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Friday prayers helped feed Egyptian revolution
Tens of thousands prayed outdoors in Cairo on Friday.
February 11th, 2011
05:03 PM ET

Friday prayers helped feed Egyptian revolution

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

It was fitting that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak chose to step down on a Friday, hours after Egypt’s Muslims had observed afternoon prayers.

For three weeks, Friday afternoon prayers -  the most significant prayers of the week for Muslims - have served as catalysts for the biggest anti-government demonstrations of the Egyptian uprising.

Known as Juma’ah Salat, Friday prayers are Islam’s sole weekly communal prayers. Observant Muslims pray five times a day, but other prayers can be performed individually.

“Friday prayers bring all people of a society together at one time - rich or poor, man or woman, senior citizen or young child,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com.

“Within the Islamic tradition, the weekly Friday congregational prayers can generally be used as a positive unifying force in reminding people of the equality of all humanity as beautiful creations of God,” Iftikhar said.

Beginning in the last week of January, Friday prayers in Egypt took on an expanded role, providing weekly forums blending religion and politics into fuel for the uprising.

With most Egyptians off work on Fridays, they became good days for mass demonstrations whether or not the participants were devout.

“If they had been working, they wouldn’t be able to meet on Fridays, whether or not prayer was involved,” said John Esposito, a professor of international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University.

But for many Egyptians, religion was a key part of the movement against Mubarak.

“Don’t understimate a general sociological sense of the importance of Islamic symbolism,” in the Arab world, said Akbar Ahmed, an expert in Islam at American University. “We are not talking about the Islamic Brotherhood or Islamists. I’m talking about a general sociological awareness of Islamic symbols.”

That awareness is greatest on Fridays.

“There’s a heightened religious sensibility on Fridays,”Ahmed said. “You are in a mosque, you’ve been praying, the sermon is about justice, you can feel your strength and your moral clarity and someone is giving you directions that you’re going to march for change.”

“It’s a ready-made revolution,” Ahmed said.

A handful of experts on Egypt and Islam said that Mubarak’s decision to step down on a Friday was coincidental to Friday prayers.

But Ahmed said that demands last weekend from Egypt’s top Muslim authority, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, for immediate government reforms provided a turning point for demonstrations. Muslim clerics across Egypt likely echoed Gomaa’s demands in Friday sermons.

“When the grand mufti entered the fray and said the people’s will must be decided, you had the crossing of the Rubicon in Egypt as far as religion was concerned,” he said.

If Mubarak had a chance of staying in power, Ahmed said, the former president would have had to appease protesters before Friday, when a combination of religion and activism provoked what appeared to be Cairo’s biggest demonstration to date.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Africa • Egypt • Islam • Politics

soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. Visionary

    Muneef, I am gone to post something. Since I really don't know if this is what you believe, I am asking you.

    Please read and tell me if you agree with this, and is it the truth as you believe?

    It is traditionally taught that there is no ceremony, no ritual involved in a person who wants to become a Muslim. All one has to do is to believe and say: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet." After saying this, the person is obligated to do all the duties of Islam. One must remember that the word "Muslim" means: one who submits. Islam basically offers the world two choices: the Koran (conversion) or the sword (death). According to the teaching of the Koran, conversion to Islam can either be by persuasion or force. We must understand that the spread of Islam through the centuries has been carried out largely on the battlefield. Islam has been advanced by the widespread use of war, torture, and force of arms. Islam has swept over the world slaughtering Jews and Christians alike. Islam is a fighting religion. Conquest is a religious duty in Islam.
    The Koran urges Muslims to take up arms against the "infidel" (anyone who is not a Muslim). The Koran specifically says: "When ye encounter unbelievers, strike off their heads until ye have made a great slaughter among them, and bind them in bonds. " In another place it says: "those who fight against you, kill them wherever ye shall find them ...You Allah are our protector. Give us victory therefore over the infidel nations." "Kill thine enemy" is the practical teaching of Islam.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.