Why Ṣalâh? What are the beneficial ends accomplished for the individual Muslim and for his community by their proper practice of Ṣalâh?
Part I: The Supreme Spiritual Practice
PRAYER has always been the cornerstone of worship in monotheistic religions. Performed properly, Prayer centers the soul in a consciousness of its Creator and in the reality and significance of one’s own existence. Performed consistently—and as often as the mandated five times a day— it keeps the would-be pure soul up to date.
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
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The five [daily] Prayers and one Friday Prayer to [the next] Friday Prayer are expiations [for the sins committed in the intervals] between them. (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, Book 2, Hadith 18/449)
In Islam, after the act of affirming the Shahada (Testimony of Faith), Ṣalâh [“Prayer”] is the first of the obligatory “pillar” acts of worship that must be established in the regular practice of a Muslim:
Narrated Ibn `Abbas:
When Allah’s Messenger sent Mu`adh to Yemen, he said [to him], “You are going to people of a [Divine] Book. First of all invite them to worship Allah [alone] and when they come to know Allah, inform them that Allah has enjoined on them five Prayers in every day and night; and if they start offering these Prayers, inform them that Allah has enjoined on them, the Zakat. And it is to be taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them; and if they obey you in that, take Zakat from them and avoid [=don’t take] the best property of the people as Zakat.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî, Vol. 2, Book 24, Hadith 537)
Divine Authorization of Our Ṣalâh
Our Ṣalâh was mandated during the landmark spiritual event of Mi’râj (the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad into the heavens). It was a gift to our beloved Prophet and Messenger ﷺ by Allah تعالى و سبحانه. Originally, Prayer had been mandated at fifty times-a-day, but later was reduced to five times a day; the reward for Prayer, however, remained the same. Read the account of the Mi’rah as recorded in Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî.
Disputation Calls for Guidance
The purpose of worship (alignment with one’s true nature of dependence on one’s Creator) and the fundamental method of worship (standing in meditation; bowing in deference to one’s Lord; prostration in submission to Him; sitting in supplication to Him) were common to the monotheistic religions. But over time the nations started to dispute and differ in religious matters, giving labels to their partisan religious forms.
Ibn Jarir reported that Ibn Abbas said, “There were ten generations between Adam and Nûḥ, all of them on the religion of Truth. They later disputed, so Allah sent the Prophets as warners and bringers of glad tidings.”(Al-Ṭabarî 4:275)
“Mankind was one community and Allah sent Prophets with glad tidings and warnings, and with them He sent down the Scripture in truth to judge between people in matters where they differed. And only those to whom [the Scriptures] was given, differed concerning it, after clear proofs had come unto them, through hatred one to another. Then Allah by His leave guided those who believed to the truth of that wherein they differed. And Allah guides whom He wills to the straight path.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:213]
In the tafsir [scholarly commentary] of this above verse Abdul-Razzaq reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“They disputed about the day of Congregation [Friday]. The Jews made it Saturday while the Christians made it Sunday. Allah guided the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to Friday.” (Abdul-Razzaq 1:82)
Ibn Wahb related that Abdul-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said that his father had commented regarding the Ayah “Then Allah by His leave guided those who believed to the truth of that wherein they differed.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:213]. Al-Ṭabarî continues:
“They also disputed about the true Qiblah. The Christians faced the east while the Jews faced Bait Al-Maqdis. Allah guided the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to the true Qiblah (the Ka’bah in Makkah)
“They also disputed about the prayer as some of them bow down, but do not prostrate, while others prostrate, but do not bow down. Some of them pray when talking and some of them pray while walking. Allah guided the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to the truth.
“They also disputed about the fast; some of them fast during a part of the day, while others fast from certain type of foods. Allah guided the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to the truth.
“They also disputed about Ibrahim. The Jews said, “He was a Jew,” while the Christian considered him Christian. Allah has made him a Haniyfan Musliman (Straight Monotheist). Allah has guided the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to the truth.
“They also disputed about Isa [Jesus]. The Jews rejected him and accused his mother of a grave sin, while the Christians made him a god and son of God. Allah made him by His Word “Kun Fa-yakun” (Qur’an 3:47) and a spirit from Him (among those He created) (Qur’an 4:171). Allah guided the Ummah of Muhammad to the truth.”
(Al-Ṭabarî 4:284; Tafsir Ibn Kathir, first Edition, Volume 1, pp 589-590, Darussalam).
