Islamic prayer services are unique among the prayer services of other religions, in both their underlying meaning and their practice. First of all, they pray 5 times a day. The Muslim Center of New York’s five services take place each day at 5:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:15 PM, 7:15 PM, 9:30 PM. While these services take place every day, the Friday afternoon service is their most important prayer of the week. While attendance at regular weekday services vary based on the congregant’s busy work schedules, the Center is always crowded on Friday afternoon, with usual attendance totaling 500-600. In fact, Friday service is one the most important community events. For example, if somebody does not show up for the Friday afternoon service, people begin to worry that something may have happened to them.
The way that a Muslim prayer service is conducted is also very different than other religions. For starters, Islamic prayer services are separate for men and women. At the Muslim Center of New York, the men pray on the second floor, and the women pray on both the first and third floors. However, despite the fact that they pray in separate rooms, they do the exact same prayer service because men and women are equal in the eyes of God according to Islam. The only reason that they pray separately is so that the men and women don’t become distracted during the services; technically, separation is not mandatory. Furthermore, there are speakers in the rooms where the women pray so that they can hear the leader of the services and pray along with the men. Therefore, there is truly only one service that takes places at any given time, despite the congregants being on three different floors.
Another unique aspect of Muslim prayer services is that the leader of the services is seen as an equal. He is not considered any holier than the rest of the participants; the only reason that he is leading the services is because is more educated. Before they begin, they all take off their shoes, face to the east towards Mecca, and stand in successive horizontal rows. Although it is not required, the younger children usually don’t stand in the front out of respect, and so that they don’t create any distractions.
There is no official dress code for the services. However, it is appropriate for everyone to dress modestly (preferably in white) out of the recognition that they are standing in front of God himself. On this same note, Muslims are aloud to pray anywhere because God is everywhere and can always hear their prayers. In addition to dressing modestly, it is also customary for them to wear clean clothing and smell nice. This is because they don’t want to disturb others praying around them in any way. On this note, they are discouraged from wearing smelly socks or eating onions or garlic before prayers.
Once they are lined up and facing Mecca, the leader of the services begins by reciting verses of his choice from the Quran. Over the next 10-15 minutes or so, they continue reciting verses of Quran responsively. Throughout the entire process, they continually switch between three position: standing erect, bowing forward at the waist, and fully prostrating themselves on the floor.