Meaning and Importance of Prayer

            Prayer in one form or the other has always been an integral part of devotional service in every religion. Every Prophet of Allah from Adam to Muhammad (may Allah’s peace be upon them) has not only been offering prayer himself but has also been enjoining his followers to establish it regularly. All the contemporary revealed religions of the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – recognize the efficacy of prayer.

            The prayer is the second important pillar or fundamental article of Islamic faith after belief. Just as belief in Allah is the essence of faith, so is the prayer the essence of all Islamic devotions and pious actions. The Qur’an uses the term ‘Salat’ for prayer which stands for serving or worshipping Allah or praying to or seeking nearness to Him. The Qur’an has laid a great stress upon prayer and has repeated the commandments about prayer many times. The object of prayer in Islam is the Almighty God Who is One and Who alone is to be worshipped.

            Islam has prescribed performance of prayers five time a day as an obligatory duty of every Muslim, whether he is a male, or a female, free or slave, rich or poor, healthy or sick, at home or on journey. It is not excused even in the battlefield and has to be performed in the way prescribed by the Qur’an. In leisure or in business, in town or in village, in peace or in war, in sea or in land, a believer has to offer prayer on the prescribed times. Thus the prayer is universal in nature unlike other articles of faith such as Zakat and Hajj which are obligatory for the rich believers only and unlike fast which is obligatory only for one month and that too for the adult healthy Muslims.

            The prayer, besides being discharge of very important obligation to the Creator, bestows upon its observers many spiritual, social and individual benefits. It helps the purification of soul. It promotes unity, brotherhood and friendship among the believers as the male Muslims observe it in the mosque in congregation. It helps the Muslims to meet each other and confer with each other to solve their common problems, be they economic, political or social. It teaches punctuality and regularity and disciplines one’s daily life. The prayer helps even the physical health of one as all his bodily limbs come into action, even the toes and fingers. The prayer also helps concentration of mind. It promotes cleanliness of the body as it is preceded by ablution or bath. The Qur’an advises the believers to seek help from the prayer and the patience in grief and hardship. According to the Qur’an, the prayer protects one from lewdness and evil. The prayer, according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), distinguishes a believer from a non-believer. The prayer will serve its observer as a light on the Day of Judgment and will be means of his salvation. An adult Muslim, male or female, is duty-bond to pray five times every day, i.e. at dawn, just after midday, in mid-afternoon, just after sunset and at nightfall. Children of 7 years and above are encouraged to offer prayer. Men are obliged to establish prayer in the mosque while women are encouraged to offer it in their home. Prayer is offered facing toward Kaabah which is at Makkah. The prayer in the mosque is said in the congregation which is led by an Imam (prayer-leader). Summons to prayer are given by a caller (Muaizzin) who proclaims call (Azan) from the minarets of the mosque or from some other raised platform in the mosque. Before saying prayer, a believer is required to purify or cleanse himself by performing ablution (wadhu) or ritual bath. In the prayer, verses of the Holy Qur’an, short statements of praise of God and some other supplications are recited. The prayer comprises a series of standings, bowings, prostrations and sittings. It signifies one’s complete submission before the Almighty and at a higher spiritual level it is a recognition of the fact of God’s constant presence. Friday is a special day for public prayer in the mosque. Friday prayer substitutes midday prayer. Another prayer which has been specially mentioned in the Holy Qur’an to carry a lot of merit is the Tahajjud prayer. Its time is after midnight and before dawn.

            While five daily prayers are obligatory, piety encourages Muslims to offer additional prayers whenever they can in order to earn pleasure of Allah. When some Muslim dies, funeral prayer is offered in congregation which is led by an Imam. Twice in a lunar year, the Muslims offer special thanks – giving prayers to their Lord on two religious festivals – Eid-ul-Fitar and Eid-ul-Azha – which are widely celebrated in the Islamic world. The Muslims pray when they are happy; they pray when they are sad. Indeed the true followers of Islam are obliged to remember God and pray to him in every situation in order to seek His blessings and support.

