We Need More Pillars

Note: I wrote this originally about our service this past Sunday, but today’s events in Paris have inspired some updates.

During the month of January, my church has various speakers come in and speak about other faiths. This week, we had Imam Khalil Sultan speak to us on Islam. He was a wonderful, humble and wise man and spoke to the universal nature of Islam and the study of all scriptures.

Islam, like all religions, has a series of spiritual practices in which followers engage in order to help them grow in their spiritual journeys. Christians have them, as well, but they’re not really emphasized as a thing as much outside of monasteries. For Muslims, there are 5 practices, or pillars, of Islam that are almost universally practiced among all sects. They make up Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self purification and the pilgrimage. They are:

  1. Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger
  2. Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
  3. Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
  4. Sawm: fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if one is able

I was talking to a friend last night about a church in Kansas City that has very specific requirements for membership. They are:

  • To worship regularly.
  • To continue to grow in your faith by participating in a small group study.
  • To serve God with your hands, by volunteering in service to the congregation and the community and world.
  • To give in proportion to your income.

This is a church of over 10,000 people. Granted, I don’t know how many of those 10,000 are actual members, but the idea that a church who has actual behavioral requirements attracts that many people is worth a conversations. If you’re not there for a few weeks someone calls you to check in. They take attendance. I can’t really imagine the logistics of taking attendance for that many people. The mind boggles. I think churches might be afraid to put those kinds of requirements on people, because they think it might drive people away, but maybe the opposite is true. Maybe we actually want something required of us.

Islam has five practices, or pillars, that involve daily, annual and lifetime behaviors that can be adapted and used as inspiration for any spiritual practice.

1. Declaring that there is one God. When we remind ourselves that God is in control, we’re also reminding ourselves that we’re not. How would your life be different if you actually said that out loud, multiple times a day.

2. Prayer 5 times a day. I wrote about being in Egypt and hearing the call to prayer something like 8 times a day and seeing people drop what they’re doing and kneel and acknowledge God’s greatness. While I’m not really into the government telling me when and how to practice my faith, I do think that if this were a practice that everyone were to adopt, our world would be a lot different.

3. Giving to the poor. An interesting difference between Christian giving and Muslim giving is that Christians give out of their income, but more well-off Muslims give out of their savings. It’s an acknowledgement that God is in control of their money and that their responsibility is to give and God takes care of the rest.

4. Fasting and self-control during Ramadan. Christians have time periods during our calendar, like Lent, when we either give up an excess or take on a practice that helps us increase our discipline and devotion. Observing these seasons help us to gauge our hunger for God and to reveal the depth of our character.

5. Pilgrimage to Mecca. Christianity has sacred locations. Personally, we also can have sacred spaces or places that we can visit to give us perspective. I’m a huge fan of international travel because I think it gives one perspective that can’t be gained by reading about a place. Lots of Christians travel to Israel to see the places where Jesus walked. There are also other trips that follow in the footsteps of various saints. Visiting a spiritually significant place is a profound way to experience God.

We are called to practice and commitment. We are called to become more like God and be God’s presence in the world.

Today in Paris there was a horrible attack by Muslim extremists who believe that their faith and their Prophet was being attacked by a satirical newspaper. Once again, terrorism in the name of faith. Christians have been guilty of it as well as Jews. We have a history (and somewhat of a present) of killing people who disagree with us. This is counter to everything that is intended by faith. If you are engaged in the practice of the above pillars or in a consistent practice of Jewish or Christian spiritual disciplines, terrorism is not the result. These events are the direct result of following one person’s interpretation of sacred texts, and not the result of seeking out God for oneself.

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