In the previous blog we considered the dilemma some Muslim women face as they experience God’s nearness and it either contrasts with their theology of God or proves painful. As followers of Jesus, how can we share the intimacy and joy of God with us?
Watching and Acting
In the Quran, Allah is the all-powerful and all- knowing and all present. ..He is everywhere. And nothing is hidden from him. ‘He is nearer to us than our jugular vein’ Qur’an 50.16.
He is not unlike the God of the Bible … God is ‘in the high and lofty place’ Isaiah 57:15 and we ask, ‘where can I go from your Spirit or from your sight?’ Psalm 139:7
And while for Muslims we can see the acts of Allah, he can’t be known or be affected by us. “Our job is to follow him – not know him”, one woman said.
In what sense then is Allah near to his people? Is it perhaps having the right family connections – with Allah at the head of this family? Is it about actually seeing God (Sufi) or is it his knowledge of us (Sunni)? If it is the latter, seeking his face (or drawing near to him) then, means obedience.
Allah is said to be near when life is just happening – for good or ill: simply because God is causing this or taking that. And for this nearness, they will thank him. In the previous blog we described how Maryam thanks God for giving her the troubles she is experiencing, believing that they are given to make her a better mother, more faithful in her prayers.
Absence & Coming
In the Quran, Allah is all-present. His absence from his world is impossible. ‘If my servants ask you about me, I am near. I respond to those who call me, so let them respond to me, and believe in me, so that they may be guided.’ Qu’ran 2.186
However, in the Bible… God’s absence is not only possible but it’s the crisis that makes his coming more necessary and his presence more meaningful. Consider Adam and Eve who disobeyed the one who walked and talked with them, causing God to send them away from him. Consider the state of humanity ever since…. ‘But your sins have separated you from your God: your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.’ Isaiah 59:2
Consider Israel’s distress in Exodus 33:3-4 when God says he will not go with them; the horror of Ezekiel as he sees the Lord’s glory depart from the temple; the pain of Lamentations when Jerusalem is deserted by God; and the cry of Jesus from the cross quoting Psalm 22 ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’
In her book “Thinking Biblically about Islam” Ida Glaser says, “the fact that God can forsake someone emphasises that when he talks about being present with them, he really has come and really is there with them.”[i]
So she concludes, in Islam, God is everywhere, because he just is. It’s simply his nature to be everywhere. His nearness is about his knowledge of us and getting near to God is about obedience; something people have to do. The breathtaking truth of the Bible is that God can be absent but he chooses to make himself known to his people.
In the last blog I described how Ayesha wanted to know where God is – her faith tells her he is here – but she can’t see evidence of good. I encouraged her to look for him. Coming to those who look for him is something God does.
Demonstrating and Describing
We have the privilege of knowing God. We have the privilege of God with us in Jesus Christ. We have the privilege of God living intimately in us by the Holy Spirit.
God is constantly teaching us, nurturing us, disciplining us, comforting us, walking with us. I frequently hear Muslim friends say things like… “There are such nice people here [in the church]” and “Why do you love people like you do?“ and “You are all so kind!” and “I love coming [to activities with followers of Jesus] – there is so much love and happiness and peace”. I’m sure you hear this too.
I understand this to be the fruit of God’s presence in us and the work of his Spirit shaping our character. We need to understand such comments as more than just flattery but as opportunities to testify to the presence of God in us.
We can use such opportunities to speak of our own experience of God and what his nearness means to us. We can speak of how this is seen throughout history as we tell stories from the Bible of God’s absence and nearness – Consider Hagar; the woman at the well; the prodigal Son; Israel in the desert; Hannah’s prayer; and Jesus’ words on the cross. We can use such opportunities to continue to spur us on to love and good works in order to both demonstrate and describe the impact of God in us.
Photo credits: https://pixabay.com/en/muslim-woman-face-person-clothing-397945/, https://pxhere.com/en/photo/92495.
[i] Ida Glasser with Hannah Kay, Thinking Biblically About Islam (Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2016), p.132.
© When Women Speak… May 2018
In 2008 Anna Shean moved from 14 years in church ministry to an area of Australia which has largest and most diverse multicultural population of Sydney. Here, she connects with Muslim women and equips individuals and churches to do the same.