If you recite this Surah, there are four ayahs, you have actually once again encountered an ability to grasp a lot of the theology of the Qur’an. It shows you the tremendous anti-Christian polemic that comes through because this particular passage clearly is arguing for an expression of monotheism which is decidedly non-Christian.  This is probably one of the most anti-Christian polemics in the Qur’an, and it is one-third of the Qur’an. This is why we take it very seriously.

In fact, the way this Surah is titled “The Unity” makes reference to the expression, “Allah is one.” It actually refers to an interpretation of the word “one” here. If you go back to a Hebrews class, you may recall the famous Shema. There is no doubt Muhammed is very well aware of the Shema. What is the Shema? “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That is  very, very important theologically. What in the world does that mean? The whole thing, this echad is a very huge point in the Jewish discussions about the Shema. What is meant by the termechad? Because if you mean by “one,” what it certainly does mean, it is a question of God, Yahweh’s, reliable providence, his sovereignty and all of that. That is clearly the kind of thing that is being said in the text. What it most certainly not is a reference to anything about the metaphysical  nature of God. In other words, it is not saying, “Allah is one and therefore eternity is impossible.” The expression “echad” has nothing to do with, it does not say for or against actually. It’s not for or against the trinity. It is simply not making a commentary on the metaphysical nature of God. It is a comment on the sovereignty of God. There is only one Yahweh. Compared to Baal and Ashtoreth and all the rest, there is only one Yahweh.

In that sense, that is exactly the way the Qur’an is intending to be operative I think. Allah is one, the eternal God. But the way Muhammed takes the Shahadah, takes the Shema, is to make it into a metaphysical  statement, Allah is one metaphysically. Therefore he can begot none, nor was he begotten. It carries a distinct anti-Christian theme. The Nicene Creed says, “I believe in one God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, light of life, very God of very God,” begotten, not made. Again, begotten is a reference to the eternal procession of the Son from the Father, or Father and Son.

It is clearly a very different issue than the Jews are wrestling with with Shema. In the case of the Muslim interpretation of this, they are clearly interpreting this in the anti-Christian clinic.  “He begot none, nor was he begotten” is now thrown right into the face of the Nicene Creed, saying it is wrong for Christians to say that Jesus is the eternally begotten One. Therefore, this is a clearly an anti-Christian polemic. The fact that Muslims believe that it is one-third of the Qur’an, it is one of the most quoted Qur’ans when they go through their Salat, their daily prayers.  So this is something that is being heard constantly in the mosques, this particular Surah, quoted in the full form there.

Let me give you a few quotes from Muslims and find out if we have any questions about this.  One Muslim scholar says this Surah is one-third of the Qur’an, and it is not. One Muslim scholar says in commentary on this passage,  “Heaven and earth are founded on the truth of this Surah.” This is saying this is a passage which denies in one statement both the Sonship and the deity of Christ, denied in these simple phrases. The fact is, the deity of Christ, his Sonship and the Trinity, all three are denied in this Surah. Yet, heaven and earth are founded in this Surah. One Muslim scholar says, “Along with the Al-Fathiha, the opening, the first, it is the essence of the Qur’an.” Listen to this commentary on this Surah: He says, “You confess this Surah, you can shed one’s sins like a tree sheds leaves in autumn.” That would obviously be a strong motivation to confess this Surah. He is saying, “You confess this Surah and your sins will be shed like the leaves of a tree in autumn time.”

So this becomes almost a daily reminder by Muslims of the denial of the Trinity, Sonship of God in Christ and His deity. That becomes obviously one of the reasons why Muslims tend to assess the Qur’anic view of Christ much more negatively than is actually in the text. This is one of the issues we have to understand, the weight that Muslims put on the Qur’an and different parts of the Qur’an is very different. That explains some of that.  

