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More people pray to their gods regularly in Asia and Africa than the
inhabitants of industrialised nations can imagine. Hindus, Buddhists,
Jewish people, Muslims and adherents of other religions have not lost the
ability for sincere meditation. Often, they adhere to strictly regulated
prayer-times. Prayer appears natural to them. Not to pray would be
considered a sign of decadence.
The innermost values of a person and his culture are expressed in his
prayers. For this reason, when we recognise someone is praying, we should
conduct ourselves with deepest respect.
Both Muslims and Christians possess their own prayer which they consider
to be superior to all others: the Fatiha and the Lord's Prayer,
respectively. Let us compare these two prayer treasures, so as to be
better able to understand what unites and what divides these two world
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THE FATHIA (English Translation)
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH,
THE MERCIFUL, THE COMPASSONATE.
PRAISE BE TO ALLAH,
THE LORD OF THE WORLDS,
THE MERCIFUL, THE COMPASSIONATE,
THE RULER ON THE DAY OF THE,
YOU ALONE WE SERVE,
FROM YOU ALONE WE SEEK OUR HELP.
LEAD US ON THE STRAIGHT PATH;
THE PATH OF THOSE
WHOM YOU HAVE GIVEN GRACE,
NOT ON THE PATH
OF THOSE UPON WHOM
YOUR WRATH RESETS
NOR ON THE PATH OF THE LOST
The Fatiha means "The Opening" or "The Opening of the Fortress"
because it is positioned before all the other suras in the Quran. It is
considered to be directly inspired by Allah and contains the words spoken
by Muhammad 1,350 years ago. Since that time, this prayer has been
repeated by countless Muslim worshippers.
The Fatiha is one of the few prescribed prayers in the Quran. It is
regarded by all Muslims as unique and holy. However, it should only be
uttered in Arabic, even in those countries where another language is
spoken. A translation into Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Indonesian or Swahili
is not considered valid or possible.
Arabic, in which the 114 suras of the Quran are written, is described as
the language of Allah. A direct translation of the Quran is prohibited,
for the beauty, depth and power of the poetic language would be lost.
Therefore, any translation that does occur is only regarded as an
interpretation of the Arabic original.
About 80 percent of Muslims do not speak Arabic. As a result, they do
not know what they are praying when they recite the Fatiha in the language
of its original composition. However when they pray it, they are sure that
the main prayer in the Quran is passing over their lips.
In the course of the five prayer-times, which the Sharia (Islamic law)
commands all Muslims to perform, the Fatiha is uttered up to 17 times a
day. Thus, this prayer represents more of a "martyrdom" for Muslims than
the Lord's Prayer does for Christians. The adoration, pleas and hopes
contained in it shape the subconscious mind of every Muslim.
The Fatiha advances around our planet five times a day, according to the
earth's rotation and alignment with the sun, being uttered by Muslims from
the 11,000 islands of Indonesia in the East to the Atlas Mountains in the
West; from the Russian steppe in the North to the Cape of Good Hope in the
South. It has even made inroads into Europe and the Americas through the
presence of foreign workers and students.
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THE Lord's Prayer (English Translation)
WHO IS IN HEAVEN,
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME.
YOUR KINGDOM COME,
YOUR WILL BE DONE,
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD,
AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS
AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS.
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
BUT DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE.
The Lord's Prayer, as found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, contains
the words of Jesus to his disciples when they asked him to teach them an
appropriate prayer in the spirit of his New Covenant. This prayer, which
was originally uttered in Aramaic or Hebrew by Jesus and his disciples,
was handed down through Greek writings and has now been translated into
more than 2,000 languages. Yet despite its appearance in numerous
languages, the Lord's Prayer has not lost its original vitality, spirit
Nearly all Christian denominations teach the Lord's Prayer as a main
ingredient to their particular confession of faith, because it includes
the basic tenets of the Gospel. Many Christians consider the Lord's Prayer
to be the most concentrated form of the Gospel -- indeed one of the most
valuable treasures in the Bible.
The Lord's Prayer embraces the whole world. It is not only uttered
during certain prayer times or church services; anyone can pray it at any
time, alone or with others.
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The Fatiha and the Lord's Prayer possess a similar inner structure and
thought pattern. They can conveniently be divided into four sections:
We will examine and compare both prayers within the framework of their
four sections, and discuss each concept according to how Muslims and
Christians view them.