            The Prophet of Islam not only taught the rules of prayer, its form and procedure, its timings, its rakaats, etc. to his followers but also showed its practical demonstration for their guidance. Detailed rules and regulations have been laid down by the jurists and scholars of Islam regarding prayer in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet which can be understood by referring to Fiqah (jurisprudence) books.

            Let us now describe Friday and Tahajjud prayers briefly and also discuss the subjects which relate to prayer like call to prayer, ablution, Qiblah, mosque, timings, units of prayer, etc.  


Call to Prayer (Azan)

‘Azan’ is the call for prayer which is proclaimed at least five-times a day from the minarets of the mosques throughout the world in the loud and sweet melodious voice calling the Muslims of the vicinity to join the congregational prayer. This prayer-call is proclaimed in the prescribed Arabic words at the advent of the time of each prayer. Decision about proclaiming ‘Azan’ was made by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) after his migration to Madinah in consultation with the companions.

Azan is proclaimed by man standing in a lofty or prominent place in the mosque (generally the mosques have minarets for this purpose) in as loud a voice as possible. The caller is called Muazzin. He stands facing the Holy Ka’abah with his both hands raised to the ears and says: “Allah is greatest (repeated four times); I bear witness that there is no god but Allah (repeated twice); I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (repeated twice); come to prayer (repeated twice); come to success (repeated twice); Allah is greatest (repeated twice); There is no god but Allah (once only)”. In the call for morning prayer, the words – prayer is better than sleep – are added (repeated twice) after the words, “Come to success”.

‘Aqamat’ is the announcement which is issued just before the Imam (leader of prayer) starts the prayer. It is just like Azan but in a less loud voice and with the difference that the words – prayer is ready – are repeated twice after the words, “Come to Success”.

Ablution and Dry Ablution (Wadu and Tayammum)

It is obligatory for a believer to purify and clean himself before offering prayer. If he is unclean he should perform ‘Ghusal’ (bath i.e. washing of the whole body). Otherwise he should make ‘Wadu” (ablution) which is the washing of the hands, face and feet in the prescribed way with water. But if the water is not available or the use of water is harmful to health or the water available is not pure then the believer is allowed to perform ‘Tayammum’ (dry ablution) with pure dust in the prescribed way. Very clear injunctions regarding Ghusal, Wadu and Tayammum are given in the Qur’an and the Ahadith (traditions) of the prophet of Islam. The method and procedure of performing these acts has also been laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunnah which needs no explanation or further comments. Only the following verse of the Qur’an and tradition of the Prophet would suffice:

·        You who believe! When you rise up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads (with wet hands), and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if you are unclean (because of sexual discharge), then purify yourselves (by taking a full bath). And if you are sick or on a journey or one of you comes from the toilet or you have had (sexual) contact with the women and you find no water, then go to clean soil and rub your faces and hands therewith.   (Al-Quran 5:6)

·        Usman reported that he performed ablution and that he thrice poured (water) over his hands. Then he gurgled and snuffed up water. Then he washed his face and then he washed thrice his right arm up to the elbow. Afterwards he washed thrice his left arm up to the elbow and then he wiped his head. Afterwards he washed his right foot thrice and then the left foot thrice. Afterwards he said: I have seen the Messenger of Allah performing ablution similar to this ablution of mine.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

Qiblah (Direction)

Qiblah is the direction in which the Muslims turn their faces in prayers from all over the world. This direction is towards the Ka’abah (the House of God) at Makkah in Arabia which was built by the great Prophet Ibrahim about 1800 B.C. Ka’abah is also the centre of devotional rites and acts attached with pilgrimage.

