By Umarrah Javed al-Hadi
Narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“The first matter that the slave of Allah will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.” (Sahih Bukhari)
The word “salah” (صلاة) in Arabic is derived from the root word “salat” (صلت), which means to “connect”, “link” or “communicate.” So, the word “salah” literally means a connection or link with Allāh through the act of ritual prayer. The practice of salah is a means of maintaining a strong and continuous connection with Allāh.
The act of salah involves performing a specific sequence of movements, including standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting, while reciting certain verses from the Quran in Arabic. The prayer is performed while facing the Kaaba in Mecca, which is the most sacred site of our deen. By performing salah at the same time as other Muslims all around the world, it helps create a sense of unity and community among believers. Salah also helps to develop a sense of discipline and mindfulness in one’s daily life.
The beauty of salah is that it bridges the gap between Islam being a theoretical practice and Islam being a daily way of life. After making ablution and being physically purified, we hear the call to prayer taking place, and are invited to humble ourselves, ground ourselves and anchor our thoughts and emotions to the will of Allāh. For every portion of every day, we are reminded that we are the servants of the Majestic Sustainer, and that to worship Him is the means by which we can attain purification.
Salah in the Quran
There are numerous mentions of salah in the Quran as Allāh wants us to keep our attention focused on maintaining, beautifying and establishing our connection with Him. In the second chapter of the Quran, we are told:
“O believers, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:153]
Later in the same chapter, we are reminded of the reward of maintaining salah in this life:
“Indeed, those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish prayer and give zakah will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.” [ Surah Al-Baraqah 2:277]
“And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:43]
Rather than just completing prayer, we are told to ‘establish’ it. The connotations of ‘establish’ are something that is more rooted, stronger and consistent.
“Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed.” [Surah Al-Isra 17:78]
In this verse, Allāh tells us of some of the times that we should pray and emphasizes the significance of the Quran recitation that takes place at Fajr.
“Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each [of them] has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.” [ Surah An-Nur 24:41]
From this beautiful verse, we learn that not only humans but all creation has been given its dhikr (reminder) and means to worship Allāh. As humans, we may not be aware of all ways in which animals and plants remember Allāh, but Allāh tells us that He is All-Knowing of every aspect of His creation.
Types of prayers
In terms of salah, there are three main types of prayers:
1. Fard (Obligatory) prayers:
These are the five daily prayers that are mandatory for all adult Muslims to perform. Each prayer has a specific time window in which it must be performed:
- Fajr (فجر): performed before sunrise
- Dhuhr (ظهر): performed in the middle of the day
- Asr (عصر): performed in the late afternoon
- Maghrib (مغرب): performed just after sunset
- Isha (عشاء): performed in the late evening
2. Sunnah (Optional) prayers:
These are additional voluntary prayers that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to perform regularly. They are not mandatory but are highly recommended and can bring additional rewards. Examples include the two rak’ahs before Fajr prayer, and the two rak’ahs after Maghrib prayer.
3. Nafl (Supererogatory) prayers:
These are additional voluntary prayers that a Muslim can perform as a means of drawing closer to Allah. These prayers can be performed at any time and as many times as desired.
Additional spiritually beneficial prayers
A few examples of nafl (supererogatory) prayers that we can perform as a means of drawing closer to Allāh are:
1. Tahajjud prayer:
This is a night prayer that can be performed anytime between Isha prayer and Fajr prayer. It consists of at least two rak’ahs (units of prayer) and can be performed as many as desired.
2. Witr prayer:
This is a prayer that can be performed after Isha prayer. It consists of an odd number of rak’ahs, usually between one and eleven.
3. Tarawih prayer:
This is a prayer that is performed during the month of Ramadan after Isha prayer. It consists of at least eight rak’ahs and can be performed as many as twenty.
4. Tawbah prayer (Repentance prayer):
This is a prayer that can be performed by a Muslim who wants to seek forgiveness for their sins. It is a special form of prayer that involves reciting specific supplications and verses from the Quran.
5. Qiyam al-Layl (Night Vigil prayer):
This is a prayer that can be performed during the night and involves standing and reciting the Quran. It is usually performed during Ramadan, but it can be performed at any time.
6. Salat al-Istikhara (The prayer of seeking guidance):
This is a prayer that should be performed by a Muslim who wants to seek Allāh’s guidance in a specific matter. It is performed before making an important decision.
