Prayer is one of the five fundamental duties of Islam. The Quran prescribes five prayers during different times of the day, all of which consist of a certain number of standing or kneeling cycles. The content and the form of prayer create the feeling of “giving oneself up to God.” Islam – with literally translates as “peace” and “devotion” – is a true monotheistic religion: A Muslim devotes himself (or herself) to God by seeking peace with Him, with himself (or herself) and with one’s fellow humans.
The number of cycles (“rak’a”) differs between morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and nightly prayers. After a ritual cleansing and the call to prayer, Muslims recite passages from the Quran that they have memorized in Arabic. The five prayers divide the day and structure it. It is common in Islamic societies to set meeting times “after prayer” and convene at the local mosque.
Other forms of prayer exist as well. The Friday prayer is special, just as prayers for Muslim holidays or funeral prayers. A special recognition is also reserved for the invocation prayer, which the Prophet Muhammed recommends after the five duty prayers. A Muslim may recite the invocation prayer at any time and place and in any language. The invocation is a little bit like a flat rate connection to God: Always available, it establishes an intimate connection between the devout Muslim and the Creator.
But Islam does not reduce worship to the ceremonies inside the mosque or the ritualistic prayers. According to Islamic teachings, daily work and the quest for knowledge are explicitly regarded as worship as well. Even the caring for one’s family and the love for one’s husband or wife are “ibada,” worship.
Through prayer, we are reminded of the eternal life in paradise. But the wide definition of worship also focuses our attention on our worldly existence. We are expected to behave as role models, pursue social progress, economic justice, loving relationships, empathy, political reason, and peace. According to Islam, these are the goals that we must strive to realize to achieve true happiness in the world and in the eternal afterlife. The standard by which we are measured is not our ethnicity or nationality but our faith. Through our actions and righteousness, we become better or worse people.
Differences and plurality of man are a sign of God’s creation and explicitly desired. As the Quran says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Sura 49, verse 13)
Prayer and related religious activities are part of the religious lives of Muslim communities in the West – and have been so for many decades. In Germany alone, they form the bedrock of the daily activities of 2500 mosques. No tax money is being spent, instead, all religious life is financed by private donations and often relies on volunteer work of community members. Often, these activities are overlooked by the rest of society – but they form the fertile ground upon which Islamic life can blossom.