Prayer (Salat)

And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good Ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah: For Allah sees well all that ye do. (Quran 2:110)

Salat, usually translated into English as "prayer", is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other four pillars are the Declaration of Faith (Shahadah), charity (Zakah), fasting (Sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Salat should be performed five times a day: daybreak (Fajr), noon (Zuhr), mid-afternoon (Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and evening (Isha). These periods also conveniently correspond with man's daily routine activities: rising, noon break, after work, dinner, and sleep. One could ask, why have prayers been described for Muslims five times a day? Would not once or twice, or whenever one happens to feel like it, be sufficient? In answering these questions, it must first be pointed out that Islamic prayers (salat are somewhat different from "prayer" as used in Christian sense, although personal supplication and glorification of God (known as du'a) are also a very important part of the Muslim's worship in addition to salat. Actually, the word "worship" conveys the meaning of salat much more accurately than "prayer". Keeping all this in mind, we can now proceed to answer the above question of "why?"

Salat is a multi-dimensional act of worship. Performing it regularly serves as a repeated reminder to the Muslim during the day and night of his relationship with his Creator and his place in the total scheme of reality. Its regular observance is a vital centering process that helps keep one properly oriented to the truth and reality of one's role in life as a servant of Allah (God) amid the constant distractions of mind and soul that we encounter in the material world (dunya). The remembrance of Allah and his glorification for a brief, concentrated period of prayer in the midst of one's daily activities keeps this perspecitve always clear and intact.

True, there is for thee by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties: But keep in remembrance the name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him wholeheartedly. (Quran 73:8-9)

Thus faith becomes an effective force in his life, and he keeps away from greed and evil or unjust deeds. To this effect, God commands:

Establish regular prayer: for prayer restrains from shameful and evil deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that ye do. (Quran 29:45)

Everyone has to turn to God and submit his will to Him with sincerity-which prevents him from committing vile or bad deeds. If one's prayer does not include this concept, it is rejected. Salat is essentially a form of ritual worship of God that consists of recitations from the Holy Quran. It should always be borne in mind that God does not need man's prayer, because He is free of all needs. He is only interested in our prosperity and well-being in every sense. Some of the benefits of prayer are that it strengthens the belief in the Existence of God and transmits this belief into the innermost recesses of man's heart, it purifies the heart and develops the mind, cultivates the conscience and comforts the soul, and also fosters the good and decent elements in man, suppresses the evil and indecent inclinations.

Salat always begins with the call to prayer (adhan). The power of the adhan on one who hears it is indescribably moving. The personal experience that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, reportedly had with it suggests only the slightest hint of the scope of its spiritual power and effect. It has been reported that when he was on the moon, he heard a strange sound that he could not place within his vast scientific training and experience. Some years later, while walking through the streets of a town in Cairo, he heard the same sound again. In anxious anticipation, he inquired what the unusual sound was. He was told that it was the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. According to this story, this awakening of spiritual insight in him resulted in his conversion to Islam.

In Salat, the recitations are always recited in Arabic, the sacred language of the Quran. However, a new convert to Islam who does not know Arabic may recite verses in translation in one's own language until one is able to memorize at least two short passages in Arabic. Mastery of such a task is its own spiritually transforming reward.

The positions of "salat" consist of standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. These physical acts are symbolic of the spiritual states of submission, humility and adoration of Allah Most High with one's entire body and soul. In performing them, one's heart is filled with the love of Allah, the recognition of one's worldly existence and Allah's infinite greatness and beneficence.

The self-discipline that is needed to perform salat regularly and at proper times reaffirms the human beings total dependence on his Creator and his position as His servant. Salat is the complete expression of man's voluntary submission to Him. It is to be performed with strict concentration, attention and presence of heart, not simply as a mechanical, verbal and physical exercise.

So woe to the worshippers who are neglectful of their prayers. (Quran 107:4-5)

A Muslim is required to pray at the prescribed times wherever he may be - but it is preferable and more meritorious to pray in congregation with his fellow-Muslims if possible. In such congregational prayer, in which Muslims stand in straight rows, shoulder to shoulder as one body united in worship of Allah, the elements of discipline, orderliness, brotherhood, equality and solidarity are very strongly exemplified. Non-Muslims observing Muslims praying in congregation for the first time are often very moved by this sight of universal harmony and submission to the will of Allah.

Because of all these aspects, Salat is the principal means by which the Muslim keeps his life in proper perspective, having always before his mind, the limited, finite nature of this world's life, with all its allurement and involvements, pleasures and pains, and the certainty of death and the Hereafter, attempting to maintain a sense of balance and proportion between the needs and claims of this world and the next. Through worship at regular, fixed intervals, marking the periods and divisions of the day, the individual voluntarily affirms the relationship existing between himself and Allah amid his involvement with his worldly affairs:

In the houses in which Allah is exalted and in which His name is remembered there are people who glorify Him at morning and evening - men whom neither merchandise nor trade takes away from the remembrance of Allah and constancy in salat and payment of zakat, who fear a Day when the hearts and the sight will be overturned; that Allah may reward them with the best for what they have done and create the reward from them out His bounty, for Allah provides for those whom He wills without measure. (Quran 25:35-38)

A Muslim always ends his salat with a call for peace: "Assalum 'alaikum wa rahmatullah". ("Peace be upon you and the Mercy of Allah").

To state it simply, prayer must exist, for without it Islam can not stand. Abdullah ibn Oart related that the Prophet (PBUH), said, "The first act about which a person will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment will be prayer. If it is good, then the rest of his acts will be good. And if it is evil, then the rest of his acts will be evil." (At-Tabarani.)

It is the last thing that the Prophet (PBUH) recommended to his nation before he died, saying, "Prayer, prayer and what your right hand possesses."


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

September 1992
Safar 1413
Note from the Editors
Appeal to the Readers
Islam in Prison
Muslims Teach
in Church
Libraries Receive Qu'rans
Ohio, "Islamic Day"
Why I Embraced Islam
Islamic Dietary Laws
Prayer (Salat)
Women in Islam
The Kid's Corner
Qur'anic Miracles
The Prophet Ya'qub (Jacob)
Stories of the Sahabah
Sayings of the Prophet
Awards Ceremony