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Egyptians told to speed up prayers

Jobs suffer as work is halted for worship. Ten minutes is enough, says a respected cleric.

June 09, 2008|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

CAIRO — The call to prayer is a pervasive, comforting echo across the Middle East, but a prominent Islamic cleric has urged Muslims to spend less time prostrating and more time working. Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi said people often use prayer to slip away from their jobs longer than they should.

"Praying is a good thing . . . 10 minutes should be enough," according to a fatwa, or edict, posted on Qaradawi's website. The sheik's opinion is shared by many clerics and highlights the predicament between economic productivity and religious devotion in a part of the world where piety is prized.

Devout Muslims pray five times a day during set time periods, two of which fall during working hours. They kneel in mosques or unfurl prayer mats in offices, clogging aisles and bringing work to a halt. The time for ablution -- washing face, arms and feet -- and a prayer can take 10 minutes, but many Muslims spend as many as 30 minutes on the ritual.

Companies and store owners have been complaining for years about lost labor minutes and inefficiency. The problem goes well beyond prayer time. A recent government study found that Egypt's 6 million government employees, a massive platoon of bureaucracy, are each estimated to spend only 27 minutes a day working.

If frustrated citizens or customers ask to speed things up, they are met with a sigh, a roll of the eyes and the centuries-old reply: "Inshallah" (God willing).

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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