What is the wisdom behind reading the Quran silently during the day and aloud at night in the prayers? Why do we read silently in the 3rd and 4th rak'ahs of fard prayers?

The Details of the Question

In some prayers, the imam reads the chapter of al-Fatiha and additional verses aloud and in others silently. Which prayers are they? Why does he read silently, not aloud, in those prayers?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is wajib to read the Quran silently in the noon and afternoon prayers whether they are performed individually or in congregation. A person who performs them individually or the imam reads the chapter of al-Fatiha and additional verses silently, in a way that he himself will hear. It is also wajib to read silently in the nafilah prayers that are performed during the day.

It is wajib to read aloud in all rak'ahs of the morning, Friday, eid, tarawih and witr prayers and in the first two rak'ahs of the evening that are performed in congregation. It is wajib to read silently in the third rak'ah of the evening prayer and the last two rak'ahs of the night prayer. However, a person who performs the morning, evening and night prayer individually is free to read aloud or silently.

The wisdom behind reading the Quran silently in the day prayers and aloud in the night prayers, Friday prayer and eid prayers is explained as follows in tafsir books:

In the first years of calling people to Islam, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) conducted the duty of proclaiming Islam secretly. When he led prayers to the Companions, he used to read the Quran aloud. When the polytheists heard the qiraah of the Prophet, they would read poems and utter the words that they made up. They even insulted and made fun of the Prophet. The following verse was sent down in order to prevent the polytheists from the ugly deeds and to save Muslims from being disturbed:

“Neither speak thy Prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course between.” (al-Isra, 17/110)

The Prophet was asked not to read aloud in the verse so that the polytheists would not hear him. [az-Zamakhshari, Kashshaf, (Cairo: Darul-Mushaf, 1397-1977), III/196]

After that, the Prophet (pbuh) read silently in the noon and afternoon prayers so as not to be disturbed by the polytheists. The evening prayer time was their dinner time and the night and morning prayer times were their sleeping time; therefore, he read aloud in these prayers. Friday and eid prayers were rendered fard and wajib after the Migration and the polytheists could not disturb them anymore; therefore, the qiraah in these prayers was aloud. (see Tabari; Zamakhshari, Razi; Qurtubi; Samarkandi, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

However, the practice of reading silently in prayers performed during the day continued so that what Makkan polytheists did to the first Muslims would be known by the Muslims who would live up to the Day of Judgment. There are certainly some other wisdoms but to remember what the polytheists did to the first Muslims is the first one that comes to mind.

As it is known, some of the duties in Islam can be explained through the mind “maqulul-mana”. A few of them necessitate surrendering and they cannot be explained by the mind. There are also wisdoms behind it. One of the wisdoms is as follows: Firstly, the principles of belief. Belief is knowledge and addresses the mind. Secondly, the principles of Islam. Islam necessitates submission. Therefore, there should be some issues that cannot be comprehended by the mind so that submission will occur. Otherwise, if a person accepts everything because they are logical, he does not pass the test of submission.

It can be said under the light of these explanations that there is a taabbudi dimension - as it is the case in worshipping - related to submission in performing prayers like that.

Reading the Quran aloud in the first two rak'ahs of the prayer can be a reflection of entering into the presence of Allah. That is, a slave who enters into the presence of Allah is happy because he is accepted. Due to this great joy, he feels enthusiastic and shows this enthusiasm by reading the verses of the Quran, which are the words of his Lord, aloud. However, after the first two rak'ahs, the state of enthusiasm is replaced by weakness, poverty, neediness and seeing his imperfection. Then, his voice fades down and the enthusiasm caused by entering into divine presence is replaced by a humbleness given by the consciousness of slavery and a fear caused by divine majesty.

As it can be seen, qiraah is silent in all rak'ahs of the noon and afternoon prayers, which are performed during the day. Qiraah is aloud in the first two rak'ahs of the morning, evening and night prayers, which are regarded as night (darkness) prayers. From this point of view, the issue may be related to day and night. According to our classical resources, in the period of Makkah, qiraah was silent in the prayers performed during the day due to "the fear of polytheists". However, qiraah was aloud in the prayers performed at night since this fear was away.

It is also possible to evaluate the issue as follows:

To perform prayers is the biggest duty of slavery after belief. The five daily prayers being allocated to a separate period of time is related to the activities of Allah and the boons He creates at those times. In that case, prayer has aspects related to the whole universe, jinn and angels.

During the day, the whole universe and all beings worship - in front of man - with their tongue of disposition and tongue of speech. A person who thinks he is in such a big congregation underestimates his worshipping and virtually tries to hide his worshipping. The silence in the prayers performed during the day symbolizes this state.

At night, - according to the mind of man - , everything starts to rest and virtually sleeps; everywhere is quiet. In that case, it is more appropriate to break the silence with the joy of worshipping and to turn all places into an assembly of dhikr. As it is stated above, this joy is later replaced by the consciousness of slavery; after the first two rak'ahs, silent reading starts again.   

That we are away from such states does not show that this reality does not exist. The stories of the Companions and tabiun, who form the first rank of Islam, and the righteous and pious people existing in all periods indicate the existence of this state.

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