Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Five Pillars of Islam - Salah

Every day throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, a call goes out from mosques five times a day to remind Muslims that it is time to stop what they are doing and give homage to God through prayer.  This prayer is called Salah and is obligatory for all Muslims, save for a few that it might present a hardship too. Salah is simply the ritual prayer.In Arabic, Salah literally means "connection," but in English means the ritual prayer that Muslims must perform.  I've observed Muslims praying the prayer many times as I used to work for an Egyptian when I was in college working toward my Bachelor's degree. A Muslim must be clean before he can offer the ritual prayer before God. This involves washing one's hands and forearms up to the elbow, washing one's ears, and washing one's nostrils. Once one is physically clean, as with water, then one must lay out the prayer mat in a direction facing the Kaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and take off one's shoes. Now, one is ready to recite the prayers.

The first call to prayer is at sunrise, the second at mid-morning, the third at noon, a fourth at sunset, and the final is after dark. The time will vary based on when sunrise actually occurs and sunset actually occurs. If you've ever spent any time in a Muslim country, you will understand what I am talking about when you get awoken at 5:00 in the morning by a loudspeaker only a block away from where you're sleeping.

As for the prayer itself, it consists of reciting "The Opening" of the Qur'an, another Surah, prayers for oneself, and greetings for Muhammad and Abraham. The body motions involve standing straight up and then kneeling to a prostrate motion with forehead to the ground and then back up again.  Oftentimes, you may see what appears to be a bruise on the forehead of a Muslim to indicate that this Muslim prays a lot, but a little known secret is that this "bruise" is often faked as well.

Many Christian sects and Jewish sects have had similar rituals in the past involving chanting and washing. The Jews of Jesus' time were very ritualistic, relying on their rituals to save them. So it is with the Muslims. If only we were so faithful to praying to God as often as Muslims do or say they do. Paul tells us to pray with out ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and yet, we hardly pray at all. Muslims see this and know this. They want to see faithfulness, yet only see the faithlessness of Christ's followers. Part of it is that we don't (and shouldn't) rely on rituals. We rely on the Holy Spirit to change our hearts.

How do we relate to the Muslims on this prayer ritual? Let them see you praying. Ask them if you can pray for them. I have yet to have a Muslim turn me down on this. It shows a personal relationship with God, for one thing. Allow them to see how prayer affects your daily life in your family, work, and personal affairs. They do not often get to see this. Prayer should not be about rituals. It should be about having a conversation with God. Muslims have no idea of what it can be like to truly know God.

As I said, the different sects may practice these prayers in different ways. What I have written here is based on my observations of the Sunni sect, the predominant sect of Islam. The Sufis get a lot more personal in their prayers, often trying to become one with God. You could call them the charismatics/pentecostals of Islam, so to speak. The Shi'a are closer to the Sunnis in their prayer rituals.

I pray that this helps you understand the daily prayers of the Muslim and how you can better reach them with the Gospel.