Putting Structure in the Prayer - Part 4: Process & Duration (salah - the actual prayer)
In Islam, what is referred to in English as "praying 5 times a day" is actually called "salah" in Arabic, Salah means "devotion." To me, the actuality of salah carries a rather different connotation than that accompanied by the English word “prayer” (whose etymological association is ultimately from Christianity). The word praying in the Christian-based world generally evokes images and ideas of one calling out to God perhaps on their knees at the bed side and making invocations that can vary. Whereas precise liturgical processes (which are becoming less and less regular even inside churches) are something reserved for Sunday practice in church. The salah in Islam, even though it is carried out both in and outside the mosques, and carried out both in congregation and individually, in any case it is a very precise liturgical process. It is prescribed process taught by Islam's prophet and passed down through generations until today.
Token educator: “So, can you just give me an estimate on how long the prayer should take?”
Me: “Well, I can, but there are some variables to it…”
Token educator: “I know, but just an estimate, like 10, 15, minutes? Just give me an amount of time?”
Me: “Well, I will, but see really it’ll be better for you to understand the process that takes place…”
Token educator: “I know, I know, I know, I get that, but I just want an estimate on how long it can take…Can you just give me a number of minutes?”
This is a conversation I have had many times before.
If you're a teacher in the public school system and you have Muslim students who wish to uphold their religious right to pray in school I would say that not understanding when the prayer times happen would be a great way to give yourself headaches and opening up yourself up to being pestered and manipulated by these students (heck you might have even have Muslim students who don't care about upholding their religious right to pray in school but decide to start claiming to care about it once they realize it can be used as an effective instrument to evade responsibilities of schoolwork and enter power struggles with the teacher).
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.
Clarifying Religion in the Schools
It is typically the case that in advising my fellow educators about accommodating the religious practices of Muslims, or on how to create mirrors for their Muslim students by bringing in books to their teaching that feature Muslim characters or say something about the history of Muslim civilization, I am often asked about where the lines are drawn when it comes to “teaching religion in schools.”