Thursday, January 10, 2008

Call to Prayer

Growing up in the midwest I always felt that I lived in a very religious nation. People around me would talk of the US as being a Christian nation. This, of course, was my childhood understanding however. As I grew up I developed a very different view of the US and realized that people were not very devout about their religious beliefs. So when I first arrived in Cairo and I heard the Call to Prayer being issued from a loudspeaker at the mosque five times a day so that all Muslims could join in the prayers, I was immediately astonished. I have taken classes on Islam and heard about the daily prayers, but it is different to actually hear them and to see people stopping to kneel down where they are to pray. Seeing and hearing this brought to life what I had read in textbooks and heard in lectures. When we flew into Luxor the following week and were waiting in the airport to get our baggage, I noticed a man, tucked off in a corner and kneeling on his prayer mat while he prayed. I was amazed at how devoted he was that he would stop right there in the midst of the hussle and bussle of the airport in order to recite his prayers. I'm astonished at how he was able to tune out all these distractions.

Prayer has always been an interesting topic in my opinion. I've always been interested in when, why and how people pray because I think there is a great variety in the answers. I have a friend who once told me that she preferred to pray silently to herself in the presence of other people - that she had no problems allowing the noises around her to become a distant background as she focused on her interaction with God in that present moment. I have to admit I was inspired by this and tried it several times but found that I could not remove myself from the distractions - I still needed a quiet, secluded place where I could focus myself and drift away from the worries and chaos of the world.

So you can imagine my shock when the Muslim prayers could be heard clear as day throughout the city of Cairo, five times a day, and Muslims would stop to pray (sometimes on the side of the road) while the distractions of the day continued to go on around them. I don't even know how to explain how much I admire this - I wish I could say I had this discipline and devotion.

I was curious how Coptic Christians reacted to the daily Muslim prayers that they too could hear and in a discussion with an intern from CEOSS (Coptic Evangelical .......I can't remember the rest right now), she told me that you just get used to them and don't even realize they are going on. This really surprised me since they are so loud - it would be like attending a sporting event and being able to tune out the announcer. Maybe if I lived in Egypt I too would get used to them and tune them out, but I hope that I would not. I'd prefer to leave this place remembering the faith, devotion, and discipline I found here in the Muslim people - attributes I respect and admire in people, and hope that I can gain some semblance of in my own life.


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