Prayer is the most important type of worship, for it displays a person's sincerity and loyalty to God. In the words of God's Messenger, it is the pillar or main support of religious life (Daylami, al-Firdaws, 2:404).

Prayer is the most important type of worship, for it displays a person's sincerity and loyalty to God. In the words of God's Messenger, it is the pillar or main support of religious life (Daylami, al-Firdaws, 2:404).

There are several kinds of prayers, as follows:

  • Obligatory. The five daily prescribed prayers and the Jumu'a (Friday) prayer. The latter is not obligatory for women, but they can pray it if they wish. The funeral prayer is obligatory, but not upon every individual. If some people perform it, others do not have to.
  • Necessary (wajib). The 'Iyd (religious festive days) prayers and the witr prayer (performed after the late evening or night prayer until dawn).
  • Sunna (those performed or advised by the Prophet). Those performed before or after the daily prescribed prayers, tahajjud (performed after the late evening prayer and before the witr prayer), tarawih (performed after the late evening prayer during Ramadan), khusuf and kusuf (performed during solar and lunar eclipses), and the prayer for rain (salat al-istisqa).
  • Supererogatory and rewarded. Salat al-ishraq (performed some three quarters after sunrise), salat al-duha (forenoon or broad daylight prayer, performed until some three quarters before the noon prayer), and salat al-awwabin (performed between the evening and late evening prayers). There are some other supererogatory prayers, such as salat al-tawba (performed before asking God to forgive us), salat al-istikhara (performed to ask God to make something good for us), salat al-tasbih (the prayer of glorifying God), the prayer performed when leaving on a journey, and the prayer per-formed when returning from a journey.

The Prayer’s Meaning and Importance

The prescribed prayers (salat) are Islam’s pillars. To fully understand their importance, consider this parable: A ruler gives each of his two servants 24 gold coins and sends them to a beautiful farm that is 2 months’ travel away. He tells them: “Use this money to buy your ticket, your supplies, and what you will need after you arrive. After traveling for a day, you will reach a transit station. Choose a method of transportation that you can afford.”

The servants leave. One spends only a little money before reaching the station. He uses his money so wisely that his master increases it a thousandfold. The other servant gambles away 23 of the 24 coins before reaching the station. The first servant advises the second one: “Use this coin to buy your ticket, or else you’ll have to walk and suffer hunger. Our master is generous. Maybe he’ll forgive you. Maybe you can take a plane, so we can reach the farm in a day. If not, you’ll have to go on foot and endure 2 months of hunger while crossing the desert.” If he ignores his friend’s advice, anyone can see what will happen.

Now listen to the explanation, those of you who do not pray, as well as you, my soul that is not inclined toward prayer. The ruler is our Creator. One servant represents religious people who pray with fervor; the other represents people who do not like to pray. The 24 coins are the 24 hours of a day. The farm is heaven, the transit station is the grave, and the journey is from the grave to eternal life. People cover that journey at different times according to their deeds and conduct. Some of the truly devout pass in a day 1,000 years like lightning, while others pass 50,000 years with the speed of imagination. The Qur’an alludes to this truth in 22:47 and 70:4.

The ticket is the prescribed prayers, all of which can be prayed in an hour. If you spend 23 hours a day in worldly affairs and do not reserve the remaining hour for the prescribed prayers, you are a foolish loser. You may be tempted to use half of your money for a lottery being played by 1,000 people. Your possibility of winning is 1:1,000, while those who pray have a 99 percent chance of winning. If you do not use at least one coin to gain an inexhaustible treasure, something is obviously wrong with you.

Prayer comforts the soul and the mind and is easy for the body. Furthermore, correct intention transforms our deeds and conduct into worship. Thus our short lifetime is spent for the sake of eternal life in the other world, and our transient life gains a kind of permanence.

The prescribed prayer is the pillar of religion and the best of good deeds. One who does not perform it cannot construct the building of religion on the foundation of faith. Any foundation on which a building was not built is liable to removal. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, taught that it is like a river running by one’s house. One who bathes in it five times a day is cleaned of all dirt (which may have smeared him or her during the periods between them). He also taught that the prescribed prayers can serve as an atonement for the minor sins committed between them (Muslim, “Tahara,” 16).

The Qur’an declares that the prescribed prayer prevents one from committing indecencies and other kinds of evil deeds (29:45). Also, it serves as repentance and asking God for forgiveness. Similarly, any good deed done just after an evil one may cause it to be forgiven. So it is highly advisable that one should do good immediately after doing an evil deed. Like the prescribed prayer, this manner of action may also restrain one from doing further evil.

Prayer seems to be a strenuous demand, but in reality gives indescribable peace and comfort. Those who pray recite ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God). Only He can give harm and benefit. He is the All-Wise, Who does nothing useless; the All-Compassionate, Whose mercy and bounty are abundant. Having faith, believers see in every event a door to the wealth of God’s Mercy, and knock on it via supplication. Realizing that their Lord and Sustainer controls everything, they take refuge in Him. Putting their trust in and fully submitting to God, they resist evil. Their faith gives them complete confidence.

As with every good action, courage arises from faith in and loyal devotion to God. As with every bad action, cowardice arises from misguidance. If Earth were to explode, those servants of God with truly illuminated hearts would not be frightened – they might even consider it a marvel of the Eternally-Besought’s Power. A rationalist but nonbelieving philosopher might tremble at the sight of a comet, lest it should strike Earth.

Our ability to meet our endless demands is negligible. We are threatened with afflictions that our own strength cannot withstand. Our strength is limited to what we can reach, yet our wishes and demands, suffering and sorrow, are as wide as our imagination.

Anyone not wholly blind to the truth understands that our best option is to submit to God, to worship, believe, and have confidence in Him. A safe road is preferable to a dangerous one, even one with a very low probability of safe passage. The way of belief leads one safely to endless bliss with near certainty; the way of unbelief and transgression, meanwhile, is not profitable and has a near certainty of endless loss. Even its travelers agree on this truth, as do countless experts and people of insight and observation.

In conclusion, just like the other world’s bliss, happiness in this world depends upon submitting to God and being His devoted servant. So always praise Him, saying: “Praise be to God for obedience and success in His way,” and thank Him that we are His believing and worshipping servants.

Who Must Pray?

Prayer is obligatory upon every sane Muslim who has reached the age of puberty. Only women having their menstrual period or post-childbirth bleeding do not perform it. Prepubescent children do not have to pray, but God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advises us to tell them to pray when they reach the age of 7 in order to prepare their hearts for it.

The Times of the Five Daily Prescribed Prayers

Every sane, adult Muslim must perform the five daily prescribed prayers each within its own time. The Qur’an mentions these times. For example:

Establish the prayer at the beginning and the end of the day, and in the watches of night near to the day. Assuredly, good deeds wipe out evil deeds. This is advice and a reminder for the mindful who take heed. (11:114)

Establish the prayer from the declining of the sun to the darkness of the night, and (be ever mindful of) the Qur’an’s recitation at dawn. Assuredly, the Qur’an’s recitation at dawn is witnessed (by angels and the whole creation awakening to a new day). (17:78)

Bear patiently what they say, and glorify your Lord with His praise before the rising of the sun, and before its setting, and during some of the hours of the night glorify Him, and at the sides of the day, that you may become pleased with the reward which God shall give you. (20:114)

Glory be to God whenever you reach evening and whenever you rise in the morning. All praise is for Him in the heavens and on Earth, in the late afternoon, and whenever you reach the noon. (30:17-18)

These verses circumscribe the five prescribed prayers. The prayers to be established at the sides of the day, at its beginning and end from the declining of the sun to the darkness of night, are the noon and afternoon prayers. The original word for “watches of night near to the day” is zulef, which is plural. In Arabic, plural includes at least three things, so it can be concluded that it refers to the three prayers to be established during night (e.g., the evening, late evening, and dawn [early morning> prayers). These five prayers were prescribed for the Muslims during the Messenger’s Ascension in the ninth year of his Messengership, 4 years before the Hijra.

Verse 17:78 also alludes to the daily five prescribed prayers and each one’s time. Declining of the sun means the sun’s passing its zenith, and therefore hints at the noon prayer. After the noon prayer comes the afternoon prayer. Immediately after sunset and after night has fallen, the evening and late evening prayers are performed, respectively. The verse specifically mentions the dawn prayer because of its importance, and draws attention to reciting the Qur’an during it, for the Messenger, under Divine Revelation, used to lengthen his recitation during that prayer.

Some of the hadiths (i.e., Tirmidhi, “Salat,” 1) narrate the Messenger’s statements about the exact time of each prayer. According to these hadiths, as well as the practice of the Prophet and his Companions, the time of each prayer is as follows:

  • The fajr (dawn or early morning) prayer is performed from the break of dawn until sunrise.
  • The zuhr (noon) prayer is performed when the sun passes its zenith until a person’s shadow is the same length as his or her height.
  • The ‘asr (afternoon) prayer is performed when a person’s shadow is the same length as his or her height and continues until the yellowing of the sun.
  • The maghrib (evening) prayer is performed as long as twilight lasts until the sun’s complete disappearance.
  • The ‘isha’ (night) prayer begins with the end of twilight and continues until a short while before the break of dawn.
  • The Jumu‘a prayer is performed during the time of the noon prayer on Friday. The time of the ‘Iyd (religious festive days) prayers is some three quarters after sunrise on ‘Iyd days. Their time continues until the sun reaches its zenith.

The Times When Prayers Cannot Be Performed

  • During sunrise and sunset.
  • From sunrise until the sun has completely risen to the length of a spear above the horizon (approximately three quarters after sunrise).
  • When the sun is at its zenith until it moves slightly to the west.
  • After the afternoon prayer till the sun sets.

Prayers must not be offered during the approximately three quarters in the last three times in which praying is forbidden. However, if one has not been able to perform the afternoon prayer during its time, one can perform it until the sun begins to disappear in the west.

Adhan (Call to prayer)

The adhan calls Muslims to prayer. Although it consists of few words, it covers the essentials of faith, expresses Islamic practices, is a form of worship, and one of Islam’s collective symbols that shows that the place in which it is made is a Muslim land. It is made at the beginning of each prescribed prayer’s time, and should be made by the man who can perform it in the best way possible. Even if one is performing the prayer alone, he or she is strongly advised to make it before beginning to pray.

The words of adhan are as follows:

Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest): 4 times.

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa’llah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God): twice.

Ashhadu anna Muhammadan Rasululu’llah (I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger); twice.

Hayya ‘ala’s-salah (Come on, to prayer): twice.

Hayya ‘ala’l-falah (Come on, to salvation): twice.

Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest): twice.

La ilaha illa’llah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God): once.

The adhan for the dawn (early morning) prayer includes as-salatu khayrun mina’n-nawm (Prayer is better than sleep [twice>) after hayya ‘ala’l-falah (Come on, to salvation). God’s Messenger highly recommends that we pray after making the adhan.

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 one’s 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 one’s 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 one’s 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 God’s 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, “Bed’ul-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 God’s 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 Qur’an) 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 one’s 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 Qur’an. This is obligatory in the first two rak‘ats (cycles) of the obligatory prayers and in every rak‘at of necessary (wajib), recommended (sunna), and supererogatory (nafila) prayers. In the last cycle (i.e., the third rak‘at of the evening prayer and the last two rak‘ats of the obligatory noon, afternoon, and late evening prayers), reciting al-Fatiha is preferable, but one can glorify (Subhana’llah), praise (al-hamdu li’llah), exalt (Allahu akbar) God, and declare His Unity (La ilaha illa’llah). The portion to be recited after Surat al-Fatiha should be as long as the shortest sura (Surat al-Kawthar).

    No translation of the Qur’an can be recited during the prayer, for the Qur’an 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 “Subhana’llah” 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). God’s 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 rak‘at of every type of prayer offered.

    Bukhari relates (“Ezan,” 133, 134, 137) from God’s 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 prayer’s last rak‘at, one must sit long enough to recite the tashahhud before ending the prayer with giving greetings by turning one’s head to the right and then to the left and saying: “As-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu’llah” (Upon you be peace and God’s mercy). During this sitting, one says the tashahhud or tahiyyat. Reciting words of salat wa salam (God’s 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 Subhana’llah 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 Qur’an 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 rak‘ats of the morning, jumu‘a, tarawih, and witr prayers, and the first two rak‘ats of the evening and late evening prayers. He should recite inaudibly in all rak‘ats of the noon and afternoon prayers, the last one rak‘at of the evening prayer, and the last two rak‘ats of the late evening prayer.
  • Sitting between the second and third rak‘ats of those prayers having three or four rak‘ats.
  • 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-rahmatu’llah.
  • 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.

Sunna Acts

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 one’s 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 Shafi‘is 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: Subhanaka’llahumma wa bi-hamdik. Wa tebaraka’smuk. Wa ta‘ala 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 Shafi‘is prefer: Inni wajjahtu wajhiya li’llezi fatara’s-samawati wa’l-ardi hanifan wa ma ana mine’l-mushrikin. Inna salati wa nusuki wa mahyaya wa mamati li’llahi Rabbi’l-alamin, la sharika lah; wa bi-dhalike umirtu; wa ana mina’l-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 Qur’an after al-Fatiha in the morning (about one page or more in each rak‘at, 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: “Sami’a’llahu li-man hamidah” (God hears him who praises Him), and after it, “Rabbana wa-laka’l-hamd” (Our Lord, and to You is all praise).
  • Saying “Subhana Rabiyya’l-‘Azim” (Glory be to my Lord, the Mighty) three times while bowing, and “Subhana Rabbiya’l-A‘la” (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 Qur’an 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: Astaghfiru’llaha’l-‘Azim (I ask God the Mighty for forgiveness: three times), and Allahumma anta’s-Salamu wa minka’s-salam. Tabarakta ya Dha’l-Jalali wa’l-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 (Subhana’llah), praise (al-hamdu li’llah), 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 God’s presence (e.g., cracking one’s 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 one’s attention.
  • Praying in the path of people who are passing in front of one.

Things That Invalidate the Prayer

Omitting any of the prayer’s 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 Qur’an or supplications so incorrectly that it cannot be found in the Qur’an 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 Qur’an 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 one’s chest from the qibla.
  • Eating or swallowing anything bigger than a chickpea grain that has remained between the teeth.
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