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The Meaning of “Establishing the Prayers”

A very important aspect that one should note about this pillar is that what is being referred to is not simply the “performance” of prayer. In the Quran also, Allah is not ordering simply the performance of prayer. 

Instead, Allah is requiring from the believers iqaamat al-salat (“the establishment of the prayers”). Hence, this pillar of Islam is not simply praying but it is something special, which Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) called, “establishing the prayer.” Only if one performs the prayer properly and correctly does one fulfill this pillar. This points out that the number of people who pray are many while the number that establish the prayer are few. This is like the statement narrated from Umar about the Hajj, “The number who performed the Hajj are few while the riders [present at the Hajj] are many.” 

Al-Dausiri also pointed out one difference between the two phrases of “establishing the prayer” and “performing the prayer.” He said, “[Allah] did not say ‘performers of prayer’ but He said, ‘those who establish the prayer.’ Allah distinguished between them in order to distinguish between the true and real prayer and the prayer in form only. The true prayer is the prayer of the heart and soul, the prayer of humility, the prayer of those who stand silently and in fear in front of Allah.”   The prayer “in form only” was never the goal of the command.

Definitely part of the establishing of the prayer is the establishment of the spiritual and inward aspects of the prayer, as al-Dausiri has alluded to. But that is certainly not the only difference between the two as can be seen in the definition or statements about “establishing the prayer” as given by many of the scholars of Islam. For example, the famous commentator on the Quran, ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote, “Establishing it means to perform it within its proper limits, with its obligatory aspects, with what has been made obligatory concerning it by the one upon whom it has been made obligatory.” Then he quoted the Companion ibn Abbas as saying, “Establishing the prayer is to perform its bowing, prostrations and reciting in a complete manner as well as having fear of Allah and complete attention to it.”  The early scholar Qatada also stated, “The establishing of the prayer is to stick to and guard its timing, ablution, bowing and prostration.”  

In general, one can say that the “establishing of the prayer” means that one performs and executes the prayer in the proper manner as prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah. This includes both the outward as well as the inward aspects of the prayer. Neither of the two are sufficient in themselves to truly establish the prayer. One must be in a state of purity for the prayer. One must perform the prayer in its proper time. One should, in the case of men, perform the prayer in congregation in a mosque if feasible. One must perform the prayer according to its rules and regulations, at the same time, though, the physical acts must be accompanied with diligence, submission, humbleness, calmness and so on. One must perform all of the acts of the prayer properly and in the manner demonstrated by the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). These are all part of establishing the prayer. These are essential aspects of this very important foundation of the entire structure of Islam.

From all of the above it is clear that what Allah is referring to is not something light or something that can be taken lightly.  It is to fulfill the prayers in the best way that one can do so, according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), with the correct intention and with the proper attention on the prayer.

However, it may be that the person establishes the prayer to some extent.  The person has, from a legal point of view, performed his prayer but the reward from Allah for that prayer may be lacking. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, “A person may finish from [the prayer] and all that is recorded for him of his prayer is one-tenth of it, one-ninth, one-eighth, one-seventh, one-sixth, one-fifth, one-fourth, one-third or one-half.” 

The meaning of “establishment of the prayer” has been stressed here because that is what the pillar of Islam is. This pillar is not simply the performance of the prayer. It is not performing it in any way or with just physical motions. Nor is it simply praying in the heart without any physical parts to it whatsoever. Nor is it praying the prayer at the time one finds convenient. One must be careful to perform this pillar of Islam in the best and correct manner. On this point, Nadwi wrote,

Salat [prayer] is not merely the name of certain physical movements. It is not a wooden, lifeless ritual or something of a military discipline in which one’s choice or volition has no place. It is an act in which all the three aspects of human existence, physical, mental and spiritual, find their due expression. The body, the mind and the heart participate in it jointly and in an ideal manner. The acts of standing erect, kneeling and prostration appertain to the body, recitation appertains to the tongue, reflection and contemplation to the mind, and fear, repentance and lamentation to the heart. 

The importance of the prayer in Islam cannot be overstated. It is the first pillar of Islam that the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned after mentioning the testimony of faith, by which one becomes a Muslim. It was made obligatory upon all the prophets and for all peoples. 

Once a man asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the most virtuous deed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated that the most virtuous deed is the prayer. The man asked again and again. The first three times, the Prophet (peace be upon him) again answered, “The prayer,” then on the fourth occasion he stated, “Jihad in the way of Allah.” 


The importance of the prayer is demonstrated in many of the Prophet’s statements. For example, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.”  

The importance of the prayers lies in the fact that no matter what actions one performs in his life, the most important aspect is one’s relationship to Allah,  that is, one’s faith (imaan), God-consciousness (taqwa), sincerity (ikhlaas) and worship of Allah (’ibaadah). This relationship with Allah is both demonstrated and put into practice, as well as improved and increased, by the prayer. Therefore, if the prayers are sound and proper, the rest of the deeds will be sound and proper; and if the prayers are not sound and proper, then the rest of the deeds will not be sound and proper, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself stated.