Thus, Allah تعالى و سبحانه perfected our Religion by guiding the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ to worship none but Allah (La ilaha illa-Allah) by removing the deviations and corruptions, and newly spelling out decreed regulations of performance to maximize the blessings of the Prayer ritual. This was part of the overall Shari’ah unified program:
“…This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:3]
“This indeed was the biggest favor from Allah to this Ummah, for He has completed their religion for them, and they, thus, do not need any other religion or any other Prophet except Muhammad ﷺ. This is why Allah تعالى و سبحانه made him the Final Prophet and sent him to all humans and jinn. Accordingly, what He allows is [our] permission, and what he prohibits is [our] prohibition, and what he legislates is [our] Law; everything that he conveys is true [to our created nature] and authentic and does not contain lies or contradictions.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir [abridged], First Edition: January 2000, Volume 3, p. 93, Darussalam)
There was an islam [existing, yet without the label] before Muhammad (ﷺ), but it was not a perfected Islam. Perfection came with Muhammad (ﷺ):
“And thus We have revealed to you [O Muhammad] a Qur’an in Arabic that you may warn the Mother of the Towns [Makkah] and all around it, and warn [them] of the Day of Assembling, of which there is no doubt: when a party will be in Paradise and a party in the blazing Fire [Hell].” (Sûrah Al-Shûrâ, 42:7)
The Religion of Islam came as a stranger to the pagan Arabs and to the world around them. It was Muhammad who brought it home to the pagans and changed the strongest enemy of Allah to be His most ardent believers.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Holy Prophet ﷺ said:
“Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange, so ‘Blessed are the strangers.’ ” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 145)
Ṣalâh [Prayer] has empowering beneficial impacts on the spiritual life and on the worldly life of a believer. The deed of Ṣalaḥ [Prayer] creates the shield against lewdness, disbelief, polytheism and all kinds of wicked deeds, and it clears the way to be elevated to a state, worthy to be remembered in the August Gathering of Angels:
“Recite [O Muhammad] what has been revealed to you of the Book [Qur’an], and perform Al–Ṣalâh [Iqamah-al-ṣalah]. Verily, Al-Ṣalâh [the Prayer] prevents from Al-Fahsha (i.e. great sins of every kind, including unlawful sexual intercourse) and Al-Munkar (disbelief, polytheism, all kinds of wicked deeds); and the remembering [of you by] Allah [in front of the angels] is greater indeed [than your remembering (praising) of Allah in Prayers]. And Allah knows what you do.” [Sûrah Al-CAnkabût 29:45]
Reciting, understanding and meditating on the verses of the Qur’an —during the standing position in Ṣalâh— accord with our spiritual knowledge, our lives, and the pure desires arising from within it. When these are achieved within an individual, the essence and purpose of Prayer are established. This mindfully implemented part of the Prayer purges us of anything (act, plan, thought, motive, words) of which we should be ashamed, or which would inflict injustice on others. (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, comment # 3471 to Verse 29:45, p. 998)
Meditation [on the Quranic verses recited] opens our spiritual eyes to the environment, to the natural phenomena around us, and it connects us to the very Source and Cause of all phenomena. Our spiritual eyes see the manifestation of Allah’s Attributes in every realm of the creation. Meditation is the crucial invisible channel through which divine admonition flows to our hearts and minds:
“[This is] a Book [the Qur’an] which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may receive admonition.” [Sûrah Al-Ṣâd, 38:29]
Meditation is indeed a spiritual journey within ourselves! When the admonition penetrates our inmost life and being, we realize the Presence of Allah تعالى و سبحانه within ourselves as if we are having a spiritual vision.
Our Prayer (Ṣalaḥ) is a divinely guided format defined by physical actions and spiritual transformation:
- In physical actions the worshipper attains physical purity, standing for Prayer and moving from station to station which include: standing, bowing, Qawmah (a brief raising up to standing after bowing), prostration (Sujûd), sitting (Jalsa, between two prostrations) and Tashahud, the final sitting. Moving from station to station, with full awareness and presence of mind, is the actualization of steps toward a gradual spiritual transformation.
- In spiritual transformation, the worshiper starts his Prayer declaring the greatness of his Creator (Takbir Tahrimah), intending to leave behind the material world on his way to entering the spiritual world. He then exalts Allah تعالى و سبحانه and he engages himself in conversation with Him by reciting the opening chapter of the Quran (Sûrah Al-Fâtiḥah): therein he acknowledges Him as the Lord of the creations, expresses his gratitude for His Mercy, acknowledges His Ownership of the Day of Resurrection and Judgment, beseeches His help and asks for Guidance on the Straight Path. The supplication is made in the best and highest level of etiquettes:
“It is only You that we worship, and it is only You that we ask for help.” [Sûrah Al-Fâtiḥah, 1:5]
As the worshipper submerges himself in Prayer, he passes through a phenomenal change in mind and heart, one that transcends the barrier of time and space and takes him to the very proximity of the Sublime, Allah تعالى و سبحانه . He experiences the vision: “as if he is seeing Him”! At this point, his action has attained the quality of Ihsan, the ‘best act’ as defined and affirmed by Gabriel ﺳﻼﻢ ﷷ:
Narrated by Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said,
“To worship Allah as if you can see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then [take it for granted that] Allah sees you.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî, Hadith 4777; Book 65, Hadith 299; Vol. 6, Book 60, Hadith 300)
The quality of one’s personal performance of Prayer will vary from time to time, from place to place, and from person to person. Its acceptance level is defined by minimum requirements, which range up to the highest level of Ihsan (“excellence,” as experienced in the Prayers of Prophets and Messengers).
