What is salâh (prayer)?

What is salâh (prayer)?

Salâh denotes “a basis to prop something, a support.” The Qur’an uses this term for various purposes: servanthood, worship, prayer, pledge, support, and assistance.

Rules and rituals of salâh were outlined and established in the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s actions.

Salâh is obligatory upon every Muslim.
Salâh includes several specific rituals and body movements and positions.
Salâh is “the basis of this religion,” in Prophet Muhammad’s words.
Salâh is a private one-on-one appointment between a human and Allah.
Salâh is human’s honoring of the pledge he made to Allah to worship Him alone.
Salâh is human’s gratitude that Allah taught him and to whom he owes everything.
Salâh is being a servant of Allah, which salvages one from being a slave of another human.
Salâh is an honor; kneeling and prostrating before Allah saves humans from doing so before another human.
Salâh is testimony; the performer of salâh holds others witness and is himself a witness.

The Muslim mind sees everything around as entities capable of memorizing: the places where salâh is offered are witness and the times when salâh is offered are witness; the sun, the moon and the stars shining upon that place and in that time are a witness (Shams 91:1-4); and waters used for ablution and clean body parts are witness for the benefit of the performer of salâh (36:65).

Why do Muslims perform salâh?

The purpose of performing Salâh, according to the Qur’an (`Ankabut 29:45), is two-tiered: keeping humans away from various immoral actions (fahshâ’) and commonly accepted evil (munkar), and remembering Allah and being remembered by Allah (zikrullah).

How is salâh performed?(How to make prayer?)

There are 12—six external and six internal—conditions of salâh.

a) The six conditions outside salâh:

1. Emotional cleanliness: being clean from the psychosomatic state of spiritual and emotional uncleanliness emanating from religious bodily conditions arising after coitus or during females’ periods.

2. Physical cleanliness: cleaning one’s body, clothes and place of prayer from any and all kinds of impurities. The message carried in the obligation of physical/material cleanliness in salâh is obvious: maintaining bridges between body and spirit, material and abstract, and physics and metaphysics, and not separating these pairs… 

Ablution (wudhu) is part of those requirements. Salâh cannot be performed without ablution, which is washing those body parts, which are exposed at most times and most often used. According to the Qur’anic teaching (Ma’idah 5:6), a proper ablution

is: a) washing face (up to ears, hair, and throat),

b) washing hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows,

c) wiping head with wet hands, and

d) washing (or wiping) both feet to the ankles.

One’s ablution is rendered invalid if one defecates and/or urinates, and has sexual intercourse (Ma’idah 5:6). In cases when water is unavailable, wiping hands with pure and clean soil and stones can substitute (Nisa’ 4:43). Even this symbolic wudhu underlines the extreme importance of both bodily cleanliness and salâh in Muslims’ lives.

3. Covering the body: Women are required to cover their entire body except for hands, face and feet, while men are required to cover their body at least between navel and kneecap Covering one’s body shows the importance and value Muslims attribute to their one-on-one meeting with Allah. Covering the body also symbolizes this person is opening his/her soul.

Because covering something symbolically means “pulling it back,” while uncovering something symbolizes “advancing it ahead.” The fact that body is held back and spirit is advanced shows salâh is not only bodily movements, but also a spiritual journey.

4. Facing the Kâbah (qiblah): Wherever on the globe, Muslims locate and face the Kâbah in Mecca while performing salâh (Baqarah 2:144). Because the Kâbah is the first human-constructed building on the face of Earth (‘Ali`Imran 3:96). The requirement to locate and face the qiblah aims at enabling the believer to develop the consciousness of geography and location, and to foster understanding of space and directions.

Facing the Kâbah during the prayer is facing the humankind’s first homeland. This is paying tribute to the first attempt for civilization on Earth. Later, Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael reconstructed the Kâbah (Baqarah 2:127). Facing the Kâbah is a symbolical response to the call of the “father of prophets” Abraham (Haj 22:27). While the qiblah for body is the Kâbah, the soul’s qiblah is certainly Allah himself (Baqarah 2:115). As discussed above, Allah is closer to humans than their own jugular veins (Qaf 50:16).

5. Timing: Fulfilling the prayer in an allocated period of time. The goal of obliging to perform salâh in a certain amount of time aims at teaching the importance and temporality of time. Obligatory salâh is performed five times a day; Prophet Muhammad showed us how to perform it daily in normal conditions. In extraordinary conditions—bad weather, traveling, etc.—Muslims can combine the second with the third, and the fourth with the fifth prayer of the day. To introduce more easiness for extraordinary situations, the two combined pairs can be performed within the two prayers’ times. The location of the sun in the sky establishes the duration of prayer times; if the sun is invisible or does not set at all in some parts of the world, humans’ biological clock is used for establishing the duration of prayer times. Doing so leaves not even a patch on the face of Earth without salâh at every single hour of the day.

