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Scholar speaks on Mohammed

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, March 17, 2005

After Wednesday’s lecture on the creativity of Mohammed, Gerhard Bowering, S.J., professor of Islamic Studies at Yale University, continued the Islam and Christianity series with a special focus on finding God in prayer and devotion. Focusing on Islam as a faith and way of life, his lecture concentrated on three of the five pillars of Islam: prayer, fasting and pilgrimage.

Bowering began with an introduction of prayer, describing it as ritual, personal and mystic. All fully-practicing Muslims pray five times a day and have various observed requirements, including being processed by washings, praying in the direction of Mecca and a sequence of bowing and prostration. Prayer can be both an individual or communal practice but either way, is seen as a public gesture.

“It is the natural part of their daily rhythm, and is like the rhythm of a monk when he says his hours,” Bowering said.

In addition, Bowering briefly detailed Mohammed’s journey to institute this prayer life and the difficulties in establishing this daily practice. He concluded his discussion on prayer by saying that it is something that deeply marks the Muslim community.

“It makes them conscience of their dependence on God and aware of the presence of God in their life,” he said.

Next, Bowering described the practice of fasting, a pillar that is an internal development and something not explicitly noted in the Koran. Fasting, according to Bowering, is a practice Mohammed developed after encountering the Jewish traditions on Yom Kippur and was then instituted in the month of Ramadan.

Fasting for Muslims, explained Bowering, includes abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from dawn to sunset for a period of about 30 days. Bowering stressed the strong impact fasting has on the community and not just the individual.

Bowering then discussed the pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is at a prescribed time where people come from all over and are seen as equal regardless of nationality, he said. Everyone dresses the same to show that they are all equal in God’s eyes, according to Bowering, and they all participate in certain established rituals, including a sacrifice modeled after Abraham’s sacrifice.

“These are rituals that bring all Muslims together of all national origins where they are seen as equals,” said Bowering.

In fact, said Bowering, pilgrimages once created a cosmopolitan atmosphere and an opportunity for Muslims all around the world to share what was going on with regard to Muslims from their origin.

“People have come from all corners of the Muslim worlds, especially in medieval times, to share news,” said Bowering.

Bowering concluded by emphasizing the deep dependence the Muslims place on God, their strong sense of responsibility for all members of their faith and their overall unification through their faith. The lecture was then opened up for questions and discussion.