Today the month of Ramadan begins for Muslims, the holy month when, through fasting and other actions, religious people live their faith with greater attention.
Observing Ramadan is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Others are belief in one God, with Muhammad as God’s prophet; being charitable to the poor; and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if a person is able. And there is a pillar to pray, and it is customary to pray five times a day.
Muslims who are able to stand, kneel, and bow do those actions in a standard way. It is a ritual, a routine of words, bowing, and kneeling that makes up a unit of prayer. The number of units of the routine varies for the different prayer times in the day. In those units there is also time for personal prayer.
The Masjid Al-Islam, a mosque on Bancroft Street in Toledo, has the Qur’an’s first Surah or chapter in Arabic script on the wall of the mosque’s prayer room. “It’s the main prayer text,” Shamsuddin Waheed said. He translated:
“It says, ‘In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful. Praise belongs to God, the lord of the universe, the beneficent, the merciful, master of judgment day. It is you we worship, you we seek assistance from. Guide us upon the straight path, the path of those whom you have blessed; not the path of those with whom you are angry nor the path of those who are astray.’”
Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab, who ends 16 years of service this month as religious leader at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, described the manner of prayer. “You read that first chapter in the Qur’an—’The Opening,’ ‘Al-Fatihah’—and a few verses from the Qur’an. If you memorize it or do not memorize it, that’s fine.”
There are different types of bowing, according to ritual. When bowing and kneeling, people praying say, in Arabic, “‘Glory be to God the greatest,’” Abo Elzahab said, “but in prostration it is ‘Glory be to God the highest.’ You are in the lowest position, you remember the most high one, and in this kind of position we are the closest to God. The whole body, soul, from the toes to the head, everything is surrendered to God on the mother earth that we’ve been created from. ... Now you can reveal everything to God, you can ask for anything, you can whisper to God, you can cry to God, you can beg God for forgiveness, for guidance, for health, for a cure, for unity, for love, for this, for anything you’d like to have.”
The five daily prayers are “all of them the same,” said Sheik Rahim Al-Saedy, imam of the Fatemah Islamic Center in Sylvania, “because we worship God. In the morning or afternoon or evening, it’s the same thing.” However, that doesn’t mean some people don’t have favorites.
Imam Waheed likes the dawn. After that prayer, “then the rest of your day pretty much goes smooth,” he said. “But I also find that, say, for example, I oversleep. Now you still pray, but it’s considered late, so I find … the rest of the day doesn’t go that smooth, and a lot of Muslims that I talk to say similar things. I can’t say why that’s the case but that seems to be the case.”
“The prayer described in the Qur’an is a timely obligation,” said Abo Alzahab. “Just to be standing in front of God five times a day, most likely that makes the person behave, or at least have this kind of self-criticism or self-exposure to himself and with God five times a day. So if he did his day good so far till midday or afternoon … then he’s thankful to God. If he did something wrong, then he’ll make an apology to God. So it is really to make up, it is really to correct your record five times a day. … The last one is to thank Allah or God for living my day to the best of my ability, trying to please God, trying to do what is good; so when I sleep, then I am entrusting God with my soul so far. If I have another day to live, that is great. If I do not have, I ended my day praying to God and seeking his forgiveness.”