Monday, June 27, 2011

The Kinetic Effects of Prayer in Islam

Pomegranate icon for John of God HospitallersOne of our readers, an anthropologist of sorts, sent in this After Action Report on the experiential effects of his participation in the Friday prayers at a mosque in his city on the West Coast.

Some background on the writer of this essay: he’s Portuguese but now an American citizen. Like his patron, São João De Deus, he sees his mission as one of healing: João’s ‘patient’ is our ailing Western culture.

Like the rest of us, João is alarmed by Islam’s knee-jerk hostility toward anything beyond its own ideological boundaries. However, he has proactively lit a candle and followed his concern right into the heart of the oncoming darkness. [You’re a braver man than I am, Gunga João].

Islam is nothing if not militant. Thus João follows Colonel Boyd’s strategies as outlined in the OODA loop’s recurring cycles. João has been systematically thorough in his use of Boyd’s cycles. Would that our military leaders were half as curious and determined as João has been to comprehend what we really face.

First, he learned Arabic. This served two purposes: to begin with, it allowed him access into public conversations in those pockets of cultural enrichment in his city. Since his visage (and his gender) would permit him to “pass” unnoticed, he eavesdropped quite openly. The public hatred he heard for non-Muslims made him determined to learn more.

Second, knowing the language allowed him to see the original Koran and hadith, and to contemplate the inescapable understanding that Islam’s “reformation” must remain a myth. It is simply Western-centric thinking to believe in the possible transformaton of a Middle Eastern tribal mindset.

Both experiences left him deeply appalled and concerned for his country and for the West itself.

His next step was to attend Friday prayers in one of the mosques in his city, simply to experience the Friday prayers for himself. As you will see, he came away with an experiential comprehension of Islam’s “hold” on its followers. As he said in his email:

Part of how we can break the grip of the Islamic cult is to experience and to analyze how these rituals shape Muslim minds. It is only then that we can hope to deconstruct and demolish this cult.

What follows here is but one experience from his many years of immersion.

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As you know, I have long been studying Arabic. Now, moving on to Koranic recitation, I can explain the strong narcotic effect of Islamic prayer. Within the experience, I can see how the chanting is akin to Rap tempos and rhythms. Recently I did the whole Muslim prayer sequence. It was difficult but the process brought much insight I couldn’t have gained any other way.

It is quite different from Christian prayer. The latter has a more inner, spiritual nature and allows space for the individual, even within community-based rituals. The emphasis in Christian prayer is relationship with God and with one’s neighbors.

In mosque ritual the kinetic aspects of bowing and praying in tandem with others have distinctive effects on brain and mood. I experienced these results myself, without having internalized the belief system. In Islam, it’s about behavior shaping belief.

Bowing and touching your head to the ground repeatedly instills a sense of capitulation and surrender of the will. As a student of yoga I compare it to the Downward Facing Dog position. However, in Islamic ritual, this movement is accompanied by chanting Arabic of Koranic scripture, followed by a “religious rap” of one’s head on the ground.

[Dymphna asks: Don’t you wonder whether the resulting forehead bruise (known as a zebiba), repeated exactly on the section of the cranium protecting the frontal lobes — that part of our brain concerned with higher thought and discernment — takes its toll eventually? No doubt it’s a sign of Islamic holiness.]

The repeated rhythmic lowering of head to ground has different results from other religions’ prayer forms. I have experienced the kinetic affect of Christian prayer, Muslim prayer and Yoga; each one seems to have its own affect on the brain.

Christian prayer directs the mind-body movement upwards, leading to an individual and uplifted energized experience. When Christians bow their heads it is voluntary — or as you put it so well, Dymphna, “obedience is not submission”. For Christians this sign can be directed out toward others, as a sign our mutual coexistence in community.

Muslim prayer primarily directs us downward. Think of bowing to the king in subservience — or, in this case, submission to Allah. Finishing the prayer cycle, I was standing level-headed, my energy redirected now to confront the non-believer. The once a week group prayer unifies this outward energy.

No wonder this form of prayer was a common activity before battle! It is not individual spiritual cleansing but group movement outward to conquer. This is why mass street prayer is occurring in Paris and other European cities. It is not just about the public message of dominance; more importantly it is what they’ve done and said to themselves. This is a preparation for the street battles to come.

Yoga, on the other hand, has an entirely different effect on the mind and body. The “effort without effort” brings you to a balance which results in a receptive, open state. Is this why we don’t see yogi suicide bombers? [Note: we do see self-immolators but it’s not the same as taking others with you — D]

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[An Arabic phrase failed to come through our email here — D] “Wudhoo” or ritualistic cleaning before prayer includes saying “Oh Allah I seek protection in you from the male and female devil”; then you step with the left foot. After moving through the steps and considering their effects, I believe these ritual cleansing behaviors had a practical military outcome in better hygiene and less disease among the troops.

