Setting everything aside to offer prayers has been a common practice since the advent of Islam. Saudi Arabia perhaps is the only Muslim country where shops, restaurants, gas stations and many other facilities remain closed during prayer timings.
It is a good practice, per se, but a question comes to my mind as to why these places take much longer to reopen even after the prayer time is over.
Muslims offer their prayers five times daily and the duration of each prayer ranges from five to at the most 15 minutes. In good old days, it was easy for a person to close his shop at a short notice as shops were small and visitors were few. The idea of shopping malls was foreign to most of us. So, in the past the minute the call for prayer reverberated, it took everyone a few seconds to set everything aside to offer prayers. There were a few restaurants and other outlets and temporary closure during prayer timings was not difficult for the shopkeepers and the shoppers.
However, time has changed. With the changing time, we have witnessed a growth of mega malls and huge supermarkets. Due to the sheer sizes of these entities, they find it difficult to stop all activities at once at such a short notice. As a result, in most cases the prayer breaks are extended as it is difficult to wrap up things. Unfortunately, many people take undue advantage of this rule and take much longer to report back to their positions.
All praises be to Almighty Allah, this is the beauty of Islam that one can easily offer prayers anywhere and Islamic teachings are very flexible. In Islam it is legal to divide workers to pray in shifts. In other words, if the store is huge, then some of the workers can go to offer prayers, then the others can go to pray later. This is a much-needed approach during Maghreb and Isha prayers. There is a very short interval between the two prayers. As a matter of fact, a Muslim is required to perform Maghreb prayer on time and can offer the Isha prayer anytime before midnight.
Apart from malls, gas stations should be allowed to remain functional during prayer breaks as well by adopting the praying-in-shifts policy.
Of the five daily prayers, the time to offer Maghreb is very limited. As for the remaining four, Islam has shown flexibility in the timings to facilitate its followers. And it is possible to adopt different prayer times for big malls and supermarkets. This is not to say that these entities should not be closed during prayer timings, but in many cases the policy of praying in shifts could be adopted without completely stopping work like at gas stations, hospitals and pharmacies.
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