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The Basmallah forms the prelude of the Fatiha. It is a fixed formulation
that sets the tone for all the 114 suras except one. The literal
translation is: in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.
Some Muslim scholars claim that this introductory phrase was not
originally part of the Fatiha nor was it from the other suras but that it
was added later to the beginning of the Quran in the process of its
publication. Today, Muslims consider it to be an integral part of the
Fatiha. The Basmallah does not contain an invocation from Allah. It is
equivalent to the words of an envoy who is commissioned to speak in the
name and order of his distant Lord; however it also bears similarity to
the incantation of a magician.
With these introductory words, a Muslim consciously draws himself nearer
to Allah's sphere of influence and power; yet he does not actually
establish personal contact with him. The Muslim's desire is to pray in the
spirit of the Quran. He strives to conform to the ordinances of Islam. He
wants to walk in the structure of the Sharia.
The first time we find indirect speech turned into a personal approach
is in the fifth stanza of the daily petition. A Muslim does not dare to
begin the main prayer of his faith with the words, "You are my God" or
"Our gracious God." his official prayer is not a personal conversation
or talk with God, where he brings requests, intercession, thanksgiving and
worship before him. Rather, the Basmallah can be compared to a puny man
attempting to draw near to his exalted ruler. He stands with his head
bowed, respectful and humble, before his mighty lord, hoping that Allah
will listen to his murmuring.
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The distinctive meaning of the word Allah gives the Islamic prayer its
own special weight; it is the Arabic name for God. The root of the word
comes from the Semitic EL, similar to Elohim, and it means "the Powerful
One," "the Only Strength," or "the Mighty One." When Jesus stood
before the high priest, he used this term: "In the future you will see
the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the
clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64).
The difference between the Jewish Elohim and the Arabic
Allah lies in
the last syllables of both words. While Elohim allows the possibility of
plurality and unity of the Trinity, Allah is limited solely to
singularity. Allah cannot be a unity of three Persons, for he is uniquely
and solitarily one. Consequently, the very Arabic name for God in Islam
makes the antagonism to the Holy Trinity abundantly clear. This principle
adds depth to the Islamic confession of faith which peals forth thousands
of times daily from the loudspeakers of minarets onto the rooftops of
countless cities, towns and villages, with the words:
There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is his Ambassador.
The uniqueness of Allah is apparent in this double denial of all other
A non-Muslim could begin to understand the absolute sovereignty of
Allah, if he were to contemplate the Muslim's call, Allahu akbar. This
phrase, meaning "Allah is greater," rings out from minarets 40 times
each day. It has also been proclaimed from the lips of innumerable Muslims
during the holy wars, and it is shouted by Shiites and Sunnites during
mass demonstrations. One should notice that this phrase does not mean that
Allah is great, for that would imply the existence of another great being,
which is incomprehensible; nor does it mean that Allah is the greatest,
for this would mean that he could still be compared to something less
sublime. It is necessary to understand this concept: Allah is greater than
everything -- greater than all the misfortune that could ever befall
someone, more important than all political events, more powerful than all
the nuclear explosives ever devised by man. Allah is above all the
promises of Communism and all the tempting allurements of Capitalism.
Allah is greater than anything we could ever conceive about him. He is the
different one, the unreachable one, remote, aloof, the great and
all-powerful god. No human being can comprehend him. Every thought about
him is insufficient or false. Allah is on the other side of a created
being's cognitive faculty. He is the Almighty One who controls everything
and who reigns with unchallenged, unquestionable sovereignty. None is
equal to him. He is the supreme, unknowable, distant god who has no
personal contact with his creatures. You can never understand him, only
adore him as his slave.
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These two names and characteristics of Allah, included in the Basmallah,
emphasise that he is the merciful one. Muhammad most likely adopted the
concept of the merciful Allah from the language spoken in Yemen, because
this word sounded good and personified Allah's mercy. This word seems to
have been little known in Mecca then and it required explaining. That is
why "the Merciful" is supplemented with "the Compassionate". This
adjective is meant to deepen the most important name of Allah, rendering
it "all-encompassing" mercy.
