That’s Not What Simple Means: My Recent Visit to a Mosque

Humans are inherently complicated.
Even rules that should be simple (stopping at a stop sign, for instance) can somehow become fraught with complications.

“Well, a rolling stop is okay, right?”
“There’s no traffic coming, so I’ll just keep going.”
“That car hesitated for 3 seconds longer than I think is necessary, so I’m going. I don’t have all day.”
“I reject your arbitrary societal structures! STOP SIGNS MEAN NOTHING TO ME.”

Any concept that is simple can, and usually will, become more complicated when humans are added to the mix.
Now, full disclosure, the town where I live is known for its questionable drivers, so perhaps the stop sign analogy doesn’t resonate with your experience (as you probably live in a veritable driving utopia of reasonable speeds and good manners).
Let me offer another example.

I had the opportunity to visit a mosque for the first time a few weeks ago for the Jumaa (Friday) prayers. I was dressed as appropriately as I could manage, with a floor length dress and a headscarf, eager not to give offense. I walked with a group of ladies around to the back door (as women are not permitted to enter through the front), kept my eyes low, and my voice quiet. I, of course, did not meet the Imam, or any of the men in attendance, save one leader who led a question and answer session following the service, but the women we spoke with were lovely and generous and open… obviously pleased to see us, even after they learned that we were not Muslims, and more open to fellowship than I’ve ever experienced. A few of the women, in sharing their stories, revealed how hungry they were to find truth, and I found that it was truly difficult for me to leave without having made a practical connection with them.

What has stayed with me was the information that we were given during our Q&A, and a specific phrase that was repeated more than once. We were told several times that Islam was simple, and easy to understand. The rules were simple. The concepts were simple… except for all of the complications.
The path to heaven, according to Islam, is simple… as long as Allah chooses to forgive your sins (he may not)… as long as you follow all of the Five pillars (although you may not be able to complete pillar #5, the Hajj)… as long as you don’t accidentally fall into hell during the judgment (that could happen)… and as long as you manage to cross the bridge into heaven, which is as thin and narrow as a single strand of hair (as a child, I did very poorly on the balance beam, so crossing a hair is discouraging for the inadequately balanced among us). Muslim women, being naturally disadvantaged because they are women, have no way of knowing if they’ll make it or not, regardless of their efforts here on earth.
What was presented to us as simple and clear was, in fact, stuffed chock full of complications, as were several of the other Islamic concepts explained to us. The opacity of Islam, even for those who are in that faith, boils their belief system down to human interpretation, either that of the Imam, or the Hadith (supplementary texts that interpret the Quran and Mohammad’s intentions).

As I was considering this, the rules and complications of Christianity began running through my mind. To be a good Christian, one must have long hair (or short hair), facial hair (or be clean shaven), somber (or exuberant), poor (or prosperous), and stern (or permissive). Some say the use of modern medicine demonstrates a lack of faith, while others say that since God created science and doctors, making use of those resources is an act of worship. Some say that women are meant to be seen and not heard, while others say that the full participation of both women and men in our church services represents the fullness of God’s nature.

Christianity, like Islam, has major divisions and ugly disagreements, some of them benign and some dangerous in the extreme. We, in our humanity, have no right to stand superior over Muslims, who are seeking to follow a complicated, uninspired belief system. The one thing… the only thing… that sets Christians apart from Muslims is Jesus. The only thing that prevents Christianity from being Islam is Jesus. It is Jesus, Prophet and Savior, who brings clarity. Without Him, we are only left with the complexity that reflects our own inner human turmoil.

Walking out of the mosque that day, with the women I had met pressing on my heart, I couldn’t escape the thought that they were faithfully serving a religion that offers them no peace or assurance.
I couldn’t escape the truth of what the sacrifice of Jesus has bought for them and, indeed, all of us: a clear, unobstructed path to God and a life of abundance.
I couldn’t escape the reminder that, as followers of Jesus, our only job is to live in His clarity, simplicity, and truth to such a powerful degree that we will be moved to introduce those we meet to Him.

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