In this brief essay we intend to elucidate on a most incomparable institution; one which is considered an essential practice of Islam—that is Salah (Islamic Worship/Prayer)
PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
Before I explain in greater detail how Muslims perform the Salah, or before I proceed to translate the various passages a worshipper recites therein, I consider it necessary to first discourse on two essential matters.
One objective of worship is to articulate gratitude to that holy being Who in Arabic is called Allah and in English is called God. Human beings are naturally compelled to feel gratitude towards their benefactor. According to a hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad):
The of constitution the heart compels human beings to love their benefactor.
Hence, one of the most important functions of Salah is that individuals are able to come before their Lord and affirm the favours He has bestowed on them in their own language and tongue.
Besides this, worship also serves another purpose: it cleanses people of their sins and evil inclinations. Allah the Exalted does not stand in need of human adoration; the true purpose of the commandments He has imparted is to purify people, for Allah the Exalted is pure and cannot establish a relationship with that which is tainted. He desires that those who draw near to Him also be pure. All forms of worship that are ordained by God, aim to free the self from evil and mischief, and endow people with the strength to forgo their gratuitous desires. Worship ought to help individuals better their relationship with Allah the Exalted, as well as solidifying their bond with His creation.
Accordingly, religion as defined by Islam, is that which strengthens the human relationship with the divine and enhances the kinship of people. A system of belief which fails to satisfy any of these essentials, cannot be considered a religion, because it does not fulfil the requirements of faith. Thus the real purpose of all prescribed religious practice is to bring people nearer to God Almighty and to give them the strength to eschew sin. Any act of worship which provides the means for the fulfilment of these two needs is beneficial, and to occupy oneself in that which fails in these objectives is to idle away one’s time. The Holy Qur’an has explained this in the following terms:
Salah is a safeguard against indecency and evil.
In other words, it fulfils the purpose of worship.
REQUISITES OF WORSHIP
Once it has been determined that the true purpose of prayer is to establish a relationship with Allah the Exalted, express gratitude to Him and the reformation of the self, then whatever mode of worship achieves these two ends is correct, and the religion which prescribes it ought to be considered the true religion.
The mode of worship decreed by Islam for its followers and the means prescribed to attain these objectives is such that it cannot be found in any other faith. If people reflected on this, they would conclude that the means adopted by the Islamic form of worship are the only ones that sufficiently fulfill the [ultimate] aim of devotion. They are as follows:
The body and soul are so closely linked that each impacts the other. For instance, when a person receives bad news, the sadness it causes is also manifested on the body. Similarly, physical pain also afflicts the soul. The same is true of feelings of pleasure.
One method by which to attach the heart to God Almighty during worship is to enter into a posture which might induce humility, so that this affects the soul and brings sorrow and meekness to the heart and allows people to focus on God Almighty with full fervor.
Various postures of humility have been adopted by the world. In some places humility is expressed through the act of bowing, while in others standing with folded hands is a sign of meekness, and still in others through kneeling or prostration. Islam, which originates from the Creator of [human] nature, has kept in mind all types of dispositions and diversity of expression and combined all these acts in the Salah. Accordingly, people of various dispositions find an expression of humility within the Salah which accords to their temperament. Under the influence of these various devotional postures, the human heart is filled with fervor and it submits itself before God Almighty.
The spectacle of a Muslim standing before God Who is Lord of all the worlds at times with folded hands, bending low, standing with open hands [and arms hanging from the sides], falling in prostration or sitting resting on the knees is awe-inspiring. [And in the process of these movements] his heart is filled with the love a created [life] harbours for its Creator and the entirety of his being emits the prayer: ‘God! I render homage to You through all those acts which the different peoples of the world have assumed as postures of humility.’ The sight of the Islamic prayer not only moves the hearts of worshippers and inclines them towards Allah the Exalted, but also of those who behold them.
The second requisite of Salah prescribed by Islam in order to fulfill its aims is supplication, which has been referred to as its essence. [In a hadith] the Holy Prophet describes it as that, “prayer is the pith of worship”.
Supplication is the essence of Salah and it possesses such potency that on the one hand it brings a worshipper nearer to Allah the Exalted, and on the other, it delivers to them clear and accessible means by which to protect themselves from sin. When our parents or those who are in a position of worldly authority over us accept our entreaties and implorations, how then is it possible that God Almighty, Who is the most merciful among those who show mercy, would reject the earnest supplications of His creation? Thus Salah is a compendium of prayer which develops love for Allah the Exalted, and through the acceptance of the supplications of a person, it becomes an avenue for their guidance and progress.
