The Principles of Prayer

The pillars of prayer

What does takbir al-iftitah mean?

What is qiyam (standing)?

What is qira'ah (reading/reciting)?

How should qira'ah be performed?

What does ruku (bowing down) mean?

What does sujud (prostrations) mean?

On what is it necessary to prostrate?

What is the meaning and importance of prostration?

Some hadiths showing the importance of prostration

What is the last sitting?

How long is it necessary to sit?

How is it necessary to sit?

What is tahiyyat?


The Principles of Prayer

1 - The Opening (Iftitah) Takbir,

2 - Qiyam (Standing),

3 - Qira'ah (Reading the Quran),

4 - Ruku' (Bowing down),

5 - Sujud (Prostrations),

6 - Qa'da al-Akhirah (Last Sitting).


What is the Opening (Iftitah) Takbir?

It is necessary to start a prayer with takbir, that is, by saying Allahu Akbar. Therefore, this takbir is called iftitah (that is, starting the prayer). It is also called Tahrima.   

* Tahrima means to render something haram. The opening takbir is also called tahrima because the prayer is started with the phrase Allahu Akbar and it is haram to eat, drink, talk and work after that until the prayer ends.

* According to the majority of Hanafis, the opening takbir is not a principle of the prayer; it is a condition and is regarded to be outside the prayer. However, since it is very close to the principles of prayer, it is more appropriate to regard it as a principle.    

The imams of the other three madhhabs accept the opening takbir as a principle of prayer.

* The phrase for takbir is Allahu Akbar. However, it is also possible to start prayer with the following phrases glorifying Allah:

Allahu'l-azim Tabarakallah, Alhamdulillah, La ilaha illallah, Allahumma, Allah...

However, the following phrases are not used to start a prayer because they do not express glorification: Bismillah, Astaghfirullah, Audhu billah, Inna lillah, etc. They are phrases of dua.   

* It is necessary for the takbir of iftitah to be uttered while standing, without bowing down.

* A person who will follow the imam should not utter takbir before the imam. It is necessary to utter takbir close to the takbir of the imam or immediately after it. One cannot follow the imam with the takbir he utters before the imam.

* It is not permissible to eat, drink, speak and do other deeds that are not related to the prayer between niyyah and the opening takbir. It is necessary to start the prayer by saying Allahu Akbar just after the niyyah.


What is Qiyam?

Qiyam means to stand while performing a prayer. It is fard to stand in fard and wajib prayers.

* It is makruh to stand on one foot without any excuse. However, it is not necessary to perform such a prayer again.   

* It is not permissible to perform a fard prayer on an animal unless there is an excuse. A moving vehicle is like a walking animal. Therefore, fard and wajib prayers cannot be performed in vehicles that are moving unless there is a necessity.

* Prayers can be performed by sitting in a moving ship but it is better to perform by standing.   

* A flying plane is like a moving ship.

* A person who cannot stand due to a serious illness or an excuse can perform prayers by sitting. A person who can stand only for a while needs to stand first and can sit later. If a person can utter the opening takbir by standing needs to do it by standing and sit after that. 

* It is permissible to perform sunnah and mustahab prayers by sitting whether a person has an excuse or not. (It is better to perform them by standing.)  However, the sunnah of the morning prayer is an exception. Tarawih prayer cannot be performed by sitting just like the sunnah of the morning prayer without an excuse.

* A person who starts a supererogatory prayer by standing can finish it by sitting; similarly, he can start a supererogatory prayer by sitting and finish it by standing.


What is Qira'ah?

It means to read one or more verses of the Quran while standing in a prayer.

* It is fard to read at least one verse from the Quran in prayer. However, the verse has to contain two or more words. The prayer becomes invalid if a person reads a verse containing only one verse. (It is wajib to read the chapter of al-Fatiha and at least 3 verses.)

* A person who can read only one verse needs to read it only once according to Abu Hanifa. He does not repeat it three times in one rak'ah. According to Imam Muhammad and Imam Abu Yusuf, he needs to repeat it three times. However, according to them, it is not permissible for a person who knows 3 verses to repeat the same verse 3 times.    

