I watched a good portion of CNN's "In the Footsteps of Bin Laden" after I had declared, fists clenched, a couple of weeks ago that I would boycott CNN for its ridiculous coverage of the "war" in Lebanon, especially Wolf's dramatic reading of IDF press releases and Anderson's "what the hell am I doing here" reportage. So I blinked, flipped to CNN, and watched. Then I noticed something in the two-hour report -- something which I had noticed before in many a documentary or report on "radical Islam" -- that the film footage accompanying the narration that speaks of OBL's radicalization process included men praying in a mosque. Now this is hardly the first time we see the Ritual Prayer of Islam linked (through image) with a scripted narrator's screed about violent teachings and extremism. We all sense it: image is a formidable conveyor of a message, especially in a time of intellectual sloth in which "image" is paramount culturally, politically, and commercially, more so than the written word, which also struggles with dilution. Before I say how tragic it is to associate a solemn, graceful, and worshipful act with its antithesis, violence, let me say that there’s more to it than what we see: something about people unprepared to understand what it means to prostrate, unprepared to appreciate the last standing tradition of bowing that is as old as prophecy and replete with secrets, unprepared to understand spiritual and symbolic obeisance before the Divine in a world suffering a pandemic of profanity.
It's usually the Prayer or the Adhan
(the call to Prayer) that serves as the backdrop to a droll analysis of how a seemingly peaceful person, for example, can be pulled into a radicalized understanding of religion. The meta-text is that practicing Islam (particularly the bends and bows of the five daily Ritual Prayers) is in itself something to worry about.
(prostration to the ground, whispering words of supplication and extolling God) is, for the Muslim, the most profound, veil-dropping, peaceful experience a mortal can have in trying to draw near God. It is the posture of one who places his or her hands, toes, knees, and forehead to the ground, and ego beneath the earth, praying to the Almighty. The Prophet Muhammad taught that a person is closest to the Creator of all being when one is in prostration, that a person participates in a unique opportunity to come closer to the sole power in the universe, from whom worshippers may then ask for relief from worries, ask for provision, guidance, mercy, pardon, forgiveness, knowledge, and salvation. The act of sajda
was how people of knowledge and the prophets and messengers worshipped, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mary, and Prophet Muhammad (Quran, 17:107-9, 19:58). Prostration (or bowing down) is many things, but hardly an invitation to extremism, the secret handshake of radicals.