Traditions Field Note: Muslim Prayers

Hi, Everyone!

 

This week we will learn about a very special practice that connects Muslims in Morocco with others across the world. One of the major traditions that I’ve noticed here is the special way prayer is done. Everything that is done here is unique to Morocco. It made me reflect on the way Muslims pray back in Guyana, the country where I grew up.

What tradition did I learn about?

 

The tradition of prayer, or salat as it is called in Arabic, is practiced five times a day by locals throughout Morocco and Muslims around the world. There are specific times the prayers are done, too. The prayers happen at sunrise, noon, in the afternoon, evening and later at night. The positions of the sun are important in deciding the correct prayer times. One of my professors here told us that he sets the alarm on his cell phone to know when prayer time has come. Since everyone is praying at a specific time, it creates a nice, big community of believers giving worship together. A sense of community or umma is very important in Islam.

 

Prayer is done individually and in the Muslim house of worship called the mosque. Have you ever seen a mosque in your community? Friday is the special day of the week for Muslims. Every Friday, they go to the mosque and do worship as a group. Some may even go on other days, too. On Fridays, they also listen to the religious leader or imam give a brief sermon.

 

The imam is also usually the person who calls out from the mosque’s tower to tell people that prayer time has come. This tower is called a minaret. In older days, the imam would call and everyone close by would hear his voice. In modern times, since villages are larger, and everyday activities and cars make it hard to hear, the towers now have speakers. This way, everyone can hear when the imam calls them to prayer. The main chant is Allahu Akbar, meaning, “God is great.”

 

In preparation for prayer, Muslims also believe that one must approach God or Allah in a clean state. Therefore, in mosques there are usually little fountains or pipes with running water for followers to wash before praying. Shoes are removed before entering the mosque and left outside. A person about to pray washes his or her hands, face, mouth, nostrils and feet before starting prayer. This is true whether they are praying at the mosque or at home. This process of washing is called ablution or wudu by Muslims.

 

In addition to washing first, Muslims also cover their heads before starting worship. Girls wear a headscarf called a hijab and boys wear a little round cap called the taqiyah. It is considered the proper and modest way to approach Allah in prayer.

 

In the mosque, boys and girls each have their own separate places where they go to worship. They do not pray together. There are prayer mats laid out for worshippers. This way when they bend their heads to the ground during prayer, their foreheads do not touch the floor. Everyone moves together. They bend down and stand up together. They also stand in rows as a sign of equality before God. Mosques are usually beautiful works of art and architecture.

 

Why does the community have this tradition?

Morocco has this tradition because Islam is the official state religion. It is the faith of almost 99% of the country’s 33 million people.

 

Wow, that’s a lot of people! In Islam, there are five pillars or acts that Muslims practice. They are (in order of importance):

 

1. Shahada – this is the proclamation of the faith and belief in one God. Islam is a monotheistic religion. Do you know what that means?

 

2. Salat – this refers to the prayer that is done five times per day.

 

3. Zakat – this means alms-giving. Muslims give a certain part of their income, usually about 2.5%, to help the less fortunate. A person can also give of their time, if they don’t give money.

 

4. Sawm – this is fasting.

 

5. Hajj – a pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Can you find that on a map?

 

Additionally, in about July or August depending on the phases of the moon, there is Ramadan. This is a sacred holiday observed by Muslims around the world. They believe that God gives his followers great blessings for their fasting. During this time, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. They also say more prayers than usual. A greater amount of prayers is a sign of repentance and greater devotion.

 

The Muslim traditions here made me think of Guyana. I remembered the way I would hear this same recitation from mosques in smaller villages in Guyana. It reminded me of home.

 

Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

Yes! Muslims pray in a very specific direction. The concept of a special direction of prayer in Islam is called the qibla. In a mosque there is usually a special feature on the wall called a niche that shows the direction or the qibla. The way the prayer mats are set out may also indicate the qibla.

The direction of prayer is always towards Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia that is sacred to Muslims. The Prophet Muhammed is buried in this city. However, that is not why Muslims face there during prayer. They give worship in that direction because the Kaba is there. The Kaba is a giant solid cube structure where Muslims go to do their Hajj pilgrimage.

Originally, Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. Do you know where that is? Eventually, the Prophet Muhammed had a revelation from God, or Allah, to change the special direction from Jerusalem to Mecca. Therefore, Muslims have been praying towards this new direction ever since then.

See you next time!

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