Chapter I- Prayers to God
Pronouncing the Formula of the Faith.– after heartedly believing that Allah –God– is one, having no partner, or son, and that Muhammad is His Prophet and Messenger to announce God’s word to mankind, it is the religious duty of every faithful embracing Islam to exercise the practical devotions of the religion.
1. The first and foremost of these is to pronounce publicly the formula of the faith as follows:
“I bear witness that there is no deity save Allah (God), and that Muhammad is His servant and his Apostle.”
- Next comes the duty of exercising the stated prayers, as given in detail, though only summarized hereinafter.
Prayers to God, according to Islam, is the essence of man’s duties to God. It is an outpouring of the heart’s sentiments, a devout supplication to God, and a reverential expression of the soul’s sincerest desires to its Maker.
In Islam the idea of prayer, like all other religious duties, finds its highest development. Prayers according to the Koran is the only way to communion with God. The word of God in the Koran teaches thus:
æÇÊá ãÇ ÃæÍì Åáíß ãä ÇáßÊÇÈ æ ÃÞã ÇáÕáÇÉ Çä ÇáÕáÇÉ Êäåí Úä ÇáÝÍÔÇÁ ÇáãäßÑ æ áÐßÑ Çááå ÃßÈÑ.
“Rehearse that which has been revealed to you of the Book (the Koran) and be constant at prayer, for prayer restrains man from that which is evil and wrongful, while constant remembrance of God is the spirit’s supremest enjoyment’ (XXIX – 45).
Islam, therefore, enjoins prayers as a means of the moral elevation of man. But if prayer is said carelessly or with an absent heart, it degenerates into a mere ritual, into a lifeless and vapid ceremony gone through with insincerity of heart. This is not the sort of prayer accepted by Islam. Such a prayer is denounced by the Koran which gives the warning:
“Woe be unto those who say their prayers simply by their lips without a present heart just to make a show.”
Whilst the rite of salât, (i.e. saying the enjoined prayers) is being performed one concentrates innerly to God, while the reflections of meaning and reason of the verses one reads, stir and exalt one’s soul to everything that is supreme, lofty and good. This salât is, so to say, a form of exercise and training. But it is not enough to practice merely its various movements of standing, bending, prostrating and sitting–such movements as will be fully described later. The real spirit of salât is to be in constant communion with, and veneration of, God. The Fatiha– the Opening Chapter of the Koran – forms an essential part of every prayer, so that no prayer, according to a teaching of the Prophet of Islam, is complete without the Fâtiha, which is really a wonder in sense and meaning. Its translation is as follows:
“All praise is due to Allah (God) the Lord of all Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, the King of the day of reckoning. Thee only do we worship, and from thee only do we seek for help. Guide us to the right path, the path of those to whom thou hast been gracious, not of those who are condemned nor those who are misguided.”
The Fâtiha is rightly described as a wonder in sense and meaning. In a way it has a greater importance for a Muslim than the Lord’s Prayer for a Christian. The latter was taught to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, whereas a Muslim is instructed to seek for his right place in that Kingdom which has already come; the hint, no doubt, being that the coming of the Prophet Mohammad was really the advent of the Kingdom of God about whose approach Jesus Christ preached to his followers (St. Mark, I – 15)().
Some hostile critics have suggested that the form of the Muslim prayer is suited only for blind and sinful men groping in darkness to find out the way. Surely it is a very distorted view of the sublime words, which express the natural yearning of the sincere soul to be kept on the right path and to be saved from stumbling.
Honestly speaking, the prayer contained in the Fâtiha is the subliment of all prayers that exist in any religion. It is composed of seven verses, the first three of which speak of the Divine attributes of Providence, Beneficence, Mercy and Requital; the last three verses lay open before the Creator of the Universe the earnest desire of man’s soul to walk in righteousness without stumbling on either side, while the middle verse is expressive of man’s entire dependence on God (Allah). The attributes referred to are those which disclose God’s uncompassing beneficence and care, and His unbounded love for all his creatures; the ideal to which a human soul is made to aspire is the highest to which man can rise, namely the path of righteousness, the path of grace in which there is no stumbling.
On the one hand, the narrow views which addressed the Divine being as the Lord of a particular nation (the “Lord of Israel,” for instance) are swept off before the mention of His equal providence and equal love for all human beings, nay for the creatures that exist in the world; the narrow idea of paternal care exist in the world; the narrow idea of paternal care contained in Father has given way before the all-embracing beneficence and love of the Great Author of all existence, nourishment and perfection of the creatures long before they came into existence. On the other hand, there is the high aspiration of the soul for an unbounded spiritual rise without the least consideration of care of the body which craves for the “daily bread”. The Muslim prayer as contained in the Fâtiha sets before the eye that high goal of Divine Grace wherein is known no displeasure, and which is beyond the reach of error.
