The most important worship ritual of Islam is the prayer. A little deliberation shows that the essence of religion is comprehension of God and, with emotions of fear and love, an expression of humility and servility before Him. The most prominent expression of this essence is worship. Invoking and glorifying Him, praising and thanking Him and kneeling and prostrating before Him are the practical manifestations of worship. The prayer is nothing but an expression of these manifestations and, with graceful poise, combines all of them.
The prayer occupies extra-ordinary importance in religion. The status monotheism occupies in beliefs is exactly the same as what the prayer occupies in deeds. It has been made mandatory to ingrain the remembrance of God in a person. It is evident from the Qur'ānthat the prayer is the foremost consequence of the comprehension of Allah which one gets after being reminded by His revelations and, as a result of this comprehension, of the emotions of love and gratitude that appear for the Almighty or should appear in a person. It is the pillar of Islam and is among therequisites for a person to be called a Muslim both in this world and in the Hereafter. It is a means to remain steadfast on Islam, a vehicle for countering hardships and wipes out sins. It is the identity of true preaching, a means of perseverance on the truth and the nature of every object of this universe and is real life. When the comprehension of God, His remembrance and memory and the feeling of His nearness reach their pinnacle, it becomes the prayer. All the sages of the world are unanimous that real life is the life of the soul and this life is nothing but the remembrance of God, His cognizance and attaining His nearness. Only the prayer can furnish and afford such a life to man.
i. History of the Prayer
The history of the prayer is as old as religion itself. The concept of prayer is present in every religion and its rituals and timings are also identifiable in these religions. The hymns sung by the Hindus, the chants of the Zoroastrians, the invocations of the Christians and the psalms of the Jews are all its remnants. The Qur'ān has informed us that all the Prophets of God have directed their followers to offer it. It also occupies the most prominent position in the religion of the Prophet Abraham (sws) which the Prophet Muhammad (sws) revived in Arabia. When the Qur'ān directed people to pray, it was nothing unknown to them. They were fully aware of its pre-requisites and etiquette, rituals and utterances. Consequently, it was not required that the Qur'ān mention its details. Just as it used to be offered as a practice of Abraham's religion, the Prophet (sws) at the behest of the Qur'ān promulgated it with certain changes among his followers, and after that they are offering it generation after generation in the same manner.
ii. Pre-Requisites of the Prayer
Following are the pre-requisites of the prayer:
a. A person must not be in a state of inebriation.
b. A woman should not be in the state of menstruation or puerperal discharge.
c. A person must have done the ceremonial ablution (wudū) and in case of janābah or menstruation or puerperal discharge must have taken the ceremonial bath.
d. In case of being on a journey or being sick or in case of non-availability of water, a person can offer the tayammum (dry ablution) if it becomes difficult for him to do the ceremonial ablution and the ceremonial bath.
e. A person must face the qiblah.
The method of doing wudū is that first the face shall be washed and then hands up to the elbows shall be washed and after that the whole of the head shall be wiped and after that the feet shall be washed.
Once wudū is done, it remains intact as long as something which terminates it is not encountered. Consequently, the directive of wudū is for the state in which it no longer remains intact except if a person does wudūin spite of being in the state of wudū for the sake of freshness.
Following are the things which terminate wudū:
c. passing the wind whether with sound or without it, and
d. pre-seminal discharge and pre-ovular discharge.
If, in the case of a journey, sickness or unavailability of water, wudū and the ceremonial bathbecome difficult, the Almighty has allowed the believers to do tayammum (dry ablution). It is done in the following way: hands should be rubbed on a clean surface and wiped over the face and hands. It suffices for all type of impurities. It can thus be done both after things that terminate the wudū and after having sexual intercourse with the wife in place of the ceremonial bath. Moreover, in case of being on a journey or being sick, tayammum can be done even if water is available.
Tayammum, no doubt, does not clean a person; however, a little deliberation shows that it serves as a reminder of the real means of achieving cleanliness and as such has special importance. The temperament of the sharī'ah is that if a directive cannot be followed in its original form or it becomes very difficult to follow it, then lesser forms should be adopted to serve as its reminder. One big benefit of this is that once circumstances return to normal, one becomes inclined to follow the directive in its original form.
iii. Practices of the Prayer
Following are the practices of the prayer which are laid down in the sharī'ah:
The prayer should begin with raf' al-yadayn (raising high both hands);
qiyām(standing upright) should ensue;
it should be followed by the rukū' (kneeling down);
qawmah(standing up after the rukū') should then be done;
two consecutive prostrations should then follow;
in the second and last rak'atof each prayer, a person should do qa'dah (to sit with legs folded backwards);
when a person intends to end the prayer, he can do so by turning his face.
