Quranic App
Quranic teaches the language of the Quran in a fun and easy way!

By Samuel Gonzalez

Within both the Western, English-speaking world and the Arab world, the word salah is used almost exclusively to refer to the Muslim way of praying, which is a particular ritual which makes use of various physical movements akin to light yoga, Arabic recitations from the Holy Qur’an, and sacred space for making supplication. Furthermore, the prayers are performed facing the Kaaba, the House of Allah located in Saudi Arabia. The formulaic liturgy of salah, combined with the Arabic recitations and facing the East (or South, West, or North, depending on where you are in the world), unite Muslims – regardless of their ethnicity, place of origin, or mother tongue, Muslims all over the world pray in the same way at the same time. Unlike the prayers of other faiths, salah testifies to the unity of brother and sisterhood all around the globe. 

Etymology and Linguistic Roots

The origin of the word salah is up for debate, with various theories being offered. Here are a couple of the etymological possibilities suggested by linguists: 

  • Some have suggested that salah derives from the root و ص ل (w-ṣ-l) which means “to connect,” “to link,” or “to unite,” the logic being that salah unites the worshiper to Allah, or it may even refer to the Muslim whose head connects with the ground during prostration. 
  • Others have linked the term to an ancient Syriac word with theological implications of holiness. The Syriac salot connotes a house of worship, prayer, redemption, and reconciliation.
  • Salaha, or Salih, is an Arabic word meaning “righteousness,” or “piety.” This word, as well as its variations, appears over one hundred times in the Qur’an, and its connection to salah as an expression of piety is obvious. 

The Arabic word salah appears in the Qur’an 82 times, oftentimes linking itself with other words having to do with worship. For instance, 4:43 states that ritual purification (wudhu, or ablution) is a requirement before prayer; 24:31 exhorts believing women to dress modestly for prayer – other words that appear often in conjunction with salah include dhikr (remembrance of Allah), masjid (mosque), and subhana (glorifying Allah), indicating the sacred nature of salah. 

Salah in the Noble Qur’an

The Qur’an refers to prayer many times throughout its pages, citing its value and importance in the life of the believer, but does not say much on how to perform it, which is why studying the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is so crucial to understanding faith. While the Qur’an asserts that it is a clear and easy book to understand, there are some teachings that require it to be supplemented with the hadith and the sunnah. The question of prayer is one of these issues, nevertheless, its practice remains easy enough to trace back to the original community. Islam, an Arabic word meaning submission, represents the mental state of those who submit to God alone. The prophets of the Scriptures – Moses, Noah, Solomon, Elijah, and Jesus (pbut) – were Muslims, or those who submit to Allah alone as Authentic Monotheism. 

Then We revealed to you ˹O Prophet, saying˺: “Follow the faith of Abraham, the upright, who was not one of the polytheists.” Honoring˺ the Sabbath was ordained only for those who disputed about Abraham, and surely your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Judgment regarding their disputes. [The Noble Qur’an 16:123-124]

Islam, as it was given to Muhammad (pbuh), is the religion of Abraham (as). In other words, Muhammad (pbuh) was a follower of Abraham (as). The Qur’an points out, in Surah Al-Anbiya, that Abraham (as), indeed, performed prayers, which testifies to the role of prayer, or salah in belief and practice. According to the Book of Allah, salah is the primary way of communicating with Allah, with the end goal ultimately being the purification of one’s soul. The strengthening of one’s faith, the spiritual sustenance of prayer, and the humbling of the spirit before Allah in prayer, ultimately, outpours into the external world, consequently purifying our families, communities, and societies. 

Verily, Salah restrains oneself from performing shameful and unjust deeds. [The Noble Qur’an 29:45]

Throughout the Qur’an, human beings are described as hasty, ignorant, and prone to deviation quite easily. Being endowed with an angelic nature but being thrown into a world full of ignorance and confusion brings about a spiritual tension. On the one hand, we are inclined towards good, and all souls are born as Muslims in a state of submission; yet, on the other hand, the world majority, especially in the West, is normalizing practices that should have never been normalized. What is the role of Islam, a religion revealed in seventh-century Arabia and drenched in “outdated” and “foreign” Arabic terms, in today’s world?

During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the Meccan idolaters believed they were following the religion of Abraham in their practices – they venerated statues and icons, prayed to deities or angels for intercession, and claimed to be monotheists but associated partners with the Lord.

Today, very few people are tempted to worship statues made of wood or bricks, but many attempt to find meaning and fulfillment through the means of retail therapy, binge-watching television series, seeking wealth, or digital technology; and while there is nothing inherently wrong with these practices, they have oftentimes taken the place of a Higher Power. In today’s world, religion and prayer have been replaced with hyper-consumerism and misplaced happiness in things that don’t last.

Although the idolaters of Muhammad’s (pbuh) era carried out prayers, fasting, and pilgrimages to holy sites, this was often performed in an inappropriate manner and with the wrong intentions. The religion of Abraham (as), simply put, is laid out clearly in the Qur’an. The sincerity of salah has a way of commemorating and remembering Allah alone, protecting us from the sin and confusion of the world. While this life bombards us with innumerable distractions each day, the consistency of salah links us to what is truly real and long-lived. Furthermore, in other verses, the practice of regular prayer is linked with the giving of charity, humbling oneself, purification of the soul, and even the visitation of angels! 

