Similarities in the Prayer and Fasting of the Prophets of Christianity and Islam

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Preamble

The final two challenges that Kornelius Kuku Palete Masiku presented to Muslims were to produce a verse in the Quran that proves Muhammed ﷺ fasted like Jesus fasted, and also another that proved he prostrated to Allah. The second challenge was followed by a comment on Jesus and prostration. I think he was inquiring about Jesus prostrating to his Lord in the Bible and/or Quran. I want to deal with both these topics. Let us begin with fasting.

The Fast

In the Quran, there are several verses that order Muslims to fast and specify how long they should fast and when. They also helped to define the daily period of fasting and its relaxation at night. I will allow them to speak for themselves about the fasting of Muhammed ﷺ and those who follow him. These verses lie between verses 183 and 187 in Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow).

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ ۚ  فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ  وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ ۖ  فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ ۚ  وَأَن تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous – a limited number of days. So, whoever among you is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. And for those who can afford it, a ransom of feeding the poor. And whoever volunteers better – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ  فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ ۖ  وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۗ  يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ…

The month of Ramadan in which was sent down the Quran for guidance to mankind and (clear) proofs of the guidance and the criterion (al-furqan). Whoever witnesses from you the month then he must fast it. So, whoever among you is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah wants for you ease and does not want hardship for you, and for you to complete the prescribed period and for you to magnify Allah to what he guided you and for you to be grateful…

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَائِكُمْ ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ ۗ  عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتَانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ ۖ  فَالْآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُوا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۚ  وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ  ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيَامَ إِلَى اللَّيْلِ ۚ  وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ ۗ  تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ فَلَا تَقْرَبُوهَا ۗ  كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ.

It is allowed for you on the nights before fasting to approach your women; they are clothing for you and you are clothing for them. Allah knows that you used to deceive yourselves, so He accepted your repentance and forgave you. So, now, have relations with them and seek that which Allah has decreed for you. And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct from the black thread to you. Then complete the fast until the night. But do not have relations with them as long as you are cloistered (in a state of retreat) in the mosques. These are the limits of Allah, so do not approach them. Thus, does Allah clarify His verses to mankind that they may become righteous.

The gospels of Matthew and Luke record that Jesus fasted for 40 days, like Moses, and Mark records that he went out into the desert without mentioning his fasting.

 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. (Matthew 4:2)

This is not the fast of Muslims in general, though it is possible that the Prophet ﷺ sometimes fasted the night, as well as the day. Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade his Companions from observing fast without interruption (Saum al-Wisal).

One of the Muslims said: “Messenger of Allah, you yourself observe Saum Wisal.”

On hearing this, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ asked: “Who among you is like me? I spend night (in a state) that my Allah feeds me and provides me drink.”

When they did not agree in abandoning the uninterrupted fast, the Holy Prophet ﷺ also observed this fast with them for day after a day. They then saw the new moon and the Holy Prophet ﷺ said: “If the appearance of the new moon were delayed. I would have observed more with you.”

And he did this by way of warning to them as they had not agreed to refrain from observing Saum Wisal. (Sahih Muslim)

Jesus also mentioned, along with praying and charity, how not to fast, in Matthew 6, and spoke a parable comparing the sincere supplication of a tax collector to the prideful fasting and tithing of a Pharisee in Luke 18:12. The Pharisee mentioned that he fasted two days a week, which would customarily have been Tuesday and Thursday. This, of course, does not mean fasting is not recommended. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus says, in reply to a question posed by John ben Zakaria’s disciples,

“How can the attendants of the bridegroom mourn while He is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast.”

Of deeds, the Prophet ﷺ said that every deed is by intention. He also said pride ruins the deed as it is for other men’s eyes to see – a form of seeking reward from men for an act of worship. In Islam, that means polytheism – the unforgivable sin if one dies without repenting it. It is for this reason Jesus speaks critically of the Pharisees whom he sees as hypocritical. Jesus says in Matthew 6:1:

Be careful not to perform your righteous acts before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

He also says (Matthew 6:16-18):

When you fast, do not be sombre like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be obvious to men, but only to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The reason for fasting, praying and giving in charity (sincerely) is given in Matthew 6:19-21

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Prayer

Let us now move on to praying, and establish the attitude of Jesus to it, and whether he prostrated to his Lord. In Matthew 6, he said:

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6: 5-6)

He also taught the Lord’s prayer, which is prayed to “The Father” (not directed at “the Messiah” or “the Son”), after giving this advice.

The one to whom prayer should be directed is reiterated when Jesus raise Lazarus, the brother of Martha. The relevant verses are in John 11:38-44.

Then Jesus, loudly murmuring to Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already stinking. It has been four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So, they removed the stone.

“Jesus loudly murmured.” The word used, here, to describe the kind of utterance means “snorted angrily.” One has to ask why Jesus was angry (deeply moved). Was it out of pity? Vexation? Righteous wrath? Or was he praying, supplicating with emotion? Perhaps his next words give a clue.

Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.”

He prayed to be overheard, asking for a miracle only God could provide as a sign of authority as His messenger.

 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.

Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.”

He proved his point, but even this miracle did not change the stubborn hypocrisy of the Jewish elders.

