“Why do Muslims pray that way? And why toward the Kaaba?”

I received these two questions in my inbox today and figured I would answer them here. This isn’t really that type of site (so the personal email was appropriate) but I’m sure both questions are common amongst non-Muslims (and Muslims alike).

Starting with the first–I’m kind of staggered when Christians ask this question, because it is in the same tradition. Our way of praying passes through the teachings of Prophet Jesus, who fell to his knees and pressed his face to the ground showing complete submission to God, and from the Prophets who came before him too. When we pray to God, we are engaging in an eternal dialogue—everlasting, perpetual—and we do so in the same movements as all the Prophets. In other words the way that Muslims pray is not unique to Islam. Here are excerpts from previous religious texts:

And Abraham fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, “My promise is still with you.”
–Genesis 17:3

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
–Genesis 17:17

“Neither,” he replied, “but as a commander of God’s army I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, in reference, and said unto him, “I am at your command. What saith my God unto his servant?”
–Joshua 5:14

And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
–Exodus 34:8

God said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”
–Numbers 16:20-22

And of course as stated previously Prophet Jesus repeatedly fell on his forehead to worship God, and demonstrated this to those he taught.

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
–Matthew 17:6

And he (Jesus) went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “O God, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
–Matthew 26:39

And so Prophet Muhammad taught the same way to pray, and we follow the teachings of all the Prophets of God.

On a relevant note on how to pray the required prayers and why the steps aren’t specified in the Qur’an, in my comment section Lat once asked why the hajj isn’t detailed in the Qur’an,

Thank you for highlighting a different aspect of Abraham’s stand and of patrirarchy.I like the way you said it.What I find about hajj missing in the Quranic verses is about Hagar and her plight.It makes me wonder even now if she played any critical role in the rites of pilgrimage.If she is so important why isn’t she mentioned in the Quran along with other women that the Quran recognizes as examples of good women? The Quran simply points out that every prophet/messenger were given rites of pilgrimage to do.Just find it odd and that men are often given priority during hajj even if it’s Hagar,a women’s experience,that counts the most,as told by her story.what’s your view?

and I provided my hypothesis:

Only a hypothesis, but I always figured it was because the practice lived long before Hager’s plight; because the story is not specific to her, and because the hajj is God’s command, and not Hager’s sunnah, there is an allusion and no explanation in the Qur’an. Just like the Qur’an tells us to pray, but not how.

Here’s an interesting excerpt (though I can’t locate the source):

Prostrate in prayer; it is the only time your heart is raised above your head.

A shot of the Kaaba engraved in gold script designed on the brim.

The second question inquired not only why we pray facing the qibla but suggested that to “pray toward a black box” and at the same time “denounce all idolatry” is absurd, and proposed whether this isn’t a pagan practice that Islam has adopted. While the simultaneous praying toward a black box and the denouncing of all idolatry would seem absurd on the peripheral level, this “contradiction” has never fazed me. In my perspective, in the perspective of Islam, religions are independent and reconfirming Revelations; in other words, since I believe that the Divine message has always been islam (deliberately lowercase), I likewise believe that remnants of paganism are not actually… remnants of paganism, but the restorations of pieces that have been lost or altered. Thus these commonalities are comprehensibly natural and not the least bit disconcerting.

5 thoughts on ““Why do Muslims pray that way? And why toward the Kaaba?”

  1. Have you read C. S. Lewis’s writings about Christianity? He has similar thoughts about paganism beng an early reflection of the truths that would eventually become Christianity. So, for instance, Dionysius is Early Jesus… interesting stuff. (Fair warning: he wrote in the thirties and forties and is under the impression Islam is called Mohammadism.)

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  2. you can’t prooftext the Bible in order to demonstrate that it conclusively shows prostration is the message it gives on prayer. You have to survey the entire 66 books and look at the context of each and every verse to make sure you’re getting a full perspective. If you do, you’ll find all sorts of physical attitudes to prayer and that prostration was merely one of them and certainly not the defining attitude.

    In addition, you’ll find that your verses above don’t all focus on the context of prayer. Best stick to Islamic texts for Islamic practices or possibly you might be open to accusation for mistaking the form of prayer for prayer itself which is, first and foremost, an attitude of the heart.

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