Prayer as part of a woman’s life who follows Jesus from Islam cannot be assumed. In a previous blog we explored some of the ways women living under Islam think about prayer and what things shape they way they come to prayer. Because prayer is important in the life of a followers of Jesus, growing our understanding of how our sisters experience prayer is essential.
It starts with spending time to understand the way that they know God. Who is God for them? What God has done, is he doing, or will he do for them. Who is he? What is his image?
For a Central Asian woman, when you ask her to describe Jesus, she will usually describe a man with long curly hair, a beard, and kind eyes that are full of love; he is someone who is ready to come and help. It will be the right answer, but when you meet them again, face to face, and you ask them to describe Jesus or God, they will say he is watching over me and waiting for my failures, but he is merciful, so he will offer me mercy. They will not say his eyes are full of love.
Taking the time to know the image of God they carry in their hearts is the key to discipleship and their embrace of prayer. When we understand the foundation on which women are building their faith-life, there is an opportunity to help them address the challenges that where they have come from religiously and culturally have burdened them with. This takes time, but the fruit of growing to maturity in Christ (discipleship) comes from healthy roots and foundations.
Understanding the things that shape how women living under Islam come to prayer is important in this. Prayer is a central part of a Christian’s relationship with God, and underlying that are myriad assumptions. Listening to learn what is in a woman’s heart and how she thinks about God and herself will help us reimagine prayer and how we look to share life with our Muslim friends. The shame of expressing her desires, imagining that Allah would be interested in her, and hearing her voice in the presence of God create barriers that a woman must cross.
How do our shared lives of faith enable women to overcome these foundational barriers?
Discipleship is about accepting women as they are, leaving the knowledge we have acquired about them and coming to them without prejudging them, accepting them as who they are. For Christians, prayer is about knowing God and being open to him knowing me, a woman. It doesn’t matter who this woman is or her religious background. God’s invitation is to relationship; to be able to give expression to her dreams, hopes and desires before God. Moving from prayer as something that is done to experiencing it as part of the relationship is a significant shift. That it can be personal as well, that I can raise my voice and express myself, will require the grace of walking together to know God and to know self before God.
Prayer is a privilege and power for us. It is not about the words but about being who you are before God. It is like a shelter for us. It is the place where we find our protector. We want to be sure that when a woman following Jesus from Islam grows in prayer that she has found that shelter.
(c) When Women Speak… July 2023
CH spent nearly four decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and has returned as part of Interserve’s International Leadership. A co-founder of the When Women Speak… network, 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).