Prayer and Mosques

Prayer has been described as the act of communication by humans with the sacred or holy. The Islamic Qur'an is regarded as a book of prayers, as is the book of Psalms in the Bible, considered to be a meditation on biblical history turned into prayer. Prayer obviously takes as many forms as there are religions.

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day at definite times, wherever they happen to be. In addition to that practice, on Fridays all Muslim men are also expected to attend the mosque for the after-midday prayer. Friday is not an identifiable holy day in the manner that Christians and Jews, for instance, consider the Sabbath. In Islam, business may go on as usual before and after the midday prayers.

Islam teaches that the whole world is a mosque because a person can pray to God anywhere. Islam makes no distinction between what is sacred and the everyday; however, every mosque has an area with a water supply so that the devout may wash their hands, feet, and face before prayer. Muslims may use sand for washing if water isn't available.

The first mosques were modeled on Muhammad's place of worship, which was the courtyard of his house in Medina. The first mosques were just plots of earth marked out as sacred. At the mosque, the worshipers align themselves in rows, spaced so they may kneel and bow without touching those in front of them.

There is no prescribed architectural design for mosques. They generally have a minaret in an elevated place, usually a tower, for the crier or muezzin to proclaim the call to worship. The muezzin stands at either the door or side of a small mosque or on the minaret of a large mosque. He faces each of the four directions in turn: east, west, north, and south. To each direction, he cries:

Allah is most great.

I testify that there is no God but Allah.

I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.

Come to prayer.

Come to salvation.

Allah is most great.

There is no God but Allah.

The muezzin's call to worship is followed by the imam, who leads the community prayers, and then the khatib, who often preaches the Friday sermon. Sometimes the imam performs all three functions. The imam is not a priest; although he can't perform any rites, he usually conducts marriages and funerals. The imam generally acts as a leader of the local Muslim community and gives advice about Islamic law and customs. Imams are picked for their wisdom.

Islam does not use liturgical vestments in the way many religions do; instead, it has universal regulations governing dress. For example, all who enter a mosque must remove their footwear, and all individuals on a pilgrimage must wear the same habit, the hiram, and thus appear in holy places as a beggar.

Inside a mosque, no representations of Allah or humans, plants, or animals are allowed. Women who attend, particularly in America, should wear a head scarf (hijab) and avoid wearing jewelry, particularly any that might depict people or animals or Jewish or Christian religious imagery. Modesty should be the guiding factor; Muslim girls and women cover their hair completely.

While women may attend prayers in a mosque, they are seated in a separate area, often upstairs if there is one, in a gallery so that neither sex is distracted.

The imam — the title means the spiritual leader of the entire community — is an individual with religious training who is learned in the Koran. On Fridays, the leader often gives a sermon that addresses political and religious problems or points of interest.

All Muslim prayer is made facing Makkah (Mecca). When prayers are held congregationally, people stand in rows shoulder to shoulder with no gaps or reserved spaces. All are considered equal when standing before God. Muslim prayers are memorized; new members of the faith generally have someone to guide them until they commit the prayers to memory.

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