The third requisite prescribed by Islam is the contemplation of divine powers. Until an individual possesses complete knowledge of a thing, their relationship with it is deficient. For example, anyone who does not appreciate the value of learning cannot strive for the acquisition of knowledge; again anyone who is ignorant of the effects of poison will not fear it. Therefore, to establish a true relationship with Allah the Exalted and to eschew vice, it is imperative to have a complete understanding of His being. In the Islamic prayer the worshipper is enjoined to recite such passages [of the Holy Qur’an] which manifest the grandeur of Allah the Exalted and reveal Him to be worthy of their love.
The effect of this is that they are compelled to fall prostrate in His presence and their hearts are filled with love and awe. When, at one time, all the favours of Allah the Exalted are presented before an individual; when they are made aware of the consequences of disobedience and estrangement from Him, they are overcome by a longing to separate [themselves from everything besides God] and draw inexorably towards Him. [It will become clear further on] to the reader through the translation of [the prayers and invocations that make up the] Salah, the extent to which these objectives have been kept in mind and how Salah instils recognition of God Almighty’s pure and faultless being and how it fills the heart of the worshipper with divine love and helps them avoid sin. Such an example cannot be found in any other religion.
The mode of worship prescribed by Islam is so perfect and in accordance with the needs of humanity that it is unmatched by any other faith. And a close examination of it would sufficiently show Islam’s superiority over other faiths. Regrettably, I cannot write on this matter in further detail as the principle aim of this brief essay is to elucidate on the etiquettes of the Salah.
AZAN – THE CALL TO PRAYER
The azan or call to prayer is a feature of excellence unique to Islam. Instead of bells, horns or other similar means, Islam has adopted a more enlightened method for inviting people to prayer. The words of the azan are so impressive and pregnant with meaning that they distinguish it as the only noble and reasonable call to prayer. They are as follows:
Allahu Akbar (four times), Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah (twice). Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah (twice). Hayya ‘alassalah (twice). Hayya ‘alal-falah (twice). Allahu Akbar (twice). La ilaha illallah
Allah is the greatest (four times), I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah (twice), I bear witness that Muhammadsa is the Messenger of Allah (twice), come to prayer (twice), come to success (twice), Allah is the greatest (twice), There is none worthy of worship except Allah.
METHOD OF WUZU – Ablution
Muslims have to prepare themselves prior to joining the prayer through a [cleansing ritual] known as wuzu. The ritual acts of wuzu are as follows:
- Wash each hand three time.
- Rinse the inner mouth three times.
- Wash the nostrils three times by taking in a small amount of water.
- Wash the face three times with a handful of water.
- First wash the right arm three times and then the left arm up to the elbow.
- Wet the hands and gently wipe the head with three fingers from each hand. The forefinger ought to be used to wipe the inner ear and the thumb to clean the outer ear.
- Wash both feet up to the ankles three times starting with the right. However, if one puts on a pair of socks in a state of ablution, it is sufficient to pass wet hands over them in all subsequent ablutions thereafter.
This collective process is known as wuzu and it must be performed before the Salah can be undertaken.
In situations where water is not available within a radius of at least a mile, or if a person is suffering from some sort of ailment which prohibits the use of water, they may perform tayammum in place of wuzu. The acts of tayammum are as follows:
- Pat both hands on a piece of ground or a natural surface.
- Pass both hands over ones face.
- Wipe both hands over one another.
After performing the wuzu, a Muslim stands for prayer with their face turned towards the Ka‘bah. It should be remembered that when Muslims face the Ka‘bah during the Salah this does not mean that they consider it an object of worship. Rather, when this [house of prayer] was being built, Abraham supplicated to God to raise a prophet from here who would guide people and purify them.
Because the Holy Prophet claimed to be the prophet [who came in fulfillment of this prayer]—Muslims face the Ka‘bah to remind themselves of this promise and to seek to reform their deeds. In the Holy Qur’an Allah the Exalted says:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the east or the west, (that is, do not think facing the Ka’bah is an act of virtue) but truly righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and spends out of the wealth he holds dear on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives; and who observes prayer and makes financial sacrifices for his pleasure; and those who fulfil their promise when they have made one, and are patient in poverty and afflictions and the steadfast in time of war; it is these who have proved truthful and it is these who are the God-fearing.
Facing the Ka‘bah Muslims start their by saying Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest) and raise both hands up to the ears. After this they place the right hand over the left with both arms drawn over the chest. The fingers of the right hand grasp the left arm near the elbow. From this moment on worshippers are forbidden to speak to anyone, look around or move from their place until the prayer ends. After entering this posture, the worshipper recites the following prayers:
Subhanakalla-humma wa bihamdika wa tabara kasmuka wa ta‘ala jadduka wala ilaha ghairuka.