With all its beauty, even the “Lord’s Prayer” sinks into insignificance before the majestic glory of the Fâtiha. And one would in vain turn over the pages of Sacred Books to find anything approaching to the grand and sublime ideas contained in this Opening Chapter of the Koran.
The Prophet of Islam attached great importance to the human body as well as to the soul, and to the preservation of its cleanliness and purity. He taught that faith is the spring of cleanliness.
Islam considers the human body as something entrusted to man by God, and, therefore, obliges him to take care of it. Islam enjoins upon its followers to keep it clean and pure, morally as well as materially.
Prayer – A Principle of Action
We now take the practical side of the faith of Islam. As already said, actions in Islam are as essentially a component part of the religion as belief. In this respect, Islam occupies a middle position between religions which have ignored the practical side altogether and those which bind their followers to a very minute ritual. Islam sees the necessity of developing the faculties of man by giving general directions, and then leaves ample scope for the individual to exercise influence on the individual practical life.
The precepts of Islam which inculcate duties towards God and duties towards man are based on that deep knowledge of the human nature, which cannot be possessed but by the Author of that nature. They cover the whole range of the different grades of the development of man and are thus wonderfully adapted to the requirements of different peoples. In the Scripture of Islam –the Koran– are found guiding rules for the ordinary man of the world as well as the philosopher, and for communities in the lowest grade of civilization as well as the highly civilized nations of the world. Practicality is the keynote of its precepts, and thus the same universality which marks its principles of faith is met within its practical ordinances, suiting as they do the requirements of all ages and nations.
Prayer is the second of the five fundamental principles or pillars of practical devotion in Islam. It is a devotional exercise which every Muslim is required to render to God five times a day, namely in the early morning before sunrise, at midday, in the afternoon, in the evening after sunset, and fifthly at night.
The general duty or service is frequently enjoined in the Koran, while the appointed times as well as the mode of rendering prayers were prescribed distinctly by the Prophet both by his personal practice and by his teaching.
The hints and orders met with in the Koran as regards the enjoinment of salât are rendered as follows:
“Observe prayers in the early morning, at the close of the day, and at the approach of the night. Prayers are good deeds which drive away the evil doings”(XI – 116).
“Glorify God (by rendering prayers to Him) when it is evening and in the morning – praise be to Him in the heavens and the earth – and in the afternoon and at noontide”(XXX – 17).
“Put up then with what they say; and celebrate the praise of your Lord before sunrise, and before sun setting, and during the night do thou praise Him, and in the extreme of the day, so that thou mayest be well-pleased”(XX – 130).
“Observe prayers at sunset until the first darkening of the night and observe reading (the Koran) at daybreak. Lo! The recital of the Koran (that is rendering prayers) is ever witnessed. And some part of the night awake for it, a largess for thee. It may be that your Lord will raise thee to a praised state”(XVII – 78-79).
“Take aid by observing patience and prayers”(II – 45).
“When you have fulfilled your prayer, remember God, standing and sitting and lying on your sides. And when you are in safety then be steadfast in prayer. Verily prayer is a timed ordinance on the believers”(IV – 103).
It is absolutely necessary that the service of salât should be performed in Arabic as far as possible, the clothes and body of the worshipper must be clean, and the praying-place be free from all impurity. It may be said either privately or in company, or in a mosque—although services in a mosque are more meritorious.
The stated prayers are always preceded by the ablution of the face, hands and feet, as will be fully described later.
The salât, or liturgical service, is thus one of the most prominent features of the Islamic religion, and very numerous are the injunctions regarding it, which have been handed down in the traditions of the Prophet. The following are a few quotations:
“That which leads man to infidelity is neglect of prayers”.
“No one of you must say his prayers in a garment without covering the whole body”.
“God accepts not the prayers of a woman arrived at puberty unless she covers her head as well as the whole body, excepting her hands and feet.
“The five stated prayers erase the sins which have been committed during the intervals between them, if they have not been mortal sins”.
“The prayers of a person will not be accepted who has broken his ablution until he completes another ablution”.
“Order your children to say the stated prayers when they are seven of age, and beat them if they do not do so when they are ten years old”.
“Tell me if any one of you had a rivulet before his doors and bathed five times a day therein whether any dirt would remain on his body? The companions said. ‘Nothing would remain’. The Prophet said, ‘In this manner will the five daily prayers as ordered by God erase all minor sins.”
