Of all the practices that take place within Islam there is perhaps none that American educators are confronted with accommodating more than the performance of obligatory prayers. Muslim students, of course, have a right to perform their prayers in school and technicalities of the religion are such that the best time to perform the 2nd obligatory prayer will generally fall during the school day.
I have heard endless remarks of disdain from educators over this issue. Complaints that students said they were going to pray and ended up being gone for 45 minutes to an hour. Students were allowed to leave class to pray but instead went and goofed off. Students claimed they had to pray at random times seemingly using it as a device to avoid or escape classwork; anecdotes to this effect could go on and on.
These students are, of course, young adults (at best), adolescents, or even pre-teens. As such, impulse control is not their strength and, like any other student with anything, they need to be set up for success in order to succeed with any endeavor they undertake at school. I always ask the educator to appreciate this, and to also appreciate that in Muslim countries, which is typically where the students' parents came from or the students themselves came from (here in Minnesota we have had a Muslim community here long enough that we do have some students in the public schools whose parents were also born and raised here, but they are the minority by far), the prayer is a structured practice.
Typically that structure in the society begins with the government and the implementation and structure of the prayer is discharged on down. In neighborhoods there are mosques that let out a very audible call to the prayer (which is let out in the neighborhoods through public address sound systems) when the prayer time comes in (the prayer call is called the adhan). There is then a rather finely regulated amount of time until the actual prayer starts (typically 20-30 minutes) that the community knows and another audible signal is given when it is time to stand in rows for the prayer (this is called the iqama). The leader of the prayer (the imam) then says another audible phrase through the mosque’s PA system to signal that the prayer has begun (this is called the takbir). This is just the beginning to get everyone set and into the process of actual performing the prayer.
Stores, businesses, and whatever other public institutions there are will usually have some sort of system by which they close down during this time so employees can attend prayers at the mosque, often times how and when this happens is also regulated by the government. In schools in the Muslim world there are typically large rooms designated as a prayer room (musalah) that are similar to the main rooms of the mosques (often times the positioning of this room was the first thing taken into consideration when the school was built). Even if not all of the student’s teachers are Muslim there will be enough Muslim staff members to lead the students to the prayer room when it is time to pray, and the prayer will be integrated into the school schedule. Upon entering the mosque or the prayer room there are religious edicts on how to act that children will have witnessed their parents perform from a young age and that are community wide expectations on how to behave when entering a mosque or prayer room that they know the Muslim adults around them are aware of and expect.
So throughout the Muslim world, and in the places where these students and/or their families come from the prayer is structured; and it is structured by adults, not by teens, adolescents, or even young adults. In many ways, our young Muslim students here in America and other western countries are a rather unique generation to human history in the coalition of pressures and responsibilities that are put upon them by having religious obligations to perform while they are attending American schools. This creates much burden for them. They have pressure from their family, their community, and from the religion itself, to perform their prayers in the mandated time frames. Yet, while at school they often have to initiate and implement the structure of it all by themselves. Meanwhile, neither their parents nor other mentors in the Muslim community grew up with this predicament, and are therefore ill-equipped to advise them on it aside from generally encouraging them to do the right thing.
Insha’allah I will discuss in detail, with specific recommendations for supporting and holding students accountable with structure, and descriptions of the technicalities of performing the prayer in three blogs to follow that will be on:
- Scheduling the TIME for students to pray
- The Process and Duration of the prayer's preparation and the actual prayer itself
- Supererogatory acts after the prayer and their implications
- Preparing the space to pray
- Advice and considerations for supervising the students.