Monday, August 30, 2010


One thing I regret about the way I've taught about Islam in my classes over the past several years is the superficial comparison I've made between Islamic and Mormon approaches to prayer. Typically, I point out that faithful Muslims pray 5 times a day and look! if you count up our regular prayers (morning, evening and the three meals) you also get 5. This is incredibly shallow and the number 5 is really about the only similarity between the two.

As I've seen the phrase over and over in the Qur'an, Muslim's perform their prayers. This strikes me as different from praying. I asked Luda from Syria about this distinction and while her English is very good, she seemed a bit confused by my question. "We pray", she said. "Every prayer begins with a recitation of the Qur'an." (She has several suras memorized by heart). She then proceeded to show me, on the floor of Kristin's living room, how every position of every part of the body, from the fingers to the toes, matters in the prayer pose. She knelt down with the tops of her feet on the floor, facing inward, her palms down and then she touched her forehead to the ground. It's not just kneeling. It's a full-body prayer. Luda compared it to Yoga, and then apologized in case this was not appropriate, but being a recent fan of Yoga, I like the comparison. In both, the goal is to align your body and mind--both halves of the soul, according to Mormon doctrine--in pursuit of the same purpose.

So why not pray with your whole body, humbling yourself before God physically as well as emotionally? Sure, there are times when Mormons kneel to pray, but it's not as often as maybe it should be. And we pray all the time, but maybe our prayers are not as intense as they should be. Everything about Islam, including the name, stresses submission to God. Their daily prayers are not offered at the convenience of the pray-er but at exact, prescribed moments determined by the motion of the sun (which is determined by God). The prostrations are a constant reminder of this submission. To me, this is simultaneously marvelous and frightening. LDS doctrine puts tremendous focus on personal agency, personal revelation and conscience. To relinquish so much of it multiple times daily would be a radical offering indeed.

The other major difference I've noted is that Muslims pray for personal blessings, but only after praising God through the recitation of the Qur'an. The words of their prayers are far more focused on God than on themselves. The one repeated with every prayer is the opening sura:

In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgement
To you we worship and to you we turn to in help. Show us the straight path, The path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.

These lines remind me of the opening of the Lord's prayer "Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This is nothing like the kinds of prayers I typically offer, which are less about praising God than thanking him for my personal blessings and asking for more. I've been painfully conscious this month of how many times I use the words "I" and "me" in prayer. My prayers are very ego-centric. Even when I'm asking for blessings upon my family and my friends, they are still "my" family and "my" friends. There's not nearly enough "thy will be done" language.

So, while I don't want to relinquish my right to pray when I feel the urge to pray and face whatever direction I choose and formulate the content of my own conversations with God, I do see the value of prostration, at least in a metaphorical sense. There's room for more praise. And there's certainly room for more submission of my own will.


Allysha said...

I think Neal A Maxwell would like the end of this post.

Prayer is an interesting thing isn't it. I have often thought that Latter Day Saints sometimes forget to worship our God like we should. That said, we have a little different understanding of our intimate relationship with him, but I think we can be too casual.

We do have our ritual worship, however, much of which is found in the temple.

But there is a lot of beauty to be found and lessons to be learned from the way Muslims pray, I think.

Nan said...

Maybe, if everyone would practice each religion for a while, we would realise that specific religions are not what is important.

And maybe, maybe all people would turn their back on religion entirely, and simply love their brothers and sisters. How wonderful that would be. I think today I'll pray for an end of religion...

mindyluwho said...

I am enjoying your posts on your study of the Qur'an. And I especially love this post and the idea of praising God more. I love to learn and understand how different religions relate to God. One of my favorite books is "Tramp for the Lord" by Corrie Ten Boom. I loved the relationship she had with the Lord,it was so very personal. It made me realize that sometimes I am guilty of keeping Him at arms length. I appreciate your insight.