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.
When I am confronted with this conversation I can surely give an amount of minutes that could act as an estimate, and indeed such estimates exist in other places.But I try to steer the educator towards developing a deeper understanding of the actual process that takes place in conducting the prayer. The variables involved that can effect the time, and the matters of which the Muslim student has to be concerned with taking care of in order for the prayer to be Islamically valid.
The reality is that a teacher whose approach to this matter is to just simply be given an amount of minutes is looking at this task of accommodating his or her students prayer as a chore that they want to handle by simply writing a time frame into their schedule, or vocalizing an expectations of minutes upon which students ought to return when they are given permission to leave class to pray.
Our goal here at Abraham Educational Services is to equip educators with tools that will help them build better relationships with their Muslim students. If this prayer is something that they are doing five times a day, in each part of the day, with their peers, with their families, alone, with a larger community; it is clearly something that is a big part of their lives.
Culturally-relevant teaching does not take place if the teacher has never had a window of any sort into their students cultural peculiarities that are different than his or her own. When you understand the full process of praying in Islam, and all the variables involved that can have an effect on its duration and the attainment of its objective for the worshipper, you have then gained a window into the culture of your Muslims students; you are better able to appreciate all that is involved in it and therefore better able plan and schedule a structure for it for you students who need to do it; and you are better able to talk through issues that might arise with it for students and problem solve with them for the mutual benefit of everyone.
So this post is about the process and duration, and we will put a time marker on the duration, but more so it is about giving educators a window into all this involved in performing the Islamic prayer in a practical manner with consideration for issues that can arise for the student and that educators should be thinking about when they attempt to implement structure for the religious rights of their Muslim students.
“Do you have wudu?”
This is a question that your Muslim students have been asked before, guaranteed, and most likely at one time or another asked another person. When it comes to praying, wudu is something you need, even if auto-correct insists on changing its spelling to match the name of a species of African antelope every time I type it; it is something well known to the Muslims and praying cannot take place without it.
Wudu is best translated in English as “ablution” or “the state of having performed ablution.” As is with all the acts of worship in Islam, the prayer does not just take place haphazardly, but rather, it has preparation that is prerequisite to performing it. If a Muslims does not “have wudu” they cannot pray, or if they do it is not valid and they have not completed the obligation mandated by the second pillar os Islam.
So it is important to understand that students are more likely than not going to have to “make wudu” - or perform ritual washing - before they pray. This ritual washing, like the prayer itself, is not something abstract but is rather a specific process that has be done in a specific way. I will explain the process of performing wudu and then explain the “nullifiers” or the things that “break” someone’s wudu (which would dictate they have to make wudu again before doing their next prayer in order for the prayer to be valid). These are quite involved issues in Islamic jurisprudence, and my goal is to communicate to you essential information about them while giving a small window into some of the breadth of issues that exist around them.
Simply stated making wudu means washing the hands, the mouth, the nose (as in siphoning water into the nostrils and then releasing it), the arms (to the elbow), the head, the neck and ears, and the feet - In that exact order (see the pictures).
Those are the minimal requirements for making wudu. There is religious pretext for washing each bodily part listed above 3 times - and this is typically what Muslim children are taught to do and they may or may not distinguish between what is minimally required and what they have been taught to do by their parents or family members. There is also religious pretext wanting to the arms to be washed under the stream of water (as oppose to water being put on the hand and rubbed up the arm). There is also religious pretext for wanting the foot to be placed under the stream of water and working the fingers in between the toes was they are being washed. There is also religious pretext for believing that a certain invocation (bismilahir-rahmanir-raheem) ought to be said before starting and that one should start over making wudu if they are in the middle of it and realize that invocation was not made.
ALSO, if someone makes wudu and then puts on socks while they are in a state of having wudu, the next time they need to make wudu it is not obligatory for them to remove the socks and wash the feet as described above. Instead they it is permissible for them to get their hand wet and wipe over the top of the sock on each foot. The head, neck, and ear washing above is also never meant to be total inundation - it is a wiping over with wet hands, washing the ears involves getting the fingers wet and sticking them in the ears.
Now there are some things to consider about all this time wise. First, the sink counter and the floor around the sink are going to be wet after wards. When you have your hands raised up to gently rub out the insides of your ears your elbows flare out, and considering you just rinsed those arms up to the elbow they are wet and they are dripping all over the place. That washing the feet causes water to get out of the sink area goes without saying. So, who cleans this up? If the students make wudu quickly and leave the bathroom area wet, it could have a reciprocal effect where things get out of hand, large scale acts of public disobedience happen in the school system, and the Governor of the state has to get involved and iron things out. Nobody wants that :-/.
My suggestion is that the students are ideally supervised when they have to do this and the expectation is set and practice that they will dry up the bathroom when they are done making wudu - this will be a small step towards peace on earth. This is going to involve the use of paper towels. But the bathroom is not the only thing that will not to be dried. We do not want these kids dripping all over the building, creating who knows what kind of safety hazards around the building, they will also need to dry themselves. Especially they are going to want to dry their feet (which, let me tell you, is much easier to do sitting down than standing up, does the bathroom have a convenient place to sit near the sink). Have you ever put a sock on a wet foot???…Not a cool experience. But the arms and face and all of it, it is ideal (not a religious obligation but we are talking comfort’s sake here) to dry oneself also after making wudu. In many of the arid and hot-weather countries in the Muslim world it may be common practice for people to leave the bathrooms wet (there are typically squiggles on the counters and drains on the floors) and leave themselves wet as they are in clothing that is made of light linen that dries easy, especially in hot and dry weather. Here in Minnesota, people are making wudu while wearing absorbent and heavy sweatshirts, you do not want to roll those over wet arms when you are all done. The point being, drying is important, drying as many things to consider and needs to be set up for.
Another thing about wudu than can be sort of not fun - rinsing out your mouth and nose while standing next to a urinal that is full of…urine - it is gross and not fun to do. Generally, in the Muslim world there is a strong separation between the toilets and the sinks in bathrooms. First of all, the toilets will be contained in fully enclosed closets (no fire codes dictating that the walls around the toiled cannot touch the ground and ceiling and such) and typically the sinks will be in a separate room entirely from those also. It is not too much of an over generalization to say that urinals practically do not exist in the Muslim world as urinating while standing up is against Islamic practice (and does not allow for the dictates on washing the private parts with water after answering the call of nature). So that is another aspect to consider, and if you unable to accommodate students making wudu in a place that is not next to a toilet, you can at least empathize with the unfriendliness of that a little.
Anyhow, making wudu as described above, including a full washing of the feet, washing each body part three times, and a full drying off of the body and bathroom upon completion, takes me just under 3 full minutes. This means being timed from the point of standing in front of the sink (so it does not included time that it may take in the hallway to walk to the bathroom) and it entails only having to take off socks from slip-on shoes, meaning no shoe tying or untying was involved.
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