Can a Muslim and a Christian pray together?
By Victor Edwin SJ
Can a Muslim and a Christian pray together? This is an important question that one has to deal with in his or her mission of Christian/Muslim relations. In the pluralistic world, one cannot completely avoid any level of participation in the worship of the Other. The immediate danger that many Catholic theologians apprehend in such participation is the danger of syncretism. This question becomes theologically nuanced when it has to deal with Christians and Muslims praying together. This article suggests that it is not only possible that Christians and Muslims can pray to one God together, but also, that the aforesaid praying together is essential and should be encouraged.
Christians and Muslims Believe in one God
Christians and Muslims should recognize that, first of all, they worship but one God. They address their prayers to one God in whom both Christians and Muslims place their faith and commit themselves to bend their own wills to the will of the one and the only God. Pope Paul VI affirmed that Muslims are true adorers of the one one God when he wrote: "Then to adorers of God, according to the conception of monotheism, the Muslim religion, especially, is deserving of our admiration for all that is true and good in its . . . worship of God" (Ecclesiam Suam 106).
The recognition of differences is an expression of mutual respect
Nevertheless, one should not forget the considerable differences between the Christian and Muslim confession of God's unity. The unity of God as a common element between Christians and Muslims needs to be approached carefully for, when Christians talk about God, they talk about one who, "is known and worshiped as Father, Son and Spirit." Muslims do not accept this Trinitarian understanding of God. Accordingly, the fundamental differences in their understanding of the Godhead should be recognized for the recognition of differences is an expression of mutual respect.
Christians and Muslims Pray to the Living God
If one relativizes differences, then the significance of the concept of difference will be undervalued. However, differences do not do away with the meaning that one can experience in depth in the encountering of one another. Christians should be aware that Muslim prayer is directed towards the living God, and that the Islamic faith has raised, over the centuries, true worshipers of the one God. Christians must also realize that the God of Muslims is not an idol, not a creature, not a lofty idea, but the God in whom Christians also believe.
We Stand Before one God
The faith of Christians and Muslims in one God, and prayer to that one God, allow for an encounter in faith, standing before God in a real way. This standing together helps Christians and Muslims in that it is God who is binding them together, and the encounter between them is God's gift. This encounter helps Christians and Muslims to live their profound differences in mutual respect. When Christians and Muslims seek to live their relationship with God in such a conscientious way, they are together with their differences, and, thus, they become brothers and sisters. Pope John Paul II stresses this in his address to Muslims in the Philippines when he told them: "I deliberately added you as brothers . . . [for] that is certainly what we are, . . . members of the same family, whose efforts, whether people realize it or not, tend toward God and the truth that comes from him. But we are especially brothers in God, who created us and whom we are trying to reach, in our own ways, through faith, prayer and worship, through the keeping of his law and through submission to his designs."
Every authentic prayer binds Christians and Muslims. Such prayer guides them toward living in peace. The spiritual efforts of Muslim brothers and sisters do not leave the hearts of their Christian brothers and sisters unmoved since they stand together before one God. Furthermore, every authentic prayer is under the influence of the Spirit of God who constantly intercedes for humanity (Romans 8:26-27). Christians and Muslims standing together and praying authentically according to their traditions are moving toward living together in peace. One should not hinder a Christian who is exploring with Muslims the togetherness in prayer. And, conversely, one should not impede a Muslim who is exploring this self-same togetherness in prayer with Christians.
(The author acknowledges several fruitful discussions that he has had with Professor Christian W. Troll, S.J., a renowned Catholic theologian with regard to matters of Islam and Christian/Muslim relations.)
Read more about Christian/Muslim relations here: http://islamicstudiesassociation.blogspot.in/