Cultural Exploration

Married to a Muslim

Although I did not grow up in a religious household, we did occasionally go to Sunday church service and I was confirmed and baptized in a Lutheran Church. I must say, religion has been an interesting journey for me as I have always respected a higher spirit but didn’t really understand the purpose of all the rituals and how that affects my own journey all the way to Heaven or so I hope.

I do pray often and always remember a message once shared by one of my elders: “If you always serve others, be kind to others, and do not judge others, you are serving God, and he will love you.” I have aspired to live by this message on a daily basis, although I have to admit that I have failed here and there… I wasn’t perfect, nor is anyone for that matter.

One of my many passions in life is to understand those who are different than me, whether those differences are racial, cultural, religious, or all of the above. I have gone the extra mile to educate myself and to better understand our differences and allow myself to be enriched by lessons learned from those differences. This interest in diversity has driven me to travel more and educate myself about people and places around the world.

When I met my husband, I knew that he was from Lebanon but I really didn’t know much else about him other than, of course, he was very charming and generous to others. I was always asking him about his native country to better understand his culture and customs in Lebanon and other places throughout the Arab/Muslim world. Through my curious questioning (as he calls it “interrogation”) I learned he was a Muslim. Basically, until I met him, all I knew about Islam and Muslims came from the news media which wasn’t very positive. Because of this, I embarked on a journey to learn about what it is to be a Muslim and how does my upbringing as a Christian compares to his religion.

Due to the media always showing the conflicts in the Middle East, I never thought these two religions could intermingle or intermarry, therefore I was very surprised to learn that wasn’t the case at all.

With my continued interest in his religion, I learned that we (Americans) have many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Through my frequent visits to the Mosque and meeting members of Omar’s (my husband) congregation, males and females, I have come to appreciate them and their faith. Although I am not a Muslim, I am often asked about the religious customs of Muslims because many of my friends know that my husband is a Muslim and that I accompany him to the local Mosque for special religious and social occasions. Most often I visit the potluck dinner on Fridays so my friends feel comfortable asking me questions.

Why do Muslims not drink alcohol?

In the Quran (which is like the Bible in Christianity) it outlines how intoxication causes you to be more sustainable to evil therefore it is forbidden. Interestingly, I discovered that in the Bible it also mentions the sins of drinking (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:1-3, 20; Judges 13:4-7).

Do Muslims have their own God, different from Jews or Christians?

Muslims refer to God as Allah. In the Arabic language, Allah is a universal name for God and does not refer to an exclusively ‘Islamic’ God. Arabic-speaking Christians also use the word Allah when speaking of God. Muslims believe in one God who created the universe and has power over everything within it. He is above everything. He creates and His greatness cannot be compared to His creation. He is the only one deserving of any worship. Religions that believe in one God are called monotheists and those are: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Why don’t Muslims eat pork?

It is stated in the Quran that meat from a swine is unclean and should not be eaten. It is believed that because of the lifestyle of a swine and the bacteria it carries, it is not healthy for the body. The Bible also mentions the prohibition of consumption of swine in the book of Leviticus 11:7-8, as well as in Deuteronomy 14:8.

Is it required that Muslim women be covered?

It is a woman’s choice to wear the hijab. Most Muslim women cover because they believe that Allah has instructed women to be modest and it reflects their devotion to Allah. Not all Muslim women cover. Christian women once covered their heads called “veiling”. The practice of Christian head covering was mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:2-6. Christian women slowly stopped covering their heads at the beginning of the 20th century. Catholic nuns, as well as women in some Christian countries, still use the veil during church service.

What is the difference between Islam and Muslim?

Islam is the religion and Muslim is the person who practices Islam.  

Who is Muhammad?

Muslims believe in all the Prophets that were sent by God: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. He was the last of the Prophets sent by God to preach monotheistic teachings. He was born in Mecca and orphaned at the age of six. The Angel of Gabriel was the messenger from God who shared his teachings and directed Muhammad.  

Do Muslims worship Muhammad as Christians worship Jesus?

No. Muslims do not worship Muhammad or any other prophets. Muslims believe in all prophets but they believe that God alone is to be worshiped and none other.

What is the Quran?

It is a holy book which Muslims recite and use as guidance in all aspects of life. The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. Not one word of it has been changed over the centuries. It deals with all the subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom, worship, and law. Its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creations. All Prophets taught about believing in the One God, life and death, and warned of punishments if you disobey God.

Does Islam forbid other religions?

The Qur’an states that Allah does not forbid other religions if it is not causing harm to others or yourself. The Qur’an teaches to love those who are just.

What is their day of rest or Sabbath?

Muslims do not have a Sabbath day or day of rest although many Muslims gather on Fridays for celebration and to hear a sermon from their Imam (like a pastor).

