My first visit to Islam worship as I recall happened three years ago through a Muslim friend who invited me to observe their worship. Prior to my first visit, I often hear through a loud speaker something like an utterance but also seem like a song coming from a Mosque not so far from where I live. Of course, every religion has their own way of expressing their faith but I should say Islam is quite unique in a sense that worshippers demonstrate deep sense of respect and devotion to Allah. Islam was born in the City of Mecca around 570 A. D.
through the prophet Mohammad. Esposito (2002) noted that in the sixth century, “Mecca was emerging as a new commercial center with vast new wealth but also with a growing division between rich and poor, challenging the traditional system of Arab tribal values and social security”(p. 7). According to Esposito, it was this time and social condition in which prophet Mohammad preached the message of Quran “which formed the basis for the religion we know as Islam calling all to return to the worship of the true God and a socially just society” (Esposito 2002, p. 7).
Like Christianity, Islam religion has a fundamental claim of its origin from the Bible. Muslims also believe that God sent revelations first to Moses, then to Jesus. Esposito aptly stated that Muhammad is not considered the founder of the new religion of Islam but like the biblical prophets who came before him, he was a religious reformer (p. 7). Mohammad himself according to Esposito claim that he did not bring a new message from a new God but called people back to the one true God and to a new of life they had forgotten or deviated from.
Islam’s claim for biblical origins can be traced from Quran’s abundant references to stories in the Old and New Testaments which included Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses, David and Solomon, Jesus and Mary. Esposito pointed out that Islam and worship of Allah—the Arabic word for God was a return in the midst of a polytheistic society to the forgotten past, to the Abraham’s monotheist faith. During my first attendance to Islam worship, one thing that I noticed was that they bowed down with their face almost if not touching the ground.
As far as I am concern, there is no religious organization doing the same, not even the Jews who had probably the most profound concept of worship. Though I am quite aware of this manner of worship, I was really intrigued how they had developed such way of expressing their faith and humiliation before God. I found that for Islam, the meaning of worship is more than just rendering sincere service, or showing reverence for Allah. Abdul-Rahman (2003) emphasized that worship “implies total submission and complete obedience to Allah’s commandments both in utterances and public actions, whether explicit or implicit and in private or public” (p. 331).
As I observed the way Muslims conduct themselves in public worship, their manner proves they indeed a deep devotion and submission to Allah. According to the teachings of Quran, bowing down of heads during worship and during prayer is part of the distinction of the followers of Mohammad who is the messenger of Allah. The Quran teaches, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those who are with him are severe against disbeliever, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate, seeking bounty from Allah and his good pleasure.
The mark of them is on their faces from the traces of prostration. This is their description in the Tawraat (Torah) [al-Ahzaab 33:40] (As cited by Abdul-Rahman, p. 177). On my visit at a Sunni Muslim Mosque, I noticed that contrary to other non-Sunni Muslims, the manner of prayer and worship of the Sunni Muslims are a little bit different as they would stand, kneel, or prostrate when worshipping or praying. However, what was intriguing in their manner of worship was that when they prostrate themselves in prayer and worship, they face in the direction of Mecca.
Although the concept of this practice was not new as during Israel’s Babylonian captivity in 570 BC, Prophet Daniel was thrown into the lions den for praying three times a day “facing Jerusalem” (Daniel 6: 11). For Muslims both Sunni and non Sunni, praying facing Mecca is one way of showing devotion to Islam because Mecca is Muslims holy city. O’Brien (2007) noted that Muslims pray five times a day while facing Mecca (p. 135). Even in Muslims five pillars of faith, pilgrimage to Mecca is considered as one of the five pillars that a devout Muslim should experience.
While this tradition may be viewed by non Muslims as naive yet apparently, it reflects their devotion and loyalty to their religion. It shows that Muslims are faithful to their beliefs and tradition and to the founder of Islamic religion and Mecca serves as the symbol of their spiritual unity. When somebody visits a mosque for the first time, what he would likely to see are people chatting quietly or napping on the carpets and are praying and reading the Quran. But what could be more surprising perhaps is the main prayer or worship area, which is just a large open space with no pews or benches.
Most of us are used to see pews and benches and expensive as well as sophisticated church facilities such as organ, drum set, piano and all church equipments adorning the main worship hall once we are inside the church either Christian or Roman Catholic Church. In Islam, although mosque is the sacred space for individual and congregational worship and it serves as places for prayer, meditation and learning yet unlike most Christian churches, the space is devoid of any equipment as Muslims simply bow down or kneel when they come to pray or worship.