6. Intention: This means “performing consciously.” It symbolizes a Muslim’s consciousness of Allah whom he is about to worship by intending to perform a salâh. Intention is the reasoning of the heart’s worship. That is why Prophet Muhammad said, “Actions are according to intentions.”

b) The six conditions within salâh:

1. Takbir: Starting a salâh with declaration of “Allâhu Akbar” (“Allah is Great”). One of earliest âyahs commands, “Glorify your Sustainer’s greatness!” (Muddaththir 74:3) By declaring “Allâhu Akbar,” the person in a salâh acknowledges that Allah is greater than any characterization; He is Great; He is the absolute Greatness. When saying the takbir the prayer performer raises his hands symbolically throwing the worldly life behind his back. In front, he faces only his Lord. That is the “right path” in Surah Al- Fatihah , which every Muslim recites in every prayer.

2. Standing (qiyâm): Standing on one’s feet with the consciousness of standing before Allah (Furqan 25:64; ‘Ali `Imran 3:191). Qiyâm symbolizes one’s respect toward Allah. Qiyâm is the first half of the Kalimah at Tawheed, symbolizing la ilaha (there is no god worthy of worship) of la ilaha illa Allah (there is no god worthy of worship but Allah). It further signifies one’s revolt against polytheism, disbelief, and extremism in religion. A praying believer in qiyâm is like a mountain that is watered from top to bottom. Rains watering its slopes descend from clouds, while “rain” for the soil of hearts descends from Allah’s throne.

3. Recitation (qira’ah): Reading parts of the Qur’an to make a dialogue with Allah by feeling it with heart, comprehending with mind and uttering with tongue (Muzzammil 73:4). Qira’ah is the Qur’an in salâh. Salâh is the revelation’s body, while revelation is salâh’s spirit.

A salâh offered with the Qur’an is an act of worship with soul blown into: it is alive and livens. Surah Al-Fatihah is the heart of qira’ah. Al-Fatihah “Symbolizes a dialog between the servant and the Lord,” as Prophet Muhammad put it. That is why he said “No prayer is a [valid] prayer without Al-Fatihah .” Just like qiyâm symbolizes mountains, qira’ah symbolizes rain clouds that water the reciter’s heart.

4. Bowing (rukû): Bowing one’s upper body forward while standing on feet (Baqarah 2:43). Bowing in salâh represents one’s refusal to bow before anyone but Allah. It is as if the human is saying with body language that he/she will preserve dignity and honor. The rukû represents a social, common submission to Allah, while sajdah prostration is the individual submission.

Because a Qur’anic âyah commands, “Bow down in prayer with all who thus bow down,” yet there is no âyah commanding “Prostrate in prayer with all who thus prostrate.” Rukû is a body position between qiyâm and sajdah.

Rukû and sajdah together represent the second half of la ilaha illa Allah, i.e. “illa Allah” (only Allah is worthy of worship). Thus, rukû is saying praises to Allah with body language. That is why upon returning to qiyâm from rukû, the praying person says, “Sami’ Allahu li man hamidahu” (“Allah hears him/her, who praises Him”).

5. Sajdah: Placing one’s forehead (frontal lobe)—the body part most distinctly differing humans from animals—on the ground. This posture symbolizes a human message that he/ she is not arrogant before Allah and is fully aware of personal limitations. Sajdah is the pinnacle of humility before Allah (`Alaq 96:19) and is the highest level of respect.

Allah-conscious soul makes its bearer to get up on feet, then bends to his/her Creator, and finally prostates that body in humility before Allah. Thus, sajdah represents humans’ humility before and servitude to Allah. Making sajdah is complying with Allah’s command: “Prostrate thyself [before Allah] and draw close [unto Him]!” (`Alaq 96:19) Making sajdah is a spiritual returning to the state of an embryo in mother’s womb by physically emulating it.

Undoubtedly, sajdah is a position with a symbolic meaning— humans bow down and prostrate before Allah alone, nobody and nothing else—and high spiritual value. To be sure, there is a physiological dimension to sajdah among its other rich connotations. From the anatomy viewpoint, by performing the sajdah the human places his humanness on the ground before Allah.

To illustrate this point, let’s provide an example from early 20th century: A train in motion set a stone flying, which severely damaged a worker’s frontal cortex. The worker lost any physical ability to perform bodily functions and lived the rest of his life as an immobile and dysfunctional biologic being. Placing the very symbol of our humanness before Allah in a sajdah is the symbol of acknowledgement that we are indebted to Allah with our entire bodily and spiritual being.

6. Sitting (qa’dah): Before one concludes salâh, he/she is to sit “before” their Lord, trembling on the inside under the awe and grandeur of their Lord (‘Ali`Imran 3:191). Sitting down normally symbolizes resting after finishing a journey. Qa’dah is a symbolical resting just before salâh is completed; it is a time for most intense supplication to ask from Allah.

Supplication is not only “a brain of worship” in general, but is also a brain of salâh in particular. Saying “Peace and blessings of Allah unto you” (as-salaam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah) concludes salâh and symbolizes the end of spiritual journey. You wish peace to all creatures on your right and left, and thus notify them that you just completed a very intensive spiritual journey. Thus, salâh is the indication of your submission to the will and commands of Allah.



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