4:20 a.m. I am awake. The morning prayer will be due soon.
Prayer is mentioned many times, in the Quran. It is a “Pillar” of Islam. One must keep their prayers to be considered “Muslim” which means, one submitted to “God,” to Allah.
The Quran is called the “criteria” between right and wrong. It is a unique Holy book as it has been memorized in full or in part by every Muslim. As I wait for the “Athan” ‘the call’ to prayer I read the Quran.
The nearest mosque is two buildings away. There is no chance I will ‘miss’ the prayer by not hearing the call. There is a green light at the top of the minaret. It reminds me of a lighthouse that beckons and warns vessels of their nearness to land so they don’t drive into destruction. The sound of the call to prayer, “the Athan” comes from the minaret’s microphone and the sound of many mosques sounding off at the same time is like a symphony:
“Allah (God) is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest…I bear witness that there is only one God, (said three times)…Come to Prayer, Come to Prayer, Come to Prayer… Come to Success, Come to Success, Come to Success…
Since the “Coronavirus” outbreak, the call to prayer has a new line: “Pray in your homes, Pray in your homes,” (because praying in the mosque has been temporarily halted.)
The call to prayer continues:
“Prayer is better than sleep, Prayer is better than sleep…. Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest,” and ends with: “La illah il Allah,” ‘There is no God but God,’ (Allah, is the Arabic word for God that is neither male or female).
Allah guides people and I see, in retrospect, how I was being led to Islam through different people and experiences. A year after I embraced Islam, I left the US. I have lived in the Middle East since the close of the Gulf War, (1991). The US and Saudi Arabia were at that time strong Allies.
Did I ever in my life, think that I, a Californian, born and raised in the US, would ever end up here? No, I did not.
I was not raised under any “religion” other than belief in God, the Creator. My mother was a believer and raised her children to respect the name of God. She was Muslim in her beliefs: she believed in the oneness (monotheism) of God and believed Jesus, (peace be upon him) was a Prophet. She made her “Shahadah” the ‘declaration of faith’ many years before she stopped speaking. A brilliant intelligent woman, she developed Lewy Body Syndrome, and Allah, Mercifully, took her, quietly, in her sleep, at the age of 94, in 2018. Subhanallah. Such Infinite Kindness; such Infinite Wisdom. How caring our Creator is. She was one who kept smiling, kept loving everyone around her, to the end. May Allah grant her the highest Heaven.
Everything asked from Muslims is for a reason. We learn the reasons, through practice.
The five prayers a day teaches us time consciousness. We must be sober for them and physically clean of impurities such as blood, urine, or feces. Thus, we clean with water after using the bathroom.
The “zakat” ‘charity tax’ we must give every year to the poor. It is a small portion of our leftover wealth, (after our needs are met). This teaches us to think of others.
Hajj is not an empty meaningless trip to Mecca. It is a pillar of Islam and fulfills the need we have to gather as a united humanity of oneness. Every nation is represented at Hajj.
The Holy month of Ramadan is when we are tested and learn self-control and patience. We depend more on Allah. We fast joyfully knowing its benefits and reward. It teaches us hunger and thirst. We know the joy of drinking and eating. The reward for fasting is up to Allah, but hadeeth (Prophet’s words) say: “He who fasts Ramadan, due to “eeman,” ‘faith’ and hoping for reward from Allah, his past sins, will be, forgiven.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was God’s Last Messenger. The Muslims and Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus, peace be upon him. Jesus will establish right from wrong. Nothing in the Quran, is ‘new’ from the previous revelations from Moses, down through the line of all of God’s Prophets. The Quran and Muhammad, came, as Prophesied by Jesus, “one who would establish peace”. They were sent, because the former revelations had exclusions, and amendments and their full meaning had been lost.
It is time for prayer. I do “Wudu” ‘ablution,’ which is symbolic but is also a literal cleansing. It must be done in order for the prayer to be accepted. First:
- I will wash with clean water: my hands, my face, and rinse my mouth 3 times, and then inhale (slightly midway into the nose,) water and then gently blow it out. These are “Sunnah” actions that hold great health benefits which even the non-Muslim world has recently discovered.