The interior of the mosque is simple and austere. There is no altar and no sanctuary, and there is even no clergy to deliver sermons nor are there any seats. Visitors to Sunni mosque can observe worshippers may stand, bow, kneel, or prostrate themselves, but they do not sit in the House of God. The rational behind all this, according to Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Ellis Churchill (2008) is that “the act of worship includes prostrations, to the point where the worshipper’s forehead touches the ground” (p. 40).
Lewis & Churchill (2008) described their observation of the Muslim prayer and worship in mosque as follows: To participate in the ritual prayers, Muslims must be ritually pure. This is accomplished by means of ablutions, the manner and sequence of which are specifically regulated. To preserve the purity of the floor on which the worshipper prostrates himself, it is forbidden to enter the mosque wearing shoes or boots. These must be left at the entrance, and the worshipper—or, fro the matter, visitor—must enter barefoot or with special slippers provided at the entrance.
The need to for purity precludes the participation or even the presence, during the prayers, of non-Muslims (p. 41). Aside from empty space, first time visitor to Mosque could also observed that there were no liturgies, but all prayers and recitations of verses from Quran. However, conversing with any mature Muslim, one could learn that Muslims perform worship five times daily. Speaking of worship, Browen (993) observed, “The rituals begin with ablutions, after which the worshipper, either alone or in congregation, performs two, three, or four rak’a or worship cycles in the direction of Mecca.
Each the worshipper executes a fix sequence of movements (Standing, Prostrating, kneeling, sitting), each accompanied by a fix Arabic recitation” (p. 291). The recitations according to Browen include praises of God, affirmations of his oneness, a general request for divine guidance, and, at the beginning of each cycle, two or more verses from Quran. I could affirm this observation because during my own visit to Sunni Muslim worship, I personally witness how they demonstrate their devotion to Allah.
In comparison to worship perform in most Christian churches; I could say that Muslim worship is deeply grounded on loyalty, devotion and reverence to God. In Christian churches, we could not deny that most of us are looking for comfort and even for entertainment once inside the church. We cannot bear long hours of worship service particularly on listening to the preaching of the word of God. Most of us we enjoy the singing of joyful Christian music but felt board during most of the service hours. In Muslim worship, one can observe that everyone sincerely performs worship to Allah.
Browen pointed out, “Worshippers may also add petitionary prayers to the recitations. Worship should be performed five times daily: at first light, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night” (p. 291). The Friday noon worship consists of a sermon and two worship cycles, and should be performed in congregation. It also has a prayer leader and a sermon giver. But one of the most notable things for the first timer in mosque worship is that one will find that worshippers are either all men or all women. This is perhaps common in all mosque worship. The reasons for this were quite obvious.
Not much about their customs but about the physical nature of the prayer in which worshippers stand shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot, and which require the position of prostration. Haddad, Smith & Moore (2006) noted the arguments on the separation of men and women during worship in Mosque. Citing statements from Muslim women, Haddad, Smith & Moore wrote, “Very few Muslim women say that they want to worship side by side with men” (p. 63). “I don’t want men to look at me like that and be distracted from their attention to God, nor do I wish to look directly at the rear parts of men during prayers” goes the arguments.
In some sense, this separation of sexes is a little different from other religions that also practiced separation of sexes during worship. Most religions practicing the separation of sexes are concern merely about the setting arrangements and not entirely excluding women in the same area, whereas worship in mosque gives preference on men at the main worship area, thereby promoting men’s supremacy over women. Haddad, Smith, and Moore stated, “When space is severely limited, women may find themselves worshipping in less desirable areas such as hallways or basements” (p. 64).
My visit in Sunni Muslim worship, although there might only be very slight if none at all, differences between Sunni and non-Sunni Muslims, greatly impressed me because I realized how zealous are the Muslims in their faith in God. I realized that their motives of worshipping God are plain and simple but the manner they worship demonstrates how deep their devotion to Allah is. Their effort to focus their attention to God is admirable as they cannot be perhaps equaled by today’s worship both by Catholics or Christian worship.
Many will find Muslim women’s clothing for example as weird and burdensome, but most Muslim women prefer wearing their hijab in order to avoid seducing men by their physical form. For most Muslim women, styles of clothing made exactly what they are expected to be “a model for her gender and her faith. To sum up my observation, the worship I had seen was full of unfamiliar religious observance yet they all reflect profound expression of faith in God which is diminishing in many Christian worship today.
Abdul-Rahman, M. (2003) Islam U. K. MSA Publicatin Bowen, R. J. (1993) Muslims Through Discourse USA: Princeton University Press Haddad, Y. , Smith, J. I. & Moore, K. M. (2006) Muslim Women in America USA: Oxford University Press Esposito, J. L. (2002) What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam New York: Oxford University Press Lewis, B. & Churchill, B. E. (2008) Islam USA: Wharton School Publishing O’Brien, M. E. (2007) Spirituality in Nursing USA: Jones & Barlett Publishers