According to the sound view, it is permissible to read one part of a long verse like ayat al-kursiyy in a rak'ah and the remaining part in another rak'ah. However, it is better not to do so.


How is Qira'ah performed?

The Quran read in the prayer should be pronounced silently but loud enough for the person reading it to hear himself. It is called silent reading. Reading through one's heart is not regarded as qira'ah. A prayer with such reading is not regarded as valid.

A person who follows the imam does not read the Quran in the prayer. He listens to the imam without reading anything; if the imam reads silently, the congregation waits without reading anything.

* According to Shafiis, a person who follows the imam has to read the Quran. They read the chapter of al-Fatiha whether the imam reads silently or aloud unless there is a risk of missing the rak'ah. According to Malikis and Hanbalis, the congregation needs to read the Quran only when the imam reads silently.

* It is fard al-ayn for every Muslim to memorize some verses of the Quran that will be enough to perform a prayer. It is wajib to memorize the chapter of al-Fatiha and an additional chapter. It is fard al-kifayah to memorize the whole Quran.

* Qira'ah is fard only in the first two rak'ahs of fard prayers. Qira'ah is not fard in the third and fourth rak'ahs. Qira'ah is performed in all rak'ahs of the witr and supererogatory prayers.


What does Ruku' Mean?

It means to bow down and by placing your palms on your knees.

* How is it Performed?

The minimum amount of ruku' is to bow down so that your hands touch your knees. Ruku' in accordance with sunnah is performed as follows: 

The upper part of the body is bowed down parallel to the earth and the head is held straight. The legs are held straight without being bent; the hands are placed on the knees and the knees are held tightly. Meanwhile, the head and the back are held straight.   

Women do not have to bow down fully. Bowing down about halfway will do.

A person who performs prayers by sitting needs to bend his back so that his forehead will be parallel to his knees in ruku'.

It is enough for humpbacked people whose backs are parallel to the ground to bow only their heads.   

* A person who catches up with the imam in ruku' and bows down by uttering takbir is regarded to have performed that rak'ah.

However, a person who utters takbir when the imam is in ruku' and bows down while the imam is straightening up is not regarded to have performed that rak'ah. He needs to perform that rak'ah alone after the prayer ends.

* A person who catches up with the imam in ruku' does not have to utter two takbirs. He can say Allahu akbar and bow down for ruku'. With this takbir, he is regarded to have performed both the opening takbir and the takbir for ruku'.


What does sujud (prostrations) mean?

It means to prostrate by placing the nose, forehead, hands, knees and feet on the ground/floor. Sajdah lexically means to bow the head, to act modestly. It is fard to prostrate twice in each rak'ah.   

* The least amount of remaining in sajdah and ruku' is waiting long enough to utter tasbihat three times. The middle amount is five times and the best amount is seven times.

* A person who performs a prayer alone can utter more tasbihat. However, the imam cannot utter more than three tasbihat without the consent of the congregation. It is not permissible to bore the congregation.

The tasbih in ruku' is  

Subhana Rabbiya'l-Azim (My Lord, the Supreme, is free from all imperfection).

The tasbih in sajdah  is

Subhana Rabbiya'l-A'la (My Lord, the Highest, is free from all imperfection).

* How is it performed?

After straightening up from ruku', a person prostrates by putting his forehead and nose on the ground/floor. It is not permissible to put only the forehead on the ground/floor unless a person has an excuse. Such a sajdah is not valid. Sajdah is not performed by putting the cheek and the chin on the ground/floor.

In sajdah, the hands and knees are also put on the ground/floor. It is sunnah. According to Imam Shafii, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Imam Zufar, it is fard.

Sajdah is not valid if the toes of one foot or both feet are not put on the ground/floor.

The Prophet stated the following:

"I was ordered to prostrate on seven bones: The forehead, two hands, two knees and the toes of both feet."

