Author Willow G. Wilson said it best in her memoir, The Butterfly Mosque: “The line levels everyone. No Muslim is exempt from it; a saint must stand shoulder to shoulder with a murderer if a murderer is who he finds to his right.”
Every Friday, Muslims gather in mosques and musallahs for congregational prayer (jum’ah). Following a brief spiritual reminder, they all condense into lines, shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot, and pray together in unison. Everyone is on equal ground before God.
The prayer is short, and afterwards Muslims go back to their daily lives—work, school, family, and so on. It’s a moment of spiritual reprieve, a reminder meant to give us a spiritual boost and connect with God.
Outside of Friday prayers, there are still the five daily prayers that Muslims must pray, and praying together is encouraged. The reward for prayer is amplified the more people pray together, whether at home, abroad or in a mosque. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, emphasized that Muslims should try and pray together as often as they can.
The benefits of emphasizing group prayer go beyond heavenly rewards. The importance of community is built into the faith. Mankind is equal to God in terms of race, age, gender, social standing, and other man-made prejudices. The only preference to God is through piety. And what better way to symbolize that then a spectrum of mankind, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, standing before God, united in the purpose worship?
One of the most challenging things for me was learning to recite in Arabic. At first, I wasn’t really sure why prayer had to be in Arabic. In fact, for a while I prayed entirely in English. But eventually, I came to understand that reciting in Arabic is just one aspect of the overall beauty of prayer.
The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic. Translations are prone to error, and so it only makes sense that it should be recited in its original language to preserve the purity of its meaning. And so the synchronicity in language is an aspect of the overall synchronicity in prayer.
I’ve stood next to children in prayer who merely mimic the motions of the adults next to them. They fidget, giggle, and stare but when it comes time to bow or prostrate, they follow the same motions as best as they can. And after a lifetime of standing, bowing, standing, prostrating and so on, it becomes part of your muscle memory. Motions become second nature; you don’t need to think about what to do next. You just do it.
The clockwork beauty of the prayer is synchronized perfection. Everyone follows the motions of the prayer-leader with military-like precision. Those who are late can slip into the prayer at any time, and make up the missed units right after. To me, it’s worship perfected. No matter where you are in the world—be it Germany, China, or Indonesia—if there’s a congregational prayer, you can join it with the same ease and fluidity as you would back home. You’ll know exactly how to worship God with a common language and common process with people you’ve never met. One body reciting in one language towards one God.
Outwardly, prayer can seem like a complex ritual. When I first become Muslim, it was a challenge learning the proper motions and what to say—all of it in a language I did not understand, mind you. Every prayer is made up of a set of units, and knowing what to say, when to say it, how to move and where to move all took time to learn properly. But after years of doing it, I’ve come to appreciate the meaning behind these rituals.
When I pray, I stand before God, humbled, and praise Him. When I press my forehead to the ground, I am closest to Him. Five times a day I put myself before God — I, a creation, a mere collection of atoms, put myself before the One Who created all creation, every atom. Five times a day I’m reminded of my place in this world, and am brought nearer to a reality beyond our meager universe.
Whether alone or together, in private or in public, in solitude or congregation, these check-ins with God let us experience closeness with the Divine.