Part II: Prayer (As-Salat)

Chapter 05

Basic Teachings about Prayer

         Abdullah bin Umar has reported that the messenger of Allah said: The foundation of Islam is laid on five pillars (or things), namely: To bear witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s servant and messenger (i.e. Emaan); to establish prayer (Salat); to pay obligatory charity (Zakat): to fast for the month of Ramadhan (Saum); and to perform pilgrimage to Kaabah (Hajj) – (Bukhari, Muslim). Thus prayer is the second important pillar of Islam after the Belief (Emaan).

         The Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, has used the term Salat or Salah for prayer. Salat means to attend to, to pray to or to seek nearness to. As a term of Islamic Shariah, Salat means to worship or attend to Allah, to pray to Him or to seek nearness to Allah, the God of the Universe. The prayer brings one near to his Creator. The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: “Man is nearest to his God when he prostrates before Him” – (Muslim). The Quran says: “Prostrate yourself and draw near to Allah” – (96:Al-alaq:19). As soon as a person affirms his belief in Allah, the first duty he is required to do is to establish the prayer. Allah says in the Qur’an: “Verily, I am Allah. There is no God save Me. So worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance”. – (20: Taha : 14)

         Before commenting on the importance and merits of prayer, let us reproduce some of the verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the subject of prayer:

Verses of the Qur’an

1)            This (the Qur’an) is the book (of Allah) wherein there is no doubt – a guidance for those who are God-fearing. Who believe in the Unseen and establish prayer and spend (in charity) out of that We have given them……. They are the people who are upon true guidance from their lord, they are the ones who will attain true success. – (2: Al-Baqarah : 2-5)

2)            Establish prayer (Salat) and give obligatory charity (Zakat) and whatever of good you send before you for your souls, you would find it with Allah. Lo! Allah is seer of what you do. – ( 2:Al-Baqarah: 110)

3)            Verily, We have seen turning of your face (O Muhammad) towards the heaven. Now We shall make you turn towards that Qiblah which will please you. So turn your face (while praying) in the direction of Sacred Mosque (Kaabah, the House of Allah at Makkah), and you (O Muslims) wheresoever you are, turn your faces toward it……. – (2: Al-Baqarah: 144)

4)            O you who believe! Seek help with patience and prayer. Surely Allah is with those who are patient. – (2:Al-Baqarah: 153).

5)            Guard strictly your prayers and especially the middle prayer, and stand up with full devotion before Allah. – (2:Al-Baqarah: 238)

6)            And if you are in fear (of your enemy) then pray standing or on horseback (in whichever position you can). And when you are again in safety, then remember Allah as He has taught you, which you did not know. – (2:Al-Baqarah: 239)

7)            Surely, those who believe and do good deeds and establish prayer and pay Zakat, their reward is with their Lord; and there shall no fear come upon them, nor shall they grieve. – (Al-Baqarah:277)

8)            And when you travel in the land, it is no sin for you to curtail your prayer especially when you fear that the disbelievers may attach you. Undoubtedly the disbelievers are enemy to you. – (An-Nisa:101)

9)            When you have finished your prayer, remember Allah whether you are standing, sitting or lying down on your sides. But when you are in safety, offer your prayers properly. Surely, prayer is obligatory for the believers at the fixed times. – (4: An-Nisa:103)

10)         O you who believe! When you rise up for prayers, 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 yourself (by taking a full bath) …… – (5:Al-Maidah:6)

11)         Say: My prayer, my sacrifice, my living and my dying are surely for Allah, the Lord of the universe.  – (6:Al-Anam:162)

12)         Establish prayer from the decline of the sun till the darkness of night (i.e. Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha prayers) and recite the Qur’an at dawn (i.e. Fajr prayer). Surely the recital of the Qur’an at dawn is ever witnessed. And in the (last) part of the night, awake with the recitation of it (i.e. offer Tahajjud prayer) an additional prayer for you (O Muhammad). It may be that your Lord may raise you to a Place of Praise. – (17:Al-Isra:78-79)