The major killer of soldiers in ancient times was not the battlefield but widespread dysentery. Having now done these ritual cleansings many times, I’m convinced they would have resulted in an increase in general hygiene. To wash five times a day your hands, feet, face, ears and mouth means you’re less likely to spread disease. When water is not available, hot sand is used instead — for hands and feet, anyway — as a sterilizer and abrasive for removing organic material which might be a source of pathogens.

So the overall effect of Muslim prayer is:

  • to destroy the free will of the individual through those daily rituals.
  • Friday group prayers to focus hostility toward non-believers.
  • The improvement of group hygiene through daily washing is an excellent way to stay united and prepared for war, or
  • to exclude the unclean while encouraging hostility toward outsiders.

No wonder Muslims have had hostile relations with host communities. Through long practice, their rituals and prayers program them to act this way.

To free them, then, we must discourage or prevent those aspects of their religion that keep their free will out of commission.

While I haven’t the discipline or opportunity to do what João is doing (or the gender — being male helps one pass less noticed), his experience is one I can share vicariously. Since he knows experientially the results of three different esoteric practices, he has changed his orientation towards Islam. Thus he can direct his future actions more deliberately than would have been the case before he took on his anthropological exploration.

John Boyd would have approved.


Blogger said...

Thank you Joao; this is great. What you say reminds me a lot of a book I have Christianity and Islam by Rudolf Frieling (1977) , which is all about the mystical implications between Christianity and Islam, which you have discussed in your article.

Here is a quote about the differences in "relationship" between God and human:

"Muhammad always continued to combat the sin of 'giving companions to God'. Christianity, however, took a step forward, not a step backward. God is revealed as Love, and because of this Love seeks to share his divivnity. This took place in eternity with the Son, but is to be continued with mankind. As a result of this loving desire to share, God seeks 'companions' and 'associates', and in 1Corinthians 3:9 there is an expression which in the koran would be utterly unthinkable: "For we are God's fellow workers (Synergoi)". When this summons to be a fellow worker dawns on man his worship develops a new dimension, a dimension that is lacking as long as worship is only prostrations before an overwhelming omnipotence."

The word "synergoi" reminds me of the word "synergy"; a 'synergistic relationship' ... versus a master-slave relationship.

Hesperado said...

Christian prayer is quite diverse. Among the various Protestantisms, you may have communal prayer where people sit together in a church and a pastor leads the prayer while the congregation follows along silently (and among Protestants there will be lots of variation on how often they do this -- whether every Sunday, or only occasionally a few times in a year).

Then, of course, there is the private prayer that can occur anywhere, typified by the prayer before bedtime, or at suppertime. This can be individual, or families may do it together.

Catholic prayer tends to be more ritualistic; which is not necessarily a bad thing. Plus, its content is full of love and light.

The Christian prayer that most approximates Islamic prayer is Orthodox, where the more devout (and certainly the monks among them) do frequently (usually at specific points in the prayer cycle) get down on the ground to touch their forehead to the ground, while most of the time remaining standing. (At one of the three Orthodox services I attended, only two congregants routinely got down on the floor to touch their foreheads: these were younger guys still trying to show how pious they were. The rest of the congregation simply remained standing (and a couple of people were sitting on folding chairs in the back). Above on a balcony was a choir, literally singing the prayers. (Unlike Protestants, Orthodox don't just pray extemporaneously, or follow some minister's ad-libbing about "God's message": they have specific (and very long) prayer scripts taken mostly from the Old and New Testaments.)

Not only physically does Orthodox prayer resemble Islamic prayer, but also among the more zealous (usually certain monks following St. Palamas) engage in a prayer of long repetitions of liturgy (literally readings) it can become and sound quite hypnotic (e.g., the hesychastic prayer). To my ear, Orthodox prayer sounds more musical and beautiful than Islamic prayer, which sounds hypnotic in the more sinister sense.

Of course, although Orthodox prayer can physically and hypnotically resemble Islamic prayer, the difference in content is stark: the latter reiterating submission to a War God and his calls for them to hate their Enemies; the former cultivating an amor Dei intending to lift the amor sui from its tendency toward dysfunctionally self-defeating frustration up into its natural fulfillment.

Anonymous said...

João, thank you for sharing your important insights with us.

On another note, I immediately thought of flagellation - as practiced by past and present Christians and Muslims.

Wikipedia: Flagellation

Zenster said...

