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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/23/21

Praying in Public

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Message Reza varjavand
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I believe some fervent Muslims are obsessed with their religious rituals and are not shy about putting them on display in public places. Occasionally, for instance, we see a Muslim man, or rarely a woman, perform daily prayer, Namaz, in places you least expect, such as in the back of a taxicab, on the street or sidewalk, in a shopping mall, in a parking lot, on a beach, or even in an airplane, disregarding the reactions of bewildered onlookers. In my opinion, such conduct is unacceptable, disconcerting, counterproductive, and not even sanctioned by the religion these devotees are trying to promote. Such actions often trigger backlash and head-scratching reactions from passersby who may construe them as hypocritical, or a publicity stunt, or some gimmick for attention or personal gain. These behaviors may also be interpreted as the misuse of religious freedom because they are often exhibited by Muslim immigrants in democratic countries that have accepted them with open arms. Perhaps, insensitively or unwittingly, they disregard the prevailing norms and customs of the host countries, and more damagingly, create false impressions about the Muslim community. If practicing religious rituals in public places was the norm, we would see the streets of cities in democratic countries inundated with Christians, Jews, and adherents of other religions carrying their religious symbols or ostentatiously praying in an attempt to promulgate the superiority of their beliefs. However, we rarely see non-Muslims engaged in such activities. The irony is that the same Muslims who think it is their right to engage in public prayer do not respect the beliefs of non-Muslims in their own countries. They believe that Islam is the completer of all the prior religions, Abrahamic religions in particular, whose followers have a false understanding of their own religion. As one European leader put it, if such imprudent, boastful behaviors by some Muslims are conducive to a better society, why did they leave their own countries and immigrate to ours? And, wait until non-Muslims travel in a predominantly Muslim country and wish to keep their social customs or publicly display their religious beliefs; in which case, they will be subjected to harsh punishment.

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture on Muslim-related group on social media of a Muslim man who was praying in a crowded public park and asked the viewers what they thought about his conduct. Of more than 400 posted comments, a great majority all of them were unfavorable and unsympathetic. The viewers thought the Muslim man was just showing off. Only a few of the commenters tried to justify the man's behavior based on human rights. Such observations indicate that Muslims in general are wary of such conduct and worry it will create a bad image of their religion in Western countries. Strangely, one viewer insisted that such behavior is protected by the UN International Declaration of Human Rights! "Really?" I asked. Do you think people at the UN have nothing better to do than make declarations about Muslims' right to pray in public places? Strangely, it should be noted how some of the same people who justify such acts based on human rights and freedom of religion oppressively treat the religious minorities in their own countries, like the treatment of Baha'is in Iran. Even the Mullahs who consider themselves the guardians and the arbiters of the Islamic faith do not respect any international laws and declarations.

I believe praying is personal and private. It is between you and the God you believe in and must be done in the privacy of your home or in your faith places of worship, just as dancing is performed in studios and gymnastics in gymnasiums. Performing religious rituals in the public sphere may create adversarial reactions from people who think Muslims are doing it for publicity or personal gain. Even the teachings of Islam do not condone such exhibitionist behaviors.

After all, what is the point of praying in places where you are not sure that the owner of the place gave you permission to do that? According to Islamic jurisprudence, your praying is null and invalid without owner's permission.

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Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
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