Holy are You, O’ Allah and all praise is Yours; blessed is Your name and exalted is Your state. There is none worthy of worship except You alone.
They then recite:
A‘udhu billahi minash-shaitanir-rajim.
I seek refuge with Allah the Exalted from Satan the Accursed.
Following this the worshipper will recite the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an which is known as Surah Al-Fatihah:
Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rah im. Al hamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘alamin. Ar-Rahmanir-Rahim. Maliki yaumiddin. Iyy a k a na‘budu wa iyyaka nasta‘in. Ihdinas-sirat al-mustaqim. Sirat alladhina an‘amta ‘alaihim, ghairil maghdubi ‘alaihim wa laddallin.
I begin by invoking the name of Allah Who bestows bounties (like sunlight and air) and Who does not let anyone’s labours go to waste. I declare that Allah the Exalted, Who is the Sustainer of all creation is alone and worthy of all praise. He grants blessings without consideration of actions but also gives multiple rewards for one’s deeds—no enterprise is unrewarded. Sin and virtue earn their rightful consequence in accordance with the commandment of God. (And I say unto God Who I have just extolled) we submit to You alone and seek only Your help in all our works. Show us the right path in all things, the path taken by those on whom You have bestowed Your favours. And once we earn Your love, let it not be the case that we should for any reason incur Your wrath or that we should willingly abandon You and go astray.
After the recitation of this chapter the worshipper says amin meaning—so be it, my Lord!
After this the worshipper recites a passage from the Holy Qur’an of any length of their choosing.
Then the worshipper frees their arms and says Allahu Akbar and bows until their head is aligned with their waist while their hands rest above their knees.
In this position the following words are repeated at least three times:
Subhana Rabbiyal ‘Azim.
Holy is my Lord the Most Great.
The worshipper stands straight again with hands to the side (Illustration 4) and says:
Sami ‘allahu liman hamidah.
Allah the Exalted hears the prayers of those who extol His glory.
In the same position they then recite:
Rabbana walakal hamd, hamdan kathiran tayyiban mubarakan fih.
Our Lord! To You belongs all praise, the praise which is bountiful, pure and blessed.
Once again the worshipper says Allahu Akbar and bows in prostration (Illustrations 5a and 5b) and repeats the following words at least three times:
Subhana Rabbiyal a‘ala.
Holy is my Lord the Most High.
Then with the words Allahu Akbar the worshipper moves to a sitting posture with their hands resting over their knees. The right foot is erected on the toes while the left foot is laid flat to help the worshipper sit. In this position the worshipper recites:
Allahummaghfir li warhamni wahdini wa ‘afini warfa‘ni wajburni warzuqni.
O’ Allah forgive me my sins and have mercy on me and guide me and grant me security from every type of evil and grant me honour and reform me and provide for me sustenance.
Again the worshipper says Allahu Akbar and returns to the prostration position where they recite the same words as were recited in the previous prostration. Then with the words Allahu Akbar the worshipper returns to the standing position.
This entire process is called a rak‘at. A full Salah comprises of two, three or four rak‘at. The second rak‘at of the Salah is performed just like the first but with the following differences.
First, the prayer with which the Salah began, subhanakallah-humma wa bihamdika, is not recited again and the rak‘at commences with the recitation of Surah Al-Fatihah which is followed by the recitation of another passage of the Holy Qur’an. After this the process remains the same as the first rak‘at.
Secondly, when the worshipper completes both prostrations, they do not enter the standing position as they did in the first rak‘at, but instead sit on their knees as they did between the two prostrations and recite the words:
Attahiyyatu lillahi was-salawatu wat-tayyibatu assalamu ‘alaika ayyuhan-Nabbiyyu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. Assalamu ‘alaina wa ‘ala ‘ibadillahis- salihin. Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallahu wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa Rasuluh.
All salutations, whether made through words, physical actions or charity are for Allah (in other words one cannot worship anything other than Allah the Exalted in any manner). Peace be upon you, O’ Prophet, and the mercy of Allah the Exalted and His blessings (that is to say, their increase); and peace be on us and on all righteous servants of Allah the Exalted. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, He is One and has no partner and I bear witness that Muhammadsa is His servant, His creation (he is neither God nor the son of God) and His messenger.
The latter part of this prayer from the words I bear witness onwards is known as Tashahhud. Then remaining in the sitting position the worshipper says:
Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala ali Muhammadin, kama sallaita ‘ala ibrahima wa ‘ala ali ibrahima innaka Hamidum-Majid.
Allahuma barik ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala ali Muhammadin kama barakta ‘ala ibrahima wa ‘ala ali ibrahima innaka Hamidum-Majid.
