Los Angeles Times

Shadia: From 50 prayers a day to five

This might hurt. But once it's over, we'll all feel better.

Jerusalem, the blessed city, the witness to heaven's miracles, the center of faith, hope and despair, is not just important to Jews and Christians.

It is significant to Muslims as well.

Muslims just celebrated the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven on June 17, which this year was the 27th day of the Islamic lunar calendar month, Rajab.

You almost don't want to believe it. I mean, how could you go from Mecca in Saudi Arabia, to Jerusalem to the seventh heaven and back to Mecca in one night?

But like the miraculous crossing of the sea by Moses and the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary, this story was also one of the first I learned about as a child.

The prophet had just lost his most beloved wife, Khadija, and his uncle, Abu Talib, who raised him and protected him, and had been enduring the cruelty and physical attacks of those who didn't believe him when God took him on the journey of the Isra and Mi'raj.

He led a prayer with the prophets of Islam, where the Dome of the Rock mosque, inside Haram al Sharif (or the Noble Sanctuary) in the Old City, now stands. Jerusalem is repeatedly referred to in the Koran as the sacred and blessed land. It is also the direction in which early Muslims used to pray.

That changed later when Muslims were instructed to pray toward Mecca, the same direction we believe Abraham used to pray.

After leading the prayer in Jerusalem during the Night Journey and Ascension, the prophet ascended from that point to heaven and came back with instructions for Muslims to pray five times a day. He couldn't have gotten to heaven from anywhere else.

With him at almost every step of the way was the angel Gabriel.

In the first heaven, the prophet met Adam.

In the second, he met Jesus and John the Baptist.

In the third, he met Joseph

In the fourth, he met Idris (Enoch).

In the fifth, he saw Aaron.

In the sixth, he saw Moses.

And in the seventh, he met our patriarch, Abraham.

The prophet was welcomed by Adam, Jesus, John the Baptist, Joseph, Idris, Aaron and Moses as their brother, and by Abraham as his son, and a deputy of God. (It's right about here in the story when I get goosebumps all over.)

This is where it becomes clear that our religion's root doesn't start with Muhammad, but begins with Adam and goes on from Abraham to Jesus and beyond. Dishonoring or disrespecting one of them is like disrespecting all of them.

OK. Back to the prophet's Night Journey and Ascension.

The prophet then continued on to what's called the Lote-Tree of the Farthest Limit, and it was then when Gabriel told him he'd have to go it alone.

There, the prophet spoke directly to God. He commanded him to instruct Muslims to pray 50 times a day. That's 50!

The prophet didn't question it.

But on his way back, Moses saved the day (he's famous for that).

He told Muhammad to go back and request that the number be decreased, that the burden is too high, that he'd experienced human nature with the Children of Israel, and 50 is just too much, and it isn't going to work.

The prophet went back and the number was lowered to 45. Moses again told him to return and request that the number be decreased.

The number was again lowered, but not by much, to 40.

Moses continued to send him back until the daily prayer was lowered from 50 to five.

At that point, Moses still wanted to send him back, but Muhammad told him he was too embarrassed to go again, and the number remained at five.

I would like to officially thank Moses for intervening to lower the number of daily prayers from 50 to five. Keeping up with five is tough enough.

Every single command given to Muslims came from heaven to Muhammad on earth through the angel Gabriel. But when it came to prayers, the prophet was ascended to heaven to retrieve it directly.

Praying is a Muslim's direct link to God. It's difficult to forget about God, to lie, steal, cheat or hurt when you're constantly going back for five times a day to connect with him, to thank him and ask for his strength.

It is like food for the soul. (I hear that eating small meals several times a day is a good way to stay healthy and keep your metabolism going.)

So when you see a Muslim praying, remember this story. Remember that more likely than not, that Muslim is feeding his or her soul.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for my second prayer.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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