tribal drum
 At a mosque after the New Zealand attacks (2)

After a time, a youngish-looking man with a short, neatly-trimmed beard wearing a sport coat and knitted collarless shirt went up a few steps to a small railing-enclosed platform at the front of the room, which in a church would be called a pulpit.  As he began to intone the traditional Muslim call to prayer, I found myself missing the deeper, richer voice of the other imam I had heard here. (An imam, by the way, is like a minister or priest or rabbi.)  Since Friday services consist mainly of the imam giving what in a church would be called a sermon, what today’s experience would be like revolved heavily around what this man was like.

He was quick to point out that he’d written his message before news of the attacks in New Zealand broke, but he felt it was still appropriate, so he’d go ahead and open with it, and then later talk about the massacre.

He began with the story of an early caliph (Islam’s top civil and religious ruler) who was leading his people in prayers when someone who had been hiding in the mosque sprang out and attacked him with a poisoned dagger. In all, nine people were mortally wounded, including the caliph, before the attacker was finally subdued.  Although the caliph was in no condition to continue leading the prayers, they were so important to him that he managed to say them all, despite his soon-to-be-fatal injuries.

The imam spoke next about prayer being central to maintaining ongoing spiritual well-being, and how when people don’t pay enough attention to it, they don’t get its full benefits.  Acknowledging the various distractions of contemporary life (credit card bills needing to be paid, pressures of work and family life, etc.), he offered an assortment of tips and gentle coaching on how to stay focused through it all.    

I wasn’t likely to make personal use of this information, because I’m not looking to convert to a different religion—just interested in understanding what the various ones have to offer.  Still, I had no trouble envisioning the situations and techniques he described.  I also began to see some similarities between Muslim prayer and Eastern meditation, and possibly even floatation/isolation tanks (the parallels will probably be more apparent if you’ve ever tried one of these).  At the same time, the rationale behind praying five times a day became a bit clearer to me:  if you do something every two hours to ensure that your head stays screwed on straight, you’re likely to have a better day, and be a better person as well. 

But although what I was hearing was a good deal more interesting than I would have expected, another part of me got increasingly impatient.  When was the imam finally going to get around to talking about the events in New Zealand?  Prayer techniques were all well and good, but under the current circumstances, it seemed a little like an old-style British vicar going on about the niceties of altar dressings on a day when the German Luftwaffe was raining down cataclysmic fire and death from the sky.