II. Unifying Principles: Five Pillars (part 1)

Let’s go to what I call the unifying principles of Islam, which we will explore in the course of time as the course develops. We are kind of systematically bringing you into the house of Islam. You will see at the end of the course that we will make all kinds of exceptions in what Muslims here believe this and therefore believe that; and how we have a lot of variety and diversity in the Muslim community.

These are what we call the unifying principles because all Muslims everywhere - there are true Muslims, practicing Muslims, not nominal Muslims - and all true practicing Muslims all agree on these five principles, these five pillars they are called. As I mentioned earlier, Muslims actually metaphorically think of Islam as the dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. This is the expression that is used. It is a house that is upheld by these five pillars, which are known as “the five pillars of Islam” which uphold the house of Islam. If you take out any of these pillars, the house collapses, the house is weakened. So even though there are many Muslim groups that have other things they emphasize, these we call the unifying principles of Islam.  In many ways, these are idealized things.

We had students who went to Istanbul for OMP (Overseas Missions Practicum) last year and they obviously wanted to talk to Muslims; so every day in the marketplace they were having conversations with Muslims and were kind of getting the feel for talking to Muslims. They found that one of the best ways to get a conversation started is to talk about the five pillars because Muslims know this. So they were able to do this with many Muslims. But every now and then, in fact every day, they met Muslims and said to them, “Do you know the five pillars? And of course they would say, “Of course I do.” They would say, “What are they?” “Okay, it’s confession of faith. Let me think, Shahadah,” (not one of them). “It’s… all the pillars are…let me think…going to Mecca, they kind of grovel their way through it and get two or three of them. “That’s what it is, reading the Qur’an.”

Our students were surprised that many Muslims in Istanbul did not know the five pillars of Islam. One has to realize that say, if you walked into the Hamilton Congregational Church, or you walked into the North Shore Community Baptist Church or Christ Church and there is a guy sitting on the pew. You tap him on the shoulder and he looks up and you say to him, “What are the ten commandments?” “You shall have no other gods before me” and after two or three he starts getting cold. You say, “What is the Lord’s prayer?” You start hammering, “Are you a Christian?” “Yeah.” “What is the Lord’s prayer?” “I don’t know.” You would be surprised. You would be absolutely shocked at the incredible abyss of ignorance that is out there. You ask somebody who is a Christian, you say, “Where is the Book of Corinthians found?” They say, “Well you know, somewhere in the Old Testament?” You get these kind of things all of the time. So it should not shock you too much to hear Muslims who haven’t a clue what the five pillars are. This does not change the fact that theologically these are the unifying principles. These are the key things and I would dare say most Muslims, many, many Muslims around the world, literally millions of them, would not know all five of these. Of course, I think it is fair to say that you have to recognize the diversity in Muslim communities.

A. Confession of Faith (Shahadah)

“There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the prophet of Allah.” This confession actually remarkably is viewed as the most important confession in the Muslim community. This is how you enter into the house of Islam, this is the doorway. Anybody who confesses this becomes a Muslim, supposedly.  So your very witness of these two realities, that there is no god but Allah, and the second part, that Muhammed is the prophet of Allah is a two-fold testimony. The word “Shahadah” means the public witness or the testimony, open testimony. Remarkably, however, though this phrase is so important and is spoken in the ears of a newborn child, spoken into the ears of one who dies, it is such an important entrance into the community, it does not appear in the Qur’an in this form or anything like this. It is simply not there, as you will find as you read the Qur’an. However, its components are found in the Qur’an and I think it is well worth it to at least trace this a little bit.