For some period at Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) observed Jerusalem as Qiblah and, therefore, he and his followers used to pray in the direction of that holy city. However, in his heart of hearts the Prophet wished that Ka’abah should be the Qiblah of Islam and so he often turned his face to heaven praying for the fulfillment of his desire. It was in the year 2 A.H. that Allah’s commandment came directing the Prophet to turn his face from Jerusalem to Ka’abah when he was leading Zuhr prayer at the house of Bishr-bin-Bara-bin-Ma’arur. Since then Ka’abah is the Qiblah of the followers of Islam. (Please refer to verses 2:143-144 and 2:149-150 of Al-Quran)

It has been aptly observed that the change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Ka’abah marked the end of religious leadership of the House of Israel and Jerusalem also ceased to be the religious center of the world. Now the religious leadership had come to be vested in Islam with the result that Ka’abah became the religious center for mankind.

Mosque (Place of Worship)

Although the whole earth is mosque for a Muslim whereupon he can offer his prayer except unclean places, yet the Muslims construct and reserve for prayers special places and buildings called mosques. Mosque means a place of prostration. Thus the mosque is a place of worship where the followers of Islam converge at least five times a day to join congregational prayers.

Offering prayer in the mosque in congregation is obligatory for a Muslim male except in case of a valid excuse, but for a Muslim female prayer in the house is better. The mosque is the dearest place to Allah and His messenger and prayer in it carries merit much higher than the prayer at home. The mosque of Quba near Madinah is the first mosque built by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during his migration to Madinah and soon after arriving at Madinah the Prophet built the famous mosque named after him called the Mosque of the Prophet in the Year 1 A.H. i.e. 622 A.D.


The Qur’an says: “…Surely, prayer is obligatory for the believers at the fixed hours.” (4:103). Thus there are fixed times for the five daily prayers of the Muslims. There are very meaningful hints about the times of prayers in the Holy Qur’an. The names of the prayers and their scheduled times as prescribed and practiced by the Prophet of Islam are: Fajr (the early morning prayer) – from the appearance of dawn upto rising of the sun; Zuhr (the early afternoon prayer) – from the declining of the sun at noon till the beginning of the time of next prayer; Asr (the late afternoon prayer) – from the time when a man’s shade becomes double to the setting of the sun; Magrib (the sun set prayer) – from just after the sun-set to the disappearance of red colour in horizon; I’sha (the night prayer) -  begins after the time of Magrib prayer till midnight. (Kindly refer to verses 11:114, 20:130, 30:17-18 and 76:25-26)

Units of Prayers (Rak’at)

Each prayer generally comprises three parts – Fard (compulsory), sunat (observed by the Prophet of Islam in addition to compulsory part), and Nafl (recommended by the Prophet as optional). Furthermore, each prayer consists of certain number of fixed rak’ats, each rak’at being a single unit comprising standing, bowing, prostrations and sitting. Fard prayer in the mosque is offered in congregation. Numbers of rak’ats of each prayer are: Fajr – Sunnat 2, Fard 2, total 4; Zuhr – Sunnat 4, Fard 4, Sunnat 2, Nafl 2, total 12; Asr – Sunnat 4, Fard 4, total 8; Magrib – Fard 3, Sunnat 2, Nafl 2, total 7; I’sha – Sunnat 4, Fard 4, Sunnat 2, Nafl 2, Witr 3, and Nafl 2, total 17;

Friday Prayer (Jumu’ah)

The Jews have Saturday and the Christians have Sunday as the day in a week exclusively meant for devotion and divine service with closed holiday for worldly work. The Muslims, on the contrary, have no such day in a week exclusively dedicated to worship with total leave from worldly work. They have Friday and it is obligatory for them to offer Jumu’ah prayer in congregation in the mosque in lieu of Zuhr prayer and its time is almost that of the Zuhr prayer. The Muslims are, however, allowed to work on the day except during the time of prayer.

