DUBAI // Muslim residents have dismissed claims by doctors that the UAE has some of the highest cases of degenerative knee problems in world among its obese worshippers who kneel to pray.
Dr Peter Birch, a consultant surgeon at Abu Dhabi’s Mafraq Hospital, said arthritis of the knee was “incredibly common” in the Emirates, “and that is to do with a kneeling lifestyle”.
But Muslims reject the idea of a link between the joint disorder and performing ruku (bowing) and sajdah (prostrating) five times a day.
“I don’t understand the correlation between prayers and joint problems, why are they focusing on prayers?” said Mustafa Murad, a 34-year-old government employee.
“We come from a kneeling culture, as do many of the people in this region. Besides, you are only kneeling for about two minutes when you pray, that’s just 10 minutes a day.
“Many of us grew up eating our meals sitting on the ground, and many of us still do, that takes more than 10 minutes for each meal.”
Yousuf Hassan, an information technology administrator from India, said he thought the doctors who made the claims were jumping to conclusions.
“Islam tries to make life simple for people. If you have health problems, you are excused from having to do anything that will affect your health,” he said. “You can pray sitting on a chair, you can even pray in bed if you have to. God is merciful.”
Sayed Saleem, a 26-year-old muezzin of a mosque in Dubai Marina, said there were many ways for Muslims to pray that did not involve kneeling. “Islam has made prayers mandatory, and at the same time it has made the simplification and ease of praying just as mandatory,” said Mr Saleem.
“Here in the mosque, and in many mosques in Dubai, we provide chairs for people to use, but it’s mostly the elderly who use them. In Islam your prayers are accepted even if you are just doing them by heart. The emotion and mental concentration is enough, you can even replace the kneeling, if you are unable to kneel, by blinking your eyelids instead.”
Despite suffering from pain in their joints, overweight worshippers are not deterred from kneeling to pray. Some admit because of their weight, visiting the mosque and kneeling to pray is often their sole daily physical activity.
“I have to find a place next to a wall so I can lean on it when praying,” said Abdelkader Moumen, a 45-year-old Algerian businessman, who has been suffering from joint pains for almost eight years. His condition has made it increasingly difficult for him to pray.
“I haven’t seen a doctor about it because I know it’s from being overweight,” said Mr Moumen, who weighs 120kg. “I might see one now that I’ve heard about this.”
But he said he did not believe that praying was harming him because it was “a type of exercise”. “It only takes a few minutes a day,” he said. “It’s not logical that this is the cause of my pain. The biggest problem is the weight, which causes problems for all my daily activities, not just praying. Besides, a little bit of pain lets you know you are still human. But I think I might try a chair from now on.”
Wafa Janahi, a 21-year-old Emirati student, said problems related to joints or other parts of the body arose because of people’s lifestyles. And if performed correctly, prayers should not cause any harm, she said. “It’s more due to the unhealthy lifestyle, people who are obese tend to already have knee problems or are prone to it in the first place, but praying shouldn’t be the cause of it,” she said.
“The praying postures in Islam are there to benefit the body, rather than harm it. There have been studies that showed there is a connection between the mind and the body, and you can find this in other religions too. But in Islam, the five prayers a day actually are there to improve physical and mental health.
“If each posture has been performed correctly then you will not have any knee problems or feel weaker. But many Muslims today aren’t aware of the proper postures. Some pray at a very fast pace, this way they are harming their knees, even when standing sometimes you put pressure on one foot more than the other, which can lead to more joint problems.”