Surah 20, ayah 7 and ayah 14 are places where you have a statement which sounds a lot like the opening of the ten commandments. “I am Allah, there is no god but me.” That statement, if you look at it linguistically, is very, very similar to Yahweh’s declaration, “There is no God but Me, no other God before Me.” You find in Surah 112, which we have been through earlier, which says, “Allah, he is one.” “Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh He is One,” Deuteronomy 6:4. These are very, very similar kinds of expressions where the Muslim says, “There is no god but Allah.” He says this resonates with the Qur’an, though it does not appear in quite that form. The statement,  “There is no god but Allah” is very, very important to exegete properly what they are actually saying because this becomes very, very important in later discussions in Christian communities. Can Christians say, “There is no god but Allah” or “No god but God,” their word for God? Can Christians say this, not the latter portion. There are many Muslim groups that say, for example, “There is no god but Allah and Jesus is the word of Allah.” That is the title he is given in the Qur’an, “the word of Allah.” People have debated about this first phrase, what does it mean? If it means - and this largely repeats what our opening declaration of the Surah describes – if it refers to this, “There is no god but the true God, he is the only God who truly exists,” then obviously there is no theological problem with that. Muslims have long acknowledged the existence of the God Allah before Muhammed. So the question is, why would this phrase be so significant? What is the significance of saying, “There is no god but Allah?” It has to be more than existence. Some try to interpret it that way.

If you are saying that it is truly in keeping with the Shema and basically saying,  “There is no god but Allah or Yahweh and He is God alone,” which I think is a good translation of echad.1; if in fact he is saying “alone, “ then that is very much in keeping with the general Old Testament belief. It would actually be said in negative terms: “There is no god but Allah.” The emphasis would be on the negation of it. Muhammed’s mission was not primarily to inform them of Allah’s existence, which was apparently presumed by most people when they heard of the word “Allah,” but to proclaim Allah’s unrivaled sovereignty. In other words, Allah is god over false claims of idols, which is very much in keeping with the Qur’an. So if you interpret this first phrase of the Shahadah there with “No god but Allah;” if you interpret along Jewish lines, consistent with Jewish interpretations and consistent with the Qur’an itself in terms of Muslims’ concept of denouncing idols,  then it is not a particularly difficult phrase for Christians to come to grips with, this first phrase.

The Qur’anic support for this comes from Surah 37, ayah 35. In that Surah you have the closest thing to the actual first phrase of the Shahadah quoted by Muhammed.  Listen carefully to this: “On that day they will share our punishment. For when it was said to them by Muhammed, ‘There is no god but Allah,’” (this sounds like Muhammed  is actually quoting the Shahadah to them); “When it was said to them, ‘There is no god but Allah,’ they replied with scorn, ‘Are we to renounce our God for the sake of a mad poet?’” This means in the context of the Qur’an, they are hearing the Shahadah, this first phrase, as an issue of his unrivaled providence and sovereignty, not a question of metaphysics. To say that there is no god but Allah is not tied into this oneness idea of Surah 112. It is not saying that there is no god but Allah and therefore you can’t have Jesus or the Holy Spirit. That is not what is found here in this first phrase if you interpret it within its own context.  In fact, you want to read his exceptions, which is not based in tradition. There is no fundamental objection theologically with the first phrase of the Shahadah. The problem, of course, is the interpretation of it in an anti-Christian way and of course, the linking of it with Muhammed’s providence. With that we have obviously serious problems. We have to address whether or not the Muslim view of Allah is fundamental and in these kinds of statements, is it an exclusion of Trinitarianism? Obviously in Christian proclamation, we must proclaim the Trinitarian view of monotheism.

Others argue that in fact this idea of “no god but Allah” is explicitly used to denounce essentially Trinitarianism because in Muhammed’s mind, Trinitarianism is polytheism. So along this argument, Muhammed does not see theologically any difference between the Christian view of Trinitarianism and a view of polytheism which believes in three separate deities. To Muhammed it is all the same. Therefore, to Muhammed, to quibble about denying the Trinity vs. denying idols is to Muhammed a non-issue  because to him, the Trinity is idolatry, it is polytheism. The problem with that is, from a Christian point of view, it is not. Those are two very, very different things. These are theologically complex issues and we have to be able to at least recognize the main issues that are found in this first phrase. In my view, essentially this phrase is asserting Allah's sovereignty and unrivalled providence. That is the main point of this first phrase.