The Jumu’ah prayer is held in rather a bigger mosque of the locality which attracts and accommodates larger gathering of the believers and it is obligatory on the Muslim men to attend it except for a valid excuse. The women are allowed to participate only at their option while the slaves, children, physically incapacitated are not compulsorily required to attend. The actual prayer is preceded by the khutbah (sermon) called Friday Sermon in which the Imam or Khateeb (the person who reads sermon) recites verses of the Qur’an, invokes blessings on Prophet Muhammad and emphasizes the duties of the believers to Allah and to each other. He also tells about the rewards for the pious and the punishment for the wicked in the Hereafter, and may shed light on the socio-economic problems faced by the Muslim Ummah (community). Number of Rak’ats of the Jumu’ah prayer is traditionally 14 which is: Sunnat 4, Fard in congregation 2, Sunnat 4, Sunnat 2 and Nafl 2. One cannot offer Friday prayer alone or at home. If he misses the Jumu’ah prayer, he will offer Zhur prayer instead. (Please refer to verses 9-10 of Surah 62 of the Qur’an)

Tahajjud Prayer

The Hoy Qur’an made Tahajjud prayer compulsory for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Verse 79 of chapter 17 of the Qur’an reads: “And in the last part of the night, awake with (i.e. offer Tahajjud Prayer, an additional prayer for you (O Muhammad)”.

Although this prayer is not compulsory for the followers of Muhammad (PBUH), but acting upon the Sunnah of their beloved teacher, the most God-fearing among the Muslims offer this prayer in order to attain spiritual elevation. Tahajjud prayer is an effective way of self-purification and of developing virtues of steadfastness and fortitude. The Qur’an says: No doubt, the rising at night is most effective for controlling the self and most suitable for understanding the word of Allah   (73:6).

Tahajjud literally means “to break the sleep and get up”. This prayer is offered every night, a little after midnight, say between 1.00 Am to 3.00 A.m. The number of Rak’at varies between 2 to 8 according to some scholars or between 4 to 12 according to some other.

Verses of the Qur’an

To know the importance, significance, merits and excellence of prayer, please refer to the following verses of the Qur’an: 2:43; 2:45; 2:110; 2:143-144; 2:177; 2:277; 4:43; 4:101-103; 5:6; 5:12; 6:162; 8:2-3; 9:18; 9:112; 11:114; 17:78-79; 20:14; 22:41; 23:1-5; 29:45; 62:9-10; 73:20; 108:1-3; etc.


Traditions of the Prophet

1)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Prayers for five times, one Jumu’ah prayer up to (another) Jumu’ah prayer and one fasting month upto (another) fasting month are causes of expiation of what comes to pass in their midst provided the great sins are avoided.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

2)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Inform me that if there be a river by the side of the door of someone of you wherein he takes bath five times a day – will there remain anything of his dirt? ‘No’ said they, ‘there will remain nothing of his dirt.’ He said: Thus are the prayers of five times. Allah blots out all sins therewith.

3)     Ibn Mas’ud reported: I asked the Holy Prophet: Which action is dearest to the Almighty Allah? He said: Prayer in its time. I asked: Then what is next: He said: Obedience to parents. I asked: Then what is next? He said: Jihad in the way of Allah.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

4)     Osman reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso says the I’sha prayer in congregation, stands as it were (in prayer) for half the night; and whoso says the early morning prayer in congregation prays as it were the whole night.   (Muslim) 

5)     Jaber reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Between a man and infidelity, there is the abandonment of prayer.   (Muslim)

6)     Ob’adah-b-Swa’met reported that the Messenger of Allah had said: Five prayers – the Almighty Allah made them obligatory: Whoso performs ablution well for them and says prayers in their time, and completes their bowings and prostrations, he has a covenant from Allah to forgive him. And whoso does not do so, he has no covenant from Allah. If He wishes, He may forgive him and if He wishes, He may punish him.   (Ahmad, Abu Daud, Malek, Nisai)

7)     Abu Darda’a reported: My friend advised me: Associate nothing with Allah though you are severed and burnt, nor give up an obligatory prayer intentionally. Whoso gives it up intentionally, the protection becomes free from him. Don’t drink intoxicant and verily it is the key to every evil.   (Ibn Majah)

8)     Ibn Mas’ud and Samorah-b-Jundab reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The middle prayer is the Asr prayer.   (Tirmizi)

9)     Jaber reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The key to Paradise is prayer, and the key to prayer is cleanliness.   (Ahmad)

