Friday Prayer -- The Community Gathers

This post recognizes the tragic events which took place in Québec City on Sunday January 29, 2017, where six Muslim worshippers lost their lives when fired upon during prayer time. A funeral service was held today, Feb 3, 2017, to remember the lives of three of the victims, one from Tunisia and two from Algeria. Other services will be held in other locations to honour the remaining members of the shooting. May God provide comfort for the family members who mourn them. الله يرحمهم.

For Muslims, the day upon which they gather together as a larger community for congregational worship is on Friday. For Jews, this happens on Saturday, and for Christians, Sunday. The words in Arabic for Friday, gathering and central mosque where public prayer is performed all come from the same root, j-m-ʿ (ج م ع in Arabic). This verb, in its most simple form, has various possible meanings including to gather, to collect, to combine, to make plural, to contain and to summarize. When used with the word Qurʾan, it can mean to learn or know the entire Qurʾan by heart.

Friday prayers at noon time (or thereabouts) are special for Muslims. In addition to the usual prayer ritual performed for that time of day, the Friday noon prayers also include a message given to the believers by the local Imam, the religious leader of the mosque. This message, or sermon, is known as a khuṭba in Arabic (don’t confuse this with a khiṭba, which means courtship or engagement—having the same form in Arabic as the difference is in the short vowel which is not usually visible in written Arabic).

For most Westerners, the first time they enter a mosque, three things will likely strike them almost immediately. First, there appears to be almost no furniture anywhere in the main prayer hall. Prayers are performed standing, bending, kneeling and prostrating. There is no need for pews. Second, there is a large place for shoes at the entrance of the mosque—footwear is not worn inside the prayer hall. Third, there are separate locations within the mosque for men and for women—the genders are separated in worship.

What takes place inside the mosque is a part of a believer’s obligations. As one of the pillars of the faith, prayer (ṣalāt) is an exercise of worship to God, or ʿibādāt, rather than a form of works, or muʿamalāt, which encompasses the expected conduct of people amongst themselves. Here in the mosque, a faithful follower of Islam will bend, kneel and prostrate as an expression of worship to God. On Friday, this group worship holds special significance as the mosque is usually well attended, oftentimes spilling out into an outer courtyard in a Muslim majority nation in places where weather would permit. The gathering together of a large group lends itself to a greater sense of community and belonging.

In order to accommodate the larger numbers, and to make it possible for people of almost all professions to attend the mosque, two services are often held. In this way, the space can hold up to two times the number of attendees and those with earlier or later lunch breaks from their employment can flex around the time that works best for them.

Praying as a larger community on a weekly basis provides a sense of solidarity amongst Muslims. As their prayer ritual, still to be described in a future post, is fairly uniform across the Muslim world, a prayer experience in Mecca, Morocco or Malaysia can be quite similar. This is quite unlike the Christian experience where worship styles can differ from one church to another within the same denomination, let alone between different denominations. This uniform ritual of prayer acts as one of the binding forces within the Muslim community.

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