Dymphna: Don’t you wonder whether the resulting forehead bruise (known as a zebiba), repeated exactly on the section of the cranium protecting the frontal lobes — that part of our brain concerned with higher thought and discernment — takes its toll eventually? No doubt it’s a sign of Islamic holiness.

A "sign of Islamic holiness"? Yes.

A "bruise"? Absolutely not.

From: The Third Eye Of Islam

The doctor explained that praying and prostrating oneself towards Mecca five times a day (as stipulated in salat, the second pillar of Islam) means putting repeated pressure and friction on the forehead when it meets the carpet.

As the full weight of the body is placed entirely on the forehead during the 34 daily prostrations (part of the five daily prayer sessions) the mark naturally begins to appear over a period of years (with four years generally the minimum amount of time required).

Dermatologist Sameh Attia agreed with this summation of the situation: 5 doses a day of religious inculcation + years of Islamic prostration = epidermal accumulation. As a medical specialist, however, he preferred to call it by its clinical name, hyperkeratosis.

The process of hyperkeratosis or calvus (as it’s also known) is accelerated through the exposure to secondary fungal and bacterial infections found where calluses normally preside – on bare feet.
[emphasis added]

So, it's sort of like cranial athlete's foot. No wonder Muslims are always itching to join Allah.

Hesperado said...


If you think about it, it may be a more concrete connection than merely analogical: Muslims put their foreheads on ground or floor where the Muslim in front of him has his feet. Perhaps there is an actual transfer of foot bacteria to the foreheads behind one.

Another indication that it's not a "bruise" is that obviously not all Muslims have them. A glaring example of this is comparing Osama with his #2, Zawahiri: the latter has a remarkably pronounced one; Osama didn't seem to have one at all as far as I could tell.

Bobbo said...


thanks for somewhat explaining the Orthodox prayer position known as "prostration". In the Christian faith, it has been an excellent way for the prayee to find humility before God. The Old Testament speaks of it too. BTW, a very real Islamic Kinetic prayer style is shown by the Whirling Dervishes.

Hi Dymphna. It has been too long. My apologies to you and the Baron.

Bobbo said...

BTW, I am an Orthodox Christian...I forgot to put that tidbit in.

Zenster said...

Hesperado: Perhaps there is an actual transfer of foot bacteria to the foreheads behind one.

Thank you for that BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious). The linked article, in addition to the excerpt that I cited made this abundantly clear. It isn't a matter of who kneels in front of whom. Merely treading barefoot upon the prayer room's carpet laces it with the fungal matter needed to spawn hyperkeratosis.

Permit me to suggest that the Arabic word, "zabeeba" should translate into English as "aiming point". "Bulls-eye" is an equally acceptable alternative.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the Muslim prayer postures were copied from the prayer postures of Christians among whom the early Muslims lived. That's not to say they weren't subsequently modified, or more tightly regimented.

cumpa_29 said...

VERY interesting insights.
This Joao guy seems a cool cat. An anthropologist for our times. Hesperado had some great comments as well.

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

islam - a brain damaged war machine.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere a couple of years ago:

If you see a lot of men with zabeebas gathering in a public place, you had better run for your life because they are devout and might presage a terror attack.

Anonymous said...

The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein wrote a novel entitled Zabeeba and the King.

From 2002: Play based on novel by Saddam

"...the play depicts the theme of the 'Iraqi confrontation with the West during the 90s.'"

Christer said...

I'm convinced Allah produced these third eyes as good aiming points in the coming civil wars.

Hesperado said...


I've also read that early Orthodox monks (and probably they continue the practice to this day) also tended to stand while praying with their arms extended out to either side. So even in Orthodoxy, we have considerable diversity; whereas in Islam, there is on this, as on many other matters where it counts, regimented (if not monolithic) uniformity.

Hesperado said...

One detail I don't like about João's account: his theory about Islamic hygiene being the cat's pajamas. I think Islamic hygiene has far more to do with the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder of Mohammed's psychopathy, than it does with rational ilitary considerations.

Hesperado said...

(make that "military", of course)

Hesperado said...

"Permit me to suggest that the Arabic word, "zabeeba" should translate into English as "aiming point". "Bulls-eye" is an equally acceptable alternative."

I always thought it was related to the Arabic for "raisin" -- zabib. To me, it looks like a large black raisin on the forehead.

zoloftea said...

I converted to Judaism 2 years ago from Roman Catholic. Jewish prayer postures are: sitting, standing, rising up on one's toes when we say "Holy" - as a way to reach upwards to G-d, stepping backwards, forwards, symbolically into holy space where we come closer to G-d, and on the High Holy Days, we can choose to prostrate ourselves on the floor to acknowledge our sins and shortcomings. Prayers are of thanksgiving and for peace for the world and especially for the peace of Jerusalem.