The second phrase is of course focused dramatically on Muhammed as the prophet of Allah. Again, though the whole Shahadah is not found in the Qur’an, this other portion does then appear in the later Surahs of the Qur’an. For example, Surah 48:9 begins to make a connection theologically in the Qur’an, which I think is quite interestingly done. Muhammed starts out basically saying, “I am this mad poet, I am illiterate, I am just an empty vessel that Gabriel has chosen” and there is a real downplay of Muhammed as a person, who he is and his importance.

Gradually we begin to find the Qur’an linking belief in Allah with acceptance of Muhammed’s message. These two become linked. If you accept Muhammed, that is tantamount to accepting Allah. If you reject Muhammed, that is rejecting Allah. In Surah 48, ayah 9, it says, “Those that swear loyalty to you”(this is Allah seen by Muhammed), “swear loyalty to Allah.” That is very powerful. Imagine Moses saying to people, “If you swear allegiance to me, that is the same as swearing allegiance to Yahweh.” That is the theological step that is being taken by Muhammed here. “Those that swear loyalty to you, swear loyalty to Allah.” The connection is made. Muhammed in Surah 48:29, that same Surah which is devoted largely to promoting his apostleship, Muhammed is Allah’s apostle. Notice what he does in ayah 15, this is in Surah 49:15, when he says this: “The true believers are those who have faith in Allah and his apostle.” Never doubt. Now you are seeing equating going on where he begins to equate faith in Allah with faith in Muhammed. You have faith in Allah, you have faith in Muhammed. These are theologically equivalent expressions of faith. Even more remarkably we find in Surah 4, ayah 80: “He that obeys the apostle, obeys Allah himself. If you obey Muhammed, it means to obey Allah.

Muslims claim that the intent of these texts is not to exalt Muhammed, but to exalt the fact that Muhammed is the conduit through which the true revelation comes. So what they would say, I guess, is that when you say, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the prophet of Allah,” they say, “What that latter phrase is really intended to do is merely confirm the integrity and the inerrancy of the Qur’an because Muhammed is the conduit through which the Qur’an comes.” So this is their way of linking essentially Allah to Allah’s words. Remember, cosmologically Allah cannot cross over into our world, so you have this cosmological void here. We are down here in the seen world. Gabriel transmits the word from Allah down to Muhammed. Here is Muhammed at this level, here is all of the Muslim people. Muhammed is the conduit and channel through which the word of Allah is spoken. So rather than saying, “There is no god but Allah and the Qur’an is the word of Allah,” which makes total sense to us theologically, they instead are affirming the prophet of Allah and that will basically accomplish  the same thing, since Muhammed’s total life mission is to deliver successfully the Qur’an. But to be fair, it is much more than that, it has become much more than that. Because it was only the Qur’an that was being affirmed in this passage, why not just say so? Why not just say, “There is no god but Allah and the Qur’an is the word of Allah?”

The fact is, Muhammed is given a special place because he is viewed as the first Muslim who submits in this new era, in this new revelation, this new post Qur’anic period.  Therefore, because he is the first to submit to Allah and worship him, he becomes supremely important and essentially revives the tradition of Adam, Abraham and now Muhammed. He kind of carries on the famous monotheistic tradition that goes back to the black stone and back to creation. Muhammed becomes the supreme example of a true Muslim. So you have essentially a person who lives out the faith. This is very important because at this point, if you interpret this passage as merely the Qur’an, then it de-emphasizes  the role of Muhammed. He becomes just a conduit through which the whole thing flows, he is like a pipe. According to the dictation theory, there is no style or any input, he is just a conduit, n fact, as we will see as the course develops.

Again, some of this we have to anticipate, we can’t go into at this point; but Muhammed is clearly not just the conduit of revelation in the Qur'an because the Hadith, which is this other major work of revelation, is actually a very massive work, far more voluminous than the Qur’an. It is based on Muhammed’s actions in his life, what he did and what he said and how he thought about everything imaginable. That is now a source of revelation and is viewed on par with the Qur’an. Because of that, Muhammed cannot be viewed as a merely passive instrument. He is the first Muslim, he is the great example and what they call his sunna, his example, has now been written down in these little narratives called Hadith that is used authoritatively by Muslim law courts. You must do this because that is how Muhammed did it; or, this is how Islam is to be governed and operate in the world.