It is permissible but makruh to put one hand and one knee on the ground/floor and to make some of the toes touch the ground/floor. It is not permissible to raise both feet from the ground/floor while placing the forehead on the ground/floor.


On what is it necessary to prostrate?

Sajdah is performed on the ground/floor or something adjacent to the ground/floor. The forehead needs to feel the stiffness of the ground/floor or the thing on it. Therefore, if a person who prostrates on soft things like grass, hay, wool, cotton, snow, etc does not feel the stiffness of the ground and his face is lost in those soft things, his sajdah is not valid.     

It is permissible to prostrate on the palms or on one's own clothes if the ground is very hot or not clean.

The place to prostrate on must not be more than one hand span higher than the place where the feet stand.

However, one can prostrate on his own knees or on the back of the person in front of him if the mosque is too crowded or because of another excuse.


What is the meaning and importance of prostration?

Sajdah is the most important principle of the prayer.

Sajdah is the peak of the respect shown to Allah. The respect and modesty that increase gradually in the phases of standing and bowing down reach their peak in prostration.

Sajdah is the expression of absolute surrendering and pure servitude away from all kinds of exterior feelings.

The fact that the temples of Islam are given the name masjid (mosque), which means place of prostration, shows the importance of prostration.

Prostration is a moment when the slave feels his slavery fully and reveals this feeling. Therefore, the following is stated in a hadith:   

"A person is closest to Allah when he is in sajdah." 

Sajdah is the best form of taking refuge in Allah by a Muslim. It is the secret of getting rid of his egoism, putting everything except Allah aside and attaining the real eternal being.


Some hadiths showing the importance of prostration:

Once Thawban, the freed slave of the Prophet (pbuh), asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) the following question:

- O Messenger of Allah! Tell me a deed through which Allah will put me into Paradise when I do it.   

The Messenger of Allah answered his question as follows:

"Prostrate a lot. Allah elevates your rank and forgives one of your mistakes thanks to every prostration."

Hz. Rabia bin Ka'b confirms it as follows:   

"I sometimes stayed with the Prophet at night. I would prepare water for wudu and bring him what he needed. He was pleased with what I did and said to me.

- Ask something from me.

- I want to be with you in Paradise.

- Ask something else.

- That is my only wish.

- Then, help me by prostrating a lot."


What is the last sitting?

It means to sit after the prostrations in the last rak'ah of the prayer.

Sitting after the second and third rak'ah in prayer is called qa'da (sitting). In the prayers with three rak'ahs (the evening and witr prayers), it is necessary to sit after the second and third rak'ahs. The sitting after the second rak'ah is called qa'da al-ula (first sitting) and the sitting after the third or fourth rak'ahs is called qa'da al-akhira (last sitting).

The first sitting is wajib and the last sitting is fard. In two-rak'ah prayers, the sitting after the second rak'ah is the last sitting; they do not have the first sitting.


How long is it necessary to sit?

The amount that is fard to sit is to sit as long as tashahhud. What is meant by tashahhud is the time period long enough to read at-tahiyyat.


How is it necessary to sit?

In the first or last sitting, it is necessary to place the left foot on the ground/floor sideward and sit on it. The right foot is held upright on the toes, the toes facing the qiblah. The fingers are put on the thighs normally. The knees are not grabbed. The body is held straight. It is necessary to look at one's lap.

Women place both feet on the ground/floor sideward and sit on them.


What is tahiyyat?

Tahiyyat is a sentence that expresses the conversation between God Almighty and His beloved Prophet (pbuh) that took place on the night of Miraj (Ascension). It is as follows:

Attahiyyatu lillahi wa's-salawatu wa't-tayyibat. Assalamu alayka ayyuha'n-nabiyyu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. Assalamu alayna wa ala ibadillahi's-salihiyn. Ashhadu an la ilaha illallah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluh.

"Words of Praise and Salutations are for Allah, and Prayers and pure words. Peace and salutations upon you O Prophet and the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings! And peace be upon us and upon all of Allah's righteous servants! I testify that none has the right o be worshiped except Allah, and testify that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger."

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