13)         …… And be not loud voiced in your prayer nor yet silent there in, but seek a way between these (extremes). – (17:Al-Isra:110)

14)         And We gave him (Abraham) Isaac (son) and Jacob a grandson. And each of them We made them leaders who guided others by Our command and We inspired them to do good deeds and establish prayer and pay Zakat, and they were worshippers of Us alone.  – (21:Al-Anbiya: 72-73)

15)         Those who, if We give them power in the land establish prayer (Salat) and pay obligatory charity (Zakat) and enjoin good and forbid wrong. And with Allah is the end of all matters. – (22:Al-Hajj:41).

16)         Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayer. – (23-Al-Muminun:1-2)

17)         Establish prayer and pay Zakat and obey the messenger, that you might receive mercy.  – (24: An-Nur:56)

18)         Recite that (O Muhammad) which has been revealed to you of the book and establish prayer. Surely, prayer prevents from lewdness and evil, and verily remembrance of Allah is more important. And Allah knows what you do. – (Al-Ankbut:45)

19)         Turning to Him in repentance; and be afraid of Him and establish prayer, and be not of those who attribute partners (to Him). – (30:Ar-Rum:31)

20)         O you who believe! When the call (Azan) is proclaimed for the prayer of Friday (Jumah Prayer), hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave your business. This is better for you if you did but know.  – (62:Al-Jumuah:9)

21)         What has brought you to Hell (the guilty persons would be asked)? They will answer: We were not of those who prayed. – (74:Al-Muddaththir:42-43)

Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad

1)            Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Prayers for five times, one Jumah prayer up to (another) Jumah prayer and one fasting month up to (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.  – (Muslim)

3)            Boraidah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The covenant between them and us is prayer. Whoso gives it up becomes indeed an infidel.  – (Ahmad, Tirmizi, Nisai, Ibn Majah)

4)            Anas reported that a man came and said: O Messenger of Allah! I have committed an ordained crime. So execute it on me. He did not ask him about it, and then came the prayer (time). So he prayed with the Apostle of Allah. When the Holy Prophet finished the prayer, the man stood and said: O Messenger Allah! I have committed an ordained crime. So execute the ordinance of Allah upon me. He asked: Have you not prayed with us? ‘Yes’ he said. He said: Verily Allah has forgiven you your sin or your crime. – (Bukhari, Muslim)

5)            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)

6)            Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Had the people known what (blessing) is in prayer-call and in the first row, and had they not found but to cast lots for it, they would have certainly cast lots. Had they known what is in Zuhr prayer they would have vied for it; and had they known what is in the night and early morning prayer, they would have come to them even by crawling. – (Bukhari, Muslim)

7)            Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: There is no prayer more troublesome to the hypocrites than the early morning and Isha prayer. Had they known what is in them, they would have come to them even by crawling. – (Bukhari, Muslim)

8)            Osman reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso says the Isha 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)

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

10)         Obadah-b-Saw’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, Malik, Nisai)

11)         Abu Darda'a reported: My friend (the Prophet) 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)

12)         Anas reported that Messenger of Allah said: Perfume and wives have been made dear to me, and the coolness of my eyes has been made in prayer. – (Ahmad, Nisai)

13)         Abu Omamah reported that the Messenger of God said: Pray your five prayers, fast your month, pay Zakat of your properties and obey one in authority over you, you will enter Paradise of your Lord.  – (Ahmad, Tirmizi)

14)         Amr-b-Shuaib reported from his father who from his grandfather who said that the Messenger of Allah said: Order your children to pray when they are boys of seven years and beat them therefor when they are boys of ten years and separate them, one from another, in beds. – (Abu Daud)

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

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

17)         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)

