Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Prayer in Islamic Thought and Practice

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Prayer in Islamic Thought and Practice

Article excerpt

Prayer in Islamic Thought and Practice. By Marion Holmes Katz. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 244 pp. $26.99.

Katz, associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, has written a thoughtful and at times eye-opening examination of the role of prayer in Islamic societies, part of a series produced by the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton titled "Themes in Islamic History."

Katz's goal here is to restore "ritual to its proper place in the study of the sharia, and legal analysis in its proper place in the understanding of ritual." Thus, she surveys the classical schools of Islamic law, explaining their differences on the details of prayer. But while these distinctions are typically minor (dealing mainly with such matters as the position of the hands or the correct number of prostrations), some have wider implications that resonate today.

The author notes, for example, that Abu Hanifa, the eighth-century founder of what became the numerically dominant Sunni legal school, argued that prayer-as well as translation and recitation of the Qur'an-in languages other than Arabic, while undesirable, was permissible for a Muslim from a non-Arabic-speaking culture. This position, not shared by other schools, provides greater accessibility to engagement with the faith on the part of Muslim converts. Katz adds that while "almost all Muslims have historically prayed in Arabic," the debate over language "addresses the significant investment in learning required for proficient prayer. …

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