The Arabic word salaat (commonly translated prayer) literally means supplication. It is the connection a Muslim establishes with his Lord and Creator and comprises the loftiest manifestations of total submissiveness to Allah, turning to Him and seeking His assistance and support. When a Muslim stands in prayer before his Lord, invokes and remembers Him, his mind becomes serene. He realises his true and deep sense of nothingness, the worthlessness and transitory nature of this life, and recognises the greatness of his Lord and the immense mercy He has shown him. This prayer then prompts him to adhere to the principles of the divine law and to shun injustice, indecency and wrongdoing, as the Qur’an states, “The prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.” (Soorat Al-‛Ankaboot,29:45)
Position and Virtues of Salaat in Islam
The prayer (salaat) is undeniably the greatest and most exalted act of worship. It is an act of worship which engages not only the body but also the heart, the mind and the tongue. Its immeasurable significance can be perceived in a number of aspects including the following:
It Occupies theLoftiest Position in Islam
It is the second pillar of Islam, as the Prophet r said, “Islam has been built on five [pillars]: Testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, performing the prayers, paying the zakaat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadaan.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 8; Saheeh Muslim: 16) These pillars are the foundations upon which Islam is firmly established, and a pillar is a post that is used to support a building, without which it will certainly collapse.
Textual evidence from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions considers performance of the prayer to be the act which distinguishes Muslims from non-Muslims. The Prophet r said, “What makes a person become an unbeliever or a polytheist is his abandonment of the prayer.” (SaheehAl-Bukhaaree: 8; Saheeh Muslim: 16) He also said, “The criterion between us and the polytheists is performance of the prayer. Thus, whoever abandons it is an unbeliever.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 2621; Sunan An-Nasaa’ee: 463)
- Allah I commands the believers to perform it under all circumstances—whether travelling or residing, in times of war and peace, and whether one is sick or in good health, according to their ability. The Qur’an says, “Strictly observe the prayers.” (Soorat Al-baqarah, 2:238). Almighty Allah describes His faithful servants as those “who consistently observe the prayers.” (Soorat Al-Mu’minoon, 23:9)
It Has Numerous Virtues
Textual evidence from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions attest to the numerous virtues of the prayer. The following are some of them:
- It wipes off the minor sins, as the Prophet r said, “The five daily prayers and the Friday prayer to the next Friday prayer wipe off whatever minor sins may be committed in between, so long as the major sins are avoided.”(Saheeh Muslim: 233; Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 214)
- It is a light that enlightens a Muslim’s life, guides him to all that is good and keeps him away from evil, as the Qur’an states, “The prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.”(Soorat Al-‛Ankaboot, 29:45) The Prophet r also said, “The prayer is a light.” (Saheeh Muslim: 223)
- It will be the first act people will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement: If it is accepted, the rest of their acts will be accepted; if, however, it is not accepted, none of the other acts will be accepted, as the Prophet r said, “The first act that the servant of Allah will be accountable for on the Day of Judgement will be his prayers. If they are good, the rest of his acts will be good. But if they are bad, the rest of his acts will be bad.” (At-Tabaraanee’s Al-Mu‛jam Al-Awsat: 1859)
For Whom Is It Obligatory?
It is obligatoryfor every adult, sane and responsible Muslim, male or female to offer the prayer. However, menstruating women or women in their post-natal bleeding are exempt from offering the prayers and are not required to make up for the prayers they have missed after their bleeding ceases and they have purified themselves
Maturity or puberty can be determined by the following indicators:
|Appearance of pubic hair|
|Seminal discharge while sleeping or when awake|
|Menstruation and conception (for women)|
What Are the Conditions that Must Be Met before Engaging in Prayer?
- Removing physical impurity and ritual impurity (See page 93)
- Covering the intimate parts of the body (‛awrah)
The ‛awrah must be covered with clothing that is neither skin-tight, nor skimpy, nor see-through.
The ‛awrah during the prayer is of three types:
For an adult woman: All her body is considered ‛awrah except for the face and hands.
For a small child: His ‛awrah includes his private parts and the buttocks.
For a man: His ‛awrah is from the navel to the knees.
As Allah I says in the Qur’an, “Children of Adam! Wear fine clothing for every prayer.” (Soorat Al-A‛raaf, 7:31) In fact, covering the intimate parts of the body is the minimum amount of clothing.
- Facing the qiblah
Allah I says, “Wherever you come from, turn your face to the Holy Mosque [in Makkah].” (Soorat Al-Baqarah, 2:149)
- The direction Muslims face in prayer (qiblah) is the Ka‛bah, a cube-shaped building located inside the Holy Mosque in Makkah, which was originally constructed by Abraham u and to which the prophets had made a pilgrimage. It is true that it is a stone structure which can do neither harm nor good, but Allah I commands the Muslims to face it during the prayer to serve as a focal and unifying point among them.