I think we have to recognize that in Shahadah we have both a dramatic affirmation of Allah and his sovereignty as well as affirmation of Muhammed’s unique role, which included, yes, bringing the Qur’an. It also includes  his own example and his personhood because theologically I should mention Muhammed’s function as this flaw has developed. Therefore, this particular confession is extremely important theologically because it actually forms the basis for all of the revelations of both the Qur’an and the Hadith, which essentially flow out of the basic confession of faith which all Muslims make when they enter into the household of Islam or they publicly profess their faith in the Islamic religion.

B. Ritual Prayer (Salat)

The second unifying principle is known as Salat. This is extremely important. Again, this is also another one that is widely known by all Muslims. There are actually two kinds of prayer in Islam. One is called the Du’a, one is called the Salat. The Du’a is something we will have to mention from time to time in this course.  It is the closest thing to spontaneous prayer that you have in Islam. I should say that many of our prayers would fall into the category of Du’a. Salat refers to a ritual prayer and actually when most Muslims refer to prayer or think about prayer, they generally think about Salat. Once again, we will see as the course develops, there are groups, particularly the Sufis, which emphasize all kinds of spontaneous things. They have big charismatic gatherings and all. This is something not in the mainstream of Islam.

Most Muslims understand ritualized prayer that happens in a formalized way in certain distinct time periods in the day, etc. It happens with several kinds of components to it. I want to show you each of the components.

The first part of the Salat is the call to prayer. You are actually called to pray this particular prayer that is prayed. This prayer, the Salat, has four major components. But before you even begin the Salat, it begins with the call to prayer. The call to prayer is known as the Adhan. Adhan is the term for the call to prayer. The person who issues the call to prayer is a special figure known as the Muezzin. One of the things Muslims often say, I am going to give you the response to that. If you listen to Muslims, they often will gently chastise Christians by saying, “Your call to prayer is done by bells.” They are thinking here about church bells that ring and call you to church,  which is very much a part of the American scene from much of our history. It is not a bell that goes forth over the Muslim community, it is a human voice. The human voice is crying out, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allah is most great, Allah is most great.” This human voice is viewed as a very powerful thing, contrasted to the uninspired, unredeemed sound of a human bell. In fact, most Muslim prayer minarets, from which the prayer comes, normally the Muezzin climbs to the top of the minaret and there are usually two or three stories in a minaret in a mosque. He goes to the very top of the minaret and he will call, the Muezzin will call and issue the Adhan. But today it is not done by the human voice of an actual person, but is a loudspeaker system.  It is attached to the top of the minaret and it just comes on at a predetermined time.

I will actually say to Muslims, “When was the last time you actually saw a living Muezzin climb the steps and actually shout out, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar?” It is actually quite rare. Instead, either some chap turns on the switch or it is all done through timers and it comes on. I actually have photographs of Muezzins that do issue the call to prayer, that I found over the years. I have pictures of that, but it is quite rare. I think the bells are nicer than the Adhan. They are very bad recordings that blare out. What you have is the call to prayer, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. God is great, God is great, God is great.” It is said three or four times, sometimes many more than that.  You even have the Shahadah:“I testify or I bear witness, there is no god but God.” Shahadu la ilaha illa . The alliteration is incredible. “I testify that Muhammed is the apostle or prophet of Allah, “illa liah muhammadun rasulu ilah.” Then, “Come to prayer. Come to prayer in the morning. Come often, as prayer is better than sleep. Come to prayer. Come to prayer. Come to success.” Sometimes they will say, “Come to divine service,” particularly at the Friday noon prayer. There are slight variations to that. “God is most great. God is most great.” Again, “There is no other Allah.” Muslims often talk about the beauty of this, the alliteration. Most people who live there find it very annoying; but from a Muslim point of view it is supposed to be very beautiful. Listen to this,  “There is no god but Allah, “la ilaha illa Allah.” Alliteration is very, very present in this call to prayer. Sometimes it is preceded by long readings from the Qur’an, Surah 112, Surah 1 may be read, lengthy things are read. It may not be this short. Again, it depends on where you are and what the practices may be.