Time of the Five Stated Prayers
The Prophet taught that “the time for zuhr (noon) prayer begins from the inclination of the sun to the west and closes at the time when the shadow of a person shall be the length of his own stature, which time marks the beginning of the’ asr (afternoon) prayer. The time of the ‘asr prayer is from that time till the sun assumes a yellow appearance. The time of maghrib (sunset) prayer is from sunset as long as the red appearance in the horizon remains. The time of the ‘isha (night) prayer is from that time till near daybreak. And the time for the fajr (daybreak or morning) prayer is from the break of day till the sun rises.” When the sun has just arisen, a Muslim must wait to recite his morning prayers (if not already recited) until the sun has well arisen.
Aim of the Prayers
The aim of the prayers enjoined upon Muslims is to think of God, to have a pure heart, to take care of the body and clothes, to overcome evil desires, and to be a good-natured, decent person in all respects. The prayers recited by an immoral person are not acceptable. Good character comes before everything else.
Considering that modern life obliges us to do hard and tiring work, one may say that there would be no time to perform salât five times a day. But the case is quite contrary; by performing the stated prayers, the body will be kept clean and at ease in virtue of the repeated ablution or washing which is a preparatory practice to reciting prayers. By salât, the stiffness of the organs will be enlivened and will regain their natural briskness. Thus no better means than the two rites of ablution and salât can be suggested to remove the languor and fatigue caused by the tiresome occupation of the day.
In other words, the practice of salât ensures us moral, spiritual and material advantages.
Muslim Prayer – A Spiritual Diet
To the Muslim, the prayer is pis spiritual diet, of which he partakes five times a day. Those who think that prayer is too prescribed should remember that how many times a day they require food for their physical bodies. Thus, is not the spiritual growth much more essential than the physical growth.” If to minister to the needs to the inner man, you need breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper and late tea, do we not badly need spiritual refreshment at the same time? A Muslim says his prayer simultaneously with his meals.
Jesus Christ was quoted to have said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The word “shall” is too emphatic, and we would that the Church arranged to fulfill Christ’s words.
“The people of England,” says General Gordon(), “care more for their dinner than they do for anything else.” What Gordon said of England seems true of the rest of the Christian World. But the flock cannot be blamed so much as the shepherd who neglects to give proper guidance. To save us from the demon of Epicureanism (the devotion of earthly desires and lust), Jesus Christ laid down the maxim. Unfortunately his short ministry did not leave him time or occasion to enlighten us on the practical aspect of this noble maxim.
Jesus was also quoted to have said to the disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you but ye cannot bear them now.” The time for full manifestation of the Divine Will had not arrived, Christ promised the disciples the coming of the “Comforter” after him to guide people “into all truth” and that “the spirit of truth had to come” to “show things” and make up the deficiency. “The Spirit of Truth” descended on the Prophet Mohammad, the “Comforter,” who brought the teachings of Christ to a practical reality. Five times we think of our bread, and five times a ‘muazzin’ () from the mosque calls us to prayer and reminds us of the words that proceed “from the lips of God.” The Muslim azân (call to prayer) is literally as well as formally a reminder that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the lips of One Who is greatest of all, bread included. The following is the translation of the azân:
“God is Greater, God is Greater. I do testify that there is no deity save God. I do testify that Muhammad brought the message from God. Come to prayer. Come to prayer. Come to prosperity, come to prosperity. God is Grater. God is Greater. There is no deity save God.”
This is what a Muslim hears from the mosque five times a day, when his inner man want him to do something to sustain him. The call from the mosque reminds him that he shall not serve the inner man by living by bread alone, but that God is the greatest, and that all other concerns are small. God alone is to be served first. And if man is keen for prosperity, true prosperity shall come to him through prayer, which is to live on words that proceed from God. One would naturally ask whether the stroke of the church bell has any comparison to make with that soul-edifying Muslim azân. The answer is best given by Pastor Mogola Agbebi, D.D., Lagos, Director of the Niger Delta Mission, in his paper contributed to the First Universal Races Congress held in London:
“Five time a day from the turrets and minarets Islam’s call to prayer startles Africa, demanding attention from dawn to dark; and Christianity in its best form, whatever that may be has never presented a formula more rousing than “Rise ye believers. Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep.”
Description Of The Muslim Prayers
There are certain minor differences amongst the various schools of Islam regarding the formula, but its main features are alike in all Muslim countries. We shall describe prayer according to the Hanafi School of Sunni, or Orthodox, Muslims. The stated prayers are always preceded by the ablution of the face, hands and feet.