Prayer is an essential component of everyone’s life. It is through this act that a person can connect to the Almighty. Journeying and immersing myself in the culture and way of life of the Meranao Muslims of Mindanao, Philippines, I have come to deeply understand the meaning and essence of prayer.
In the village of Sigayan, Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao Del Norte, mosques are spread all over the place and the Azan (Call to Prayer) can easily be heard. It has been inspiring for me to see the Muslim community gathered together for their five times’ a day prayers especially during Ramadan.
One of the things we do is go to the market to buy some food. On one occasion when we were in the marketplace during the Call to Prayer, I noticed that some store-owners simply left their shop and went immediately to the mosque to pray even though there are still some customers coming and going wanting to buy something. I am amazed at the way they detach themselves from the material world and prioritize God more than anything else. What I’ve learned from that experience is that every Call to Prayer from the mosque is a call for Muslims to totally surrender it to the Almighty – mind, heart and soul.
On a Friday we went to a mosque to observe the Friday prayer-service. Usually on a Friday they have a sermon giving by the Ustadz. Ali, the owner of the house where we stayed discussed with us that every time they go to the mosque all they have to bring is they themselves. I observed that their prayer is so solemn because no one brings gadgets like cellular phones, i-Pods and other devices. For them, their prayer is so sacred that any sound that disturbs or distracts their prayer time will deem that prayer unacceptable to God. In a way it makes sense because a prayer is a way for me to communicate with God and that communication is essential and it must be between a person and God. It is also imperative to realize that in prayer there is a listening process that takes place and if a person’s attention and focus is centered on a piece of technology, how can their ears listen well and absorb the message that comes from the Divine?
Prayer is only a part of the daily activities of people and the rest of their engagement focuses on things like business meetings, creating and innovating technologies, socialization and watching movies. If a person can listen and concentrate on the movies they are watching or on the computer games that they are playing why is it that they cannot concentrate during prayer?
In addition, I believe that nowadays one of the huge hindrances or obstacles in enriching our prayer life is the busy schedules we have. However, experiencing Muslims at prayer has convinced me that prayer calls for total detachment. It is a privilege for me to have been given the opportunity to come to this realization, because not everyone gets to discover the peaceful effect that prayers can offer.
The time I have spent living with this Muslim community brings back to me the essentially of prayer and how detachment from the external world is necessary at times in order to receive the message of God. As I reflect on my experience, I realize that when I pray, it should be unceasingly. Prayer teaches me the virtue of patience, understanding and openness. Praying constantly makes people achieve patience because they will not always just give in to their desires and impulsiveness. As I noticed that Muslim businessman who left his store to pray, he can now control himself by not just preoccupying himself with feeding himself and the demands of business. There is something much more important in his life – prayer, his relationship with God.
Moreover, enlightenment takes place when a person focuses on listening rather than having a scattered mind. How can we understand a lecture if our mind is in elsewhere? Prayer opens our minds and hearts to a much greater reality that there are more important things in life than material possessions. Our act of prayer is more intimate and personal when we are not distracted by the material possessions that we may have. My experience of living in a Muslim community I consider to be a privilege that has shaped me and has enriched my perspectives on life, my beliefs and my understanding of the meaning of dialogue.
Elbert Balbastro is a Columban seminarian from Iloilo, Panay, in the Central Philippines. He entered the Columban seminary formation in June 2012. He is in his second year of Theology in Pastoral Ministry at Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.