This phase of the prayer is called the Akhan. The person who calls is called the Muezzin. The traditional place that this it is issued from is the minaret. That is not a steeple, but it is an area on the roof of the mosque which goes up very high.

Once you are called to prayer, then there are four basic aspects of the Salat. The first is the ablution.  This is a form of cleansing which is extremely important. It is a ritual washing. It prepares oneself to enter into the divine presence.  The cleansing involves, in an almost idealized version of this, you change one’s clothes if dirty, you wash your face and neck, from the elbow to the tips of the fingers, from the ankles to the feet. That is explicitly taught in the Qur’an. Clean, cleansed. So in that sense, you have to say that is the word of Allah. These are what Allah commands. This is found, by the way, in Surah 5:6. “Believers, when you rise to pray, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbow and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles.”

This is something that is again, very much drawn from Jewish practice. Look at texts like in Exod 30:17-21 or Exod 40:30-32. You find they wash their face, hands and feet, this is done before entering the divine presence, exactly as Muhammed has done. In fact, Muslims even follow the same order as the Jews, first face, then hands, then feet, exactly the same order that the Muslims follow is the one the Jews followed. The Muslims remove their shoes as part of this. If you go into any mosque, you will see that there is the mosque, there is the minaret and there is usually an entrance area of some kind. There will be a little boy there taking collections, to look after your shoes while you go in. And of course the Jews removed their shoes when they entered into the divine presence. So there are Jewish parallels to all of these.

One of the things that is interesting in the light of Christian debate about baptism and how much water and all of this in the early church. What do you do with Christians from Egypt who came to Christ and there wasn’t enough water to baptize, immerse or whatever? As you know, the Didache indicated, “Well, just use what water you can find” kind of thing; and this of course started this big debate about how much water is necessary to baptize somebody. In the same way the Muslims did the same thing. What do you do if you are out in the desert – obviously Arabia is filled with deserts - you don’t always have access  to water, or you have just enough water to drink, to get through the day, if you are traveling especially. So many Muslims, you will see them when they go into the mosque; or if you are in an airport especially, you will see this a lot in airports where there is just a little prayer room there or something. Most mosques have a little ablution area, a little fountain or something where you clean up, then you go into the mosque. In the airport there is just a prayer room. If you are on a plane and you are at 3,000 feet, if you fly on a Muslim airline, they will have the direction of prayer on the screen, have you ever noticed that? They will show you where Mecca is in relation to where you are on the plane. They have these helps, but you don’t have any running water.

So they would take sand and go through the motions, the ritual motions of cleansing with sand, or you often will see Muslims who will go through the motions with their hands. There is no water, there are no hand Towelettes or something like that. It shows you the ritualistic aspect of this. You go through the ritual cleansing and whether or not you have water is not critical. So it is not so much that you must be clean, it is you must go through the ritual cleansing. It is more symbolic.

The second feature of the Salat is the direction of prayer, what they call the qiblah. The qiblah is found in Surah 2, ayah 144 where it says, “Many a time we have seen you turn your face towards heaven. We will make you turn towards a qiblah, turn towards the holy mosque, wherever you are, face it.” This is the direction of prayer where they face towards the Ka’aba. I have already mentioned that this was a change because the early Muslims in the pre-Medina period did face toward Jerusalem. On the way to Medina there is the famous mosque there called the Mosque of the Two Qiblahs. This is the place where Muhammed supposedly changed; and rather than facing west, faced east, as it were, symbolically west to east. That change is found in the Qur’an itself. Some objections  were made about that.