If we search for evidence of Allah's mercy in the Quran, we find that
its contents mainly encompass his deeds as creator and sustainer of the
universe. Many of the statements that Christians utter in their first
article of faith are similarly expressed in the Quran: he is the creator
of the universe, preserver, protector, granting success, health, wealth,
many sons and esteem in this life and the next. This is evidence of
Allah's mercy in Islam. On the other hand, those who appear poor, weak,
despised and have no sons, are regarded as living under the wrath of the
The two friendly names of Allah, which are mentioned about 160 times in
the Quran, point to the welfare of Muslims in this life and the next.
However, this mercy of Allah does not mean a personal attachment to man,
nor a covenant to his people, because "Allah misleads those whom he
wishes, and guides those whom he wishes" (Sura Ibrahim 14:4). Allah is
exalted high above those whom he created. He remains a distant, unknowable
god. Allah is not personable. Even the statement, "Allah is spirit," is
not permissible in Islam, for no one can know who or what his lord really
Any attempt to fathom the essence of Allah from the list of his 99 most
beautiful names leads to disappointment, because 27 of these names do not
appear in the Quran literally. They are theological constructions that
developed later. Some names of God, borrowed from the Bible, manifest a
strange content that distorts their original meaning. We must accept the
confession of al-Ghazali, the great Islamic theologian who compared all
the names and characteristics of Allah and came to the following
conclusion: "Every name of Allah is contradicted by another of his names.
Allah is everything and nothing. No one can approach his greatness or
fathom his essence. He remains the unknowable and authoritative God."
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The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples focused neither on God the
Almighty nor the Creator, neither on himself nor on the Eternal Judge. He
also did not encourage them to pray to Elohim or Yahweh but shared with
them his own privilege of being able to call God his Father.
This word offers a new relationship between God and us. What a spiritual
revolution! Which mortal man could ever presume to call the Eternal One
"Father"? We could sooner imagine the possibility of beginning the
salutation with "Oh Creator" or "Lord of History". But Jesus wanted to
lift his followers up to his level. He did not guide them to a great,
distant, unknown God whom none could ever hope to know but whom one was
obligated to fear and worship. No, Jesus revealed just the opposite to his
followers: the personal God of love who is very near, the Father who in
Jesus has bound himself to sinners forever. He remains a father even to
lost sons and daughters and is coming for them. His fatherhood is the
legal form of his love until eternity.
The fatherhood of God is the central concept of the New Testament, being
Christ's theological revolution and answer to the rigid One-God doctrine
of Jews and Muslims. Jesus mainly portrayed God as Father to his
disciples. In his prayers, he addressed him personally as "Father". In
the four Gospels, Jesus acknowledges the fatherhood of God more than 185
times. According to the Gospels, Jesus veiled his identity, using the name
God 99 times. The fatherhood of God remained unknown also to demons. But
to his innermost circle of disciples, Jesus revealed this essence of God
and his unity with him. The Son always honoured the Father and, denying
himself, said: "The Father is greater than me. He who sees Me, sees the
Father...I and the Father are one...The Father is in Me and I am in the
Father" (John 10:30; 14:9-11). It was for confirming the fatherhood of
God and his personal sonship that Jesus was condemned to death (Matthew
26:63-66); his first and last words on the cross began with the name of
his Father (Luke 23:34,46).
No person can understand the secret of the Father and Son by himself.
Jews and Muslims alike believe that God is only one. They cannot tolerate
or accept the existence of two or three gods. This sounds like blasphemy
in their ears. That is why staunch Muslims despise Christians who believe
in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The existence of the Holy
Trinity remains to them a secret and an ugly threat. Their eyes are blind
and their hearts are hardened.
With his unique revelation, Jesus wanted to encourage his disciples to
trust God as their personal Father and create in them a childlike faith;
for he has adopted them, despite their unworthiness and uncleanness
(Galatians 4:5). Jesus justified and purified his followers, so that they
became worthy to be called sons and daughters of God. They are no longer
guests or strangers but members in the family of their heavenly Father
(Ephesians 2:19; 1 John 3:1-3). He promised and sent them his Holy Spirit,
so that would be born again and live in his strength and divine essence as
his children (Romans 8:14,15; Galatians 4:6). We are, by grace, legally
his children by adoption, and in essence his children by his spirit, which
cries: "Abba, Father" giving testimony to our spirit, that we are
children of God our heavenly Father.
