Praying in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia

“As the sun sinks behind the beige clusters of low-rise buildings, prayer criers (muezzin) call out across the city in advance of maghreb, the fourth prayer of the day. At the city’s largest mosque, Al Rajhi, the parking lot fills with SUVs and new sedans. Prior to praying, Mutawa washes and then walks barefoot across the plush oriental carpet of the interior, which could easily fit a few thousand faithful. Chandeliers hang over the men – six rows deep of young and old.” (note 1)

Imagine the scene:

All the men are lined up shoulder to shoulder facing in the direction of Mecca.
With each one lifting his hands beside his ears their prayers begin:

“Allahu Akbar” (Allah is most great) Praise and glory be to you O Allah* (note 2). Blessed be Your Name, exalted be Your Majesty and Glory. There is no God but You. I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the cursed one.

Then the group recites quietly part of the Qur’an named Al-Fatiha (1st chapter of the Qur’an called a “sura” or “surat”):

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgement. You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help. Show us the straight path, The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who do not go astray.

Each person continues to concentrate on his prayers as they all recite quietly another part of the Qur’an called the Sura Al-Ikhlas (Chapter 112) followed by: “Allahu Akbar”

The whole group then bows partially and repeats three times:
“Glory be to my Lord who is the most great.”

Afterwards with their bodies erect they say,
“God hears the one who praises him”.
“Oh, our Lord, all the praise be to You.”

Then bowing with their foreheads to the floor all repeat the words: “Allahu Akbar, Oh God, Glory be to You, the Most High.” (three times)

Finally all say in unison “Allahu akbar” and raise their upper bodies while remaining on their knees. Prostrating themselves a second time they repeat three times, “Praised be my Lord, Most High” and “Allahu Akbar”.

The Prayer Round or Raka’ah

This series of actions and repeated phrases cited above is called a “raka’ah” (or a prayer round). In the course of the five obligatory moments of daily prayer Muslims usually complete 17 prayer rounds (2-4 for each prayer time). In 50 years a Muslim who prays regularly will repeat the entire prayer ritual at least 300,000 times.

Islamic prayer consists of a demonstration of respect for God. For Muslims the purpose of prayer is to formally remember Allah and show one’s devotion to Him. Muslims believe that Islamic prayer purifies their hearts and help them stand firm against moral wrong doing. While Muslims are often sincerely seeking to honour God through their prayers they are not actually seeking to meet God in the Christian sense. The communication is only one way. No Muslim is ever expecting God to speak back to him in prayer. This is a profound difference between Islamic and Christian prayer.

Formalised Prayers

Formalised prayers also make up a significant part of the Psalms in the Bible (See especially Ps. 119 and 136). Christian hymns and worship choruses often contain many repeated phrases as well. While formalised prayers can sometimes be very helpful in worship, Jesus strongly discouraged believers against using meaningless repetition and many words in order to be heard (Mt 6:6-7). Muslims equally underline the importance of having good intentions in prayer. However, even though both Muslims and Christians speak of needing forgiveness for sins only Christians affirm that God has provided a everlasting sacrifice for sins through Jesus, the Messiah. Praying in Jesus name and based on his sacrifice is a distinct Christian privilege which Muslims need to discover.


Saudi Flag


Map of Saudi Arabia

Prayer requests:

* Pray for the city of Riyadh. Although not all of Riyadh’s 4.5 million inhabitants actually pray five times per day, however, a high percentage actually are regular in their prayers. May they all have an increased hunger to know the living God and to actually be in real communication with Him (Jeremiah 31:34 and John 17:3).

* A significant number of foreign Christians also live in Riyadh. Many of them are servants and workers often from Asian backgrounds. Pray that they will be able to be witnesses for Christ like Joseph and Daniel who served in countries far from their homes (Genesis 39-41 and Daniel 1-2). Many Muslims are particularly sensitive to dreams. Pray for revelations of the risen Messiah.

Notes: 1 ‘Saudi Jeans’ And Calls To Prayer In Riyadh, Modernity Bumps Against Religious Tradition by Michael B. Farrell Dec. 10, 2006.

Background on Saudi Arabia (World Factbook)

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king’s official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932. King ABDALLAH has continued the cautious reform program begun when he was crown prince. To promote increased political participation, the government held elections nationwide from February through April 2005 for half the members of 179 municipal councils. King ABDALLAH in February and March 2011 announced a series of benefits to Saudi citizens including funds to build affordable housing, salary increases for government workers, and unemployment benefits. The King also announced that Riyadh would begin preparations for a second round of municipal elections in September 2011.

Economy of Saudi Arabia

The country remains a leading producer of oil and natural gas and holds approximately 25% of the world’s proven oil reserves. The government continues to pursue economic reform and diversification, particularly since Saudi Arabia’s accession to the WTO in December 2005, and promotes foreign investment in the kingdom. A burgeoning population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all ongoing governmental concerns. The government has begun establishing six “economic cities” in different regions of the country to promote foreign investment and plans to spend $373 billion between 2010 and 2014 on social development and infrastructure projects to advance Saudi Arabia’s economic development.

Statistics of Saudi Arabia

Population: 26,939,583 || includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2013 est.) World rank #46

Life expectancy at birth: 74.58 years. World rank #109

Ethnic groups: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

Religions: Muslim 100%

Languages: Arabic

Literacy: 87.2%; male: 90.8%, female: 82.2%

School expectancy: 15 years

+ Listen to or download Classical (Koranic) Arabic recordings

Sights and Sounds of Saudi Arabia – Video

ICL Saudi Arabia from Institute for Civic Leadership on Vimeo.

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