- A Muslim is required to face the Ka‛bah if he can see it in front of him. However, if he is far away from it and cannot see it, being in a different country, for instance, he can only face Makkah. The prayer is still considered valid with slight deviation from the direction of the qiblah, for the Prophet r said, “Whatever is between the east and the west is the qiblah.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 342)
- If he cannot possibly face it due to illness, for instance, then he does not have to do so, for all obligatory acts are normally dropped in case of inability, as the Qur’an states, “Therefore, do your duty towards Allah to the best of your ability.” (Soorat At-Taghaabun, 64:16)
- When its Appointed time Becomes Due
The prayer will not be valid if it is offered before its time has started, and delaying it beyond its designated time is strictly forbidden, as the Qur’an states, “The prayers are enjoined on the believers at stated times.” (Soorat An-Nisaa’,4:103)
The following facts must be stressed regarding this point:
- It is better to offer the prayer as soon as its actual time becomes due.
- It must be offered at its stated times
- If a prayer is missed due to sleep or forgetfulness, it must be made up for as soon as it is remembered.
The Five Obligatory Prayers and Their Times
Allah I has enjoined upon Muslims five prayers throughout the day and night and has specified the following times for them:
The Dawn Prayer (Salaat-ul-Fajr): It consists of two units (rak‛aat, singular: rak‛ah); it begins at daybreak, the time of day when light first appears, and lasts until sunrise.
The Afternoon Prayer (Salaat-udh-Dhuhr): It consists of four units; its time begins when the sun declines westward from the middle of the sky and ends when the shadow of an object becomes equal in length to the object itself plus the length of its shadow when the sun was at its zenith.
The Late Afternoon Prayer (Salaat-ul-‛Asr): It consists of four units; its time begins after the time of Dhuhr ends and ends with the setting of the sun. Hence, if the shadow of an object becomes equal to the length of that object plus its length when the sun was at its zenith, then the time of Dhuhr ends and the ‛Asr time begins. A Muslim must perform it before the sun loses some of its intensity and turns yellow.
The Sunset Prayer (Salaat-ul-Maghrib): It consists of three units; its time begins with sunset, that is, when the sun disappears below the horizon and finishes with the disappearance of the red glow (evening twilight) in the western horizon.
The Late Evening Prayer (Salaat-ul-‛Ishaa’): It consists of four units; its time begins when the twilight has completely faded away and lasts until midnight. It could be offered, however, a little before dawn, if need be, and the reason is acceptable in Islam.
A Muslim may use prayer timetables and does not have to find out if the prayer appointed time has become due by himself.
The Place of Prayer
Islam commands men to perform congregational prayers and encourages them to do so in the mosque, which provides a social forum for Muslims. Congregational prayers help increase and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood, unity and togetherness between them. In fact, Islam promises greater rewards for those who join the congregational prayers, as the Prophet r said, “The reward for a prayer a man offers in congregation is twenty-seven times greater than that for a prayer he offers by himself.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 619, Saheeh Muslim: 650, and Musnad Ahmad: 5921)
The prayer can, however, be performed anywhere. This reflects one of the favours Allah I has bestowed upon us, making this religion easy and practical. The Prophet r said, “The earth has been made a place of prayer for me, and it is pure (i.e. suitable for performing tayammum when there is no water available or when one is unable to use it). Therefore, anyone from my community who is overtaken by the time of prayer can pray wherever they may be.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 328; Saheeh Muslim: 521)
Criteria That Must Be Met Regarding the Place of Prayer
Islam stipulates that the place where we intend to offer the prayer must be pure and clean, as the Qur’an states, “We commanded Abraham and Ishmael: ‘Purify My House for those who walk round it, those who stay there, and those who bow and prostrate themselves in worship.’”(Soorat Al-Baqarah, 2:125) As a general rule, wherever we intend to pray must be clean and pure unless it is clear beyond any doubt that it has been smeared by some impurity. Therefore, if there is nothing that might otherwise render a place impure, it must be considered clean, and we are allowed to offer our prayer on it without the need of using a prayer mat.
There are a number of criteria and conditions that must be met regarding the place where we intend to pray, and they include the following:
- One must not pray in a place where he may disturb people, such as busy public areas, passageways and places where one is not allowed to stand or sit, as this can lead to crowdedness and cause a great deal of inconvenience. The Prophet r said, “There should be neither harming, nor reciprocating harm.” (Sunan Ibn Maajah: 2340, Musnad Ahmad: 2865)
- The place must be free from things which may otherwise cause distraction, such as pictures (like the ones found on some prayer mats), loud noises and music.
- One must not pray in a place where worship is ridiculed, such as a place where there are drunken people or fanatics. Almighty Allah forbids Muslims to abuse the false deities of non-Muslims so that they may not in revenge abuse Allah I in their ignorance: “Do not insult those they call upon besides Allah in case that makes them insult Allah in animosity, without knowledge .” (Soorat Al-An‛aam, 6:108)
- One must not pray in a place specifically designed for committing sinful acts, such as ballrooms and nightclubs.