Thursday, June 10, 2004

Learning of Faith

I have said so much but want to commit so many things to memory - so that one day I can look back and see what I have done.

Just a short lesson for those out there not living the life in Saudi Arabia: The muezzin (mosque crier) makes the invitation to prayer or adhan (azan), which is called out five times a day. Small note: these guys are well-paid for their regular gigs. Oft-times, the mosque gets one of the young people to make the adhan, or if you are a convert, part of the lesson is to do this for around two weeks with your fellow students: "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar." This means: Allah is the Greatest. (repeated four times).

This is followed by: "Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah. Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah." I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah (repeated twice). I’d rather not repeat the rest of what they do in prayer. By the way, don't be too impressed, I've just cut-and-pasted most of this stuff. It makes for informative reading, don't you think?

The five Islamic prayers are named Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. The timing of these five prayers varies from place to place and from day to day. It is obligatory for Muslims to perform these prayers at the correct time. They face in the direction of Mecca (this is called the qibla). Dammam is a coastal city on the Persian Gulf and we are about 776.68 miles or 1249.68 Km northeast of the Black Stone (or Kaaba) in Makkah (Mecca) and when people pray, they face southwest. The prayer times for any given location on earth may be determined mathematically if the latitude and longitude of the location are known. However, the theoretical determination of prayer times is a lengthy process (which used to be computed by the best of Muslim scholars). Now this tedium has been alleviated by using computer programs. There’s already a screen saver/alarm clock that precisely alerts you when to pray, and another program that tells you where Mecca is based on your coordinates.

Prayer times

  • FAJR starts with the dawn or morning twilight. Fajr ends just before sunrise.
  • DHUHR begins after midday when the trailing limb of the sun has passed the meridian. In other words, this is sometime before or right after noontime, or zawal. Dhuhr ends at the start of Asr time.
  • The timing of ASR depends on the length of the shadow cast by an object. According to the Shafi school of jurisprudence, Asr begins when the length of the shadow of an object exceeds the length of the object. According to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, Asr begins when the length of the shadow exceeds TWICE the length of the object. In both cases, the minimum length of shadow (which occurs when the sun passes the meridian) is subtracted from the length of the shadow before comparing it with the length of the object. Asr normally happens beginning 3:00pm or so.
  • MAGHRIB begins at sunset and ends at the start of isha.
  • ISHA starts after dusk when the evening twilight disappears. In winter this is held almost as soon as Maghrib is over. When I arrived it was about 7:30pm, now it’s about 8:00. During the height of summer it may be as late as 8:30 or 9pm.

It is interesting that I still remember the old lessons from high school about the five pillars of Islam. Apart from the requirement of prayer, the four other pillars are:

  1. The Shahada or profession of faith (There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His prophet)
  2. Abstinence from fermented beverages (alcohol) plus other dietary practices (such as eating only halal food and abstaining from pork)
  3. Zakat – or giving of alms to widows and orphans. Otherwise known as works of mercy. Because of this, orthodox Muslims do not practice usury and banks here charge little or no interest. Great especially if you have a credit card, where the APR is 2% per month. (On the other hand, the documentation for an expat Filipino to get a credit card is so frustrating so the effort is not worth it).
  4. Making a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca at least once during adult life.

There is so much that I'd like to say but I had so little time to think in the beginning. Now all of these thoughts overflow like a river that has been dammed for so long. I hope the continuing discovery will keep me enthralled until I start growing roots here, because for one I don’t think I will be coming back to the Philippines for a long while except for vacations. But who knows? Things may change. For now, I am a willing exile, a stranger in a strange land, only to find that the strange one is ME.

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