What are the acts that a Muslim should do before and during the prayer?
The Obligatory Acts before the Prayer
For the prayer to be complete and acceptable by God, one must perform the following acts:
Purify oneself from all major and minor impurity by performing ghusl (the major ablution) and wudu (the minor ablution), respectively. If one has not broken wudu between two prayer times, it does not need to be renewed before the next prayer. The Prophet strongly recommended that one should clean his or her teeth with a miswak, or at least something clean, while making wudu.
Remove any impurity from ones clothes, body, and place of prayer. The impurities that invalidate prayer were mentioned in the section on tahara. They are divided into two categories: gross impurity (najasat al-ghaliza) or weak impurity (najasat al-khafifa). Vomit, urine, excrement, wadi (a thick white secretion discharged after urination), mazi (a white sticky fluid that flows from the sexual organs when thinking about sexual intercourse or foreplay, and so on), prostatic fluid, are included in gross impurity. Also included in this category are the urine, saliva, and blood of all animals whose meat is forbidden, the excrement of all animals (except birds) whose meat is allowable, the excrement of poultry (geese, hens, and ducks), any part of pigs, and alcohol. Any such solid filth that weighs more than 3 grams and any liquid more than the amount that spreads over ones palm, invalidates the prayer.
The urine of horses and domestic or wild animals whose meat is allowed is weak impurity (najasat al-khafifa). If such impurity is more than one-fourth of a limb or smears more than one-fourth of ones clothes, the prayer is invalidated.
Covering the area of the body that cannot be shown in public. For the men, this is from the knee to the navel; for women, the whole body except the face, hands, and feet.
Facing the qibla (the direction of the Sacred Mosque in Makka) during the prayer. If one does not know its location, one must search for it. If one prays in another direction after searching, the prayer is valid. If the chest is turned from the qibla during prayer, the prayer is invalid. If the head is turned even for a moment, the person must immediately turn it back toward the qibla.
Performing the prayer in its time.
The Obligatory Acts during the Prayer
Make the intention to perform a specific prayer. Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawud relate from Umar that Gods Messenger said: Actions are judged according to intentions. One is rewarded for whatever one intends to do. Whoever emigrates for God and His Messenger has emigrated for God and His Messenger; whoever emigrates to acquire something worldly or to marry has emigrated for what is intended. (Bukhari, Bedul-Wahy, 1; Muslim, Iman, 155.) Thus the intention is the aim and purpose of something. It is a condition of the heart and does not have to be spoken out loud. This is why the Prophet and his Companions never spoke their intentions.
Say the opening takbir and begin the prayer. When Gods Messenger stood for prayer, he would stand straight, raise his hands as high as his ears, and, with his palms facing the qibla, say: Allahu akbar.
Stand while reciting Surat al-Fatiha (the Opening Chapter of the Quran) and a selection of verses. One must stand during the obligatory prayers, if at all possible. But if this is not possible, the prayer can be performed while sitting or, if even that is not possible, while lying on ones right side. The feet should be kept about a span or a little more apart while standing in prayer. The voluntary (supererogatory) prayers can be offered while sitting, although standing will bring a greater reward.
Recite Surat al-Fatiha and another portion from the Quran. This is obligatory in the first two rakats (cycles) of the obligatory prayers and in every rakat of necessary (wajib), recommended (sunna), and supererogatory (nafila) prayers. In the last cycle (i.e., the third rakat of the evening prayer and the last two rakats of the obligatory noon, afternoon, and late evening prayers), reciting al-Fatiha is preferable, but one can glorify (Subhanallah), praise (al-hamdu lillah), exalt (Allahu akbar) God, and declare His Unity (La ilaha illallah). The portion to be recited after Surat al-Fatiha should be as long as the shortest sura (Surat al-Kawthar).
No translation of the Quran can be recited during the prayer, for the Quran is composed of both its meaning and wording and is from God with both its meaning and wording.
Bow down and remain in that position (ruku) for some time (long enough to say Subhanallah three times). The position of ruku consists of bending down and grasping the knees with the palms, and leaving the fingers partly spread apart. This position is maintained until one attains calmness. The back must be kept straight while bowing.
Prostrate (sujud). Gods Messenger explains: Prostrate until you are calm in your prostration, then rise (and sit) until you are calm in your sitting, and then prostrate until you are calm in your prostration. The first prostration, sitting afterwards, the second prostration, and calmness during all of these acts are obligatory in every rakat of every type of prayer offered.
Bukhari relates (Ezan, 133, 134, 137) from Gods Messenger, concerning the parts of the body that must touch the ground during prostration, that he said: I have been ordered to prostrate on seven bodily parts: the forehead (and he also pointed to his nose), the hands, the knees and the ends of the feet.
The final sitting and recital of the tashahhud. In the prayers last rakat, one must sit long enough to recite the tashahhud before ending the prayer with giving greetings by turning ones head to the right and then to the left and saying: As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatullah (Upon you be peace and Gods mercy). During this sitting, one says the tashahhud or tahiyyat. Reciting words of salat wa salam (Gods peace and blessings) on Muhammad and his Family is necessary.
Necessary (But Not Obligatory) Things to Complete the Prayer
To complete the prayer, one must recite correctly, understandably, and distinctly; carry out all of the obligatory acts correctly and in the proper order; attain calmness; straighten the body while standing, bowing down, and prostrating; bow, prostrate, and stand after bowing and before prostrating and sit between prostrations as long as it takes to say Subhanallah at least.
Unless there is an acceptable impediment, prayers should be performed in congregation.
