For the average American, the Muslim life is a mysterious one, and the mysterious can often feel threatening. Recent events have caused many to conflate the followers of Islam with terrorism and violence, and upon hearing the word “Muslim,” many of us conjure images of extremists whose lives are very different from our own. But if you take the time to see through the eyes of an average practicing Muslim for a day, you’ll quickly find that they’re not so different from yourself.
Human beings learn more effectively from stories than from raw facts. Compare the fact-filled statement, “Consuming 1000 calories per day may result in up to 2 pounds of weight loss per week,” with the more story-like “George, after struggling with obesity for three years, finally lost 90 pounds by managing his portions.” Which is more compelling? Which will you be more likely to create change in your own life?
For most people, it’s the story that changes their lives.
Likewise, reading the bare facts of Muslim life just doesn’t cut it when it comes to dispelling cultural stereotypes, misconceptions, and prejudices, so we’re take a look at a day in the life of a practicing American Muslim.
A Day in the Life
The first thing our fictional Muslim does is wake up before the sun—probably after blearily hitting snooze a few times, just like the rest of us—he starts off the day with the remembrance of God by engaging in the Fajr prayer.
To do this, cleanliness is a must, as he will wish to be ritually pure before praying. Our Muslim will purify himself in the Islamic way, called Wudu, which involves washing the left hand three times up to the wrist, washing out the mouth, nose, and face, the lower arms, the head, the ears, and the feet.
Once clean, he will ensure that he is properly clothed between the navel and the knees, and may spread a cloth if he doubts the cleanliness of the area in which he is to pray.
He will face Qibla, which the direction all Muslims face when praying—they will face toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in the Muslim world.
Next, he will raise his hands to his ears, saying “Allah is the greatest” before launching into the opening prayer.
After this, he will bend 90 degrees at the waist, continuing to praise God. Finally, he will go down and place his head, knees, and hands upon the floor, rise into a kneeling position, and end his prayers.
Once the day’s first pre-dawn prayer is over, his life looks like that of every other American—he might brush his teeth. He is not required to sport a beard, but it is likely that he will, because he wishes to take after the example of Muhammad, who also had one.
For breakfast, he will avoid those foods considered impure under Islamic religious law, such as pork, and any meat that he consumes must be prepared in a certain way, called “Halal”—this means that the animal was killed in a particular way and prayed over.
From here, our Muslim will go about his day, just as you would—he goes to work, relaxes, or spends time socializing with friends.
Shortly before noon—Muslim prayers are dictated by the sun—he will undergo the Dhuhr prayer. The physical movements of all five daily prayers are the same, but this time, the prayer is focused on seeking God’s guidance.
These prayers, in the Muslim world, are just as much for self-improvement as they are for the benefit of God—each time our fictional Muslim prays, he is reminded of God’s glory, of His laws, and of His love.
At some point in the day, it is likely that our Muslim will give to his favorite charity, or at least make plans to do so. The Quran—the Muslim holy text—uplifts the act of giving to the poor as a worthy endeavor, and so acts of giving are at the forefront of Muslim thought.
When the afternoon arrives, he is as ready to go home as the rest of us, but before he leaves, he performs the Asr prayer, in which he takes the time to reflect on God and the greater meaning of life.
The social scene he engages in after work can look quite different than the usual American’s if romance is involved. Traditionally, Muslims do not date in the western sense, and so our fictional fellow may face challenges here in the West. If he does spend time with a member of the opposite sex, it may be in a group outing, amongst friends or family. One-on-one dates will be exceedingly rare.
Dating aside, he will spend time with his male friends just as anyone else would, albeit without the use of alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam.
After the sun goes down, he will engage in the Maghrib prayer, remembering God again as the day ends, and then, before retiring for the night, he will go through the Isha prayer, thinking of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Understanding Through Empathy
As we can see, a Muslim’s life is marked by a remarkable discipline and adherence to the tenets of the Islamic faith—this practice is much more ordered and visible than what we see in many other religions, but much less understood.
These men and women, for example, are not praying for the harm of non-Muslims when they bend their knees in prayer—they are reminding themselves of the positive attributes of God.
But the challenge of Muslims all over the world lies in presumption and misinformation—because relatively small groups of terrorists aim to achieve their very political goals beneath the façade of religion, all Muslims can sometimes feel the sting of the world’s suspicion.
But knowing the story of our fictional Muslim man will, hopefully, not only pique your interest in another culture, but dispel any negative preconceived notions you may have been holding. He, in the day we witnessed, did not dwell on the downfall of Western civilization or the harm of his neighbors. No—many of his activities revolved around loving God, working, and having fun with his friends, just as many Americans do. He is us.
And when we realize that, the challenges facing our fellow humans grows just a little bit less.