Muslims pray five times a day and, if possible, they go to the mosque to hold these prayers as a group. On Fridays around noon they have a special sermon followed by a short prayer. Even though Friday is their main day of gathering for prayer, it does not state that they must rest on this day.

The Sabbath day is believed by Christians and Jews a day of rest after God created man. For Jews, it is the 7th day of the week when God rested which would be Saturday. For Christians, it would be the 1st day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead, which is Sunday.

What are the rules that are followed in Islam?

Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam just as Christians follow the Ten Commandments.

  1. Pillar One – The Testimony of Faith: Meaning there is no true God but God himself and that Muhammad is his Messenger. They believe that no one or object (or any other form) had the right to be worshiped other than God.
  2. Pillar Two – Prayer: Pray to God five times a day and when you pray you, pray directly to God (no other intermediaries between you and God). Prayer can take place anywhere at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night.
  3. Pillar Three – Giving to the Needy: All things belong to God and wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. Zakat is a term used here, which means giving a specified percentage on certain properties to certain classes of needy people.
  4. Pillar Four – Fasting in the Month of Ramadan: During Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. This method is for spiritual self-purification. Once a person has been cut off from the comforts of everyday life, they gain the sympathy of those that are going hungry.
  5. Pillar Five – Pilgrimage to Mecca: The annual Hajj (pilgrimage) occurs in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The end of the pilgrimage is celebrated with Eid al-Adha, known as the “Feast of the Sacrifice” also called the “Festival of Sacrifice”, is the second of two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year at the end of Hajj (pilgrimage). Eid al-Adha honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command. But, before Abraham could sacrifice his son, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. In commemoration of this, a lamb is sacrificed and divided in three parts: one part is given to the poor, second part is to be taken home and the third part is given to relatives.

Why do Muslims wash their face, hands, and feet before prayer?

It is believed that to be in the presence of Allah, one should do so with a clean heart, mind, and body.

This ritual purification is called the “Wudu”. It is the Islamic procedure of washing parts of the body: hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet with water.

Does Islam require men and women to pray in separate rooms?

No, it is not a requirement of Islam. It was said that men pray behind the Imam, then children, then women. This was not to rank women as second class but that men were to protect the women and children. The division started when women did not come to the mosque properly dressed and therefore because they pray kneeling and bowing to Allah, it may not be appropriate for men to be behind them.

Of course, there are many more interesting things I have learned about Islam, but these are the most common questions I have been asked and hope that it can help others understand the religion. Here is a comparison chart to give you a quick visual of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Although my husband frequents the Mosque for prayers, I enjoy attending Friday night prayers and potluck dinners. Going to these events provides me a great opportunity to socialize with female members of the congregation and learn more from them and about them. They are all from different parts of the world and each brings their own uniqueness … which is very enriching for someone like me!

When it is time for prayer and we enter the prayer room, everyone must have already performed the “wudu” and must be shoeless and we stand shoulder to shoulder, facing Mecca. The Imam begins reciting the prayer in Arabic. Although I do not speak Arabic, prayer is something that can be done any place or any time in any language, and I use this time to find my spiritual being and ask for all the healing in the world.

After prayer, all members join in the celebration of life in the fellowship hall by sharing a meal together. Each Friday night, members of the congregation bring a dish or two to the potluck dinner. The congregation of the Victoria Islamic Center is made up of Muslims from Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Albania, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Indonesia and few other countries. This translates into a variety of delicious food that is representative of the cultural richness of the congregation itself.

I love sampling the food! With so many different cultures under one roof, it’s like going to a food festival and getting to sample new food items each week. I am always asking, “What is this?” because some of the dishes are so unique and I always want to be prepared if the meal is going to be spicy hot. The ladies enjoy telling how each dish is prepared and what it consists of and they always encourage me to try a sample.

Since I have been attending the Friday potluck dinners and socials, I have been able to get to know many of the ladies as we sit together discussing children, activities, vacations plans or other things occurring in our lives. Several of the ladies come dressed in their country’s “traditional” outfits that are absolutely gorgeous.

They are all beautiful people and have such interesting stories to tell. They all have been so very kind and generous to me and I have never felt like an outsider but rather a member of the family. Many of them greet me with a hug and a warm smile. They always inquire about my well-being, too. I have grown to appreciate the uniqueness each one brings and have learned to admire their strengths as some have overcome challenging situations to learn a new language and adapt to a new life here in the States, all the while staying true to their heritage and faith.

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2 Comments

  1. Allen T Coffey

    Lanell, your article turned out great! Thanks for sharing this aspect of your life.

  2. Janie Alvarez

    I enjoyed reading your story. Thank you for sharing.
    God Bless & Peace to everyone

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