Friday, March 18, 2011

Egyptian Protest: Christians join hands to protect praying Muslims

To add onto my thoughts on prayer, here is story of the Egyptian revolution that should not be forgotten.

Also, is a great website. Good source of tidbit news.

Time and Space for Prayer

Here is an essay I wrote for my Religion Module. We were supposed to combine our observations with some analysis to comment any aspect of religion. I chose prayer, which is appropriate for a Friday, the holy day in Islam. Today everyone is wearing their best and the mosque lay mats outside for all of the worshippers. This Friday is especially real special since MY FAMILY IS COMING TO VISIT! I'll have one day with the Ballerias in Morocco, and then I'm going to spend a week in a Berber village. I am to expect no electricity or running water, possible encounters with wild boars and rabid dogs, and a lot of free time to read. And now, onto the paper:

At first the signs seem small, inconsequential. My Yahoo! homepage lists the prayer times where stock prices were. The Moroccan cell phones have the option of alerting me of the times to pray. Five times a day, the call to prayer rings out across the city. As I walk through the medina, I come across quiet rooms filled with men kneeling to pray. My host sisters cover their heads and go into another room after dinner. They are small spaces and times, but in their ubiquity it becomes clear how prayer defines Moroccan space and time.

Islam has been distinguished from Christianity as being based not on “correct faith” but on “correct action.” Tellingly, the five pillars of Islam all depend on verbs—you must say the shaddah, pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, give alms and make the pilgrimage. Islamic jurisprudence rulings use the Koran to set modern issues on a sliding scale of “obligatory, encouraged, permissible, discouraged and prohibited”, in the process creating a holy valuation of day-to-day actions. While you are performing the pillars you are literally embodying the tenets of the religion and when you do something prohibited you are defiling your faith. In Islam actions are the truths self-evident. Prayer takes a unique position among the pillars since it must be physically performed every day, five times a day. The fundamental requirements of prayer—space and time—form the way these two concepts are constructed in Muslim life.

Prayer literally punctuates the day, the phases of morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening are marked by prayer, each instant provides the worshipper with solitary moments that are absolutely devoted to faith. In contemporary society, time is being constantly valued, even equated to money, making these minutes of meditation precious. Prayer however, is not perceived as a “waste of time” but an intrinsic part of the day. My professor told me that he is sometimes forced to double prayers when he is busy, but it somehow feels wrong. My host sister said that when she misses a prayer because she is tired or it is too late, she always feels bad. For them, although prayer can be inconvenient, it is a necessary and beneficial part of the day. In the lives of a Muslim, prayer becomes an essential timekeeper, marking the passage of time through worship.

The inclusion of prayer times in technology speaks to two phenomena, one new and the other as old as the religion. Globalization and the international diaspora of Islam means the religion and its adherents have moved outside of the medina, where prayer calls do not ring from minarets. There are myriad examples of how Islam and technology have intersected to address this issue— calculates prayer times across the globe and there are iPhone apps to find the way to Mecca from any point on the globe. This incorporation of prayer in technology demonstrates the continued relevance of prayer in contemporary Muslim life. There are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world, representing 23% of the world’s population in 2009. While 20% live in the Middle East, a region in which more than half of the countries have Muslim populations of 95% or more, there are Muslims in staggering numbers on every continent. As technology develops and Muslims migrate across the globe, tools have emerged to continue to mark prayer times, demonstrating this pillar of Islam will not be loss to the forces of globalization. Prayer continues to shape how Muslims use, experience and understand time.

Space is the second requirement for prayer. In many Moroccan houses there is a carpeted room that is set aside to pray in. As many Americans have been become aware of, usually after the fact, shoes are not allowed on this floor. Within the house, a space is created dedicated to Islam; at once it delineates the sacred and incorporates religion into the intimate space of the home. Outside of the home, accommodations have been made for prayer. Prayer rooms, which are essentially empty rooms whose rental provides little or no economic benefit to the owner, are surprisingly ubiquitous even in spaces devoted to commerce. Prayer rooms can be found in bus and train stations, even gas station rest stops. Not to be demeaning, but the prayer room is seen as being as much of a necessity as a public restroom, if not more. That space for prayer can be found even in areas of transit demonstrates that it is at once a public good and a societal expectation to provide a prayer room. Between these spaces of transit and the home there lie many variations—the universities provide their students with prayer rooms, along the street there are mosques on seemingly every corner—but they do fall into the dichotomy of private and public space. This separation also marks where women and men pray. Every day, my host father leaves to the mosque to pray. The women all pray at home because, according to my sister, she “heard it is better for the women to pray at home.” She may have prayed in a mosque, once, but it was not memorable. The traditional gender separation in private and public space of Moroccan society are manifested the spaces of prayer. In Morocco, there is a veritable infrastructure dedicated to prayer, demonstrating how Islam permeates the physical construction of the world.


As I walked down a mountain path leading into Chefchaouen, I passed a man on his knees. He was impeccably dressed. His sheepskin coat laid on the gravel, exposing his clean white button-down, his leather shoes were bent to the ground, his head was bowed. He was praying. He was in a position of utter submission, his expensive clothes forgotten, the spiritual taking absolute precedent over the material. This man was not in a mosque, he had no prayer rug and the call to prayer was not echoing through the mountains. Despite the physical constructions of the world that have been dedicated to prayer—prayer rooms, cell phone alerts, calls to prayer—the act of praying is never dependent on them. This man praying on the path in Chefchaounen showed that prayer is, above all, a demonstration of faith. The action of prayer, much less the spaces and times of prayer, in and of themselves do not define the religion. It is not the action, but the intention with which it is done. The commitment of time and space to prayer in Islam society speaks to the importance of the religion itself in the lives of the people.

[1] The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Mapping the Global Muslim Population. Rep. Pew Reseach Forum, 7 Oct. 2009. Web. 18 Mar. 2011. .