The position of prayer mentioned in Matthew 6 is standing, but other positions were adopted by Jesus himself. At the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke says he knelt to pray to God.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and he fell to his knees and he prayed. And he said, “Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me; however not my will, but yours be done.”

And an Angel appeared to him from Heaven, who strengthened him. And as he was in fear, he prayed urgently, and his sweat was like drops of blood, and he fell upon the ground. (Luke 22: 4-42)

Matthew says he prostrated,

Matthew26 38-40: Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with me.”

 And he went a little beyond them, and fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.

And said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?”

Standing, bowing, kneeling and prostration are all positions used in Salat – the Muslim prayer. This type of prayer was enjoined on the mother of Jesus in the Quran when she was ordered to join the priests of the synagogue in prayer.

وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ.

And when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].” (Quran 3:42-43)

Jesus acknowledged he, too, was enjoined to prayer and compulsory charity.

قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا وَجَعَلَنِي مُبَارَكًا أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُ وَأَوْصَانِي بِالصَّلَاةِ وَالزَّكَاةِ مَا دُمْتُ حَيًّا.

“Indeed, I am a servant (worshiper) of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer (Salat) and compulsory charity (Zakat) as long as I remain alive.” (Quran 19:20-31)

Prostration is implied by the word Salat, along with the positions we have already mentioned.

لَّن يَسْتَنكِفَ الْمَسِيحُ أَن يَكُونَ عَبْدًا لِّلَّهِ وَلَا الْمَلَائِكَةُ الْمُقَرَّبُونَ ۚ وَمَن يَسْتَنكِفْ عَنْ عِبَادَتِهِ وَيَسْتَكْبِرْ فَسَيَحْشُرُهُمْ إِلَيْهِ جَمِيعًا.

Never would the Messiah disdain to worship Allah, nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant – He will gather them to Himself all together [For Punishment]. (Quran 4:172)

As for Muhammed ﷺ, he and his followers are described by Allah as prostrating and bowing.

 مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّهِ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانًا ۖ سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ ۚ وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَىٰ عَلَىٰ سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ ۗ وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا.

Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating, seeking bounty from Allah and [His] pleasure. Their mark is on their faces from the trace of prostration. That is their description in the Torah. And their description in the Gospel is as a plant which produces its offshoots and strengthens them so they grow firm and stand upon their stalks, delighting the sowers – so that Allah may enrage by them the disbelievers. Allah has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds among them forgiveness and a great reward. (Quran 48:29)

He is also ordered to start the established prayer with his family at the beginning of his mission.

وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ وَاخْفِضْ جَنَاحَكَ لِمَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَإِنْ عَصَوْكَ فَقُلْ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ فَإِنْ عَصَوْكَ فَقُلْ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى الْعَزِيزِ الرَّحِيمِ الَّذِي يَرَاكَ حِينَ تَقُومُ وَتَقَلُّبَكَ فِي السَّاجِدِينَ.

And warn, [O Muhammad], your closest kindred. And lower your wing to those who follow you of the believers. And if they disobey you, then say, “Indeed, I am disassociated from what you are doing.”

And rely upon the Exalted in Might, the Merciful, Who sees you when you arise and how you move with those who prostrate. (Quran 26:214-219)

He is reassured of his status as God’s messenger ﷺ and his nightly duties in Quran 76:23-26:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ تَنزِيلًا فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تُطِعْ مِنْهُمْ آثِمًا أَوْ كَفُورًا وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا وَمِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَاسْجُدْ لَهُ وَسَبِّحْهُ لَيْلًا طَوِيلًا.

Indeed, it is We who have sent down to you, the Qur’an progressively. So be patient for the decision of your Lord and do not obey from among them a sinner or the ungrateful. And mention the name of your Lord morning and evening and during the night. Prostrate to Him. And exalt Him a long night.

Finally, as a final sample of what he was told to do about prayer, he was commanded to establish a cycle of daily prayer after his night journey and ascent.

أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَىٰ غَسَقِ اللَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ إِنَّ قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُودًا وَمِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَتَهَجَّدْ بِهِ نَافِلَةً لَّكَ عَسَىٰ أَن يَبْعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًا مَّحْمُودًا

Establish (stand up in) salat at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed. And from [part of] the night, pray with it as additional [worship] for you; it is expected that your Lord will resurrect you to a praised station. (Quran 17:79-80)

Conclusion

Did Muhammed ﷺ prostrate like Jesus prostrated? They prostrated the same way, it appears. Did Mohammed ﷺ fast out of pride or for the sake of Allah? He did it for Allah and told the people, like Jesus did, that fasting out of prideful display was useless. Did he fast continuously at any period of his life? Hadith say it was an early practice of his. Did he fast 40 days in a row? It is not mentioned in the Quran that he did, but he was ordered to fast the 30 days of Ramadan. He also suggested fasting six more days after Eid al-Fitr or any time of the month following Ramadan (Shawwal) to gain the reward of fasting the year. So, if the challenger intends that Muhammed ﷺ follow Jesus’s practice in the Gospels, he will have to be disappointed. However, did Jesus pray and fast like Muhammed ﷺ? From the evidence, it shows that he did.

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