10)  Ayesha reported that the Prophet used to open prayer with takbir and the Qur’an-reading with – “All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the universe. And when he bowed, he used neither to keep his head up, nor bend it very low but between that; and when he raised his head from bowing, he used not to prostrate till he stood erect, and when he raised up his head from prostration, he used not (again) to prostrate till he sat erect; and he used to say in every two rak’ats the Tahiyya; and he used to spread his left leg and fix his right leg, and he used to forbid the footstep of the devil, and prohibit a man’s spreading out both arms (like) that of the beasts and he used to close the prayer with greeting.   (Muslim)

11)  Ibn Omar reported that the Apostle of Allah said: Prayer in congregation is superior to a single prayer by twenty seven degree.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

12)  Ibn Omar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Don’t prevent your women from (going to) the mosques and their houses are better for them.   (Abu Daud)

13)  Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Gabriel led my prayer twice near the Ka’aba. He prayed Zuhr with me when the sun declined a little and it became like the length of a shoe-lace, and he prayed Asr with me when the shade of everything became like itself, and he prayed Magrib with me when the fasting man broke his fast, and he prayed I’sha with me when the red-hue disappeared, and he prayed Fajr with me when food and drink became unlawful for a fasting man. When there came the following day, he prayed Zuhr with me when his shade was like his length, and he prayed Asr with me when his shade was double his length, and he prayed Magrib with me when the fasting man broke his fast, and he prayed I’sha with me at one-third part of the night, and he prayed Fajr with me when there was clear morning. Afterwards he looked at me and said: O Muhammad! this was the time of the Prophets before you, and the times are what is between these two times.   (Abu Daud, Tirmizi)

14)  Ibn Omar reported that when the Muslims came to Madinah, they used to muster strong and had fixed times for prayer, but none used to call (Azan) therefor. So one day they held talk about that. Some of them said: Adopt like the ringing of the bell of the Christians. Some of them said: Horn-blowing like the horn-blowing of the Jews. Omar said: Will you not send a man who will proclaim Azan for prayer? Then the Apostle of Allah said: O Bilal! get up and proclaim Azan for prayer.  (Bukhari, Muslim)

15)  Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The parts of land that are dearest to Allah are their mosques, and the parts most hateful to Allah are their markets.   (Muslim)

16)  Osman reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso builds a mosque for Allah, Allah will build an abode for him in paradise.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

17)  Anas-b-Ma’lek reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Prayer of a man in his house is one prayer, and his prayer in the mosque of the tribes is prayer by 25 times, and his prayer in the congregational mosque is prayer by 500 times, and his prayer in the farthest mosque (of Jerusalem) is prayer by 50000 times, and his prayer in the mosque of mine is prayer by 50000 times and his prayer in the sacred mosque of Ka’abah is prayer by 100000 times.   (Ibn Majah)

18)  Abu Hurairah reported that the Apostle of Allah said: The best day on which the sun has risen is Friday wherein Adam was created, and wherein he was admitted in Paradise, and wherein he was taken out therefrom; and the Hour (Doomsday) shall not come to pass except on Friday.   (Muslim)

19)  Abu Hurairah reported that the Apostle of Allah said: We who are the last shall be the first on the Resurrection Day, although they were given the Book before us, and we have been given after them. Then this was certainly their day which was made obligatory on them, that is the Jumu’ah day. Then they differed therein, and so Allah guided us to it. The people will follow us therein, the Jews observing the next day and the Christians the day following. (Bukhari, Muslim). And in a narration of Muslim he said: We who are last shall be first on the Resurrection Day, and we will be the first to enter Paradise.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

20)  Tareq-b-Shahab reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Jumu’ah is a duty binding upon every Muslim in congregation except upon four: slave, woman, boy or sick man.   (Abu Daud)

21)  Ibn Abbas reported that the Holy Prophet said: Whoso gives up Jumu’ah prayer without excuse is written as a hypocrite in a record which will neither be effaced, nor changed.   (Shafeyi)



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