The sequential movements in Prayer, from one station to the other, is heralded by the Takbir (saying “allahu-akbar“—Allah is Great), followed by relevant Ẓikr (“remembrance,” expressed in specific phrases spoken in recognition of the praiseworthiness of Allah):
- In bowing, the worshiper magnifies Allah تعالى و سبحانه by reciting: Subḥana rabbiy al-aẓîm—”Glory to my Lord Who is the very greatest.“
- In Qawmah: while returning to standing from bowing, he says: SamiCa Allahu liman ḥamida—”Verily Allah listen to one who praises Him”; and on standing, he recites: Rabbana, laka al-ḥamd — “Oh, our Lord, all the praises be to you.” Then he goes into prostration, saying: Allahu Akbar—”Allah is the Greatest.”
- In prostration, he furthermore exalts Him by reciting: Subḥana Rabbiy al-ACla—”Oh Allah, glory be to You, the Most High.”
Beside the Ẓikr specific to each station, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to supplicate copiously. Should we not strive to follow his example as closely as we can?
Narrated by Malik Ibn Al-Huwayrith, that the Prophet ﷺ said,
“Offer your Ṣalâh the way you see me offering them.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî, 5662; Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, 674)
In RukûC (Bowing) he would say:
Narrated by Ali (RA) that the Prophet ﷺ supplicated,
“Oh! My Lord, I bow to you and I believe in you and I submit to you. You are my Lord. My ear, my sight, my brain, my bones, my tendons and whatever has been carried by my feet is submitted to the Lord of the worlds.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, Hadith 771)
In Sujûd (Prostration) he would say:
Narrated by Ali (RA) that the Prophet ﷺ supplicated,
“Oh Allah, for You I have prostrated, and in You I have faith, and unto You I have submitted: my forehead has prostrated in front of the One Who created it and gave shape to it and made it perfectly. Then He gave it the power of hearing and sight. So blessed is Allah’s name, Who is the Perfect Creator.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, Hadith 771)
In Jalsa (raising up to Sitting between the two prostrations) he would say:
Narrated by Hudhaifah (RA) that the Prophet (ﷺ) supplicated,
“O Allah, forgive me, and have mercy on me, and keep me on the right path. Keep me healthy, and provide me with [spiritually clean – halal] sources of living. Complete my shortcomings, and make my rank high.” (Jami’ Al-Tirmidhi, Vol.1, Book of Salat, Hadith # 262)
In Tashahud (the Final Sitting ending each cycle), he used to start with the Salutation to Allah تعالى و سبحانه, testifying to His Purity and asking Allah تعالى و سبحانه to send His blessings to the Prophet. The Prophet would receive them and take the blessings (Salâm) for his Ummah and the righteous worshipers:
Narrated Shaqiq bin Salama:
Abdullah said: Once we were praying behind the Prophet ﷺ… he looked back at us and said, “Allah تعالى و سبحانه Himself is Al-Salam, and if anyone of you prays then he should say: ‘All the complements, prayer, and good things are due to Allah: Peace be on you, O Prophet and Allah’s mercy and blessings be on you. Peace be on us and on the true pious slaves of Allah.”And “I bear witness that no one is worthy of worship except Allah. And I testify that Muhammad (ﷺ) is His slave and Messenger.’ ” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî Vol 1, Hadith # 794, page 441)
After Shahadah and reciting Ṣalâh CAla al-Nabi (also known as Durûd-i Ibrâhîmiyyah), he would send blessings to Muhammad and his family and to Prophet Ibrahim and his family:
Narrated by Abdullah bin Zaid on the authority of Mas’ud al-Ansari:
“We were sitting in the company of SaCid b. CUbayda when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came to us. Bashir b. SCad said: ‘Allah has commanded us to bless you. Messenger of Allah! But how should we bless you?’ He (the narrator) said: ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ kept quiet (and we were so much perturbed over his silence that we wished we had not asked him). The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then said: [For blessing me)] say:” O Allah, bless Muhammad and the members of his household as Thou didst bless the members of Ibrahim’s household. Grant favors to Muhammad and the members of his household as Thou didst grant favors to the members of the household of Ibrahim in the world. Thou art indeed Praiseworthy and Glorious”; and [then pronounce] the salutation as you [have already come to] know [it]. (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, 803)
Then he would ask Allah’s forgiveness before ending the Prayer making the greetings of Salâm to the right and to the left:
Narrated by Abdullah bin Amr (RA) from Abu Bakr (RA) that the Prophet (ﷺ) supplicated:
“O Allah, I surely have transgressed against myself [many times]. And there is no one who can forgive sins but You. So forgive me with Your forgiveness and have mercy on me. Verily You are the Forgiver and the Merciful.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî, Hadith 834; and Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim, Hadith 2705)
Thus the devotee starts the Prayer with entering into a state of purity before his holy Lord (“Takbir Taḥrimah“), denouncing the infringement of the material world, and at the end he returns back to the world with his “Requests for Peace,” so that life can continue in blessed peace and tranquility.
To be continued in Part 2…