Bless, O’ Allah, Muhammad and the true followers of Muhammad, as You did bless Abraham and the people of Abraham. You are indeed the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.
Prosper, O’ Allah, Muhammad and the true followers of Muhammad, as You did prosper Abraham and the true followers of Abraham. You are the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.
This invocation is known as Durud. Again in the same position the worshipper recites one or more of the following prayers:
Allahumma inni zalamtu nafsi zulman kathiran wa la yaghfirudh-dhunuba illa anta faghfir li maghfiratan min ‘indika warhamni innaka antal Ghafurur Rahim.
Allahumma inni a‘udhu bika minal-hammi wal ghammi wa a‘udhu bika minal-jubni wal-bukhli wa a‘udhu bika minal ijzi wal kasali wa a‘udhu bika min ghalabatid-daini wa qahrir-rijal.
Rabbij‘alni muqimas-salati wa min dhur-riyyati. Rabbana wa taqabbal du‘a. Rabbanaghfir li waliwalidayya wa lil-mu’minina yauma yaqumul hisab.
Rabbana atina fiddunya hasanatan wa fil akhirati hasanatan waqina adhabannar.
O’ Allah I have been unjust to myself and no one grants pardon for sins except You; therefore, forgive me with Your forgiveness and have mercy on me. Surely You are the Forgiver, the Merciful.
O’ Allah I seek Your protection against problems and anxieties, and I seek Your protection against cowardice and miserliness, and I seek Your protection against helplessness and shiftlessness, and I seek Your protection against indebtedness, and I seek Your protection to keep my freedom and to protect me from the tyrannical rule of any individual.
My Lord make me observe Prayer, and my children too. Our Lord! Accept my prayer. Our Lord, grant forgiveness to my parents and I and the believers on the day when the reckoning will take place.
Our Lord, bestow on us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and shield us from the torment of the fire.
Finally, the worshipper turns their face towards the right and says:
Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullah.
Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah.
Then the worshipper turns their face towards the left and says the same words. The Salah is now finished and the worshipper is free to do as they please. A prayer performed in accordance with the instructions set out above ought to take a few minutes to perform.
There are five times prescribed for the daily Salah are as follows:
The first time is from dawn to sunrise and is known as Fajr. The Salah comprises two rak‘at which are obligatory and performed in congregation and is preceded by an individually performed Salah also of two rak‘at.
The second time, Zuhr, begins from when the sun passes the Meridian and lasts approximately three hours. This Salah comprises four rak‘at which are obligatory and performed in congregation and is preceded and followed by two individually performed Salah of four rak‘at each.
After this the time for Asr starts. The Salah comprises four rak‘at which are obligatory and performed in congregation.
Maghrib is the Salah performed immediately after sunset and comprises three rak‘at which are obligatory and performed in congregation followed by an individually performed Salah of two rak‘at.
From approximately an hour and a half after sunset the time for the fifth prayer begins which is known as Isha. The Salah consists of four rak‘at which are obligatory and performed in congregation] followed by two rak’at and three rak‘at respectively. The time for ‘Isha’ lasts until midnight.
Besides the specified five daily prayers Muslims are advised to perform four units of Salah comprising two rak‘at each between midnight and the break of dawn. This service is referred to as tahajjud and is not obligatory (on every Muslim). Whosoever wishes to perform it may do so.
SUPPLICATION DURING SALAH
Apart from the Arabic recitation of the obligatory prayers which comprise the Salah, worshippers are permitted to pray in their native language for whatever they want. Such supplications may be made during any of the positions of prayer.
SALAH IN CONGREGATION
It is permissible to offer the five daily prayers individually where there is no congregation. The minimum number of worshippers required for a congregation is two. Where two or more Muslims reside in close proximity to each other, it is recommended that the obligatory prayers be offered in congregation. Congregational prayers are led by an imam who usually stands a little ahead of the front row. The rest of the congregation are obligated to follow the imam throughout the service. If during the Salah the imam commits a mistake, any member of the congregation may draw attention to it Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad 46 by gently saying subhanallah (Holy is Allah); but if the imam does not heed this then it is incumbent on the congregation to continue to follow the imam until the end of the Salah.
In Islam, Friday is like the day of Sabbath. On this day instead of the usual midday service “Zuhr”, a two rak‘at Salah is performed in the central mosque of the town or neighbourhood. Local congregations are not held on this occasion and all worshippers are expected to attend the central mosque. Prior to the Salah an imam delivers a sermon. As there is no form of clergy or priesthood in Islam anyone can be chosen to deliver the sermon and lead the prayer service.