My Muslim friends have often challenged me about what it means to live my faith as an act of submission to God in the everyday of life. Where I struggle with what seems their fatalistic acceptance of events and circumstances, they are confused by my approach that includes questioning and journeying, at times arguing, until trust triumphs understanding. In our different ways, we both are seeking to live faithfully in submission to God.
While traditional views of Islam suggest an unquestioning acceptance of life and all that comes, Muslima scholars are nuancing what that means. Jerusha Tanner Lamptey invites us to explore islam, submission/devotion, through the lens of taqwa, God-consciousness. She describes taqwa as piety that should be seen in “devotion to God, awe of God, mindfulness or consciousness of God, worship of God, and even fear of God.” Taqwa connects the divine and daily life, the divine and family and social relationships.
Reading the story of the announcement of the birth of Jesus the Messiah in Luke 1, I’ve wondered what Mary might model for us. What could Almighty God be saying to us about submission and devotion through the response of this young woman to unexpected, unasked for, life-changing circumstances that were beyond her control? As women of different faith traditions respond to life with its many unexpected events, how does Mary show us faith as a lived experience of God-consciousness?
Mary does not complain or argue with the angel about how she is not able to do what was being asked of her. In other stories in the Bible, there are many complaints and arguments about why Moses, or Gideon or Jeremiah are not able to do what God was asking of them. Mary does have a question, but not by way of focusing on her own inadequacies or inabilities. She asks how this extraordinary thing she has been asked to do can happen when she is still a virgin.
My own questioning and arguing and fighting against life-events reveals my need of a much deeper God-consciousness, a need to see God in devotion and worship as I live faith in my everyday. Mary shows me that awe in the presence of God becomes a safe and protected space for trusting and submitting to him.
For my Muslim sisters, perhaps Mary encourages questions that can bring understanding and reveal more of the majestic and powerful work of God. It is in exploring the unknown with God that we can experience the promises of God and his power to cover and uphold us in the midst of life. Questions aren’t bad when they come from a place of worship of God.
Mary calls us further. Her faithfulness and worship reveal for us what true submission and devotion are. She was ready to consent to God acting in her life with his power and presence in ways that she could not always comprehend, and in doing so to trust that God was present with her. She would be brought to the very edge of herself everyday as she submitted to God and his call to participate in his work. She is promised that God’s power will cover and uphold her in that very place.
We are not promised that in submitting to God our lives will be made easy. We are promised that God will come and uphold us exactly where we are. Devotion to God does not make me a passive bystander in God’s work, but it does enable me to embrace the impossible as one who lives conscious of God’s presence.
When Ambreen shrugged her shoulders and accepted she would not finish college because her marriage had been arranged, that she would not fulfill her dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer, I wish I had invited her to seek God asking how he was inviting her to be all he had created her to be.
When my contract was ended with false allegations, and I resisted and argued and demanded to know why from God, I wish I had sought to worship God and trust his power to fulfill his purposes.
For Ambreen and I, Mary shows us a different way. It is the way of true submission. ‘I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.’
 Lamptey, J. T. (2014). Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p 145.
(c) When Women Speak … December 2021
CH spent nearly three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).