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Others' Customs

Dubai, March 2002

Although, at least in the UAE, non-Muslims are not normally allowed inside mosques, we attended one of the twice-weekly tours held in Dubai's beautiful Jumeirah mosque.

We had to remove our shoes and leave them outside before entering, which made me feel a little uneasy, even though mine were far from the most expensive of those neatly lined up in long rows on the steps. We later noticed as we passed other mosques during prayer, that the faithful are much more casual about this, often just stepping out of their sandals on the way in.

I previously mentioned the Olympus health club in the Dubai Hyatt that we were entitled to use. It was fully equipped, with aerobic and strength training machines, a whirlpool, hot tub, and sauna–complete with TV, tuned to MTV rock videos the times I used it. The locker room had marble floors, individual showers, hair dryers, and lockers spacious enough for all the clothing and equipment one might bring. However, under the bench in front of the lockers was a shelf on which everyone, except me, had placed their shoes!

Although Muslims are not required to go to a mosque for their five daily prayers, the reward of a prayer offered in a mosque is said to be greater than that of one offered elsewhere. Therefore, mosques are situated so that, in general, one does not have to walk more than 15 minutes to reach one. Depending on your location at the time, you may hear the "Call To Prayer" broadcast from the loudspeakers of three or more mosques. Although many are quite grand, we have also seen small ones constructed near filling stations in the desert. There are also prayer rooms in many public facilities, including shopping malls and hotels. And one can also set down a prayer rug, facing Mecca, in an appropriate place, for example, where the worshipper will not be disturbed and will not hinder the movement of others.

Although we never did find prayer rugs that included a compass, as was once seen by our friends, we did find a Casio watch that included a digital compass and alarms to remind one of the five daily prayer times. It comes "preprogrammed with settings for over 200 cities and prayer times update automatically depending on where you are."

The watch incorporates more complexity than "compass and alarms" might imply. The compass is actually more of a direction finder. It points towards Mecca ("Qibla," shown on the watch display, means the direction towards Mecca.), which isn't the mostly-east or -west direction you might have had in mind based on the Mercator projection maps with which we're most familiar. It actually indicates the shortest great circle direction, which in Washington, DC, according to the "Minaret" PC program, is 56 35".

As for the alarms, for one out of earshot of a mosque's reminder, knowing the prayer times is not a trivial matter, since the "times" specified are dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night. Another key time, described further below, is sunrise. As examples, the Minaret-computed times at the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter in Washington, DC are:

Dawn4:08 A.M.6:03 A.M.
Sunrise5:45 A.M.7:23 A.M.
Noon1:10 P.M.12:06 P.M.
Afternoon5:06 P.M.2:32 P.M.
Sunset8:37 P.M.4:49 P.M.
Night10:12 P.M.6:09 P.M.

(The summer times are daylight savings time, in case you wondered why "noon" was so late.)

It appears that a devout Muslim does not get much sleep in the summer.

I did notice that Minaret and various calendars on the Web differed among each other by up to twenty minutes, particularly at the earliest and latest times.

But actually, the above times represent the earliest time that a given prayer can begin. Each can be offered at any time during a specified period afterwards, as described below.

"The time for the morning prayer starts at dawn and ends at sunrise.

"The time for the noon prayer starts when the sun begins to decline from its zenith and ends when the size of an object's shadow is equal to the size of the object.

"The time for the afternoon prayer starts when the noon prayer ends and ends just before sunset.

"The time for the sunset prayer starts just after sunset and ends when twilight has disappeared." (Interestingly, there is no computation for the time of twilight, which would seem to be the equivalent of dawn.)

"The time for night prayer starts from the disappearance of twilight and ends just before dawn, although it is preferable to offer this prayer before midnight."

One can tell that these definitions originated in a region where clouds are rare.

© Copyright 2002 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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