On Prayer and Work // Nevil Shute

On Prayer and Work // Nevil Shute

Standing beside the Fox was the first Airtruck, and Connie was doing a top overhaul on the port engine. He had a working platform rigged up by the engine of a couple of plans on trestles, and he was up on this thing with a ground engineer and one of the Arab boys. Most of the rest of the staff seemed to have arranged their work to get within earshot; they were all doing something, but they were listening at the same time. Up on his platform working on the engine, Connie was talking to them.

He was speaking partly in English and partly in Arabic. which he could already speak much better than I could. “We are a peculiar people,” he was saying, “we who are for aeroplanes. For common men it is enough to pray five times in each day, as the Imam dictates and as is ordained in the Koran. But we are different, we engineers. We are called to a higher task than common men, and Allah will require much more from us than that.” He paused, and asked to the man working with him, “Got a five-sixteenth box there? Thanks. Now hold it, just like that.”

They worked on for a time in silence….

Connie straightened up. “How many times were prayers to be said each day?”

There was a momentary silence. Then two or three said at once, “Fifty times.” And someone added — “Teacher.” I noted that for thinking over later on. This thing was going deeper than I knew about.

“That is correct,” said Connie. “Fifty times, I see you all don’t know this story or you have forgotten it, and yet of all men you should know it. Do you not know that when the Prophet descended from the Presence he met Moses?….Moses asked how many times God had required the people to pray, and Mahomet said, fifty times. And Moses told him that it was impractical, that he had tried it with the Children of Israel and he had never succeeded in getting anybody to pray fifty times a day. He said that the Prophet should go back to God and humbly beg that this number of prayers each day should be reduced. Mahomet did so, and on coming down from the Presence he met Moses again, and told him that the number was reduced to forty prayers a day. ‘That is still too much,’ said Moses. ‘The people will not pray so many times. You must go back and ask Him to reduce it further.” He paused. “Let’s have that No. 2 cranked cylinder head spanner.”

Presently he went on. “Urged by Moses, it is written that the Prophet went back and back to God until the number of prayers was reduced to five each day….That is the reason every Believer has to say his prayers to God five times each day.’

He spoke again to the other engineer about the cranked spanners….and went on, “That is the story that you know and have been taught….But you will see that five prayers is the minimum; the number was brought down to be within the power of the….common man — a camel driver or a shepherd. But we are not like that, we engineers. We are men of understanding and of education, on whom is laid responsibility that men may travel in these aeroplanes as safely as if they were sitting by the well in the cool of the evening….For men like us, the full tally of fifty prayers a day will be demanded. Five of these must be made in public or in private, according to the way you know….From men like you another forty-five prayers are demanded. I will tell you about them.”

“I inspect some of the work you do upon these engines and these aeroplanes,” he said. “God, the All-Seeing and All-Knowing, He inspects it all. You come to me and say, ‘I have replaced this manifold and the job is finished.’ I come to look at it to see if there is any fault, and I see everything in place. I look at the nuts, and I see the locking wires correctly turned the right way to prevent the nuts unscrewing. and that is all i can see. I cannot see if the nuts are screwed only finger tight; I cannot see if you have put a lever on the spanner and strained them up so tight that the bolts are just about to fail in tension. These things are hidden from me, but nothing is hidden from the All-Seeing Eye of God.”

“….With every piece of work you do….pause at each stage….humbly ask the All-Seeing God to put into your heart the knowledge whether the work that you have done has been good or ill. Then you are stand for half a minute….thinking of God and of the job, and God will put into your heart the knowledge of good or ill….if the work is good, you may proceed in peace, and if it is ill you may do it over again, or come to me and I will help you to do well before God.”

He turned back to the engine. “If you do this,” he said, “you will soon find that you are praying to God forty-five times a day or more, as he directed the Prophet in the first instance. Moses and Mahomet were quite right to get the tally reduced, because the people of that day were nomads and camel drivers. But you are educated men doing the most skilled work….God will require more of you than of common men….”

— Nevil Shute (“Round the Bend”)

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