iv. Utterances of the Prayer
Following are the various utterances of the prayer:
The prayer shall begin by saying اللهُ أكْبَر (God is the greatest);
Then Sūrah Fātihah shall be recited during the qiyām, after which, according to one's convenience, a portion from the rest of the Qur'ān shall be recited;
While going into the rukū', اللهُ أكْبَر shall be pronounced;
While rising from the rukū', سَمِعَ اللهُ لِمَنْ حَمِدَهُ (God heard him who expressed his gratitude to Him) shall be uttered;
While going for the prostrations and rising from them, اللهُ أكْبَر shall be pronounced;
While rising from the qa'dah for the qiyām, اللهُ أكْبَر shall once again be pronounced;
At the end of the prayer, السَّلاُمُ عَلَيكُمْ وَ رَحْمَتُ اللهِ (peace and blessings of God be on you) shall be said.
اللهُ أكْبَر, سَمِعَ اللهُ لِمَنْ حَمِدَهُ and السَّلاُمُ عَلَيكُمْ وَ رَحْمَتُ اللهِ shall always be said loudly. In the first two rak'āt of the maghrib and 'ishā prayers, and in both rak'āt of the fajr, Friday and 'īd prayers, the recital shall be loud. The recital shall always be silent in the third rak'at of the maghrib and in the third and fourth of the 'ishā prayer. In the zuhr and 'asr prayers, the recital shall be silent in all the four rak'āt.
These are the utterances prescribed by the sharī'ah for the prayer. They are in Arabic, and besides these, a person can express any utterance in his own language which states the sovereignty of the Almighty, expresses gratitude towards Him or is a supplication.
v. Prayer Timings
It is incumbent upon the Muslims to pray five times a day. The time of each prayer is as follows:
fajr, zuhr, 'asr, maghrib and 'ishā.
When the whiteness of the dawn emerges from the darkness of the night, then this is fajr.
When the sun starts to descend from midday, then this is zuhr.
When the sun descends below the line of sight, then this is 'asr.
The time of sunset is maghrib.
When the redness of dusk disappears, then this is 'ishā.
The time of fajr remains till sunrise, the time of zuhr remains till 'asr begins, the time of 'asr remains till maghrib, the time of maghrib remains till 'ishā and the time of 'ishā remains till midnight. The times of sunrise and sunset are prohibited for praying since the sun used to be worshiped at these times. These timings have remained the same during the era of other Prophets as well.
vi. Rak'āt of the Prayer
The rak'āt of the prayer which have been fixed by the sharī'ah are:
These are the obligatory rak'āt of each of these prayers, leaving which a person would be held accountable on the Day of Judgement. Thus, they must necessarily be offered except in cases when qasr has been permitted. All other rak'āt apart from them are optional; they earn great reward for a person but will not hold him accountable on the Day of Judgement if he does not offer them.
vii. Concession in the Prayer
If the time of the prayer arrives in dangerous, disturbing, or disorderly circumstances, the Almighty has allowed a person to pray while on foot or riding in whatever way possible. In these circumstances, it is evident that there shall be no congregational prayer, facing the qiblah shall not be necessary, and, in some situations, it shall not be possible to offer the practices of the prayer according to the prescribed method.
If such a situation arises during a journey, the Qur'ān has further said that people can shorten the prayer. In religious parlance, this is called qasr. The sunnah established by the Prophet (sws) in this regard is that the four rak'āt prayer shall be shortened to two. No reduction shall be made in two and three rak'āt prayers. Consequently, the fajr and the maghrib prayers will be offered in full in such circumstances. The reason is that while the former already has two rak'āt, the latter is considered as the witr of daytime, and this status of the maghrib prayer cannot be changed.
From this concession granted in the prayer, concession has also been deduced in the times it is offered. Consequently, in such journeys the zuhr and the 'asr prayers can be combined and the maghrib and the 'ishā can also be combined and offered together.
viii. The Congregational Prayer
Although the prayer can be offered alone, it is desirable that it be offered in congregation and if possible in a place of worship. For this very purpose, the Prophet (sws) built a mosque as soon as he reached Madīnah and with this the practice of building mosques in all localities and settlements of Muslims was initiated. Praying in a mosque and showing diligence in praying in congregation is a highly rewarding practice earning the blessings of the Almighty. Though women are exempted from this, men should not deprive themselves of this without any valid reason.