If you go inside a mosque, you will find a prayer niche, they usually will call it. The prayer niche is called a mihrab.  A mihrab is a prayer niche which shows you the direction of prayer. Often the imam, which in the Sunni community is the priest figure, the prayer leader really, the prayer leader will stand in that place and preach or teach or whatever. Therefore there is always an orientation when you walk into the mosque. You always know which direction the Ka’aba is in, you don’t have to look for it. You don’t have to bring a compass along, look at the sun or whatever. It is always shown.

In fact, one of the interesting things about the construction of mosques around the world is that the Muslim theology of mosque is very different from a Christian, and I say unfortunately. I don’t think it really is different. Unfortunately, the difference in our practice of what a church is became,  typically Christians have made the identification of church and building, as you know. What happened is, in missionary work missionaries tended to focus on building buildings when they got a church started, all over the world. There are very few exceptions to this around the world. This has been kind of a typical approach, especially in the 19th century. So what happened was, when you have a community that was established, it takes time, energy and a lot of resources to build a building. Even if it is a concrete building with a tin roof, it takes time and energy. It tended to slow the missionary movement down.

The Muslim missionaries were as a rule much more mobile. While I was in Africa I went to a lot of Muslim areas and took a lot of pictures to prove this point because I suspected it to be true. I would go to a village where the only “mosque” they had was some property and a circle of rocks. They would circle some rocks in the area and clean this off very nice and flat and they would have a place to show where Mecca was, basically a mihrab showing the qiblah, the direction of prayer. That was the mosque. The word “mosque” literally means “place of prostration” and it is a place of prayer. It is actually a corruption of the word masjid which means “prostration.” The word “mosque”  means “place of prostration.” So it is amazing that the Muslims have literally legislated tons of things about prayer: direction to pray, how many times to pray, what to pray, what to do before you pray, the very motions of prayer. We will see in a moment all of these things.

They never, ever say a word about the place that you pray. There is no emphasis upon place. The place is mobile, anywhere you are, wherever you are, whenever you are there, from a plane or an airport, it doesn’t matter, you pray. If you have your prayer mat, you put it down and you pray. In that sense, that is a very noble kind of theology of prayer, which I find to be one of the things that I think has been very impressive about the Muslim community’s ability to transport prayer in the marketplace. One of the things that Muslims often say – and I think this is to our shame because I don’t think it is true to our theology by any means – but Muslims will often refer to Christians as “the prayerless ones,” those who don’t pray. I can think of a thousand things that  could be a response to that. We don’t believe in praying loud public prayers for ostentatious purposes. We don’t believe in these kinds of formalized prayers that are done for show and all of that. But on the other hand, the emphasis on prayer is very, very essential to the Muslim way of life. In that sense, I think that we can appreciate that whole concept.

Muslims have their own theological squabbles about the direction of prayer. One of the things that Muslims will say is that there are actually two places on earth where you can face any direction you want when you pray. One, if you are in the actual grand open-air mosque in Mecca. If you are inside that huge mosque in Mecca, you are “there,” you are at the Ka’aba. So you can pray anywhere you want inside that prayer thing. That makes sense. The other thing that some Muslim scholar thought of was that if you are on the antipode of Mecca, on the other side of the world - I guess if you are in the middle of the Pacific or something, South Pacific, on a boat, I don’t know -exactly the antipode of Mecca – then you can face any direction you want.

They have their own little midrashic tradition and things like that, quite amusing. Clearly, the direction of prayer is also influenced by Jewish practice. As you know, the Jews pray toward Jerusalem. In Dan 6:10 you find Daniel opening his windows and praying toward Jerusalem. The practice is regulated by the Jewish Talmud. Of course, as I mentioned, it really wasn’t legislated until the second AH, second year after the Hegira, the Muslims began to pray toward the Ka’aba, which we have already discussed. The cleansing, the direction of prayer.

The movements of prayer, the rak’ah, is again famous and also taken from the Jewish practice, prescribed way of praying. These are seven movements which are a ritualized prayer form of Salat. Essentially, you have the following seven movements.


