By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent
Muslims from around the globe spend a few minutes each day, at prescribed intervals, performing the Islamic prayer. The observance of the Islamic prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Islamic prayer is an obligatory act that all Muslims are commanded to perform on a daily basis as per the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s). For many Muslims living in the West, it can be hard trying to fit the prescribed prayers into the non-Muslim workday. Non-Muslim employers are not always amenable to allowing their Muslim employees time breaks in order to perform their prayers. In fact, Muslims in the West are hard pressed to even know the timing of the prayer without relying on a clock to make sure the time is ripe to pray.
For this reason, Muslims in the Middle East are truly blessed. With a mosque on just about every corner, the adhan (or call to prayer) is announced in precise and beautiful Arabic in Muslim nations across the region. The adhan is called over loud speakers attached to the side of the mosques with a decibel that often rattles the windows of the faithful encouraging them to get up and come to the mosque to pray. Muslims that heed the call to prayer forgo sleep and drop their business dealings at the drop of a kufi to make it to the mosque on time. For many Muslim business owners, the daily Islamic prayer takes precedence over earthly business dealings to generate a quick buck.
In most Middle Eastern countries, the governments do not force business owners to close down their shops in observance of the five daily prayers. It is left to the business owner to decide whether his doors close or remain open when the call to prayer to announced. However, in Saudi Arabia, the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (a.k.a. the religious police) has for decades enforced a mandatory end to business for intervals during the day to ensure that employees of businesses in the kingdom can pray without obstacle. Employers that resist closing down their shops to observe the prayer times face fines or detention.
In a recent interview aired on Al-Arabiya television, a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen took the opportunity to publicly complain about the enforcement of the prayer times in Saudi Arabia. One of the businessmen, Abdulah al-Ahmed who is the CEO of al-Bandar Group, said that closing down businesses in observance of the Islamic prayers damages the Saudi Arabian economy. Al-Ahmed went on to say that the productivity level of employees is also affected when the business is closed several times a day even if only for a few minutes.
There are no plans for Saudi authorities to put an end to the enforcement of the prayer timings. However, the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Guidance is currently studying the issue more closely.