The Call to Prayer

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April 26th 2009
Published: April 26th 2009
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In traditional Sunni Islam, the Five Pillars of Islam (أركان الإسلام) is the term given to the five duties incumbent on every Muslim.
These duties are Shahada (Profession of Faith), Salat (Prayers), Zakat (Giving of Alms), Sawm (Fasting during Ramadan) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God.

There is no hierarchical authority in Islam and there are no priests. Prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur'an and is generally chosen by the congregation.

Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. These five prescribed prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation.
Personal supplications, however, can be offered in one's own language and at any time.

To a visitor to Saudi, it is the pillar of prayer that is strikingly obvious in the daily life of the Saudi people, and the millions of Foreign Muslims as well.

All World Religions of “the Book” and of “Abraham” - Islam,
My neighborhood mosque at nightMy neighborhood mosque at nightMy neighborhood mosque at night

Lit from the inside during prayer
Judaism, and Christianity, have ageless traditions of regular periods of prayer.

The Jewish tradition would have at least three periods /day, but Orthodoxy would prescribe an additional two periods.

And while Christianity teaches one should pray always, the example of Jesus and the Apostles up to the modern day religious orders prescribe prayer periods of five times daily. In the Rule of Saint Benedict, written in the early 500s, we hear of eight prayer periods: Matins or Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

What is so strikingly different in the way Islamic prayer is practiced in Saudi Arabia is the radical obedience an entire nation submits itself to when the call to pray is heard. And it is heard in the urban areas—every neighborhood mosque - (one for every ½ square mile it seems) has a loudspeaker system with a cantor calling out at the times of prayer.

It was strange to hear at first as I walked to breakfast or lunch, but it has since become a soothing sound—a time that reminds me to settle down, and remember what is truly important in life.

It was the same when I watched
My new prayer rugMy new prayer rugMy new prayer rug

Notice the Kaabab at the top of the rug-designating where the head is to be placed during prayer
the Benedictine monks drop what they were doing and move instinctively to prayer. But to see an entire nation stop to pray has left a mark on me I hope I don’t forget.

To be dining, and then see all the shades pulled down, and no one allowed in or out for twenty minutes during prayer--this is reaching into the market-place.

I am not talking about dogma or differing beliefs-I am struck by nothing less than a visual demonstration of a commitment to a particular way of life ordered around conviction and faith.

Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities.

One day, I was at a large corporate office, bustling with important looking people. A large man was at the reception desk helping me find my cab. Almost in the middle of a sentence, he turned from me, pulled his shoes off, laid a small rug on the ground, kneeled on it, then prostrated himself as he mumbled words from the Qur’an ( I assume) and then repeated this several times.

My sponsor Ismail (you cannot enter Saudi
Direction to MeccaDirection to MeccaDirection to Mecca

This is on the ceiling of my room, to help point one in the direction to pray
without an official sponsor) was meeting with me about some very urgent matters-needing some action quickly. During our conversation he looked at me squarely in my eyes and said “Bob, we have to stop now—I have to pray. It’s 2:00 pm and I have not yet prayed. I have to pray now. Please, go and come back in 20 minutes”.

Each salat (PERIOD OF PRAYER) is performed facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca

The Kaaba is a cuboidal building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam. The building is more than two thousand years old and according to Islamic tradition the first building at the site was built by Abraham (Ibrahim). The building has a mosque built around it, the Masjid al-Haram. All Muslims around the world face towards the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are.

In every room in the housing unit I am in, there is an arrow on the ceiling with a picture of the Kaaba in the arrow. This is to aid Muslim visitors in their religious duty to pray facing Mecca five times daily.

I have purchased a prayer rug of my own. I
The Kaaba in MeccaThe Kaaba in MeccaThe Kaaba in Mecca

The destination of the Hajj-or pilgramage--the fifth pillar of Islam
believe that peace begins with a sincere curiosity, appreciation, and desire to understand the traditions cultures, and point of view of others, without compromising your own beliefs and traditions.
That is why I point my prayer rug in the direction of Jerusalem. - Solidarity with other Faiths in prayer, while staying committed to my particular faith tradition.

Salat is intended to focus the mind on Allah; it is seen as a personal communication with Allah, expressing gratitude and worship.
According to the Qur'an, the benefit of prayer “restrains from shameful and evil deeds”. I better get my rug out!