In reality, if the prayer is performed properly— with true remembrance of Allah and turning to Him for forgiveness— it will have a lasting effect on the person. After he finishes the prayer, his heart will be filled with the remembrance of Allah. He will be fearful as well as hopeful of Allah. After that experience, he will not want to move from that lofty position to one wherein he disobeys Allah. Allah has mentioned this aspect of the prayer when He has said,

Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds

(29:45)

Nadwi has described this effect in the following eloquent way,

Its aim is to generate within the subliminal self of man such spiritual power, light of faith and awareness of God as can enable him to strive successfully against all kinds of evils and temptations and remain steadfast at times of trial and adversity and protect himself against the weaknesses of the flesh and the mischief of immoderate appetites. 

As for the Hereafter, Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure is closely related to the prayers. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Allah has obligated five prayers. Whoever excellently performs their ablutions, prays them in their proper times, completes their bows, prostrations and khushu’  has a promise from Allah that He will forgive him. And whoever does not do that has no promise from Allah. He may either forgive him or He may punish him.” 

The prayers are a type of purification for a human being. He turns and meets with his Lord five times a day. As alluded to above, this repeated standing in front of Allah should keep the person from performing sins during the day. Furthermore, it should also be a time of remorse and repentance, such that he earnestly asks Allah for forgiveness for those sins that he committed. In addition, the prayer in itself is a good deed that wipes away some of the evil deeds that he performed. These points can be noted in the following hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him):

“If a person had a stream outside his door and he bathed in it five times a day, do you think he would have any filth left on him?” The people said, “No filth would remain on him whatsoever.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said, “That is like the five daily prayers: Allah wipes away the sins by them.” 

In another hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The five daily prayers and the Friday Prayer until the Friday Prayer are expiation for what is between them.” 

The essential importance of the prayer with respect to a Muslim’s faith can be seen in the statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Between a man and polytheism (al-shirk) and disbelief (al-kufr) is the abandoning of the prayer.”  In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the definitive al-shirk and al-kufr, which is a reference to something known and understood. This is understood to refer to the kufr that takes one out of the fold of Islam. Furthermore, both the words shirk and kufr have been used, and this is another sign that the act must take one out of the fold of Islam.

Siddiqi’s words showing the importance of prayer are a good summary to this whole discussion. He wrote,

Prayer is the soul of religion. Where there is no prayer, there can be no purification of the soul. The non-praying man is rightly considered to be a soulless man. Take prayer out of the world, and it is all over with religion because it is with prayer that man has the consciousness of God and selfless love for humanity and inner sense of piety. Prayer is, therefore, the first, the highest, and the most solemn phenomenon and manifestation of religion. 

The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated its place in Islam when he said,

“The head of the matter is Islam. Its pillar is prayer. And its apex is Jihad.” 

Some Important Points Concerning the Laws of Prayer

This is not the proper place to give a detailed discussion of the laws concerning the prayers. However, a few points shall be made.

The five daily prayers are obligatory upon every adult , sane Muslim. However, women who are experiencing their menses or postpartum bleeding are not to perform the prayers, as they are not in a state of ritual purity (described below). Furthermore, such women do not make up those prayers at a later time.

Before commencing with the ritual prayer, one must also be in a state of physical purity.

Allah says

O you who believe! When you intend to offer the prayer, wash your faces and your arms up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles

(5:6)

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “The prayer is not accepted without purification.”  Thus, for example, if one is “sexually defiled,” either through sexual activity or a wet dream, of if a woman has just completed her menses or postpartum bleeding, a complete washing, known as ghusl, must be made before commencing the prayer. Otherwise, one must be in a state of purity via ablution or wudoo, which involves washing the face, head, arms and feet. The ablution is to be repeated before the next prayer if one has relieved oneself, passed gas, had a deep sleep or lost consciousness. This prerequisite for the prayer further emphasizes the fact that worship of God involves all of one’s being. However, outside of the ritual prayer, if one simply wants to supplicate to Allah, then ablution is not required.

In addition to being in a state of purity, one’s clothing and place of prayer must also be free of impurities. In other words, the clothing and area should be free of urine, feces, blood and any other impure substance. Hence, the entire atmosphere and the feeling of the individual should be one of purity as he begins to enter into this noble state of prayers and communication directly with his Lord. 

It is important to realize that the times of the daily prayers are fixed. Allah says, “Verily, the prayers are enjoined on the believers at stated times” (4:103). These timings are delineated in the following hadith:

The Angel Gabriel came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed the Noon Prayer when the sun had passed its zenith. Then he came in the afternoon and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ Then he prayed the Afternoon Prayer when every object and its shadow had be-come the same length. Then he came at sunset and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed when the sun had disappeared. Then he came in the night and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed when the twilight had disappeared. Then he came at dawn and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed when the dawn had lit up—or he said became brightened. Then he came on the next day for the Noon prayer and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed the Noon Prayer when an object and its shade were the same length. Then he came for the Afternoon Prayer and said, ‘Stand and pray.’ He prayed the Afternoon Prayer when the shadow of an object was twice the object’s length. Then he came for the Sunset Prayer, and it has only one time. Then he came for the Night Prayer and it was when half or one third of the night had passed and he prayed the Night Prayer. Then he came in the dawn when it was very light and said, ‘Stand and pray,’ and he prayed the Dawn Prayer. Then he said, ‘The timings [for the prayers] are between these two,’ [that is, between the two sets of times in which he prayed with him].

