Vanity and solidity
The Qur’an says that the deeds of those who deny their Lord will be blown away. But in fact, every deed is blown away on a windy day, for nothing remains. Everything is transient. Yet the difference between the deeds of those who act in a spirit of selfishness, hate, injustice, greed or aggression (and as such deny the principles of the divine) and the deeds of those who act in a spirit of love, compassion, justice, humbleness and peace (and as such remember the principles of the divine) is that the deeds of the first group are burned out. They contain no life. They are useless. Like ashes. The deeds of the second group, however, bring life and beauty. They bring light. They give freedom and restore justice. Like seeds.
What Christians can learn
All over the world Christians have gone through great lengths to offer a variety of services to those in need. From hospitals to development work, from taking care of the poor to supporting handicapped people, from helping lepers to educating children, all strands of Christianity have built out huge networks to do all of it. Yet even all those good works can sometimes be senseless and illusionary. For the question always remains what the motivation behind acts of service truly is. If they are done because it makes one feel great and superior because it gives the feeling of being appreciated and respected, then it is nothing but a trick of the ego to indulge oneself in a different kind of self-aggrandisement. If the service is offered as a way to missionize and win some souls, it is simply a way to cheat people into a religion. And if the service is done simply because one’s community says one should, then it lacks genuineness and honesty.
Service as well becomes ash that is blown away by the wind of history when it isn’t truly focussed on God. Service should not have our own benefits as its aim but should be a true effort to restore balance, justice and equality. Every Christian involved in service should therefore often pose himself the question whether he is doing his service for the sake of himself, for the sake of service itself or to allow more divinity in the world. For service without God-focus is, spiritually speaking, useless.
Questions for Muslims
Many Muslims pray five times a day. As a Christian I can but learn from this and regard it with the utmost respect. Yet what I often see in the prayers in the mosques is that the prayers are very formally performed. Certain words and sentences are said and certain acts are done. Yet the question could be posed whether the prayer often isn’t handled too ‘technically’. As such it sometimes seems a bit like “Say this, do that – and that’s a wrap.” A spiritual danger lies therein, because more than any other act, prayer needs a proper focus on God. Without it, it is entirely senseless. In prayer not only the body, but the soul as well needs to be prostrated before God. The inner devotion to God is essential – with or without words.
Sufism of course knows the practice of dhikr, the remembrance of God by repeating one of his names. This practice exists in many forms. The question can be asked therefore whether such a form of dhikr shouldn’t be an essential form of meditation besides the five formalised moments of prayer.