Chapter Two: Faith and Religious Identity

Prayer, A Part of Daily Life for Muslims Around the World

Daily life in Muslim-majority regions varies greatly, but there are some universal experiences based on the practices required by shar’ia. One of them is prayer, although its practice varies amongst individuals, communities and whether the setting is urban or rural, and the degree to which local laws and practices are Western in orientation.  Certain aspects are very common. In most Muslim-majority contexts, for example, Muslims hear the call to prayer from their windows five times a day. To an outsider, this may seem like a burden for Muslims, but to an insider it is an accepted norm.  It may be considered as a way to set the pace of life and maintain orderly work and social patterns, especially in traditional areas. Each prayer has a practical function in addition to its spiritual function:

  • Morning, or Fajar, the prayer just before dawn encourages an early start to the work day.
  • Mid-day, or Dhuhur, is a short prayer at mid-day to ensure a break is taken from work (and implies work should be engaged in all morning).
  • Pre-sunset, or ‘Asr, is another short prayer to ensure another break, and a healthy pace of work.
  • Post-sunset, or Maghrib, prayer takes place just after sunset, and indicates a time of day when one can retire and be with family and community.
  • Evening, or ‘Isha’, is the final prayer, which takes place in the evening and signals it is almost time for bed.

Expressions of Muslim Prayer:

Image of Man performing ablution, and men praying in the background, in the courtyard of a mosque in Iran.
Man performing ablution, and men praying in the background, in the courtyard of a mosque in Iran. “Masjed-e Jomeh 3” by مانفى, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Image of Security Guard praying, Kabul.
Security Guard praying, Kabul. Security Guard in Kabul, 2008. By Thomas McClimans. All rights reserved.
Image of a woman praying in a mosque
Woman praying in a mosque. by Beth Rankin, from Flickr, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Image of group Muslim prayer
Muslims from throughout the world gather at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, for the start of Eid al-Adha, a religious holiday beginning after Hajj. This year, nearly 3 million pilgrims from more than 160 countries, including the United States, gathered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and neighboring sites to perform the Hajj rituals and stand together in prayer.
Image of Prayer Rug (Turkey) By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Prayer Rug (Turkey) By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. The triangular shape at the top indicates the direction of prayer, and is to be pointed towards Mecca. File name:Prayer_rug_Turkey_Bergama_late_19th_century_wool_-_Huntington_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC04879-1.jpg

Daily prayer is universal in Muslim communities because it is one of the five requirements all Muslims must observe, or the Five Pillars.  It isn’t necessary to pray in a Mosque, or even a private area. The only requirement is that the space be clean.  This is the purpose of the prayer rug.


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Keys to Understanding the Middle East Copyright © 2016 by Alam Payind and Melinda McClimans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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