Christmas in Bamako 2019 “Prayer is Better than Sleep”


I woke in the dark pre-dawn this Christmas morning to the cries of the muezzin at the mosque across the street, calling us to prayer.   These reminders come daily, every few hours, reminding us that there is a God in heaven and that we need to remember Him and worship Him.

Muslim Prayer Times

Muslim prayer times: pre-dawn, sunrise, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall.

People here simply stop what they’re doing to pray.  And they don’t pray without first  preparing to pray.  Every day I see religious young men sitting on curbs or in store fronts or just on the side of the road, preparing for prayer.   This preparation is called Wudu.  They are taught that they must be ritually pure before praying.  (If since your last prayer you have urinated, defecated, passed gas, bled excessively, or fallen asleep while leaning against something, you need to perform wudu.)

I watch these young and old men washing for prayers. They use their little plastic water pots and wash their hands, then they pull up their pant legs and wash what they can of their legs, then their feet, being particular about every toe. Then they wash their heads, their ears–inside and out, their eyes, their noses (they snort in water, then snort it out), they wash the inside of their mouths with their fingers, going around their teeth, then spit out the water. They do all of this so they are clean to approach Allah in prayer. It’s really amazing to watch this preparation. I see it every day.  In places where they have no water, they wash with clean unused dirt.

If they are not near a mosque, these men (and women) find a clean place to kneel.  Most use a prayer mat or rug, rolled up and kept just for this sacred ritual.  Sometimes they pray in groups, sometimes alone.


Bamako Prayer Time. Photo credit: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images

Muslims demonstrate their faithfulness by actively honoring the Five Pillars of Islam in their everyday lives.  Prayer happens daily and is the most visible expression of their faith.

The 5 Pillars of Faith
Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s most holy site, that all Muslims must make at least once in their lifetime.
Sawm: Ritual fasting observed during Ramadan.
Shahadah: Reciting the Islamic profession of faith, called the Kalimah (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”).
Salat: Daily prayers, properly observed.
Zakat: Giving to charity and aiding the poor.

Islam became the state religion in Mali in the 1300s. They say ninety-five percent of this country is Muslim.  I enjoy living in a Muslim neighborhood and country.  The people around us are religious, kind and respectful.

LDS Prayer

Members of my faith also have a strong tradition of daily prayer.  We pray just as often, but in a different way.  Prayers are most often private, but families also gather to pray together, with one member of the family praying out loud with the rest.  I pray all the time, and I try to always keep a prayer in my heart.

On this Christmas morning, I listened to the muezzin reminding me to pray.  The English translation of his prayer call is this:

God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Hurry to the prayer. Hurry to the prayer.
Hurry to salvation. Hurry to salvation.
God is Great! God is Great!
There is no god except the One God.
For the pre-dawn prayer, the following phrase is inserted prior to the final repetition of God is Great:  Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep.

I do not understand the Arabic sung and chanted by our local muezzin, but I understand the feelings of my heart, and the love I have for my Father in Heaven and his son, Jesus Christ, and I am thankful for them, especially on this Christmas Day, as we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’s mortal life.  Because of Him, I can learn how to live so that I can return someday to Their presence.





About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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