The second pillar of Islam after the shahadah, or the proclamation of faith, is salah, prayer. This ritual is probably the most well known to non-Muslims. Stories on Islam and Muslims many times include a picture of Muslims praying. Salah is so conspicuous because it includes many physical motions, the culmination of which is complete prostration with the face touching the ground.
Muslims are required to pray 5 times daily. The prayers are spread out throughout the day at dawn, around noon, afternoon, sunset, and in the evening. The daily prayers are suppose to establish the believer’s direct relationship with God. When a Muslim prays, even if the prayer is done in congregation, they are standing in front of God as an individual without any intercession.
The importance of salah cannot be overemphasized. There are numerous verses in the Qur’an and hadith that underscore this point. One example is verse 45 from chapter 29 that states:
Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to thee, and establish Regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that ye do.
Also, a hadith of the Prophet emphasizes the redemptive nature of prayer:
“The five daily prayers and the Friday Prayer until the Friday prayer are expiation for what is between them.” (Saheeh Muslim)
Prayer is supposed to prevent the believer from committing sins by developing and fostering an increased sense of God consciousness. Specifically, if a believer performs prayer properly, he or she will be discouraged from committing a sin because they will think about the prayer they have just performed and the next prayer they will perform.
Prayer is one of the most uniform rituals in Islam. Muslims around the world all pray in the same manner, which includes reciting the Qur’an and the various supplications in Arabic. They also pray towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In every mosque around the world, the qibla, or direction towards Mecca, is located and marked. This uniformity in ritual is a distinctive mark of Islam.
Before Muslims perform salah, they must do ablution, in Arabic wudu, or a ritual washing. Wudu is meant to put the believer in a state of physical and spiritual cleanliness. Also, Muslims are encouraged to pray in group rather than alone. In order to get Muslims to congregate, the adhan or call to prayer is said. Prayer in congregation develops the sense of community, which is very important in Islam.
Unlike saum Ramadan (fasting during the month of Ramadan) and zakat (almsgiving), which are done annually and hajj (the pilgrimage) which is done once in a person’s life, salah is the one ritual in Islam that is performed on a daily basis. Moreover, it represents the direct relationship a Muslim has with God. For this reason, it is central in a Muslim’s life.
What is prayer like in other faith traditions? What is your reaction when you have seen Muslims pray? What role do you think prayer has in a believer’s life? Please share your thoughts below.