The 5 Daily Prayer Times

The Qur’an explicitly mentions three periods of time during the day in conjunction with salah. Salat al-Fajr is cited in 24:58 and 11:1114; Salat al-Wusta is cited in 2:238 and 17:78; Salat al-’Isha is cited in 24:58, 17:78, and 11:114. The Old Testament of the Hebrews, one of the Scriptures that was given before, has at least three verses referring to salah that are actually in line with the Quranic teachings. These are as follows: Psalms 55:16-17, 1 Samuel 20:41, and Daniel 6:10. 

Now, if both the Qur’an and the Old Testament speak of three daily prayers, where do we get five daily prayers from? Everything boils down to how one interprets the Qur’an. Verse 11:114 is often interpreted by classical commentators and translators as two separate night prayers, two at each end of the evening. The limits of daylight in the verse are marked by two distinct points: sunrise and sunset – hence, two prayers should be observed both after sunrise and sunset, as well and before sunrise and sunset, which is how we arrive at five daily prayers. This practice is evidenced by the hadith and sunnah of Muhammad (pbuh). 

It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “When you pray Fajr, its time is until the first part of the sun appears. When you pray Dhuhr, its time is until ‘Asr comes. When you pray ‘Asr, its time is until the sun turns yellow. When you pray Maghrib, its time is until the twilight has disappeared. When you pray ‘Isha, its time is until half of the night has passed.”

In other ahadith, the Messenger of Allah unites the afternoon (Dhuhr, ‘Asr) and evening (Maghrib, ‘Isha) prayers, summing up to a grand total of three salat times, though this was oftentimes done as a result of traveling, battle, or emigration. 

These five prayer times – Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha – have their symbolic correspondences with the various phases of human life. Now, the prayers have their own respective movements and recitations prescribed for certain parts of salah, each of which have their own spiritual significance, but the purpose of this article is to elucidate on the subject of prayer, and not on the practical portion of how to pray salah. Nevertheless, instructions on how to perform salah can easily be found online. For Muslims, the day begins at Maghrib, the time of sunset, or the twilight prayers. 

Like human life, the day begins shrouded in a shadowy substance of uncertainty, reflecting the incipient phases of embryology; at ‘Isha, we rest, entrusting our souls and the rest of our night to Allah; at dawn, the Fajr prayers are performed as a call to remember Allah even in the earlier hours, as well as to start our day with Allah in our minds and at the tips of our tongues. The Dhuhr prayers are the most difficult to follow through with, given that it takes place in the middle of a busy day, but retiring from the world for a few moments permits us some peace in the midst of the chaos; and the late afternoon prayer of al-’Asr is an invitation to reflect on the greater meanings of our lives as the afternoon comes to an end. 

Supererogatory Prayer Times

Supererogatory prayers are optional, extra prayers that are not obligatory but, according to some hadith and scholars, can confer the believer with special benefits. These are also known as salat an-nafl, or the Nafl Prayers. Discipline and persistence are oftentimes demonized terms in today’s hyper-capitalistic, post-Covid world of big-tech, but the truth is that these virtues are much needed in a world where entertainment and instant-gratification are the most sought after virtues. In salah, there are certain virtues that are not found in any other form of worship and it is a practical way to fortify our discipline, self-control, persistence, and perseverance.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) taught that the first thing that humankind will be called to account for on the Day of Resurrection will be their prayers, and the ones that have been either neglected or performed imperfectly will be replaced with their supererogatory prayers. Below are supererogatory prayer times according to the Sunnah:

  • Al-Sunan Al-Rawatib:
    • The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever persists in performing twelve Rak’ah from the Sunnah, a house will be built for him in Paradise: four before the Dhuhr, two Rak’ah after Dhuhr, two Rak’ah after Maghrib, two Rak’ah after the ‘Isha’ and two Rak’ah before Fajr.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 1140]
  • Salat al-Ishraq:
    • Commences 15 to 20 minutes after sunrise and has no set number of rakat – it is said that this prayer contains great rewards for those who complete it. [Sunan Tirmidhi 586, Book 6, Hadith 43]
  • Salat al-Witr:
    • “Night prayer is offered as two Rakat followed by two Rakat and so on, and if you want to finish it, pray only one Raka which will be Witr for all the previous Rakat.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 990, Book 14, Hadith 1]
  • Tahiyyatul Masjid:
    • Two rakat performed upon entering a masjid. [Sahih al-Bukhari 444, Book 8, Hadith 93] 
  • Tahiyyatul Wudhu:
    • A prayer composed of six rakat that was optionally prescribed for after the ritual ablution. [Sahih al-Bukhari 1149, Book 19, Hadith 30]

Why Pray So Many Times a Day? 

Prayer is a mercy – according to Islamic tradition, when the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) ascended the seven heavens, Allah enjoined upon him fifty rakat for salah. After speaking with the prophet Moses (as), who advises Mohammed (pbuh) to plead with Allah to reduce the number to forty, he does so successfully. But the number of prayer cycles is still too much, so he pleads again and has it reduced to thirty, then twenty, and then ten, and then, ultimately, five.

Prayer is an opportunity to put the world on pause and remember Allah. Allah gives us innumerable blessings (many of which we forget about each and every day – for the lifeblood circulating through our veins, for the moisture on our eyelids, for our families or spouses, for having arrived at the knowledge of al-Islam, for the health of our organs, for a working brain, for the ability to read and write and think freely- ultimately, is Allah unjust in asking us to set apart a few minutes of our busy days to give thanks? Which one of his blessings will we deny?

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