Unfortunately, sometimes some Muslims find themselves busy during the day and therefore delay all of their prayers until nighttime, when they combine the Noon, Afternoon, Sunset and Night Prayers together at home. Converts in particular may find that the prayers are difficult with their work schedule and, at the same time, they may not have the confidence to pray in front of others or to ask for space at work to pray and so forth. This practice of delaying the prayers is incompatible with Islamic Law. The prayers must be said at their proper times and the individual should not take this matter lightly. He should exert himself for the sake of Allah and discover some way by which he will be able to perform the prayers during their proper times. At the very most, if he does need to combine some prayers, he may combine the Noon and Afternoon Prayers during the time of either the Noon or Afternoon Prayers. 

Similarly, he may also combine the Sunset and Night Prayers at the time of either the Sunset or Night Prayers. However, no other combination is permissible. Furthermore, the individual should resist combining the prayers as a matter of being lackadaisical and, again, should strive to perform each prayer in its proper time.

Thus, in order for the prayer to be sound and proper, the following conditions must be met: (1) One must have knowledge that the time of the prayer has begun; (2) the individual must be in a state of purity; (3) the clothing, body and place of prayer must also be free of impurities; (4) the private parts must be covered in a proper fashion—for the man, the area between the navel and the knees must be covered with clothing that does not reveal what is supposed to be covered and the man should wear a garment that covers at least one shoulder; for the woman, all of her except her face and hands is to be covered in the prayer; (5) the individual must face the qiblah, or the direction towards Allah’s Sacred Kaabah in Makkah; (6) the individual must have the proper intention for prayer. 

It is especially important for the individual to perform the five daily prayers in a congregation in a mosque. Numerous texts of the Quran and Sunnah indicate the importance of prayer in congregation. For example, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “The prayer of a person in congregation is twenty-five levels better than the prayer of a person prayed in his house or in the market. This is because when one of you performs ablution in an excellent manner and then goes to the mosque desiring only the prayer, he will not walk a step except that he will be raised a rank and a sin will be expiated. While he prays, the Angels invoke prayers upon him for as long as he remains seated in his place of worship, saying, ‘O Allah have mercy on him, O Allah forgive him, O Allah turn towards him.’ And you are continually considered in the prayer as long as you are waiting for the prayer.”  Actually, many scholars state that performing the five daily prayers in a congregation is obligatory upon men. In addition to the obvious importance of congregational prayers in general, this author believes, based on his own experience, that it is extremely important for new converts to attend the prayers in congregation as much as possible. 

First, it demonstrates the convert’s seriousness in Islam; it shows that he is zealous about performing the most basic act of his new faith. This will immediately send a good sign to the Muslims in his community and they will be more willing to invest their time in such an individual. 

Second, it is a good opportunity for the convert to befriend Muslims and learn from their example. It is very difficult to try to change one’s life to an Islamic life while remaining within one’s circle of non-Muslim friends. Hence, attending the mosque will open the door for the convert to make new Muslim friends. 

Third, it is an important opportunity for the convert to learn about Islam. In the mosques, usually, one will find people who have knowledge of Islam. The new convert will not have to feel lost and on his own but will find devout Muslim who will be able to guide him and assist him. Obviously, these advantages apply equally to the male as well as the female convert. Hence, the female convert should also take advantage of this opportunity and try to perform some of her congregational prayers in the mosque as well. 

The Quran, of course, is in Arabic.  The first chapter of the Quran is known as soorah al-Faatihah. This chapter forms an essential portion of the prayer and is read in every unit of the prayer. Obviously, it takes time for an individual to learn how to read this short chapter and to be able to memorize it. Until he is able to memorize this chapter, he applies the principle found in the following hadith: A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and told him that he was not able to learn anything of the Quran and requested that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) teach him some words that would suffice him. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught him to say, “Subhaanallah. Wa-l-hamdulillaah. Wa laa ilaahah illa-llah. Wallahu akbar. Wa la haula wa la quwwata illa-billaah al-Alee al-Adheem.”  The individual said, “Those are [words of praise] for Allah. What can I say for myself?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told him to say, “Allahumma, irhamni. Wa-rzuqni. Wa-‘afini. Wa-hdini.”  When the man stood and left, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “He has filled his hand with goodness.” 

This author would also advise the convert to learn Arabic expressions and passages of the Quran directly from people who speak Arabic properly. The convert should not rely upon transliterations, as such transliterations cannot convey the true manner of pronouncing the words if the individual is ignorant of the Arabic language in the first place. This author knows from his own personal experience that if the convert learns the phrases of the prayer or portions of the Quran incorrectly, it becomes all the more difficult for him to correct himself later. Thus, from the beginning, one should learn the pronunciation of the Arabic in the best manner possible directly from those who speak it correctly.

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