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To Hakeem: Communal Rain Prayers

Dear Hakeem,

On December 16th 2005, tens of thousands of Syrians broke a three-day fast with a communal prayer for rain to provide relief from a drought that threatened farmers and the drinking water supply. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs organized the event, and the official Syrian television broadcast it live from the Umayyad Mosque. Mosques throughout the country held similar prayers.

When I wrote my original letter about prayers and miracles I was also planning to discuss this subject of rain prayer (Salat al Estisqa'), but for the sake brevity I decided to omit it, not only because it deserves a separate discussion, but also to limit the scope of my letter. But here we have another example of prayers that are illogical and are extremely revealing about the state of affairs in the Islamic world.

This rain prayer raises many reasonable questions: Why would God deprive a Muslim country of badly needed rainfall, and wait for this human intervention by Muslims to grant it, while many parts of the world receive heavy rainfall without ever asking! And if we agree that he did not intentionally deprive that specific region of rainfall, but yet he is capable of altering weather patterns and atmospheric conditions when asked to do so, then why doesn’t he do this on his own knowing that millions of Muslims live in that region and need this water desperately for survival! Why does the Amazon Rainforest receive generous amounts of rainfall when inhabited by some human beings that have never heard of Gods, messages or messengers! Why does the tiny Island of Malta have the largest water desalinization plants in the world and is completely self-sufficient in water while a much larger Muslim country relies on prayers to meet water emergencies! How can an Islamic government sanction such rain-prayers while the true climatic and global warming facts are well established and well understood! How can we even “consider” prayers as possible solution for water problems, when water problems are part of a global phenomenon and should be addressed at that level!

It is in that framework that I discussed prayers and miracles. Personal prayers are forms of self-expression that I support under the broader principle of freedoms of expression and thought. This is not an issue. And the value of prayers can be understood when prayers are viewed as forms of meditation. It has been well established that those who meditate show a pronounced shift in brain activities in a way that made them calmer and happier than before. This is a form of Psychosomatic Medicine that I find valid and appropriate.

But when we make the illogical leap that our psychological wellness after prayers is in itself a manifestation of God, and that somehow we can "alter" external reality by our brain activities, then we would be approaching the borders of insanity. And when an entire Muslim nation thinks that this form of synchronized prayers can have an accumulative outcome and therefore are more likely to get the attention of God and inspire him to react, then we have nothing but a mass delusion.


Ziyad B.

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