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Salah, the ritual of prayer, is one of the pillars of Islam and a ritual that Muslims around the world engage in five times a day. Salah includes many ditferent ritual components, including the washing of the body, reciting prayers, and prostrating on the ground while facing the direction of Mecca or, more specifically, the Kaaba, a building at the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca, the most important mosque in Islam. Each of these components has significance, and some have clear metaphorical meaning. For example, washing your body before prayer has a clear metaphorical component: physical cleanliness is spiritual purity. Facing Mecca, however, is perhaps more difficult to describe in terms of metaphor, for although there is clearly a symbolic meaning, it’s not simply a matter of Mecca standing for something else. Mecca, and the Kaaba specifically, is the physical location that Muslims are required, if able, to travel to once in their lives as a part of hajj (pilgrimage), so facing Mecca in prayer comes to represent both being in that physical location and everything that being near the Kaaba entails for the Muslim believer, such as being with a community of believers and near Allah.

The use and understanding of Mecca for Muslims introduces the concept of metonymy, which plays an important role in religious language. While metaphor is a cross-domain mapping between a source and target domain involving incongruity between the two domains, metonymy involves associations between aspects of the same domain. In Islam, Mecca stands for things it contains (the Kaaba), its historical significance in Islam, and the ritual processes of which hajj is a key part. As a metonymy, there is a contiguity between Mecca and what it stands for: Mecca, as a physical location, has something to do with the things it comes to represent.

Metonymy can be observed not only in reference to places or things, but also in reference to processes. In his motivational book on attaining success and finding meaning in the Christian life, prominent US Evangelical Robert JefFress writes about the importance of having a place to pray:

When I was in high school, my Bethel was a park near my school. I would go there early in the morning before classes and talk with and listen to God. Later, after Amy and I married, my Bethel changed to a baseball field near our first home.Today it is the couch in my office, which I kneel beside every morning.

(2018, p. 199)

In the paragraph directly preceding this extract, Jeffress refers to Bethel as an important location in the Bible visited by Elijah and Elisha in addition to being the place where Abraham erected an altar to God. Jeffress associates this altar with the act of prayer, prompting him to refer to the location as a place of prayer. He then appropriates this association of Bethel as a place of prayer for Abraham and applies it to his own personal places where he has often gone to pray throughout his life. In addition, the use of “kneel” provides a second example in the paragraph where Jeffress associates a particular word or phrase with prayer. Kneeling is just one aspect of what some people traditionally do when they pray, but here Jeffress uses it as a shorthand way of representing the whole act: kneeling for praying. These are examples of metonymy, defined as drawing on one aspect of a domain to say something about another closely related aspect of the same domain (Littlemore, 2015; Nerlich, 2006).

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