Position #1. The first movement is standing. You face the Ka’aba and facing Mecca you place your hands over your ears, cupping your ears and you say what is called the Takbir.  That is a very important term. That is the expression, “Allahu Akbar,” God is great. It is called the Takbir. It is a way of affirming the oneness and greatness of Allah. “God is great” or “God is the greatest.”

Position #2. Then you stand center position where you fold hands in front of your waist and you recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, Surah 1. Again, that is said at all these times every day.

Position #3. The third is a bowing from the hips, and you put your hands on your knees and you extend one finger. This is the way it was taught in a Muslim school to young boys. When they go through school, they are taught how to do this.  Not every Muslim will do it exactly this way. You raise one finger. The one finger raised, which happens throughout the prayer, is acknowledgement of the oneness of Allah. “There is no God but one.” Again, that is the big, big debate. What does that one finger mean? Does it mean monotheism? If so, we have no problem with that. Or is it some kind of thing about metaphysical   unity with God where we can have no Persons of the Trinity and all of that? I think it has nothing to do with that. But this is the similar issue that comes up whenever Muslims say, “There is one God.”

Position #4. The fourth position is again standing, followed by complete prostration where you come all of the way down and your head will touch the floor. How many times have the Gordon-Conwell professors gone through the call to prayer, the motions of prayer for you? You go all of the way down, your head to the ground and you are making confession of Allah’s greatness. You raise your body again to the sitting position after you have knelt down. This is what you can see in the pictures like on television where they will have hundreds of Muslims in a big mosque and they are all there together and in another scene  they are sitting there like that. Again, this is the same thing, their oneness for Allah. Then when he gives the call - this would be on a Friday when they do it together - everybody gets down, they come up. They will even have tape on the floor of mosques. If you ever go inside a mosque, you will see that everybody lines up, everybody sits straight. It is a very visual thing that is done.

Position #5, #6, #7:  Once you rise up, begin to raise the body, #5. Prostration is #6. Position #7 is once again sitting for silent prayer. Muhammed’s practice was to turn his face side-to-side during this prayer to acknowledge symbolically the umma, that there are others with you praying, even if you are by yourself.  You turn your head side-to-side to acknowledge the umma. That is important because you know the Jewish practice was also this. Prostration is very, very important in the Jewish tradition.


I also want to mention, students often ask me about this. According to the schools, if you are a young Muslim boy and you attend Islamic schools, they will teach you that every one of the five prayers – there are five of these during the day – that there are prescribed ways that you do the rakk’ah, the movements.  So, beginning with the morning prayer, you will do two cycles outloud; so you do the whole thing about “God is great” and all of that, outloud, the portion of the Qur’an, etc. The noon prayer, four cycles silent. For the afternoon, four cycles silent. So the four cycles silent would mean, in other words, 7x4 is 28, 28 different movements, going through the whole thing four times. Sunset prayer, three cycles, two outloud, one silent. Night prayer, four cycles, two outloud, two silent.

I would be interested in anybody else’s experience who has lived in the Muslim world, but my experience is that many, many times, even if you are in the sunset prayer where two of them are outloud, one silent, many Muslims will do the three cycles silent. They simply will not follow this. You tell them, “Wait a minute, you are not doing it according to the book.” They will say, “We didn’t even know there was a book.” This is again, ways things sort of disconnect in practice. This whole thing is legislated, the times, the movements, that is the main thing to recognize. Also, when they are sitting there at the last, seventh rak’ah, then certain prayers and confessions  are made, again quoting the Qur’an.

I want to write down a list of the six most quoted Surahs by Muslims during the prayer time, because I think this says a lot theologically about where Muslims are, how they actually encounter the Qur’an.

1. Surah 1

2. Surah 112, which we looked at today in depth

3. Surah 114

4. Surah 2:255, that verse

5. Surah 25:35

6. Surah 59:22-24.