Come, Let Us Bow Down in Worship
by Doug Baker
I had to ask for my first invitation to attend prayers at the mosque.
My Muslim friends all knew I was passionate about Jesus; some had visited my church, and a couple had heard me preach. Our conversations would often touch on topics that Christianity and Islam share in common, such as faith in one God or the stories about Abraham's life.
They were always eager to talk, to discuss, and occasionally to debate our different ways of understanding the God of Abraham. But for some reason they never invited me to visit the mosque. So finally I invited myself.
"Are non-Muslims allowed to come to the service at the mosque?" I asked Rami during dinner at his home. I had waited for what seemed the right point in the conversation to ask, because I had begun to strongly suspect that the answer was no. Why else did they never invite me?
"Really?" Rami was incredulous. "You really want to come?" His wife, Nourah, began laughing at his surprise.
They seemed so delighted by the idea that I became afraid that I might have given them the wrong impression.
"I'm not converting. So I won't really be able to pray with you guys, but I would like to see it."
"Of course, of course," he assured me. "I will meet you there."
And he did. We met on the steps outside and he took me in. Everything was just a bit foreign to me; I put my shoes on a rack and entered in my socks (I knew about this in advance and had bought new socks for just this reason). He brought me into the main room, what we would call the sanctuary if this had been a church.
There were no chairs, just a wide empty room with carpet laid out in wide stripes. A few men stood with palms facing up in an attitude of prayer. Another sat cross-legged on the floor leaning against the wall. In one hand he held a book from which he read aloud, though only loud enough for himself to hear.
There were no women; they met downstairs. Rami explained that there was a camera so the women and children could follow the service from downstairs. The room in which I stood was slowly filling with socked men in robes greeting each other in Arabic. I felt as if I had left Bloomington, Indiana, and entered another land, and I loved it.
But it clearly had nothing to do with my own faith.
Then the service began.
I leaned against the wall at the back of the room, trying to cross my stiff legs the way everyone else seemed do so easily. My friend Rami had gone to the front and was praying aloud so that everyone else could pray with him. His prayer was in Arabic. All this still seemed foreign to me.
But the people all around arranged themselves in lines, organized by the lines on the carpet. They stood with their hands out in front and their faces looking up, then together they all knelt. Together the lines of praying men bowed forward until their foreheads were on the carpet.
Suddenly my eyes were filled with tears, and my heart was in my throat. Rami's voice was praying in Arabic, but all I heard were the lines from Psalm 95, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."
For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were in the habit of doing exactly that. And it felt like home. I could envision David in the tabernacle or Jesus in the temple, dressed much like these men, bowing just as they did.
Suddenly I knew that what was really foreign was myself. I was foreign to the authors of the Bible who I so much love and so much study. Somehow I had sung those words, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord–our God–our Maker," and I had never once done it. In church we sang those words sitting in chairs or standing up. Sometimes, when we were really into it, we would lift our hands. But we never bowed our faces to the ground.
Somehow I had sung the words, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord–our God–our Maker," and I had never once done it.
I had told myself that my heart was bowed in submission to God. It would not help anything for my knees to bend or my back to bow.
But leaning against the wall in the back of the mosque I knew that I had been wrong. It is not by accident that the Bible speaks so often of people bowing before God. There are times when the heart comes before its maker and the only thing that makes sense is to bow down in submission.
The reason that I could read those words about bowing down—without, in fact, having any inclination to actually do it—is because I was totally foreign to the cultures in which the Bible was written.
I didn't go through any theological argumentation to prove to myself that bowing was good. It was enough to see the Psalm enacted around me and to hear its words ringing in my head. My heart wanted my body to comply.
But I was eager not to offend those around me through any misstep, and equally eager not to give the false impression that I was converting to Islam. So I merely shifted from leaning one way to leaning the other. I didn't kneel. Not that time.
But a major shift took place in my understanding that day. I had gone into the mosque with a missionary mindset, hoping that maybe someday I would see God convert some of them to Christianity.
And I left it thanking Christ that he had introduced me to a room full of people who were less foreign to the culture of Jesus than I am. These were people from whom I wanted to learn.
The father of four daughters, Doug Baker is the author of Covenant and Community (Wipf & Stock, 2008) and currently looking for a publisher for a novel. His passion at the moment is to increase the connections between the Christian and the Muslim communities in Bloomington, IN.
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