The Islamic tradition, according to Qur’anic injunction (17:78-79), is for three times prayer, dawn, just before sunset and just after sunset. And of course, many Muslims have seen the little prayer books for the pre-anything prayers, including going to the bathroom. Recently found one for a dua to say before having sex. Who says we’re a repressed people?
Rachel’s post, and the obvious similarities to Muslim traditions, got me thinking about the meaning of ritual.
The idea of using a symbolic language, in this instance ritual, is common to all religious traditions, and it takes on a multiplicity of forms. This argument is true within a tradition as well. Within the four extant schools of Sunni law there are variations in the way prayer is performed, and the Shi’ah have a different system as well. The idea behind ritual is to attempt to communicate with the Divine, to move us beyond this earthly realm, either by shared experience, or by a change in our daily routine – in some cases both – and to sacralize ourselves and our immediate vicinity. Prayer time should therefore not become part of our routine, but should be a reminder that there is something beyond the routine. It is a conscious decision on our part to attempt to commune with Majesty. Who are we to judge someone else’s conversation with God? Either from within or without our own tradition?
Jalaluddin Rumi has a story about Moses (PBUH) and a shepherd.
Moses is walking in the desert when he hears a shepherd saying: “I love you so much. I would do anything for you. I want to wash your feet. I want to bring you milk. I want to pick the lice out of your hair.”
Moses asks the shepherd who he is talking to and the shepherd replies “God.” Moses gets angry and chastises the man: “God has no feet! He has no need for your milk. He has no hair, nor lice. He has no need of anything you can give Him. God is all-powerful.” The shepherd shook in fear and fell silent. Moses went off, pleased with himself.
Soon God spoke to Moses. The gist of the conversation was that Moses had displeased God, by turning away one of His muslims (no capitalization) away from prayer. The shepherd spoke truthfully and lovingly from the heart, conceiving of God in the way he could, and communicating with Him in the way he knew how. By passing judgment, Moses had broken his faith.
Sometimes Rumi does it so well, and there’s no way I can capture the beauty and power of that story. If ritual is the attempt to speak with the Divine, then there is value in common understandings of that ritual, but the relationship is between the believer and God. The differences amongst the Sufi tariqahs (orders) are based on the acknowledgment of this reality. Their communal practices differ, but they accept that each order is working towards the same goal.
The idea that there are five pillars in Islam should be anathema to Muslims; how can the glory of the reality of Islam be bounded by five things? Unfortunately, it’s too readily accepted, and the pillar of prayer has now become the five times prayer. God is pretty explicit in the Qur’an that it’s not prayer alone that makes a good Muslim (2:177, 3:57, 3:92, etc.).
The following prayer is from Khawaja Abdullahi Ansari:
Protect us lest we go astray.
Lead us to the way lest we wander.
We are negligient, but we are not unbelievers.
Lead us to rectitude, for we are destitute.
Gather us together, for we are scattered.