Muslim prayers
November 23, 2004 7:39 AM   Subscribe

When Muslims pray, why do they hold their hands out before their faces like a book?
posted by zadcat to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total)
 
This page on how to pray doesn't explain it, but it is very informative. I believe the part which applies the most is this: "This posture is called qiyam and it is assumed after having made the intention to pray. Raising both hands up to the ears (palms facing the Qiblah) 'Allah u Akbar' ('Allah is the greatest') is said."
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:36 AM on November 23, 2004


While we're on the subject, why do Christians hold their hands together to pray?
posted by Jairus at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2004


You've got me so curious and so unable to find an answer that I posted your question to BeliefNet. Perhaps the community there can offer an informed answer. (I'm curious, by the way, because I've been reading Richard Francis Burton's The Land of the Midian and have a stack of similar texts I plan to work my way through, relating to various eras, areas, and odes of the Middle East, Arabia, and the Maghreb.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:58 AM on November 23, 2004


From an anthropological standpoint, the Christian posture is pretty submissive. I.e. it makes you look smaller and less threatening. Hands together in front of your body and head bowed are about as small as you can look without going into bowing or deep prostration. Hats are taken off with similar effect.

Humans seem to instinctively know how to grovel before more powerful figures so as to assuage their anger and arouse their sense of mercy.
posted by callmejay at 9:04 AM on November 23, 2004


Jairus, I think many Christians are taught to fold their hands during prayer when they are children, simply to minimize distractions caused by various forms of fidgeting. Eventually this behavior becomes natural, and is often retained into adulthood.

But Christianity is a broad thing, and I'm sure some of the more ritualistic branches (e.g. Catholicism) have a different take on things.
posted by Galvatron at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2004


As a side note, Buddhist iconography uses the hands-together pose, as do the practitioners, at least in Tibetan Buddhism. And I'm pretty sure I've seen images of modern Indian people making the gesture as a sign of welcome or respect as well.
posted by zadcat at 9:18 AM on November 23, 2004


Kneeling and folding of hands were not the Christian norm for prayer till much later. In the First Century AD, Christian prayer was done standing, eyes raised, with arms outstretched, palms pointing upward.

Today, many Filipino Catholics pray the "Our Father" with their hands in the position described by zadcat. It's supposed to evoke a position of readiness to receive material blessing.
posted by brownpau at 9:25 AM on November 23, 2004


The 5 daily prayers are performed like a kind of dance. There's the raising of hands up high, there,s the holding open like a book, there's another stage where they hold each elbow in the other hand with arms cross, then there's the hands and knees with face up, then there's the full-on kow-tow. There's all sort of mats and accoutrements to make it more comfortable. Some men even wear a kind of headband to protect their forehead when it touches the ground. The ritual is fully set and is always performed the same way. This is how you get those dramatic Time Magazine photos of 10,000 men all bowing at the same time. I always perceive a bit of "ooh look at the dronelike Muslims" in those photos. But what can you say? The religion is keyed more toward individual practice, not clergy-lead practice, and things like the daily pracyer are quite ritualized. Despite all the press that these fatwa-issuing clerics get, one of Islam's founding principles is minimal clergy. Frequently a "service" at a mosque will have no leader at all. Just people praying.
posted by scarabic at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2004


Frequently a "service" at a mosque will have no leader at all. Just people praying.

Neato.
posted by aramaic at 10:50 AM on November 23, 2004


Frequently a "service" at a mosque will have no leader at all. Just people praying.

Wellll.. Actually, you're meant to have one person leading in congregational prayer. It can be anyone however. Also, that's just for the main body of the prayer - ie the ritualised bits (reciting from the Qu'ran etc). The personal prayers come after this (when you're talking into your hands) and can be anything you like.

You should have a look for videos of Hajj - forget 10,000, try 4,000,000 all praying in unison ^_^ Malcolm X had a very poetic letter about that in his autobiography - every muslim guy loves it that I know..

I've asked the question on sunniforum, which is a traditional sunni forum (um, yeah) which has scholars popping by now and then. We'll probably be opening up a non-muslims section there innabit so that people can ask questions coming from that background.
posted by Mossy at 11:39 AM on November 23, 2004


PS: Some good answers have appeared at BeliefNet.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:44 AM on November 23, 2004


Of the three answers there when I checked, this is the only one that actually made sense to me:
My understanding is that we hold out our hands to receive the blessings that fall from heaven to us. After prayer, we will "wipe" our faces with our hands so that we may "wash" our faces with the blessings.

MoNickels, I'd love to see your reading list! I hope Marshall Hodgson is on it.
posted by languagehat at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2004


Days later ...

While we're on the subject, why do Christians hold their hands together to pray?

My understanding is that back in the day (say ... Medieval Europe?), the vassal or subject would come to the lord (of the land) and make an appeal or subject himself in some contract. He would put his palms together (fingers pointing out towards the lord), and the lord, in agreeing to the contract, would put his hands on each side of the vassal's hands (palms to the backs of the vassal's hands, fingers pointing at the vassal). The Christian praying form presents the vassal/subject (the pray-er), appealing to the lord (the Lord), with an appeal, with the idea that "God's hands" would be taking the form of the lord, enveloping the Christian's hands.

Kneeling and folding of hands were not the Christian norm for prayer till much later. In the First Century AD, Christian prayer was done standing, eyes raised, with arms outstretched, palms pointing upward.

This is a common contemporary prayer/worship stance for Pentecostals and other evangelicals.
posted by Alt F4 at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2004


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