In the Old Testament, the Lord revealed the following assurance through
the prophet Isaiah: "Fear not, I have redeemed you. I have called you by
your name; you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1). In 1 John 3:1-3, we read the
answer of John the Apostle to this promise:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be
called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does
not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children
of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that
when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
The Lord's Prayer does not adore God in general and glorify him
indirectly, but directly guides us to speak to God our Father. Christians
have personal contact with God. He hears, knows and cares for them. A
Christian lives in a real and continual security, for the Almighty is his
Father. Race, education, riches, sex, health and success do not entitle us
to call God Father; only our faith in Jesus Christ grants us this
privilege. Everyone who believes in him will pray in his name to the
Father and experiences that he is accepted into the freedom of the
children of God. Every Christian has a so-called "hotline" with which to
call his heavenly Father anytime. The number is never busy, and there is
never a time when the Father is not there. He is always present, hearing
and answering the prayers of his children. Do you know this "divine
telephone number"? Consider the words of God in Psalm 50:15: "Call upon
Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me,"
then you will find real help in times of trouble."
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The words, "Our Father," do not lead the followers of Christ to speak
disrespectfully, presumptuously or in a demanding way, for they know their
Father is in heaven. A "holy distance" remains, despite the very
personal relationship. Christians are indeed children of God, but it has
not yet been revealed what they will become. The Holy Spirit protects them
from crude familiarity and over-confidence.
Heaven is the place where God lives; it is a spiritual realm, not a
place that can be located geographically. When Jesus said that the Father
is in him and that he is in the Father, it meant also that in Christ
heaven has come to earth. On the other hand, Jesus was always in heaven,
as long as he was one with the Father (John 3:13). It was only on the
cross that the Son was severed from the unity of the Trinity. It was there
that he reconciled sinners with God; it was there that he suffered hell;
it was there that he bore the penalty we deserve, so that we can have
access to the Father in his name. Heaven on earth begins now, invisibly,
when the Spirit of the Father and the Son is present in us. But this
should not be confused with prosperity or feelings of well-being. This
privilege of security in God, our Father, can be experienced by all,
whether in a concentration camp or among the hungry in India. Heaven can
be found by those in the sky-scraper jungle of New York City, and is just
as accessible to the bush tribes of Africa. He who believes in the words
of Christ and calls God Our Father enters a new creation. The theme of the
Lord's Prayer is not fear but love, not isolation but security, not
despair but continual thanks.
Some critics say: "Islam testifies to Allah being merciful and
compassionate. Christians call their God "Love personified". Mercy and
love look as if they are the same. Therefore, both religions are directed
toward the same God!" In response to this, we recommend that the critics
think about what love and mercy really mean. If a bridegroom were to say
to his bride in a condescending way, "I will have 'mercy' upon you and
marry you," how would his bride respond? If she would not reject him with
the words, "No thank you, we're through!" she would not realise the
suffering in store for her. But if her groom were to say, "I love you,"
then the matter would be clear, for he would be placing himself exactly on
the same level with her. It is precisely at this point where the
difference between a relationship to the God of the Bible and Allah in
Islam lies. Even when portrayed with his most endearing and noble
characteristics, Allah remains the great, distant and sublime god, who, at
the most, may stoop to notice a poor wretched worm and perhaps consider
In Christ, however, God our Father came down to our human level. He
became one of us. He even went lower, for he took our guilt upon himself,
dying in our place on the cross. True love means sacrifice for the
unworthy. The Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is not only merciful to
those in distress; he redeemed the sinners, unable to build up their own
righteousness before they were born, and bears with them patiently.
The first words in the Fatiha and the Lord's Prayer determine the
content and spirit of both prayers. In Islamic prayer, each thought is
directed toward Allah, for Islam is a theocentric culture, ordering all
areas of life around the name of Allah. But in the prayer that Jesus
taught, it is the fatherhood of God that influences all further requests.
Therefore, the matter can be summed up thus: The al-Fatiha glorifies and
illuminates Allah, only, whereas the prayer of the Lord exalts "our
Father in heaven." Whoever has understood these two great names, and the
difference between them, has understood the essence of Islam and
Christianity and their differences. Islam is in essence the explanation of
Allah's eminence. While real Christianity is what has been revealed and
born again out of the Father.
CHAPTER II. The Worship and the Requests for the Kingdom of Heaven
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