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Religion Library: Sunni Islam

Sacred Time

Written by: Nancy Khalek

In addition to signaling the time for prayer with ablution, once one has entered into prayer, behavior signals that this time is sacred. When praying salat, a person does not speak to or interact with others, but focuses only on the prayer at hand. One may not eat or drink while praying, either. In addition, the ritual prayer calls for certain ritual garb. Namely, men and women in ritual prayer must wear garments that conceal their bodies. Praying at the Al Azhar mosque: photo courtesy of tierecke viaC.C. License at FlickrWomen also cover their hair while praying, even if they do not for the rest of the day. In this sense, the preparation for, conduct during, and clothing for prayer signal that the five prayers take place in sacred time.

On the level of community, major holidays, such as the festival at the end of Ramadan or the Hajj to Mecca, occur at particular times of year in the Islamic calendar, though since the Islamic Calendar is lunar, the exact dates are unfixed. In addition to major events on the Muslim calendar, such as Hajj and Ramadan, it is important to remember that any of the five daily prayers may be conducted in a group as well as individually. Whether in a mosque or some other place, a group of people praying together is considered highly meritorious in Islam. One person, an imam, leads congregational prayers and the rest of the group follows this person in prayer. Though any prayer may be said in a congregational setting, the only time it is obligatory for Muslim men to attend a congregational prayer is the Friday mid-afternoon prayer. This is when a sermon (khutba) is read, and the prayer is performed communally.

Also on a community level, the month of Ramadan is considered sacred for many reasons, in addition to the spiritual benefits of fasting. Sunnis believe that the entire Quran was read start to finish during a Ramadan in the Prophet's lifetime, and they commemorate this by performing extra prayers in the evenings during which the entire Quran is read over the course of the month. There are many hadith about the sacredness of Ramadan, and they describe the opening of the heavens and the special receptiveness of God to supplications during this sacred time. Other days on the Islamic calendar are also considered meritorious, including the last ten days of Shaban, the month on the calendar that precedes Ramadan.

Study Questions:
     1.    What is the role of prayer within Sunnism?
     2.    How does time transform an individual’s location in prayer?
     3.    What rituals are associated with entering into prayer?
     4.    Why is Ramadan considered a sacred time?


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