Observation Essay Example of an Islamic Prayer Service

I chose to observe a religious gathering, specifically a friday prayer service, at an Islamic mosque. I covered the friday lunchtime prayer service called Salatul Jumu'ah at a mosque called Mehfile Shahe Khorasan located in my hometown. I have no affiliation with the Islamic religion with the exception of having friends who are and told me about this mosque. I attended the mosque 3 times, each on a friday afternoon at 1:00 pm to observe the service. The visits occurred from September 28th to October 12th. The first time I attended was purely observation and on the following two visits I interviewed members of the mosque. I interviewed a Pakistani brother (Asim Qureshi, 18, male) and sister (Shiza Qureshi, 20, female) on my second visit, and I interviewed a Turkish man (Adeeb Pasha 29, Male) on the third visit. Each time I attended there was roughly the same amount of people, ranging from 30-40 members in attendance. Upon entering the building I noticed a large room which I immediately knew was the prayer room. I was confident that this was the case because this was a room that was a wide open area, I was correct. The building was large, however, I was only ever inside of this prayer room because that was where the prayer service was happening and had no business anywhere else.

Diversity is an important factor when observing and analyzing any social gathering, religious gatherings are no different. In terms of age and sex it was obvious that there was a wide range of diversity within the gathering for the prayer service. Despite this, I did not see a great amount of diversity within the gathering in terms of race throughout my visits to the mosque. Many of those in attendance appeared to be of middle eastern descent. This is partly because of the origins of the religion as it began in the middle eastern region. However, since this mosque had a small numbers in attendance each time I went it can not truly represent the diversity of the religion. According to Shiza Qureshi “There is a great amount of diversity between who attends the mosque because there are Muslims of all types of races and social class. Everyone is welcome to attend whichever mosque they would like.” This tells me that there is no discrimination as to who attends the mosque meaning that there is a great amount of diversity within the religion even though it was not present within the prayer service. Although I was unable to observe it, there is diversity on a large scale within the religion which can be understood by Shiza’s statement.

I saw that the relationships between those participating in the service appeared to be praying on their own during the service. I believe that this is a result of the nature of the service, which involves not being distracted by others around you while praying. I was unable to get a grasp of the religious community from observing the prayer service since I only was able to see what happened during the service which involved mostly prayer. However, when asked about the role of the community, Adeeb Pasha stated that “Community or ‘Ummah’ is a central concept in the religion, that provides guidelines on how to interact with fellow Muslims. The community makes sure that if someone is sick, it's their duty to visit. If someone passes away it's their duty to arrange a funeral and burial. If someone is orphaned, it’s their duty to adopt. Simply put, the community is a safety net.” This is also present in other religions, for example, in the catholic religion we pray for those who are sick or who have died and support those who are going through loss. Although this is not to the extent that the Islamic religion goes there is still the concept of support within the community.

During the first visit I was welcomed into the mosque and into the community of the mosque by those attending the prayer services. Even though I was accepted, I still felt as though I did not fully belong there because of my religious background, and not because they were discriminatory in any way. I was still able to observe the prayer which seemed really important in this religion since the main service was a prayer service. When I asked Adeeb about the importance of prayer he said “In the modern world few people ever step back and take time to be thankful for what they have, contemplate their purpose, or even exercise. Prayer does all that and more for Muslims all around the world.” As a part of the christian religion, we also emphasize prayer, however from what I have heard and observed it is far more important in the Islamic religion.

I was curious what the role of music was within the Islamic religion as it is a big part of praying in many religions, one of which being the catholic religion. When I inquired about the role of music Asim Qureshi responded with “There is no role of music in prayer. Music is seen as a distraction while praying, and it is best to remove any and all distractions from around you when you pray. While praying, the point is to connect with God, but if you get distracted, then that connections gets weaker and weaker until it is nonexistent.” This contradicts my initial prediction that music would be a major part of prayer in Islam. When attending a christian mass, however, music is heavily embedded within the service having most prayers sung or said to music. This is the reason I believed that it would be incorporated into the prayer service as it is all I have ever known and been exposed to.

When talking about rituals associated with religion, most have specific sets of customs that are performed at each gathering. For example the catholic religion involves the accepting of the Eucharist or “the body and blood of christ” at the end of each mass. I was surprised, however, during the interview with Abdeeb when he said, ”There are no set customs, though there are certain optional prayers that can be said if one wants to.” Even though this is true there are still several rituals that are common within the religion that are considered either optional or not universal. I noticed that throughout the service, there was mostly praying along with a sermon which I did not understand since it was in Arabic. This was later explained by Asim when he stated “The prayer consists of a speech/sermon called a khutbah followed by the joint prayer. There are optional prayers before the prayer once one enters and directly following it.” This helped me to understand the structure of the prayer service much better as I was not fully aware of what was going on, though I had a general understanding.

In class we discussed the idea in some cultures that if somebody is in need of help that the community would come to their aid. We discussed the idea of a rotating payment of sorts that if somebody was unable to fulfill the payment, somebody could help pay it for them. They would be expected to help when they arrived at a better financial standing and another member of the community would be unable to pay. This give and take system is very similar to what I was told about the Islamic religious community surrounding the mosque. If somebody is sick, the community is expected to help, and they are expected to do the same for others once they are back to full health.

Although, we were not yet assigned the readings on religion, I went ahead and read it to help make the connections to some of the rituals I observed. Rituals are emphasized in every religion as they are seen to connect the performer to the spiritual being associated with that religion. According to Essentials of Cultural Anthropology a ritual is an “Organized behavior intended to influence or direct supernatural powers” (Bailey and Peoples 252). The ritual in the Islamic religion is not set but there are certain customs that are considered ritualistic even though they may be optional. Some include the idea of wudu which is not performed everywhere and is optional as well as the sermon. This compared to the rituals of the eucharist and holy water within the christian religion which are similar in intention but different in execution. Rituals like this as well as praying can be performed in one’s home, or in an individual setting. However, it is preferred by many that they are performed in a group setting. The fact that people attend the church or mosque in the first place is a result of religion being about social connection along with connecting with God or Allah.

My interpretation of the prayer service is that like most other religions the gathering is centered around the idea of having a community who believes in the same ideals. Religions such as Islam and Catholicism are not as different as I once thought. Although they may have different rituals they have the same purpose, to be able to connect to God or Allah. Though some social gatherings may not have much diversity, religions always show diversity in all aspects. A common point of social gatherings are to connect you with people of different backgrounds that have the same ideals. This is no different for religious societies or communities. I have also found that the idea of community in religious groups is extremely strong, which can be seen by Abdeeb’s statement on it. Not only do they come together to procclaim what they believe in and connect with God, they are like family. Anytime somebody needs support, no matter what it is, they are there to help one another. This was very powerful to me because not all communities behave this way. I feel that this is one of the features that makes religion unique in regard to other social gatherings.

Through observing a religious gathering I was able to better understand what makes a religion unique from others. Even though many religions may consider themselves to be “right” and argue that they are telling the accurate story, they are all just different interpretations of who or what is our almighty being. Through visiting the mosque I was able to gain more depth and perspective on my idea of religion compared to before when my only point of view was Catholicism. Although I do not know everything about Islam, I feel that from what I have gathered that it has given me a better understanding of the social aspects of religion as a whole. I found that the social parts of religion is what makes it unique. Nobody can follow a religion without having others who do the same, which can be seen by observing the catholic mass and the Islamic Salatul Jumu'ah. This combined with the fact that religious groups are by far the largest communities in the world, as well as being the easiest to join. This fieldwork assignment has helped me to gain a better grasp of what makes religion unique in regards to its social aspects.


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