This is a 4th entry in the series of Things that are good to know about your Muslim friend. Make sure to read the first three entries if you missed them, and which had to do with:
Muslims must perform five prayers daily. These prayers have to be performed within three time windows, but the prayers themselves may be performed separately, or by lumping the 2nd with the 3rd and the 4th with the 5th (so 1 at dawn before sunrise, 2 between midday and sunset, and 2 after nightfall).
The prayer is a special meeting time between us and our lord. It is a moment of spirituality, introspection, and getting recharged spiritually, psychologically, and even physically (according to more and more studies.) With time, Muslims learn to turn all of their attention, their entire being towards God while performing the prayer. They forget all about this world, including everything and everyone in it, and concentrate only on their Creator. They feel that they are speaking directly to God, without any intermediaries. On one hand, it is the act of a lover getting closer to their beloved, on the other, it is a humbling experience, to be reminded that God, in His infinite might and power, is seeing and hearing this insignificant little creature, while life happens all around you, on earth, and everywhere else in this immensely vast universe. Every Muslim power of conviction and belief comes from these few moments of personal connection with their lord.
If you do not see your Muslim friend praying every day, this does not mean that they do not practice their Islamic obligation; they often do it in a concealed environment, but many will also use the flexibility allowed in the prayer times and delay their prayers by an hour or two in order to be in a more appropriate environment, instead of having to pray in the stairwell or the first exit for instance – which is a lot more common than you think… (This is because many Muslims still fear being targeted or discriminated against for their beliefs, because they are embarrassed or shy of being seen praying, or because there isn’t a more suitable spot for them to pray without bothering others or seeming out of place. And for having done it countless times myself, I can say that there is something quite spiritual and soothing in taking a couple of minutes out of your busy daily activities, hide in some stairwell or empty library isle, forget about everything except God, and pray…)
Before performing the actual prayer, a Muslim must ensure the following items:
- That they are performing the right prayer in the right time slot, as explained in the first paragraph. In other words, you cannot perform the morning prayer at night, or vice versa;
- That they are facing Mecca, the direction of which is now quite easy to determine even for the most astronomically illiterate, simply by having a smart phone on you;
- That it is permissible to perform the prayer in the place being used. A Muslim is not allowed to perform their prayer in a place if the owner does not allow it. It must also not be a place or a land that was taken forcibly from someone else, otherwise, prayer on it is forbidden and the prayer is considered invalid.
- That their clothes are pure. If you are not sure what these means, I suggest you go back to this entry, in which we talked about purity and impurity in Islam.
- And that they are pure themselves, which is usually done by performing a wudu’, or a minor ablution. This is how you perform a minor ablution:
You start by taking water in your right hand, and pouring over your face to wash it with a top-down motion.
Then you take water in your left hand and use it to wash your right arm from the elbow joint to the tip of the fingers, in a top-down movement.
Then you take water in your right hand and use it to wash your left arm from the elbow joint to the tip of the fingers, in a top-down movement.
Then you use the wetness that is still in your right hand to wipe the first third or your head, to where your hair would typically stop and your forehead starts.
Finally, you use the wetness that is still in your hands to wipe both your feet, the right then the left, from the tip of your toes to the joint of your ankle.
When this is done, a Muslim is considered to be in a state of purity enabling them to perform their prayer, to touch the writing of the Holy Qur’an, and to perform their pilgrimage for instance. Many Muslims ensure that they are always in this state of purity.
The following things invalidate this state of purity in a Muslim if any of the following seven things takes place: urination, passing stool, breaking wind, falling asleep, losing their reasoning faculty (passing out, or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol), menstruating, ejaculating and having sexual relations.
If any of these things takes place, then a Muslim simply performs a minor ablution as described above to regain their state of purity, except for the last three elements, for which they must perform a major ablution, which nowadays simply means taking a shower.
So if you happen to see a Muslim praying or about to pray, you will notice that they will always face Mecca when performing their prayer, and they will try to be fully concentrated, ignoring all distractions from their surroundings and even trying to ignore any thoughts they may have that do not have anything to do with the prayer itself. They will ignore you and everything else happening around them while praying, and they will even try to avoid fidgeting or scratching an itch if they can.
In the case of women, they must be wearing their hijab, or modest dress, when performing their prayer. This is still the case even if no one else will see them while they’re praying.
These obligatory prayers are made up of consecutive actions, during which ritual statements and Qur’anic verses are recited, and they prayer may not be interrupted except for crucial reasons. You will know that the prayer has begun – and therefore please do not interrupt for any reason – when the person raises their hands to their ears, and says “Allahu Akbar” while bringing the hands back down. They will then eventually bow down, get back up, then perform two prostrations with their head on the ground, before getting up and repeating this one more time (for the dawn prayer), two more times (for the sunset prayer), or three more times (for the midday, afternoon and night prayers). Muslims put their head on the ground as a sign of humility and modesty before God, as it represent putting the most noble part of the body on something insignificantو such as grass or sand; It is also a reminder that we are made from earth, and to it we shall return. That is why you will notice many Muslims carrying a piece of clay to pray on (or simply praying on a piece of paper for instance.)
One prayer will usually take around 5 minutes (but could be anywhere between 2 minutes and an hour, depending on how long or short the person wishes to make it). The oft-seen prayer carpet has no religious ritual value; it is more of a symbol and usually ensures that the person praying is standing and sitting on a clean surface while performing their prayer.
Muslims must also perform very similar prayers in other situations, namely:
- when a major natural event takes place, such as an earthquake or an eclipse;
- when they perform their pilgrimage;
- when someone passes away;
- and if someone passes away and still had prayers that did not perform, then these prayers must be performed on their behalf after their death.
Other than these prayers, there are many recommended prayers that can be performed for every moment of one’s life, so I will not go into any details here.
As mentioned in other entries, Islamic teachings always take into account every aspect of a human being’s life. Prayer is the most important act in Islam. And although a person has the choice of performing it solo, it is strongly recommended to perform it collectively, with one person leading the prayer and all others simply following – and of course, preferably in a “house of God,” i.e. a mosque.
This highlights the importance of social interactions and the spirit of brotherliness that permeates Islam.
There is so much more that could be said about prayers in Islam, but with the few points that we have made here, I think that you will at least understand what is going when you see your Muslim friend, or saying that they need to take 5 minutes to pray…