18)         Abu Humaid as-Sayidi reported among a party of the companions of the Messenger of Allah: I shall remind you of the prayer of the Messenger of Allah. I saw him: When he read takbir, he used to place his hands opposite his two shoulders, and when he bowed, he used to accommodate his palms upon his knees and then bend his back; when he raised his head he used to make it straight till every vein returned to its place; when he prostrated, he used to place his two hands without spreading nor taking them one by the other; he used to place the ends of the toes of his legs towards the Ka’bah; when he sat in (prayer of) two Rak’ats he used to sit upon his left foot and fix his right (foot); when he sat in the last Rak’at, he used to advance his left foot and fix the other and sit upon his seat.  – (Bukhari)

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

20)         Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet of Allah said: By One in Whose Hand there is my life! I indeed intended to giving order for a bundle of fuel to be gathered, next to giving order for prayer and to say Azan therefor, and next giving order for a man to be Imam of the people, then remaining behind to go to a people (and in a narration: for those who do not come to prayer) that I may burn their houses against them. And by One in Whose hand there is my life! Had one of them known that he would get a (cooked) bone with meat or two excellent sheeps with hoofs, he would have been present at Isha prayer.  (Bukhari)

21)         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)

22)         Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Apostle of Allah said: Prayer of a woman in her house is better than her prayer in her compartment, and her prayer in her closet is better than prayer in her house.  – (Abu Daud)

23)         Abu Dharr reported that the Prophet (PBUH) one day came out of his house during autumn and shook two branches of a tree which started shedding its dry leaves. The Holy Prophet then said: O Abu Dharr! When a Muslim observes his prayers with due attention and devotion, he sheds his sins just like this tree is shedding its leaves.   – (Masnad Ahmad)

Importance and Merits of Prayer

         The above mentioned verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of the Prophet throw ample light on the importance and merits of the prayer. As stated earlier, prayer is the second important pillar of Islam and after profession of belief, the first demand from a Muslim is that he should establish five daily prayers on their fixed times. According to verse 5 of Surah 98(Al-Bayyinah) to establish prayer and to pay Zakat is the true religion. Verse 31 of Surah 30 (Ar-Rum) stresses performance of prayer otherwise one would be counted among the polytheists. The Prophet is stated to have said: Prayer makes the difference between a believer and a disbeliever. Allah enjoins the believers to seek help in patience and prayer (Surah Al-Baqarah:153). Surah 29 verse No. 45 tells that prayer prevents from lewdness and evil. Verses 42-43 of Surah 74 say that when the dwellers of Hell will be asked what has brought them to Hell, they will answer that they did not observe prayer. In a Hadith it is said that when a Muslim observes his prayers with due attention and devotion, he sheds his sins just like a tree in autumn sheds its leaves. According to another Hadith, the prayer of the person who observes it regularly and with due attention will serve him as a light on the Day of Judgment and will be a means of his salvation and a proof of his faith.

         The Qur’an and Hadith lay a lot of stress on the observation of daily prayers by a follower of Islam. No other article of faith or righteous deed has been as much emphasized as prayer. The Qur’an uses the word ‘establish’ in place of ‘observe or offer’ in connection with prayer which means to establish prayer regularly and punctually as a norm of everyday life and not occasionally. As the belief in one God is the foundation of the faith, so is the prayer foundation and essence of all good deeds in Islam. Prayer is indeed a basic Islamic practice and the believers have been urged by the Qur’an and the Sunnah again and again to guard it.

         According to saints and mystics, the fact that the orders regarding the obligation of prayer were given to the Prophet directly by God after inviting him to heaven as a gift whereas the orders regarding obligation of other devotional acts like Zakat, fasting and pilgrimage were revealed to him on earth, indeed highlights the importance attached by Islam to the 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.

         Islam has prescribed performance of prayers five times 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, on sea or in land or in the air, 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 body 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.

         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 (wudu) 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 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 (Zuhr). 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-Fitr 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 we would discuss in the subsequent chapters.


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