Starting the day with prayer
24 hours in London: 4–6 a.m.
By Ariana Wardak
It’s 5:30 a.m. and while much of the rest of London is asleep, Dr. Ahmed Hegazy, 33, makes his way to the mosque.
The mosque located on Oxford Street West is painted white as milk and is the only minaret-shaped building in all of London. Hegazy walks into the mosque and takes off his shoes before entering the men’s section of the praying area, as is customary.
Courtesy of Dr. Ahmed Hegazy Dr. Ahmed Hegazy is one of the many Muslims in London who wake up before dawn to pray.
Hegazy is a resident physician in the London Health Sciences Centre training in anesthesiology. Despite having shifts as long as 12 hours, he makes time for the five daily Muslim prayers, the first of which happens before dawn.
Men join one another in a long row standing close enough for their shoulders to touch. They raise their hands and do a series of movements that involve standing, bending and prostrating. The prayer lasts 10 minutes.
The five daily prayers are scattered throughout the day. The first prayer falls before dawn, the second prayer just after noon, the third during the afternoon, the fourth in the evening and the fifth and the last prayer comes at night.
Muslims pray facing the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. According to the Islamic tradition, the Kaaba is believed to have been built by the prophet Abraham along with his son Ishmael.
“It’s an obligation on Muslims to observe the prayer. It’s an order from God to pray–that’s the way I look at it,” Hegazy says.
Observing the rules of Islam can be a challenge with a full-time job and saving time for family, he says. But to observe it is a blessing. “You know there is an Arabic term barakah, blessing;you feel like the rest of your day is blessed by God.”
The worshippers in the mosque come from many walks of life and from many regions of the world. Jamil Ahmed, 34, who was born in Pakistan is a PhD student in computer science at Western University. Ahmed makes it a point to wake up early in the morning.
“My motivation first of all is obedience and submission to Allah. And if we obey God’s commandments to pray, we will get His bounty and His favours,” Ahmed says.
According to Statistics Canada, London has the largest number of Muslims per capita at 11,500, with about 940,000 Muslims all over Canada.
In addition to fulfilling one’s spiritual obligation, research indicates that prayer can also have other positive effects in one’s life.
“There is lots of work showing that having an opportunity in engaging in a prayer or a brief respite of a meditative break during workday has enormous health benefits; it has psychological benefits, it has physiological benefits,” says Paul Conway, a PhD candidate in social psychology at Western University.
Ali Jomaa, executive director at the London Muslim Mosque, says that prayer brings harmony to one’s life.
Photo by Ariana Wardak Men line up at the London Muslim Mosque at 5:30 a.m. to pray.
“Prayer brings a sense of order within my own heart and conscience, knowing that strengthening my belief will start as part of the morning and if I miss it, my whole day slows down,” Jomaa says.
Jomaa adds that prayer makes a Muslim’s belief stronger which, in turn, makes him or her a better person.
“Essentially, a strong Muslim is one who puts emphasis on making sure that his neighbours are at peace with him and that he is at peace with his surroundings,” he says.
The local mosque was built in 1955 and decades later it still attracts hundreds if not thousands of worshippers every day, according to the London Muslim Mosque website.
“This concept might be foreign to our neighbours and non-Muslim friends but observing the rules of Islam is sort of a priority in a Muslim’s life and it comes before work and other things you’re obliged to do,” Hegazy says.
While it is an obligation for every Muslim to pray five times a day, prayers can work around one’s schedule.
“There is a little bit of flexibility to it. Say, for example in my field of work if I’m saving a life, there is room for me to delay the prayer a little bit,” Hegazy says.
“But being asleep in bed is not really an excuse to delay it.”