Lawrence said...

Second, knowing the language allowed him to see the original Koran and hadith, and to contemplate the inescapable understanding that Islam’s “reformation” must remain a myth. It is simply Western-centric thinking to believe in the possible transformaton of a Middle Eastern tribal mindset.

... what have I been saying?

We have to snap out of our narrow Western Mind-set to have an chance at dealing with the real dangers if Islamist conquest.

Sagunto said...

As far as the content of prayer is concerned, I think that Islam is unique in that its basic prayer testifies to a polemical preoccupation with other religions. At least the famous "credo" (in unum deum, patrem omnipotentem) is about Christianity itself, not about what others believe.
But the first part of Islam's "credo", the "ash-shahaada" - which is more of a legal statement of a "witness" before some sort of court - is unique in its brazen implicitness that all other religions are false.


Babs said...

Thanks for this fascinating insight, which confirms my belief that Islam is a cult, whose adherents are encouraged to use thought-blocking, self-hypnosis and suffer from phobias about other religions and leaving Islam. Steve Hassan's excellent books about Cult Mind Control, although ostensibly based on his experiences with the Moonies, could easily be applied to Islam

1389 said...


As an Orthodox Christian, we do sometimes do prostrations during prayer. This is generally during penitential prayer.

However, while Orthodox faithful, especially monastics, might touch their heads to the floor (though this is not required), we do NOT knock our heads against the floor. We never get a bruise, lump, or scrape mark on our foreheads from prayer.

Islam and Brain Damage

1389 said...


That's probably taqiyya. You have to apply your head to the floor pretty often AND pretty hard to get a mark.

Besides, if Muslims wash their feet and faces before prayer, that should discourage the spread of microbial infections.

As I said, Orthodox monastics, who frequently make prostrations during prayer, don't get marks on their foreheads.

Zenster said...

Hesperado: I think Islamic hygiene has far more to do with the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder of Mohammed's psychopathy, than it does with rational ilitary considerations.

Again, a careful reading of "The Third Eye Of Islam" will show that barefoot, mosque-going Muslims are clearly tracking into those premises fungus and bacteria which have, obviously, not been adequately abated by the traditional foot-washing rituals. These ablutions and their lacking any actual involvement of (historically expensive) soap leads one to the readily apparent conclusion that, for Islam, "hygiene" is merely a form of greeting.

Zenster said...

1389: Besides, if Muslims wash their feet and faces before prayer, that should discourage the spread of microbial infections.

Simple laving is not enough to obtain anti-microbal and anti-fungal prophylaxis. In fact, moist environments favor the incubation and vectoring of both life forms.

Please see my previous comment.

Hesperado said...


Being OCD about hygiene doesn't necessarily mean you will be successfully actually clean as a result. For the compulsive, it's all about the minutiae of the ritual, not about the common sense of really being hygienic.

Hesperado said...


The "knocking" of the forehead in Islamic prayer is probably a result of another factor not yet mentioned: the ritualistic rocking back and forth while they are on their hands and knees. I haven't counted how many times they touch their heads to the floor, but it must number into the dozens if not a hundred -- and this is 5 times a day.

Nevertheless, it's obviously not uniform, or we'd see most Muslim men with that mark, which we don't. The most likely explanation is the knocking + the bacteria -- both of which (particularly the latter) admit of variation and degree, ranging from non-existent on one end, to marked (pun intended) on the other.

heroyalwhyness said...

An excellent post & commentary which will be referenced frequently. Thank you all.

The Old and new Testaments concern themselves with the love and teachings of God and Christ. The Qur’an instead expends considerable effort demonizing other religions and the people who practice them (see CSPI's Statistical Islam).

Further, a pious Muslim who prays the five requisite daily prayers of Islam will recite the Fatiha seventeen times in the course of those prayers – EACH AND EVERY DAY.

As Wafa Sultan states in her book “A God Who Hates”: “This verse describes Christians as “those who have gone astray” and Jews as “those who have incurred Your wrath.” We see from this that Muslims execrate Christians and Jews a number of times in the course of a single prayer, which they repeat five times a day.”
execrate –verb
1. to detest utterly; abhor; abominate.
2. to curse; imprecate evil upon; damn; denounce

Spencer: Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 1, “The Opening”

Islamic prayer is indoctrination to hate, building the foundation of hate enabling the training for violence.

Why is this so difficult to comprehend? Islam is not about peace. Islam is about triumphalism and submission of all.
LAN ASTASLEM (Arabic: لن استسلم )
Know Islam = No Peace.
No Islam = Know Peace.

Columnist said...

Joao is a very brave man. I know others who did the same.