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The Experience of Muslim Prayer: A Phenomenological Investigation

Abstract

Some form of prayer is a central feature of virtually all religious traditions. In Christianity, this practice has been studied periodically by social scientists over decades, although it has received only recent attention in Islam. Among these few prayer studies, none has focused on the awareness of experience in Muslim prayer from a first-person perspective, which is the aim of this study. This investigation conducted phenomenological interviews with seven Muslims of five different cultures to obtain detailed descriptions of their prayer experiences. A hermeneutic-thematic analysis of the transcribed interviews found a pattern of four themes that emerged across all protocols to collectively describe the meaning of the experience of prayer for participants: (1) No Connection/Connection; (2) Particular Feelings; (3) Spiritual Change; (4) and Certain Knowledge. These findings are discussed in relation to the existential grounds of Body, Others, and Time, as well as current empirical literature on Muslim prayer.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. There actually are various types of salat, or formal prayer. They include the five daily prayers and jumah (Friday prayer for men), which are mandatory, but also others that are not mandatory, such as sunnah, nafl, and certain festival prayers such as that offered at eid (Küng 2007, p. 129). When using the term salat in this present study, however, the reference is to the five daily compulsory prayers or jumah.

  2. For purposes of anonymity and protection in this study, I assigned a code to each participant, i.e., P1 through P7.

  3. Sometimes du’a’ was offered after recitation in prostration (e.g., P3, P7) or at the end of salat when sitting or standing (e.g., P1, P2, P3). At other times, it occurred apart from salat—for example, before going to bed, when taking a meal, during solitude and reflection, while driving the car (P5, P6), or when struggling with some difficulty. Some participants described experiences of du’a’ as a spontaneous event—that is, occurring at the moment of an unexpected need.

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Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Washington DC, October 2017.

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Correspondence to W. Paul Williamson.

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Williamson, W.P. The Experience of Muslim Prayer: A Phenomenological Investigation. Pastoral Psychol 67, 547–562 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-018-0831-3

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Keywords

  • Prayer
  • Muslim prayer
  • Phenomenology
  • Religious practices
  • Islam