There is probably no religion more associated with prayer than the Islamic faith. The distinctive call to prayer. The bowing of the whole body toward Mecca. Stopping all activities to pray. Hundreds of men pressed side to side in a sea of devotion.  Muslims pray.

I’ve written about it previously in this post, but we see it again in today’s passage:

So perform the regular prayers in the period from the time the sun is past its zenith till the darkness of the night, and [recite] the Qur’an at dawn — dawn recitation is always witnessed — and during the night wake up and pray, as an extra offering of your own. (17:78-79)

Devout Muslims pray five times a day: 6am, 12pm, 5pm, 8pm, 10pm (all times are approximate as they change daily with the cycle of the sun).  The admonition to pray (salah) five times arises more from Islamic tradition than from the Qur’an.  As was said a few days ago, tradition says it was during the Night Journey this surah is named after that the command to pray five times a day came.

Of course, this command to pray five times a day can become very ritualistic, and rituals can become legalistic and empty. There is nothing wrong with rituals by themselves; as Christians report praying an average of less than five combined minutes per day, we could benefit from a bit more ritual. But I especially liked the attitude I heard from “yeshmayin” (another Christian blogging through the Qur’an) a few days ago in the comments of this post:

I have always thought the story of God telling Mohammed how many times to pray is a beautiful one. It reminds me of Paul’s words to “Pray without ceasing.” To me, that is the essence of the entire story. When God told Mohammed to pray 50 times a day, the point was to pray without ceasing. I don’t believe it was meant to be a literal-count-them 50 times. (Like when we are told in the NT to forgive our brother seventy times seven times– it is not a literal number meant to be counted up.)

Today’s passage also gives a wonderful sample of the ideal prayer:

Say, “My Lord, make me go in truthfully, and come out truthfully, and grant me supporting authority from You.” (17:80)

Prayer is first and foremost about expressing dependency.  If prayer is the heart’s cry of faith, the most basic and beautiful prayer a true worshiper can pray is “I need you.” And this is precisely the prayer stated here — whether going in, coming out or standing strong, “I need Thee every hour.”

So true!