Jum’ah prayer promotes Islamic education and community

Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
The APYA coordinators host Jum’ah, the Muslim Friday prayer, in the Hall of Christ at 12:30 p.m. Fridays.

Instruments are not allowed to be a part of Jum’ah, but they are not needed. Kaiser Aslam’s voice was uplifted and transformed into its own musical organ as the azaan resonated through the Hall of Christ.

The Muslim coordinators for the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults, Aslam and Amber Muhammad, have led Jum’ah, the communal Islamic prayer, since Week One. This week — and for the remainder of the season — Muhammad will lead the prayer on her own, due to Aslam’s early departure from Chautauqua.

Aslam announced at last week’s service that he’s leaving early to be married.

Jum’ah is held at 12:30 p.m. each Friday in the Hall of Christ. It is open to Chautauquans from all faiths and traditions. APYA wishes to use these Jum’ah services as a way to inform people about Islam — instruction is given before the prayer, educational materials are provided and a Q-and-A period takes place each week.

“There’s a lot of mistrust about what exactly happens in the mosque, and people are very confused,” Aslam said. “It’s awesome that we’re able to say that this is one of the biggest functions in a mosque.”

APYA is a Department of Religion initiative that brings together four young adults from each of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to promote interfaith dialogue and engagement on the grounds and serve as a model of interfaith cooperation. The Jewish coordinator, Yael Allen, and Christian coordinator, Alma Gast, help Aslam and Muhammad throughout the service by distributing informational handouts and passing the microphone between curious Chautauquans with questions.

The azaan, the Muslim call to prayer, is recited in a way that makes it sound like a song.

Aslam said this is the call that draws Muslims into the mosques every Friday, the Day of Assembly on the Islamic calendar.

Jum’ah is similar to the daily prayers Muslims perform throughout the rest of the week on their own. Aslam, a Sunni Muslim, prays five times a day from just before dawn until after the sun has set. Muhammad, a Shiite Imami Ismaili Muslim, prays three times a day. In both traditions, Friday is a day of obligatory congregation and communal prayer.

“Certain blessings are given on Friday because there is an importance on the Friday prayer of the community coming together and praying together,” Muhammad said.

After the call to prayer by the muezzin, the imam gives a khutba, a service addressing current issues in the community or teaching a relevant moral lesson.

“The khutbas recently have been about fasting, and that makes sense because it’s Ramadan — it’s the month where Muslims typically fast for 30 days,” Aslam said.

In the Sunni tradition, the imam doesn’t have a special connection to God or hold a position of power. He simply leads the prayer. This differs from the Ismaili tradition, in which there is only one living imam, presently Aga Khan IV, who is the direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead, Muhammad said during the Ismaili service the person leading the prayer is referred to as the Mukahi Saheb.

For this service, Aslam serves as both the muezzin and the imam. 

After the khutba, Aslam and Muhammad ask those in attendance if they’d like to come up to the front of the church to pray with them. They line up shoulder-to-shoulder and pray silently together as Aslam leads the service.

Three components make up the Muslim prayer: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. This is conveyed in a series of ways, Aslam said.

Before beginning the prayer, each person says, “Allahu Akbar,” or, “God is Greater,” and pushes their hands up by their ears and behind their head. Aslam said this motion symbolizes the removal of everything not related to the present moment and the prayer.

“As my hands go behind my head, so does everything else,” he said.

This is the mental component of the prayer. The physical part takes the form of standing as the imam recites the first chapter and an additional excerpt of the Quran, and then a series of bending, kneeling and prostrating during two rakats, or cycles of prayer.

While bending, Aslam said the unnatural position represents one’s human instability in contrast to God’s stability. When in prostration, your heart is above your head, or your intellect, he said.

The spiritual component must come from within, Aslam said. During Jum’ah, everyone is responsible for their own relationship with God. They pray to themselves, even though they are all praying in congregation together.

After the prayer, Aslam said it’s time for the mosque to talk about community issues and reconnect. It’s a time for togetherness, something that can also be implemented in the Jum’ah services at Chautauqua.

“We’ve had, many times, a comment that, ‘Oh this reminds me a lot of Christian prayer services,’ ‘This reminds me a lot of Jewish prayer services. The way that the Quran recitement is treated it sounds like how we treat the Torah.’ So all of the connections that are built really goes past just the worship service,” Aslam said.

Muhammad agreed.

“It’s exciting to see that there is such interest in the Jum’ah services and that people really want to know — they’re curious,” she said. “Many of them will come with open eyes and open hearts and really embracing [our tradition] … that’s the kind of thing that we really want to bring to Chautauqua.”