Islam: Day 13 – Morning prayer boosts creativity?

I like to sleep in on weekends. I’m a morning person generally, but on the weekend, I sleep until 10 or 11 so.

Unfortunately, Islam doesn’t allows you to skip your morning prayer (Fajr) just so you can sleep in. What this means for me is that I have to get up some time between 4:20 and 5:50 to make sure to do my prayer before sunrise.

There are numerous quotes by Muhammad on the importance of this prayer. Here are a few pulled from the Wikipedia article on Fajr:

“Do not leave the two rak’ahs of Fajr, even if you are being attacked by cavalry.”

“The two (sunnah) rakahs of Fajr are better than this world and all it contains.”

“No Salat is more burdensome to the hypocrites than the Fajr (dawn) prayer and the `Isha’ (night) prayer; and if they knew their merits, they would come to them even if they had to crawl to do so.”

So yea…. it’s important.

So, I dutifully set my alarm on Saturday morning for 5 AM. My running club meets at 7 AM, so I figured I could do my prayer, and then knock out a quick blog post. I did Wudu, did my prayer, and then began writing.

What was fascinating was that I had no problem writing my blog post. I’m normally a little distracted when I start writing but the words just came to me without effort.

On Sunday, I woke up around 4:30 because I had to go to the bathroom. I figured I would do my prayer and then go back to sleep.

After doing my prayer, I went back to bed, but I wasn’t tired. I started reading a few articles on my twitter feed on my phone, and then all of a sudden I experienced a burst of creativity. I came up with 3 ideas for blog posts that I quickly jotted down in Evernote, I drew links between concepts from different books I’ve read, and I felt this sense of clarity that I’ve felt before but has been difficult to recreate.

I came across this Fast Company article that describes the phenomenon I experienced.

The article features an experiment where researchers tried to recreate the sleeping conditions of our pre-industrial ancestors. To do this, they put their test subjects in a totally dark room for 14 hours per night for several months and observed their sleep patterns.

The test subjects eventually entered a two-phase sleep pattern. They would wake up in the middle of the night at the end of a REM cycle with an active mind.

They would wake up from these dreams in a sort of altered, meditative state and be awake for maybe an hour or two,” Wehr says.

That altered, nocturnal state is nearly extinct for most of us, but it is nonetheless, potentially powerful. That state is especially conducive to assimilating the feelings and information that occur in dreams, Wehr says.

So when people were fully inoculated from artificial light, it was a true awakening. “People would sometimes say they felt a kind of crystal clear consciousness when they were awake that was not familiar to them. And it made me wonder if any of us knows what it’s really like to be awake–fully awake,” Wehr says.

This makes me wonder if Fajr, during pre-industrial times, coincided with this “awakening” period of “crystal clear consciousness.” Maybe Muhammed discovered that by waking up a few hours before sunrise to pray, he could achieve this mystical sense of clarity and closeness with the divine.

Most of us just want to hit the snooze button and get more sleep. But there is something compelling about waking up early to make a physical and heartfelt gesture of submission to God.

Perhaps it’s worth giving up the extra hour of sleep if you can start your day off with the type of clarity and creativity I experienced this weekend….especially if you need to churn out a blog post.