Pray less, work more, says Islamic preacher

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CAIRO: For Egyptian-born Muslim cleric and television host, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, there is a simple answer to Egypt’s productivity problem – pray less, work more.

“Praying is a good thing … 10 minutes should be enough, Al-Jazeera television personality Qaradawi said on his website.

Praying five times a day is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the well-known requirements of making a pilgrimage to Mecca and of giving alms to the poor.

Two of each day’s five sessions – the dhuhr (noon) prayer and asr (afternoon) prayer – fall within working hours, bringing work to a standstill at least twice a day in many places.

A prayer generally takes an average of 10 minutes, but it can be extended if a worshipper chooses to recite one of the longer verses of the Quran.

And before the prayers themselves, there is also a mandatory ablution during which worshippers must wash their faces, hands and arms, feet and heads. In large office buildings, the trips to the bathroom can also eat away at valuable work time.

Qaradawi’s plea to reconcile faith and productivity may hit some hurdles as it risks upsetting the deeply entrenched custom of “prayer breaks at work.Society’s increased Islamization over the past 30 years has already silenced some critics of long prayer sessions.

According to an official study, Egypt’s six million government employees are estimated to spend an average of only 27 minutes per day actually working, reflecting a real problem with productivity.

Qaradawi’s fatwa is aimed at removing prayer as a pretext for not being productive.

Religious beliefs in Egypt are very overt, from the headscarf covering the majority of women’s heads to the bruise on many a man’s forehead showing how piously and how often he has touched his head to the ground in prostration.

In every large company, factory or public building, there is a formal prayer space. Individual prayer rugs, slumped over the backs of chairs or folded neatly on a desk, are often at hand in public offices, ready to be grabbed once the call to prayer booms out over the public address system.

In downtown Cairo lies the Mugamma, a 13-storey building that is the beating heart of Egypt’s sprawling bureaucracy, where 65 different government services are performed by some 18,000 employees.

Thirty thousand people walk through the doors of the vast Soviet-style building every day, hoping to get a passport or a work permit, or whatever it is they need.

“But when it comes to prayer time, and there are many, there is no hope of anything getting done for an unknown length of time, says Ahmed Ghani, whose company has tasked him with scouring the labyrinth for official stamps.

The 90s Egyptian cult film comedy “Terrorism and Kebab (Al-Irhab wal Kabab) recounts the tribulation of a middle class man’s adventure in the Mugamma with the lead role played by screen giant Adel Imam.

Frustrated by the bureaucracy and repeatedly being told to wait for a government employee to finish his prayer, Imam’s character ends up in a tussle with a security guard and is mistaken for a terrorist.

Qaradawi has a few ideas of his own to help shorten the prayer time: Muslims can do the mandatory pre-prayer wash at home before reaching the office, instead of in the office toilets during working hours.

“To save some time, they can also just put some water over their socks, instead of taking [socks] off to wash the feet, Qaradawi says in his fatwa.

While it may be too early to judge the effects of the popular sheikh’s fatwa on productivity in the work place, Egyptian clerics, in a rare show of unity, have largely agreed with the Qatar-based cleric.

“He’s right. I cannot say the contrary. One must not waste time at work and use prayer as the pretext, Sheikh Fawzi Al-Zifzaf, of the center of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar, told AFP.

As for Mohammed Al-Shahhat Al-Gendi, secretary general of the Council of Supreme Islamic Affairs, “10 minutes are absolutely suitable for one prayer.

“Improving productivity is not at all contrary to Islam, he told AFP.

They both also agree with Qaradawi when he says: “Praying is of course compulsory, and if everyone were to pray, it shows that society is on the right track. -AFP

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