I am learning that Saudi’s are people just like me, trying to balance work and family, wanting to exercise more but not disciplined enough to do so regularly, stressed out over having too much work to do, dealing with wayward children, struggling with differences between them and their spouses, conflicts with people at work, etc., etc. Many have been willing to open their homes to me, share their struggles and problems, take me out to dinner and lunch, drive me around, show me the city, give me gifts and books, come to my lectures eager and excited to learn.
They have even been interested in my area of special interest, i.e., research on the relationship between religion and health (fully knowing that I am a Christian). This is not at all what I expected. Rather than be rejected and marginalized, I have felt embraced by a gracious and humble people, even more so than by my colleagues back home.
Besides the warmth and kindness I’ve encountered, what has struck me most is the pervasive atmosphere of religious devotion and practice wherever I go — people stopping their work to kneel and physically bow in submission to and respect for God — even during the daytime. Shops close and everybody stops everything as they pray and worship in the morning near dawn, middle of the day, in the afternoon, just after sunset, and around nightfall, when Muslims wash themselves and take 20 minutes to pray. Why? So that they will not forget about God during the busy parts of the day when work or family responsibilities might distract them.
I also hear imams reading from the Qur’an over loud speakers during the day, and have noticed that cab drivers listen to DVD’s and radio channels that play chanting of verses from the Qur’an (rather than music).
Even the names of most people I’ve met are Arabic words for characteristics of God, as are the Arabic greetings they offer which are wishes for God’s blessings on me. Furthermore, they are eager to share their religious beliefs with me, despite knowing that I am a Christian whose beliefs are unshakeable. As I read more about Islam and ask those I meet about their beliefs and practices, I have begun to notice many similarities to my own Christian beliefs and expressions of faith. This is not at all what I expected.
First, there appears to be deep devotion and surrender to one God, great above all, and a belief that God is merciful and forgiving. There is great reverence for the holy book, the Qur’an, as the word of God, and for prophet Mohammed, whose life and teachings Muslims seek to follow (who taught values and morals very similar to what Jesus taught his followers). There is also belief in and reverence for Jesus (Isa) the Messiah, who is considered a holy prophet through whom God spoke just like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David (other prophets). Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a virgin (Miriam, i.e., Mary), was a great healer, rose bodily into heaven, and will return near the day of judgment after the tribulation period to restore justice and defeat the anti-Christ.
There is also belief in and great reverence for the Torah, Zabur (Psalms), and the Gospels (Injil). There is belief in heaven (a place of eternal happiness) and hell (a place of eternal punishment).
Friday is their Sunday, and on this day many attend gatherings at the local mosque, where the imam gives a sermon about practical issues in life and then everyone worships and prays; however, the focus is strictly on God, not socializing. There is a strong belief that everyone is equal before God regardless of social standing, as exemplified by people from all different classes dressing in similar clothes during the pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca.
Another common belief is the need to give support to the poor and needy. Muslims are required to give 2.5% per year of all savings (that which has been saved for more than one year), which is called Zakat. This is similar to the tithe of 10% of one’s yearly income that Christians are expected to give to the church.