For most practicing Muslims, salah, or prayer, serves as the foundation for their faith. Nearly all Muslims agree that five daily prayers are prescribed by God, representing the second pillar of Islam. The cleansing of the soul through one’s submission to God is the underlying concept embodied through salah, but there are a number of aspects of the practice that facilitate this love for God (and subsequent reflection of that love that allows Muslims to love those around them) that are rarely discussed. Salah can provide physical, emotional, and other benefits that assist Muslims to become balanced in their lives and allow them to more readily embrace their true selves.
Before a Muslim performs salah, they must perform wuthu, or ablution. This ritual of washing prescribes the worshiper to clean the following, in order: hands, nose, face, forearms, hair, ears, back of the neck, toes, and feet. Just before they intend to pray, Muslims say bismillah, “in the name of God.”
Prayer is performed preferably on a carpet or rug, however if no mat or clean surface is available, the grass, dirt, sand, or any other natural surface is perfectly acceptable (some even pray underwater). Some of the words and motions of prayer may differ by worshiper, depending upon the school of thought. Nevertheless, it is recommended for all Muslims to pray together. If possible, Muslims pray with others in a mosque, increasing the spiritual connection with God.
The physicality of the prayer–with the devotee washing before worship and moving from standing to bowing–can create an incredibly visceral experience. Each movement and position of salah is beneficial to the body in a number of ways, from an increase in blood flow and muscle tone to the relief of stress and toxins. Many see some of the mind-body benefits of yoga as similar to that of salah.
Most importantly, the five daily prayers–coming just before dawn, at midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and in the evening–are a spiritual revitalization for Muslims, both young and old. The fact that prayers can at times be “inconvenient” makes them that much more meaningful. It forces Muslims to stop their present activity, whether it be work, play, sleep, etc., and re-center themselves, bringing them closer to the present moment, and re-connecting them to The Source.
Do you have a daily spiritual practice that is physical in nature? Are there other benefits of your practice that I didn’t discuss above?