When our family lived in Nigeria, we had plenty of occasions to rub shoulders with the Muslims there, and for the most part, these were positive experiences. In fact, sometimes even when they didn’t start that way, they turned into good experiences.
I went up north one time with some friends, and when I came home they stayed behind to continue their visit. After I left, my Christian friends were arrested and my presence was required to get them out of prison. So, we started bright and early on the eight hour drive and, half way there, we picked up a lawyer, Bashir, a Muslim man. In those four hours he and I became friends. At the actual prison, there was not much to do because the charges were very spurious; nevertheless, I admired Bashir’s professionalism in the work.
On the way home we had a four hour drive before Bashir left us, so he proposed to me that we have an intellectual discussion regarding Islam and Christianity. That seemed like a good idea to me so I agreed, and asked him if he would explain to me about the Five Pillars.
The first pillar that a Muslim must observe, Bashir said, is to proclaim the creed: there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. The second pillar is to pray at five set times per day. The third is to fast during the month of Ramadan. The fourth entails giving alms and being charitable. The fifth is for those who are able, that they make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
My friend Bashir is a very articulate guy and he explained these things really well. I did have a question though. In keeping with the building metaphor, I asked him whether all of the pillars were weight-bearing. That is, if a person failed to fully observe the five prayers a day for instance, or fasting during Ramadan, what happened to the structure? Bashir assured me that the whole structure would fail. I was a bit shocked at that and asked him if anyone had ever fully kept the five pillars. He told me no, that it was impossible.
Then he asked me what the pillars of Christianity were. I was stumped for a second since Christians do not usually think of the faith in this way, but as I thought about it, it seemed to me we do have some ‘pillars’ analogous to the Muslim pillars.
For starters, we too are called to pray; though we don’t have set times of prayer, we are told to pray continuously. As well, while we don’t have set times of fasting, we are called to fast as the situation warrants. Our third pillar is also the same as the Muslim in that we are called to express charity and do good to all people.
But then I told him that none of these are weight-bearing pillars. If you fail in any of these areas, the house will still stand because in Christianity there is only one weight-bearing pillar, and that is Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled all the requirements of the law on our behalf and so as we stand under his pillar, we can know our house is secure.
I explained to him that Jesus has done this precisely because he knew that we never could fulfill the law on our own and because a holy God will not brook his laws to be broken. I told my friend Bashir this is the good news of Christianity: that Jesus has done all that is required on our behalf, and this is why we can sing “Blessed Assurance”.