All prayers should be conducted within the prescribed time period (waqt) While the prayers may be made at any point within the waqt, it is considered best to begin them as soon as possible after the call to prayer is heard.

This would make conducting two-day workshops a little more complicated. Time has to be built into the schedule for noon and mid-afternoon prayer, or you will simply lose your class!

In every business building I have been in, there are designated prayer rooms. When you walk by these rooms at prayer time, you hear the gentle men murmuring prayers of worship and supplication to their God. You see rows of shoes outside the door, for they are now on holy ground.

Mosques are within walking distance no matter where you are in the urban areas. Even so, I have watched gardeners stop trimming bushes and drop to their knees to pray.

Today, I was relaxing at the compound’s pool after working out. It was 105 degrees today, and the pool was full of children. A group of adolescent boys were rough-housing around the ropes, and getting whistled at regularly by the life-guards’.

Suddenly the group, numbering around 8 boys between the ages of 9-12 jumped out of the pool, grabbed their beach towels, and in the corner of the pool area formed an area in the shape of an arrow with their towels. One of the older boys kneeled down at the front towel, and two rows of boys neatly followed in ordered rows behind. It took less than 30 seconds for these young buys to order themselves to pray.

They alternated from kneeling to prostrate several times in Unison. Then, as abruptly as it started, the prayer time finished, their prayer rugs turned back into beach towels again, and the youthful devout became wild-eyed boys in the pool .

Some may call the Saudi prayer life fanatic, others being more generous may say ”it’s a bit much”, but to the Saudi’, the Pillar of prayer is a core value—like getting dressed in the morning. “It’s just what we do”.

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


26th April 2009

Very interesting! I enjoyed all the information on prayer and the rug you purchased is beautiful - I can't wait to see it. Just don't get caught with it pointed towards Jerusalem! I was glad to see a picture of the Kaaba, too, as I've read discriptions but never seen a picture. Keep up the good writing! I love you-Susan
27th April 2009

I wonder how different things would be here if at appointed times during the day we stopped for a prescribed period of prayer or meditation? Could we shut our phones off? Stop our meetings? Hmmmmmm.
27th April 2009

God -Stops
That is exactly the point, isn't it Jim. I had a fellow once tell me he built in little "God-Stops" into his day--when the phone rang, a red light --signals to breath out "Thy Will, not mine"
27th April 2009

Really Good Blog Entry
Bob, you are a natural at this! I really like that you have taken such effort to understand the local culture, especially given that you haven't had a lot of travel experience. I also really like that you can see it's OK for others to do as they choose, and it doesn't affect your own personal decisions as to what you want to do. It's hard to believe how much you've learned in such a short few weeks! One question: isn't the "small Mosque" really the carwash we saw in Khobar?
27th April 2009

Thank you
Thank you for the entry, Bob. One thing I find so very interesting is that the people of the book in fact pray to the same God. Same God. Different lineage of worship. Maybe the sons of Abraham taught their children differently, who knows. Knowing that people of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith are addressing the same entitity - all the while agreeing that He is the Only One - unlike a whole lot of other worshippers in the world who pray to more than one God, or one with a different 'backstory' (for lack of a better word - 'Genesis' comes to mind, but that might be misleading :) )- but with all that commonness sometimes so violently disagree about how to do that worshipping. When I try to fathom the reasons for that, I am reminded that some real viciousness can develop between members of the same family - not in spite, but because of the closeness. I am optimistically looking forward to a time and space when/where religion is a personal matter and a matter of love and support, instead of something that is cause for hatred, pain, because one does the worshipping differently than "we" do, and therefore do it wrongly. It seems to start with knowing people without 'difference' being the defining factor, but the closeness, the brother/sister/hood of humans. "Namaste" comes to mind - "I respect that divinity within you that is also within me." Namaste, and may God be with you.
28th April 2009

Proper Prayer Protocal
Mom and I really enjoyed your writing on the call to prayer. However, all crimson prayer rugs when unfolded and laid out should be pointed towards Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide.
29th April 2009

Share, Share
No problems here, Bit. Thanks ,and good t hear from you.
29th April 2009

Prayer rugs
They will also float in air when chanting Bear-Bear-Bear
5th August 2011

prayer direction
Hello Bob, Your blog entry was a pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps you will find it amusing to note that when muslims were first commanded to pray they prayed facing Jerusalem as you did. It was only through a later revelation that declared the Kaaba in Mecca to be the new orientation for prayers. peace

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