During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve witnessed firsthand how painful, exhausting, and occasionally frightening it is to live among people who passionately disagree. In this maelstrom of masks, quarantines, vaccines, and lockdowns, we’ve often forgotten how to love our brothers, sisters, and neighbors, to say nothing of our enemies.
This makes me all the more thankful for the example set by Rachel Pieh Jones in her new book Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus. As committed Christians and American expatriates living in East Africa, Jones and her family have built a life on the borders of one of the most fractious relationships in human history: Islam and Christianity.
In Pillars, Jones writes about experiencing the “friction” of expatriate life. She describes finding the faith of her Islamic neighbors “rubbing against the box in which I restricted God and my spiritual life.” The book is structured, as Jones puts it, around “Islam’s five pillars—shahadah, or confession of faith; salat, prayer; zakat, almsgiving; Ramadan, fasting; and hajj, pilgrimage,” and she explores how all five can connect with and critique Christian practices. She relates her story without universalizing her experience, but we can learn much from her example.
Jones allows the teachings of Islam to challenge her own religious practices. For instance, the Muslim practice of involving the whole body in the ritual salat prayers (through actions like kneeling and bowing) emphasizes that “God’s presence permeates all of life, that space between spiritual and physical does not exist.” This moved her to adopt a new posture of prayer, one characterized by desperation for God ...1
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