Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/106

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87
PERSIA.

SECTION II.

PRAYERS

Mahomet, having received from God the principles of his new religion, promised in behalf of himself and his followers to say prayers fifty times in the course of each day: the lukewarmness of men, however, soon obliged him to reduce the number to thirty. But the occupations of civil and military life were incessantly interrupted by these devotions; and the enemy availed themselves of the fervour of the piety of the Musulmans to destroy their works. Mahomet, therefore, entered into a second negotiation with God, and the number of prayers was reduced to five.

The first of these five prayers is said at noon, at which hour the civil day of the Musulmans commences; the second, when half the sun's disk is below the horizon; the third, when it is so dark that a white thread cannot be distinguished from a black one; the fourth, at bed-time; the fifth, between the moment when the stars disappear and noon. As, however, the precept was somewhat obscure, these prayers have been reduced to three, those for noon and evening, and those for bed-time and night, being said together; and great latitude is taken in regard to the time for prayer, by advancing it four hours, or deferring it for the same space.

Nothing can prevent the Persian from performing these devotions: he allows no human respect to stand in his way; on the contrary, the demonstrations of his piety assume a character of greater or less fervour, according to the notice taken of them by strangers. A Persian belonging to the suite of Asker-Khan, ambassador from Feth Ali Shah to the court of France, who affected an appearance of piety, was frequently seen spreading his carpet in the midst of an apartment where company was assembled, muttering his prayers, and making the same religious gestures as if he was alone. The annexed engraving represents a Persian performing these devotions.

These devotions furnish the Persians with a polite excuse, of which they rarely fail to avail themselves, to get rid of any person whose society or conversation is disagreeable to them. They will spring up all at once, and abruptly quit the room. "It is high time for me to say my prayers," is the only apology they make for their rudeness.

We have seen that bodily purity is one of the external qualities required for the due performance of religious devotions: there is another, namely, gesture. The Musulman is