- I will then wash my right arm 3 times, up to the elbow, then my left arm, then wipe over my head, behind and around my ears, including the outer/inside area.
- I will then wash my right foot to over the ankle, and the left foot.
I have said my intention to pray while doing wudu, which is: “Bismillah rahmani Raheem.” ‘In the name of God Most Gracious, Most Merciful.’
Modern science tells us that washing is a way to ward off germs, bacteria, and viruses, as they transmit through touching, breathing (nose), our mouths, and eyes (via our fingers or hands). Muslims perform at least five ritual cleansings per day for prayer. We have a mandatory full body cleansing after sexual relations. We are also instructed to wash private parts with water after using the bathroom. Everything in Islam: ablution, prayer, charity, fasting the month of Ramadan, are beneficial to us and our society.
I will now prepare to pray.
My prayer rug or “sooja’da,” is a soft clean carpet. Mine is from Istanbul. Both women and men have a dress code in Islam. We must be covered to a certain extent, when we are in public and for prayer. Men and women have different “awrahs,” (nakedness, or areas, that must be covered). Men must be covered when in public (even for swimming) from the waist, covering the navel, to below the knees. Women must cover, exposing only their hands and faces.
I have a “Shirshiff” made of thin cotton which I wrap myself in which ends up covering all of me, except my face, and hands. It is long and covers my feet. I place my carpet pointing East, toward the “Kabbah,” is (the first house of God), in Mecca, which Ibraheem and his son Ismaeel built, under God’s instruction. It is significant as a unifying place and direction of worship.
Muslims are forbidden intoxicants. Prayer must be done in a sober frame of mind. The prayer begins by standing with arms crossed right hand over left, on the region between the chest and navel, with the eyes cast down in front of us.
Standing on the prayer rug (that is free from impurities,) with my arms folded right over left, I say, (in Arabic):
- In the name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful,
- Praise be to God the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
- Most Gracious, Most Merciful
- Master of the Day of Judgement
- Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek,
- Show us the straight way
- The way of those on whom thou hast bestowed they grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who go not astray
Following this, I say any verse from the Quran I have memorized.
These 7 verses are said for every prayer. It can be found in the first chapter of the Quran, called the “Fatiha,” or the ‘Opening Chapter.’ These 7 verses comprise the entire religion in meaning, attitude, and belief.
After this, I say another verse from the Quran, of my choice, (in a mosque the Imam chooses a verse). I bow and say: “Glory to my Lord the Exalted” (3 times). I then stand upright and then go into prostration, where I touch my forehead to the ground (carpet). Here, while in prostration I say: “Glory is to my Lord the Most-High,” (3 times).
This series of bowing and prostration is considered a unit, or “rakah”. There are 2 rakah for the morning prayer; 3 for the sunset; 4 for noontime, afternoon, and the nighttime prayer.
When I saw the Islamic prayer done before I knew Islam, before I “reverted,” (as we go back to our natural state of belief which we are ALL born in) I recognized it as the way Jesus prayed, bare foot, after ablution, as depicted in the Garden of Gethsemane. I thought, this was the most submissive position when they put their forehead to the ground in “Sujood” ‘prostration’ as they glorified God and asked for forgiveness. Jesus also fasted.
From my study of the Old and New Testament, in the years leading up to my reverting, the Holy city of Mecca, or ‘Becca’ had also impressed upon me. That name haunted my mind as did the word: Shalom which means, peace. I remember thinking, how I would love to walk on that Holy ground where the Prophet Ibrahim had walked.
Did I ever think, I’d live 35 minutes away from it?
At the end of the prayer, while still kneeling, I turn my head to the right, as far as I can and say: “Salamalaykuem Rahmatuallah,” ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon you’ and turn to the left and say it again. This signifies peace to all mankind and to those immediately around us wherever we may be.
The depth and wisdom found in the Quran is for all mankind. Muslims who’ve been reading it their entire life, still find new deeper meaning in it. SubhanAllah.