Why do we pray 5 times a day?
The first verse of the seventeenth surah of the Quran informs us of a miraculous journey made our beloved Prophet ﷺ who travelled from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to heaven in one night. The journey from Mecca to Jerusalem is called Isra – meaning to travel at night, and the journey from Jerusalem to heaven is called Mi’raj – meaning to ascend.
During this journey, the Prophet ﷺ received salah as a gift from Allāh. Initially fifty prayers were commanded for the ummah of the Noble Prophet ﷺ. However, upon meeting with Musa (AS), the Prophet ﷺ was recommended to return to Allāh and request a reduction in the number of prayers for the ease of his followers. He then goes back and forth between Moses and Allah nine times, until the required number of daily prayers was reduced to five. It is because of this that today we keep the daily custom of praying five times a day while facing Mecca.
How do we know how to pray?
The companions learnt how to pray by observing the Prophet ﷺ and his ummah was taught via authentic narrations. The wife of the Prophet, Aisha (RA) is known to have a deep understanding of the Prophet’s practices, including his prayer. She is considered to be a reliable source of information on the topic. Here is one example of a hadith narrated by Aisha, describing how the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ prayed:
Aisha (RA) said:
“The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to pray with his arms away from his body, and he used to recite the Quran in a moderate tone.” (Sahih Bukhari)
In this hadith, Aisha is describing the physical position of the Prophet ﷺ during his prayer, specifically that he used to keep his arms away from his body, which is known as “Idtiba” (to open the chest and arms) and that he recited the Quran in a moderate tone which is not too loud or too low, but in a moderate voice.
Another hadith narrated by Aisha, describing the prophet’s prayer is:
“The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would recite the last three surahs (chapters of the Quran) in every prayer and would not leave out any of the surahs.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
Alhamdulillāh we have several narrations that allow us to better understand how to pray and the Prophet ﷺ told us to:
“Pray as you have seen me praying” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
The call to prayer
The adhan is a call to Muslims to come to the mosque and perform the mandatory prayers. It is a statement of faith and a reminder of the purpose of life, which is to worship and serve Allah. The adhan consists of several phrases, each of which is repeated twice, and includes the following:
- Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest)
- Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (I bear witness that there is no god but Allah)
- Ashhadu anna Muhammadar rasul Allah (I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)
- Hayya ‘ala-s-salah (Come to prayer)
- Hayya ‘ala-l-falah (Come to success)
- Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest)
- La ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but Allah)
The origins of the adhan can be traced back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who received the command to establish the call to prayer from Allah in a dream. According to hadith, the adhan was originally only said once, but later the Prophet added the phrase “Hayya ‘ala-s-salah” (Come to prayer) and “Hayya ‘ala-l-falah” (Come to success) to make it clear that the purpose of the call was to invite people to come to the mosque and pray.
The first muezzin (the person who leads the call to prayer) in Islam was Bilal ibn Rabah (ra), a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Bilal was an enslaved African before his conversion to Islam, and he was chosen by the Prophet to be the first muezzin of the Muslim community. Bilal was known for his beautiful voice and his devotion to Allah, and he played a significant role in the early development of Islam.
The adhan is significant within itself and the Prophet ﷺ told us that:
“The adhan is the call of the righteous and the rejection of Satan and his followers.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim).
He ﷺ also told us that:
“When the muezzin (the person who performs the adhan) finishes the call to prayer, the gates of heaven are opened, and the gates of hell are closed.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
Salah is our opportunity to embrace humility and to re-anchor our beliefs in the fact that Allāh is the One sustaining and guiding us. The salah offered in congregation exemplifies the unity that Islam represents and when offered alone signifies the personal connection we all have with Allāh. Either way, salah is a 5 times a day reminder that we are are all connected as the ummah of a noble Prophet ﷺ and that we are aligned in our practice and worship of Allāh.
As Muslims, we must strive to pray with focus and ihsan (excellence). Our beloved Prophet ﷺ told us:
“Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, He sees you.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim).
The best way to conclude this article is with a dua. Here is a beautiful dua of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) in the Quran that encapsulates a believer’s affection of their prayer:
“My Lord, make me an establisher of prayer, and [many] from my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication.” [Surah Ibrahim 14:40]
What does salah mean to you? Share your reflections below!
- The Holy Qur’ān
- Sahih Al-Bukhari
- Sahih Muslim