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Mosque Prayer Questions

What can be learned from praying
in a mosque?
The Sultan Qaboos Grand
Mosque in Muscat, Oman is a landmark
and, surprisingly in a land ruled by sharia,
opens for visits by Christians and other
non-Muslims. I visited on a Wednesday
morning and was inspired by the grandeur.
Completed in 2001, the Grand Mosque can
accommodate 20,000 worshippers and features
marble paneling, a Svarovski crystal
chandelier that spans a length of 14
meters, and a hand-made Persian carpet
consisting of 1,700 million knots, made in
a single piece measuring 70 x 60 meters,
woven over the course of 4 years by 600
female weavers.

After I walked around the perimeter of
the main hall, I realized that, most of all, I
was in a place of prayer. Muslims gather for
prayer at the mosque five times each day.
They assemble in rows, stand and kneel,
touching their foreheads to the ground in
an act of submission and devotion. Mosque at night
As a Christian in a mosque, I wondered
how Muslims would be treated in a church. Are
churches open for visits by Muslims? Would a
Muslim be permitted to enter a church, walk
around the perimeter of the sanctuary, gaze at
the architecture, and ponder the meaning of the
pulpit, table, and font?

What about prayer? If an Omani man
visited a North American church prior to
a worship service, wearing his traditional
dishdasha, what would happen if he knelt
for prayer? How would people react if he
took off his shoes at the sanctuary entrance
as an expression of humility, walked barefoot
to the chancel, and repeatedly knelt
and stood as he prayed?

Would observers be supportive of
his simple act of prayer? Or territorial
about Christian space? Would church
members be troubled that he prayed to
Allah or pleased that he followed his conscience?
Would they be afraid of what
could come next?

Back in the Grand Mosque, I realized
that I wanted to pray. Wearing a longsleeve
button-down shirt, blue jeans and
flip-flop sandals, I knelt on the plush
carpet and closed my eyes. There were
less than 10 people in the main prayer
hall at the time. But before my knees
became stiff, I was nudged by a guard.
He wore a military-brown dishdasha, with
a pistol and club on his belt, and asked
what I was doing. After my answer, the
guard explained that prayer in the Grand
Mosque is for Muslims only. He correctly
presumed that I am a Christian. With a
red face, I apologized.

When I was alone in my car, the questions
came. Why was my prayer stopped?
Did the guard act unilaterally or on the
grounds of established policy? Was my
Christian prayer offensive to him or only
out-of-place in a mosque? Was the guard
motivated more by politics than religion–did he see an opportunity to trump an
American who was far from home? Was it
a matter of power and control? There are
times when Christians oppress Muslims
but at that moment the guard had power
and control over me. Was he concerned
that I would proselytize curious Muslims?
Was I considered to be a bad influence?

I am grateful that the Grand Mosque
opens for visitors. I hope that churches
are open, too. And I pray that both Christians
and Muslims can discuss the questions
that arise from visits to one another’s
places of worship with open minds to
where the best answers lead us.

Edward Schreur is a minister in the Reformed Church
in America who served as the pastor of the Protestant
Church in Oman from 2006-2008.