Following is the prescribed way of offering the congregational prayer:
a. Before this prayer, the adhān shall be called out so that people are able to join the prayer after hearing this call. The words which the Prophet (sws) has prescribed for the adhān are:
اللهُ اَكْبَر،ُ اَشْهَدُ اَنْ لاَ اِلهَ اِلاَّ اللهَُ ،اَشْهَدُ اَنَّمُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللهِ ، حَيَّ عَلَى الصَّلوةِ ، حَيَّ عَلَى الْفَلَاحِ ، اللهُ اَكْبَرُ ؛لاَ اِلهَ اِلاَّ اللهَُ
God is the greatest; I bear witness that there is no god besides Him; I bear witness that Muhammad is God's messenger; Come towards the prayer; come towards salvation; God is the greatest; there is no god besides Him.
b. If there is only one follower, he will stand adjacent to the imām on his right side and if there are many followers they shall stand behind him and he shall stand in the centre ahead of them.
c. The iqāmah shall be called before the prayer begins. All the words of the adhān shall be uttered in it; however, after حَيَّ عَلَى الْفَلَاحِ the words قَدْ قَامَتِ الَّصلَاة (the prayer is ready to be offered) shall be said by the person who says the iqāmah.
d. The words of the adhān can be repeated more than once for the purpose they are said.
e. The words of the iqāmah also can similarly be repeated if there is a need.
ix. Rectifying Mistakes in the Prayer
In case a person makes a mistake or thinks that he has made a mistake in the utterances and practices of the prayer, the amendment prescribed as a sunnah is that if amends can be made for the mistake, then they should be made and two prostrations should be offered before ending the prayer, and if making amends is not possible, then only the prostrations should be offered.
x. The Friday Prayer
On Fridays, it has been made incumbent upon Muslims to pray in congregation at the time of the zuhr prayer and in place of it. Following is the way prescribed for it:
a. There are two rak'āt of this prayer.
b. In contrast with the zuhr prayer, the recital shall not be silent in both its rak'āt.
c. The iqāmah shall be said before the prayer.
d. Before the prayer, the imām shall deliver two sermons to remind and urge people about various teachings of Islam. He shall deliver these sermons while standing. The imām shall sit for a short while after he ends the first sermon and shall then stand up to deliver the second one.
e. The adhān for the prayer shall be recited when the imām reaches the place where he is to deliver the sermon.
f. As soon as the adhān is said, it is incumbent upon all Muslim men to leave all their involvements and come to the mosque if they have no excuse.
g. The sermon shall be delivered and the prayer shall be led by the rulers of the Muslims and this prayer shall only be offered at places which have been specified by them or where a representative of theirs is present to lead the prayer.
xi. The'Īd Prayer
On the days of 'īd al-adhā and 'īd al-fitr, it is essential for the Muslims that they arrange a collective prayer like that of the Friday prayer. It should be offered between the time of sunrise and the sun's descent. Following is the prescribed way in which it should be offered:
a. This prayer shall consist of two rak'āt.
b. In both rak'āt, the recital shall be loud.
c. While standing in qiyām some additionaltakbīrs shall be recited.
d. Neither will there be any adhān for the prayer nor iqāmah.
e. After the prayer, the imām shall deliver two sermons to remind and urge people regarding the basic message of Islam. Both these sermons shall be delivered with the imām standing. He shall sit for a while in between the two.
f. Like the Friday prayer, this prayer too shall be led and its sermon delivered by the rulers of the Muslims and their representatives and it shall be offered only at those places which have been specified by them, where either they or their representatives are present to lead the prayer.
xii. The Funeral Prayer
In the religion of the prophets, the prayer for a deceased is held obligatory.
Once the dead body of the deceased is bathed and enshrouded, this prayer shall be offered in the following manner:
People shall stand in rows behind the imām while placing the dead body between themselves and the qiblah.
The prayer shall begin by saying the takbīr and by raising hands.
Like the 'īd prayer, some additional takbīrs shall be said in this prayer.
The prayer shall end after the salām is said while a person is standing once the takbīrs and the supplications have been offered.
This refers to the minimum obligatory worship related to the prayer. However, the Qur'ān says that he who did some virtuous act out of his own desire, God will accept it. Similarly, it is stated in the Qur'ān that help should be sought from perseverance and from the prayer in times of hardship. Consequently, while complying with these directives, Muslims, besides offering the obligatory prayers, show diligence and vigilance in offering optional prayers. The details of such optional prayers which the Prophet (sws) offered or urged others to offer can be looked up in various Hadīth narratives.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)