My sons have played for a few years in a community soccer league.  The one and only Muslim school in town — a small conservative school in one of the suburbs of Memphis — always fields a team.  They are usually quite good and always enjoyable to play against.  However, when time comes for prayers, they take that as seriously as they seem to take soccer.  It might be the middle of a game, but when the next break comes they head off to a corner of the field and all bow towards the east in prayer.   

Typically Muslims will pray at least five times a day (dawn, sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening).  One has only had to watch a little television to know they usually assume a bowing posture, head to the ground in most cases.  It is such a submissive posture, so in line with a religion whose very name means “submission.”  This is a people who understand that there is a definite connection between body and soul. 

Today’s reading takes up the topic of qiblah, bowing in a particular direction for prayer.  Early on Muslims bowed towards Jerusalem (to their west) towards the Temple Mount where Muhammad was said to have departed the earth on his miraculous night journeys in 621 CE.  Jerusalem is considered the third most holy site on earth behind Mecca and Medina, hence the Al-Aqsa Mosque (part of the golden-domed Dome of the Rock complex) was built on the Temple Mount.  Of course this is the same spot where Jews would like to rebuild the Temple, so we have a bit of sticky wicket in world politics, don’t we? 

In today’s reading, Allah authorizes Muhammad’s wish to bow towards the east of Medina to the Ka’ba in Mecca, the most holy site of all.  And ever since Muslims have bowed east towards Mecca in prayer.  Even at soccer games in Memphis.