Imagine if suddenly we were all asked to become like Monks. This, although with important differences, is what Islam asks of its adherents. In particular in regard to the obligatory place that prayer must have in one’s life. The Muslim, as much or more than the Monk, turns daily to his or her God in prayer. Of the five pillars of Islam, the testimony of faith, the fasting during the month of Ramadhan, Zakat, or the giving of alms to the poor, the Haj or the pilgrimage to Mecca, it is the second pillar, prayer five times a day, that makes, in this unbeliever’s eye, a Muslim a Muslim.
I’ve never really understood how one could live in the world, our world of constant action, of fully carrying out one’s various tasks connected with one’s job or profession, and stop whatever one is doing to pray. And then not just once, but five times a day, before the Sun rises, at noon, at mid afternoon, after the Sun sets, and at twilight. And each prayer has to be preceded by getting ready, that which usually means thoroughly cleansing oneself (with sand is there’s no water).
I’ve searched Google, so far in vain, to find an estimate of the amount of time these five prayer sessions would require of the Muslim worshipper. Thirty minutes per prayer session seems like a minimum because one cannot stop where one is to perform the prayer ritual of two or more “rakahs,” but instead one must go to the nearest Mosque or other assembly point and pray with one’s fellows and one’s Imam at one’s head. Two and one half hours a day, and that’s in addition to the time it takes to eat something in the form of snacks or meals, usually following each one of the prayers, except of course during Ramadhan.
I thought of all this as I read in today’s NYTimes about the Pakistan army’s recent destruction of a Madrassa or religious school used for training militants in the Bajur tribal area, which straddles the border with Afghanistan. Accompanying the article was this photo:
The photo (click on it to enlarge it) shows a lot of mostly young men, probably not too different from the 80 militants who were killed in the attack. Where else would you find so many young, well appearing, well dressed, or at least in clean clothes, mostly white loose fitting robes that because they were white had to be changed (and washed) frequently? Not certainly in America’s cities and towns, where most everyone is employed.
The prayer ritual, five times a day, was the answer. Prayer made them available. These men were used to being together in prayer, so it was not surprising that they could just as easily be assembled in response to whatever their leaders might wish, in this case in opposition to the government’s (wanton?) destruction of the Madrassa.