One who prays alone should recite al-Fatiha and a portion from the Quran inaudibly in both the prescribed or supererogatory prayers performed during the day. One can recite loudly or inaudibly during the night prayers. In congregation, the imam (the one leading the prayer) should recite audibly in all rakats of the early morning (fajr), jumua, tarawih, and witr prayers, and the first two rakats of the evening and late evening prayers. He should recite inaudibly in all rakats of the noon and afternoon prayers, the last one rakat of the evening prayer, and the last two rakats of the late evening prayer.
Sitting between the second and third rakats of those prayers having three or four rakats.
The obligatory acts during prayers should be done one after the other, without doing anything extra between them.
Ending the prayer by giving greetings on both sides and saying as-salamu alaykum wa-rahmatullah.
Having sincerity, humility, and concentration. Prayer is the most important kind of worship, so it must be performed in the best way possible. In addition to fulfilling its obligatory and necessary acts, praying in humility, with utmost sincerity and self-concentration on God are essential.
Each prayer contains certain acts that are sunna, meaning that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, performed them and advised Muslims to do likewise. They are highly important for completing the prayer and receiving a greater reward.
While beginning the prayer and saying the opening takbir, one should raise ones hands (according to the Hanafis) as high as the ears and the thumbs touch the earlobes.
According to the Hanafis, the hands should be placed below the navel, (the Shafiis say below the chest), and the right hand should grasp the wrist of the left arm.
The prayer should begin with a supplication used by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to begin his prayers. This is said after the opening takbir and before reciting al-Fatiha;
The Hanafis prefer: Subhanakallahumma wa bi-hamdik. Wa tebarakasmuk. Wa taala jadduk. Wa la ilaha ghayruk. (Glory be to You, O God, and to You is the praise. Blessed is Your Name and most high is Your honor. There is no deity besides You).
The Shafiis prefer: Inni wajjahtu wajhiya lillezi fataras-samawati wal-ardi hanifan wa ma ana minel-mushrikin. Inna salati wa nusuki wa mahyaya wa mamati lillahi Rabbil-alamin, la sharika lah; wa bi-dhalike umirtu; wa ana minal-muslimin (I have turned my face to the One Who has originated the heavens and Earth as a sincere submissive one, and I am not one of the polytheists. My prayers, my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for God, the Lord of the Worlds. He has no partner. That is what I have been ordered and I am of those who submit.). Other supplications related from the Messenger also can be recited before al-Fatiha.
Saying Amin after reciting al-Fatiha.
Reciting considerably long passages from the Quran after al-Fatiha in the morning (about one page or more in each rakat, being longer in the first one), noon, and afternoon prayers (about one page), either a somewhat long or shorter passages in the evening prayers, and short passages in the late evening prayer.
Saying the takbir upon every bowing down, sitting down, moving to and rising from prostration, and standing up after sitting. Upon rising from the bowing, all Muslims should say: Samiallahu li-man hamidah (God hears him who praises Him), and after it, Rabbana wa-lakal-hamd (Our Lord, and to You is all praise).
Saying Subhana Rabiyyal-Azim (Glory be to my Lord, the Mighty) three times while bowing, and Subhana Rabbiyal-Ala (Glory be to my Lord, the Most High) while prostrating.
Supplicating after the final tashahhud and before giving the final salutations (that end the prayer). These may consist of any supplication mentioned in the Quran or reported from the Messenger.
Saying words of remembrance, asking forgiveness, and supplicating after the prayer. The most famous and widespread one reported from the Messenger is: Astaghfirullahal-Azim (I ask God the Mighty for forgiveness: three times), and Allahumma antas-Salamu wa minkas-salam. Tabarakta ya Dhal-Jalali wal-Ikram (O God, You are the Peace, and from You is peace. All blessed and One bestowing blessings You are, O One of Majesty and Munificence). Afterwards, reciting Ayat al-Kursiy (2:255) and saying words of glorification (Subhanallah), praise (al-hamdu lillah), and exaltation (Allahu akbar) each 33 times.
Disliked and Discouraged Things
Beginning the prayer while feeling the need to answer a call of nature.
Omitting any sunna act.
Thinking about worldly affairs while praying.
Doing things that cannot be reconciled with being in Gods presence (e.g., cracking ones knuckles, playing with any part of the body or clothes, smoothing the stones on the ground, putting the hands on the hips while bending down or standing up, yawning, blowing something, coughing, or cleaning the throat without a valid excuse).
Leaning on a post, a wall, or something similar without a valid excuse.
Praying while having something to eat or chew in the mouth, regardless of its size.
Praying while angry or hungry, when food has been placed nearby, or wearing something that may distract ones attention.
Praying in the path of people who are passing in front of one.
Things That Invalidate the Prayer
Omitting any of the prayers obligatory acts, regardless if doing so is intentional or out of ignorance or forgetfulness.
Uttering a word, even if only 2 letters long, that is not included in the recitations of the prayer.
Weeping, sighing and complaining about worldly things, and making any noise (except clearing the throat, coughing, or yawning) or speaking. Only weeping unintentionally out of fear or love of God and similar things does not invalidate the prayer.
Talking and answering any call or salutation.
Reciting the Quran or supplications so incorrectly that it cannot be found in the Quran or among the reports from the Messenger and transforms the meaning so that it violates Islamic truths and principles.
Saying prayers that are not found in the Quran or reported from the Messenger, and concerning worldly things, such as, O Lord, enable me to pay my debts, or Lord, let me marry such-and-such a woman (or man).
Moving aside or changing places when asked or ordered to do so by one who is not praying.
Doing something that makes someone else think that one is not praying.
Doing something that invalidates ritual purity.
Turning ones chest from the qibla.
Eating or swallowing anything bigger than a chickpea grain that has remained between the teeth.