Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Kinetic Effects of Prayer in Islam

By Dymphna

One of our readers, an anthropologist of sorts, sent in this After Action Report on the experiential effects of his participation in the Friday prayers at a mosque in his city on the West Coast.

Some background on the writer of this essay: he’s Portuguese but now an American citizen. Like his patron, São João De Deus, he sees his mission as one of healing: João’s ‘patient’ is our ailing Western culture.

Like the rest of us, João is alarmed by Islam’s knee-jerk hostility toward anything beyond its own ideological boundaries. However, he has proactively lit a candle and followed his concern right into the heart of the oncoming darkness. [You’re a braver man than I am, Gunga João].

Islam is nothing if not militant. Thus João follows Colonel Boyd’s strategies as outlined in the OODA loop’s recurring cycles. João has been systematically thorough in his use of Boyd’s cycles. Would that our military leaders were half as curious and determined as João has been to comprehend what we really face.

First, he learned Arabic. This served two purposes: to begin with, it allowed him access into public conversations in those pockets of cultural enrichment in his city. Since his visage (and his gender) would permit him to “pass” unnoticed, he eavesdropped quite openly. The public hatred he heard for non-Muslims made him determined to learn more.

Second, knowing the language allowed him to see the original Koran and hadith, and to contemplate the inescapable understanding that Islam’s “reformation” must remain a myth. It is simply Western-centric thinking to believe in the possible transformaton of a Middle Eastern tribal mindset.

Both experiences left him deeply appalled and concerned for his country and for the West itself.

His next step was to attend Friday prayers in one of the mosques in his city, simply to experience the Friday prayers for himself. As you will see, he came away with an experiential comprehension of Islam’s “hold” on its followers. As he said in his email:

Part of how we can break the grip of the Islamic cult is to experience and to analyze how these rituals shape Muslim minds. It is only then that we can hope to deconstruct and demolish this cult.

What follows here is but one experience from his many years of immersion.

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As you know, I have long been studying Arabic. Now, moving on to Koranic recitation, I can explain the strong narcotic effect of Islamic prayer. Within the experience, I can see how the chanting is akin to Rap tempos and rhythms. Recently I did the whole Muslim prayer sequence. It was difficult but the process brought much insight I couldn’t have gained any other way.

It is quite different from Christian prayer. The latter has a more inner, spiritual nature and allows space for the individual, even within community-based rituals. The emphasis in Christian prayer is relationship with God and with one’s neighbors.

In mosque ritual the kinetic aspects of bowing and praying in tandem with others have distinctive effects on brain and mood. I experienced these results myself, without having internalized the belief system. In Islam, it’s about behavior shaping belief.

Bowing and touching your head to the ground repeatedly instills a sense of capitulation and surrender of the will. As a student of yoga I compare it to the Downward Facing Dog position. However, in Islamic ritual, this movement is accompanied by chanting Arabic of Koranic scripture, followed by a “religious rap” of one’s head on the ground.

[Dymphna asks: Don’t you wonder whether the resulting forehead bruise (known as a zebiba), repeated exactly on the section of the cranium protecting the frontal lobes — that part of our brain concerned with higher thought and discernment — takes its toll eventually? No doubt it’s a sign of Islamic holiness.]

The repeated rhythmic lowering of head to ground has different results from other religions’ prayer forms. I have experienced the kinetic affect of Christian prayer, Muslim prayer and Yoga; each one seems to have its own affect on the brain.

Christian prayer directs the mind-body movement upwards, leading to an individual and uplifted energized experience. When Christians bow their heads it is voluntary — or as you put it so well, Dymphna, “obedience is not submission”. For Christians this signcan be directed out toward others, as a sign our mutual coexistence in community.

Muslim prayer primarily directs us downward. Think of bowing to the king in subservience — or, in this case, submission to Allah. Finishing the prayer cycle, I was standing level-headed, my energy redirected now to confront the non-believer. The once a week group prayer unifies this outward energy.

No wonder this form of prayer was a common activity before battle! It is not individual spiritual cleansing but group movement outward to conquer. This is why mass street prayer is occurring in Paris and other European cities. It is not just about the public message of dominance; more importantly it is what they’ve done and said to themselves. This is a preparation for the street battles to come.

Yoga, on the other hand, has an entirely different effect on the mind and body. The “effort without effort” brings you to a balance which results in a receptive, open state. Is this why we don’t see yogi suicide bombers? [Note: we do see self-immolators but it’s not the same as taking others with you — D]

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[An Arabic phrase failed to come through our email here — D] “Wudhoo” or ritualistic cleaning before prayer includes saying “Oh Allah I seek protection in you from the male and female devil”; then you step with the left foot. After moving through the steps and considering their effects, I believe these ritual cleansing behaviors had a practical military outcome in better hygiene and less disease among the troops.

The major killer of soldiers in ancient times was not the battlefield but widespread dysentery. Having now done these ritual cleansings many times, I’m convinced they would have resulted in an increase in general hygiene. To wash five times a day your hands, feet, face, ears and mouth means you’re less likely to spread disease. When water is not available, hot sand is used instead — for hands and feet, anyway — as a sterilizer and abrasive for removing organic material which might be a source of pathogens.

So the overall effect of Muslim prayer is:

  • to destroy the free will of the individual through those daily rituals.
  • Friday group prayers to focus hostility toward non-believers.
  • The improvement of group hygiene through daily washing is an excellent way to stay united and prepared for war, or
  • to exclude the unclean while encouraging hostility toward outsiders.

No wonder Muslims have had hostile relations with host communities. Through long practice, their rituals and prayers program them to act this way.

To free them, then, we must discourage or prevent those aspects of their religion that keep their free will out of commission.

While I haven’t the discipline or opportunity to do what João is doing (or the gender — being male helps one pass less noticed), his experience is one I can share vicariously. Since he knows experientially the results of three different esoteric practices, he has changed his orientation towards Islam. Thus he can direct his future actions more deliberately than would have been the case before he took on his anthropological exploration.

John Boyd would have approved.

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