“Is there a prayer you can offer for me?”
Her question culminated our one-hour conversation and would not have been extraordinary except for the fact that she is a Muslim and I am a Christian.
“I don’t know whether it is possible,” she continued, “for a person of one faith to pray for a person of another.”
What was infinitely more perplexing to me was the anxiety that prompted her inquiry: a wedding. This I understood, for in both her faith and mine, the exchange of vows between two people is a high-risk proposition.
“She is my sister,” she explained, “and I am on my way to her home to assist with the wedding plans.”
The likelihood of marital happiness faces stark and sobering odds, a fact that affects patterns of courtship and in recent days has prompted the rise of cohabitation, even among some Christians. Many Muslims, however, practice neither.
In fact, the two people preparing for marriage–ages 32 and 42, one a doctor in Washington and the other a professor in Atlanta–have seen each other only twice; brief visits devoid of physical contact.
Theirs is an arranged marriage, still the norm among the Bengali Muslims.
Letters, phone calls and emails are common, but little more. Questions of love and friendship are only hopeful possibilities discussed by family and friends who arrange the match.
Chief negotiations during the pre-nuptial period are not about music, gowns or flowers, but the mahar—or the security the groom agrees to give to the bride.
“It would be $50,000, or such,” she said to me. “Muslim religion declares it is to be a certain portion of the man’s income. It can be paid in cash or in kind. My husband gave me jewelry when we married.”
Her marriage, it turns out, was also arranged, 13 years ago. She had seen her groom only once before, and that was when he traveled from New York to Bangladesh to declare the engagement.
“Are you happy?” I asked, meaning, “Did it work?”
“Oh yes,” she replied quickly. “I love my husband very much. We have a happy life together. He is so good to me.”
At least some of that had to do with jewelry, I presumed, counting four rings, two bracelets, one watch, one necklace, an earring on each ear and a small diamond stone pierced in her nose. The latter, she explained, was personal preference and not a cultural pattern.
Not even her own happy experience, though, kept my fellow traveler from concern about bride.
“Is she required to marry the man selected by her family?” I asked.
No, she said. It is the duty of the Muslim cleric who officiates at the ceremony to ascertain, in private conversation with the woman, that she is acting freely and without compulsion. Only then can he solemnize the marriage and offer the prayers appropriate to the occasion.
Which brings me finally to the question which concluded our conversation and commenced this column: can a Christian say a prayer for a Muslim?
I recall the admonition of Paul the apostle: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, with godliness and dignity.”
I appreciate the request of a Muslim woman for prayer from a Christian minister; and I find in the Scriptures a Hebrew prayer of blessing well suited to her situation:
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.