As a muslim student in London, I was persistently challenged by my professors for my religious beliefs. At the time I didn’t understand why they constantly questioned my beliefs. They regularly asked why I pray. The told me me that fasting was inhumane. They questioned how I could to marry someone I never had an intimate relationship with. This was not just one professor. It was a reoccurring theme in many of my classes and conversation, at some point during the term, would come back to this.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia I never actually thought of any of these things. I was born in a muslim country to a muslim family and studied Islamic studies in school. It wasn’t a choice it, was the way we lived. In a way, these questions were a blessing. They forced me to do what the Quran asked us to do over and over again, to think and to verify and reach our own conclusions.
Islam, contrary to popular belief, does not suppress free thought.
In fact, my faith implores us to use our intellect and question all that is around us. When faced with tough questions about my faith and the reasons behind my way of life, I had to now explore for myself why we do what we do.
The five pillars of Islam, without which you are not a muslim, are:
- Shahada: sincerely believing that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his prophet.
- Praying 5 times a day.
- Fasting the month of ramadan
- Giving from your money to the poor (zakat)
- Performing pilgrimage to Mecca.
When challenged by my professors, I could confidently say I understood and believed why we did all five of pillars. However, when I was questioned why God needs us to pray 5 times a day, I struggled to explain and resorted to “because we have to.” I will never forget one of my professors saying, “What kind of a God would NEED you to pray to him five times a day? That sounds really needy and insecure.” I remember being angry and frustrated, but mostly angry with myself because I didn’t know how to answer him.
Praying five times a day was just something we did. I knew we stood in the hands of God when we did it. I knew it was integral to being a muslim. But I could not understand, in a religion where everything you do benefits the people around you and the world as a whole, where praying fit in with wellness and peace.
Something dawned on me recently which has been truly life changing. It may seem obvious, or even a little ridiculous that I hadn’t made this realisation earlier in my life. This comes from taking advantage of something I’ve have done all my life. First, I did it because I was told to. Later, although it gained meaning and spirituality as I grew, it was still almost an unconscious act in times. Like brushing your teeth. I sit here, having just finished my morning prayer, in awe of how beautiful my religion is and in utter confusion of how it could in any way be misconstrued as something hateful or violent. It truly baffles me.
So what was my realisation about prayer? That it is totally and utterly for myself in every sense of the word. It is a completely selfish act – the opposite of the idea proposed by my college professor that only a needy God would demand we prostrate ourselves to him five times a day. I had nothing to tell my professor then except that God doesn’t need us to pray to him. I was lost for an answer when asked, “Why?” How could I not have seen this before!
Praying only ever benefited us. No one else. God didn’t need us to pray – we ourselves needed to. Every way we turn now people are talking to us about the importance of mindfulness and conscious living. They encourage us to take meditation classes and learn breathing techniques. They talk about the rush of life and how we have to learn how to pause during our day and reflect. I always knew that praying is meant to be spiritual and meditative, but yet it never occurred to me that God commanded us to pray 5 times a day to make us better people! That he demanded that we do this as a selfish act! And act that makes us calmer, happier, more grateful and therefor makes us better people to be around.
I am fasting now so I stay up until Fajr prayer (the first prayer before sunset). I wash for prayer, remembering my teacher saying when I wash for prayer I am washing all my sins away. When I wash my hands I wash away whatever sins I may have committed with them. When I wash my mouth I am washing any mean or hateful words I may have said. When I was my ears and I am washing any sins from gossip I have allowed myself to hear. This makes me more mindful of everything I have done during the day that I maybe shouldn’t have.
After performing my ablutions, I stand in God’s hands and say my prayers. I am deliberate, quiet, slow and careful to concentrate on the words I am saying and the actions I am doing. I end by having a conversation with God. I speak what is in my mind and my heart and I prepare for bed with prayers for my family, for my lost love ones, for the world and for a better day tomorrow.
I wake up and repeat the process. Standing for the second time in between the hands of God, I set my intentions for my day. Two hours later, when I am at work and feeling overwhelmed, upset, angry or rushed, I stop and stand for a third time in the hands of God. These breaks, these chances for mindfulness and conscious living have been the reason for better decisions, apologies, different actions. They force me to reflect and sit with myself, looking inwards to what I have been doing.
Evening approached and maghreb prayer is being called. Time to break our fast and thank God for everything we have. Time to have a date and water then stand for the fourth time between Gods hands, this time thinking about what we have contributed during the day. Giving us pause towards the end of a tiring day to collect ourselves, centre ourselves and be more patient. Pausing for prayer has saved me from many arguments with my kids and others.
And finally, before the day effectively ends and the night starts to become morning, I have a fifth chance to stand between the hands of God and thank Him for being alive, for being healthy, for having a day full of family, love, productivity and blessings. I set my intentions for the next day and make peace with what this last day held.
For over 1,400 years, Muslims have been performing this selfish act of praying to a God that loves us so much he demanded we take care of ourselves and our needs and our hearts and souls five times a day. We do this, not to benefit anyone but ourselves. Allahu Akbar*. (God is Great)
*I want to reclaim this phrase for what it really means and when it is meant to be used. God is great is used when we are overwhelmed and overcome with emotions, it is the first word out of my mouth when I am moved by beauty or sadness. This video by Ameera Altaweel shows the essence of what Allahu Akbar really is and I would like to share it with you.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia.