How did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practice his prayers?

The Details of the Question
How did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practice his prayers?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Our Prophet’s way of practicing prayers is as explained in Islamic catechism books. This issue is explained in fards, sunnahs and wajibs of prayers. However, the psychological state of the Prophet when starting prayer is very important.

Hazrat Aisha narrates: The Messenger of Allah talked to us and we talked to him. However, he was as if he had not recognized us when it was time for prayer, and he turned to Allah with his all existence. (Fazail-i A’mal p.303).

The Companions asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh):

- “Allah the Glorious states in chapter al-Fath that He forgave you totally. So, why are you still practicing so long and infinite prayers?” 
The Lord of the Universe (pbuh) answered:

-“Why shall I not be a thankful servant to Allah?”

As stated in a hadith, while the Messenger of Allah was practicing prayers, a sobbing cry sound like the sound of a grinding mill used to come from his blessed chest.

As narrated from Hazrat Aisha, while the Messenger of Allah was practicing prayers, some sounds like sound of boiling pot used to come from his chest. (Ibn-i Maja, Mukaddima, 3).

As our reverend mother Hazrat Aisha narrated, the Messenger of Allah used to continue practicing tahajjud prayer at nights for a very long time until his blessed feet swelled up. His reverend wife, impressed by this situation, asked: “O the Messenger of Allah, although your sins committed and to be committed have been already forgiven, why are you still doing like this?”

He replied to this: “O Aisha, shall I not be a very thankful servant to my Lord?” (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 6).

Hazrat Ata narrated as follows: I asked Hazrat Aisha to tell us the most astonishing event she witnessed about the Messenger of Allah. Hazrat Aisha cried and said: “Whatever was not astonishing about him? One night he came and got in bed with me. My skin touched his and he said: “O Abu Bakr’s daughter, let me off! Let me worship my Lord.” I said: “I love being with you, but I prefer to do as you wish.”

I let him. He got up and went to ewer. He took ablution. He did not waste water by using it too much. Then he started praying and started to cry. He cried so much that his tears flew down through his chest. Then he bent for ruqu and cried. Then he prostrated for sajdah and still cried. Then he raised his head from sajdah and still cried. He continued to cry until morning. When it was time for Morning Prayer (fajr), Bilal came and recited adhan (call to prayer). And then I said: “O the Messenger of Allah! What is that makes you cry? Allah ha forgiven your sins committed and to be committed.” He said: “Shall I not be a thankful servant to Allah? Shall I not give Him thanks?”

While the Lord of the Universe (pbuh) was about to submit his blissful soul to Allah, his last advice to humankind was being careful about practicing prayers and this was the last hadith narrated from him. Hazrat Anas narrates:

“When the time of death came upon the Messenger of Allah, the whole of the advice he made before he submitted his soul is as follows:

“Do not neglect Namaz (prayers) and be fair about your slaves’ rights.” (Assist. Prof. Ibrahim Canan, Kutub-i Sitte translation and interpretation, vol.17, p.338).

When the time for prayer came, the Messenger of Allah used to become a hundred times happier and more excited than the happiness and excitement of a person who is given the news that a beloved one has come. He was at the zenith of humbleness (khushu) and modesty to his Lord and he was much delighted in invocating and begging to Him as a servant. Once, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) described prayer as follows:

“Prayer (namaz/salah) is practiced in twos. In each two rakats, there is a tahiyyat. Prayer is to feel humble and to lower yourself… You raise your hands upwards; palms turned to your face, for the Lord and beg saying O Lord! O Lord! Whoever omits this, his prayer is incomplete.” (Tirmidhi, Salat, 166). In other words, prayer means for servant to understand his helplessness and impotence compared to the Creator and to show his neediness with cries and storms in his inner world and to invocate and supplicate Him.

Muslims would practice five times a day, which is fard upon them; however, the Messenger of Allah would also practice nawafil prayers such as midmorning, ishraq and tahajjud in addition to daily prayers. Although all Muslims practice seventeen rakats of fard prayers which are fard upon them everyday, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to practice about 50-60 rakats of fard and nawafil prayers day and night in a day. The feeling of love for Allah in his heart during prayers was superior to any other feelings for the Messenger of Allah. He used to extend ruqu so much that anyone seeing him from a distance would think that he forgot to prostrate.

Huzaifa narrates: One night, I started prayer together with the Prophet (pbuh). He started reciting the surah al-Baqarah. I thought to myself that he would bend for ruqu when he cited the hundredth verse. However, he continued reciting when he reached the hundredth verse. I thought to myself that he would practice two rakats with this surah. He continued reciting. I thought he would bend for ruqu when he finishes this surah. Then he started reciting al-Nisa. When he finished it, he started reciting al-i Imran. He was reciting slowly. When the invocation verses came, he said “subhanallah” and when supplication verses came, he supplicated. When istiaza verses came, he sought refuge with Allah. Then he bent for ruqu. He started saying “Subhana Rabbiya’l-Azim”. His ruqu lasted as long as his qiyam (standing). Then he stood up saying “Semiallahu limen hamideh. Rabbena leke’l hamd.” He stayed in qiyam almost as long as ruqu. Then he prostrated. He said “Subhana Rabbiya’l A’la.” His prostration (sajdah) was also as long as his qiyam. (Muslim, Salatu’l-Musafirin, 203).

He used to practice his prayers, from the beginning of revelation on, in the yard of Baytullah, before the eyes of idolaters who gave him hardships and tortured him mercilessly. Some of the idolaters attacked him while he was praying and yet he did not stop his praying because of fearing them. During war, when both sides came across and their swords crushed each other, their spears flew whizzing and their hearts beat crazily, Muslims used to line up and practice their prayers, with the Prophet being their imam in the front, at the time of prayer.

Abu Huraira narrates: During a war expedition, the Messenger of Allah encamped somewhere between Dajnan and Usfan. Idolaters said: “They have got a prayer which is more precious for them than their fathers and children. It is Asr prayer. Get ready and attack them all together at once!”

Gabriel the Archangel (Jibril) came and told the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to divide his companions into two groups, told one group to wait in alert together with their weapons while the other group is practicing prayer with Prophet. He told him to practice one rakat with the first group and then one rakat with the second group so that each group would pray one rakat with the Prophet and the Prophet would have practiced two rakats this way. (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 4/3035).

The Messenger of Allah’s desire for being in Allah’s presence was so great that he practiced not only fard prayers during war but practiced prayers at nights until morning. Actually, Hazrat Ali, while describing Badr Battle, says:

“At Badr, there was no other cavalier than Mikdad amongst us. I know it well that all of us slept then except for the Messenger of Allah. However, the Messenger of Allah practiced prayer and cried until the morning under a tree.”

This was his loyalty to Allah. He practiced his prayers always in time. Moreover, he did not miss any prayer when his illness, which caused him to die, was at its zenith. His illness got so severe that he was eventually so weak and tired. He went to masjid with the help of two people for Dhuhr and Asr and practiced them with people. Although he was writhing in pain of death, he reminded his people the most beneficial issues for them and his last words were “Prayer! Prayer! Fear Allah about the slaves you own!”. (Abu Dawud, Adab, 133).

The issues which our beloved Prophet found useful to remind us before he died must, of course, be those which are the most important ones for humankind’s duty of religious service. The first one is the pillar of Islam, prayer (salat) which lets human beings closer to the Creator and the Beloved One. And the second one is fair treatment to the weak, our workers and wives, whom Allah entrusted to us, which will save us from rolling down into Hell.

One day, while the Messenger of Allah was waiting for praying time in masjid with his companions, a man stood up and said to the Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah! I committed a sin.” The Messenger did not respond to the man.

When the Messenger finished praying, the same man stood up again and repeated his words. The Messenger asked him: “Did you not practice this prayer with us? And did you not take ablution properly for it?”

The man said: Yes, o the Messenger of Allah!. The Messenger said: “So, that prayer will redeem for the sin you committed.” (Heysemi, Majmau’z-zawaid, I, 301).

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