The abuse of prayer breaks

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While having early morning breakfast at a cafe yesterday, my wife asked me what the theme of this week’s column was going to be. I told her that I hadn’t started on one, and neither had I zeroed in on a topic yet. In the back of my mind, I had been mulling over the outlines of a column on the continuing illegal and immoral siege of Kashmir at the hands of the Indian armed forces, eight million or more innocent Kashmiris to be exact, but that needed a bit more time and research to put together. And time is a luxury, as deadlines are often a writer’s greatest dilemma.

“Why not write about the break times?” she volunteered helpfully as she often does when I present her with a blank look. “Why don’t you highlight the issue of the extraordinary number of break times business establishments in the Kingdom take and the unpleasant impact it has on the consumer?”

And as I sat there across from her munching away at my cheese omelet and toast, the seeds of this week’s column had begun to form. It is an issue that undeniably affects most of us here and is disguised in the form of prayer times where shops and establishments have to allow their staff to take prayer breaks.

Prayers do not run over five to ten minutes at the most. But a lot of businesses close their doors for sometimes nearly an hour. What’s worse is when people are halfway through their shopping and are unceremoniously booted out of the store as the staff eagerly prepares to shut down.

And this great hurry does not necessarily mean that members of staff are heading for prayers. One only has to wander around shopping malls during prayer breaks and notice sales personnel having a chat or a smoke outside their closed shops while the rest are at prayers to realize that indeed these are disguised break times at the expense of the consumer.

I have prayed at the mosques in Makkah and Madinah, and what I have found extremely remarkable is that the shops bordering these two great mosques close barely a minute before prayer times and open up a minute later. None of the languish and stretch of a 10-minute prayer break into a one-hour rest period!

And understandably, most of the suffering from such louts of loitering falls upon women. Very few establishments here show any care or concern for the needs of women during prayer times. And as there are very few rest areas for them, they have to manage and perch themselves on side-railings and sidewalks and wait. It is not very pleasant, and worse so during the hot summer months.

What should be done then? To begin with, employers must limit prayer breaks to realistic and reasonable times. Forty-five minutes to an hour is just too long. Employers should note that the times for observing one’s faith are being abused by some employees who use these periods as long extended siesta breaks.

They should try to stagger personnel to pray in shifts at critical posts such as pharmacies or gas stations. While some pray, others keep serving needy customers until their counterparts are done, and then they can proceed for prayers.

And there should be places for women and children to pray or rest comfortably while stores are closed. It is not enough to simply boot customers out of stores and onto hallways of crowded malls and sidewalks where comfortable seating is usually nonexistent.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attack on those who close their shops to practice their faith. Each one of us should be granted those times to say our prayers. But for those who choose instead to use these times as a long and happy break, to them I say enough is enough!

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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