(3) Solat – the Islamic prayer
The first thing a Muslim does at the start of each day, at the point of day-break, is to pray to God in gratitude for his life and to be conscious of His existence so as to continuously do good. This is the main objective of the solat or Islamic prayer which is performed five times a day at specified times.
The Muslim prayer is called solat. “Prayer” is a loose term used by people of many religions to indicate worship but “solat” is a specific term used in Islam as a formal act directed by Allah (God) Himself. Solat is performed (active), not merely said (passive).
The solat is performed in obedience to God’s very own instruction and Command. God instructs the Prophet: “Enjoin prayer on thy people, and be constant therein.” (Qur’an, 20:132) God also instructs Muslims directly to “be steadfast in your prayer” (Qur’an, 2:110).
Just as the physical body requires nourishment at several points in the day for sustenance, growth and strength, the solat is prescribed to be performed at “appointed periods of the day for spiritual bliss and development”. (Qur’an, 20:130)
The solat is performed at dawn (subuh), afternoon (Zuhur), late afternoon (Asar), immediately after sunset (Maghrib) and night (Ishak).
The entry point for each of the prayer periods changes slightly in progressive paces (according to the pace of the sun). For example, in December 2015, the entry point for the afternoon prayer progressively advanced from1255 hours (on 1 December) to 1309 hours (31 December).
The verbal part of the Islamic prayer comprises recitation of chapters of the Qur’an and glorification of God.
The solat can be performed at home alone or with the family members. In the mosque, however, congregational prayer is the norm, performed a few minutes after the entry point of the solat, that is, after the azan (prayer call).
Whether at home or in the mosque, a Muslim begins his solat any time after the entry point of the solat and not before it.
The solat is performed as taught and shown by Prophet Muhammad who himself had led his Companions and followers in congregational prayers.
The mid-day Friday solat is the largest congregational gathering each week performed in the mosque. In fact, one could lightly say that everyday, a Muslim prays alone or with the family at home; then, once a week, he prays in a large congregation with other people in the local community in the mosque, and, at the third level, once in his life-time he prays in the largest congregation with Muslims of various races and cultures from countries across the globe in the Grand Mosque in Mecca (during the Umrah or Haj).
The Islamic prayer also has the effect of removing one’s sins. A Hadith relates that when some people asked the Prophet why Muslims need to pray five times a day, the Prophet said: “Tell me, if there is a stream at the door of one of you, in which you bathe five times every day, wouldn’t it then remove all dirt from your body? They said: “It would.” The Prophet said: “This is the likeness of the five prayers, with which God blots out all your faults.”
In a way, the solat is food for one’s own soul. As such, no Muslim can ask another Muslim to do the solat for him, just like no hungry person can ask another person to eat for him. Just as we eat a few specified times a day to keep our physical body nourished, the solat performed five times a day keeps the Muslim’s soul nourished.
The Islamic prayer is an occasion of communication with God. As such, it is never performed with the accompaniment of drums, gongs, bells, musical organ or any other musical instrument. The public address system is used in modern times to allow the voice of the prayer leader (imam) to be heard by the large number of worshippers in the congregation.
The Islamic prayer is a standardised but versatile form of worship of the One God. Action oriented, it consists of several movements, as taught and shown by Prophet Muhammad who had received the Revelation from God.
God says: “O you who believe! Bow down and prostrate yourselves and serve your Lord, and do good that you may prosper.” (22:77)
“Bow down and prostrate” is not unique to Islam only. The Bible also describes various prophets, including Jesus Christ, in different postures when doing their prayers. In fact, according to Islam, Islam is not a new religion but a deen (God-conscious way of life) that started for all people right from the time of Adam on earth. Prophets previous to Prophet Muhammad, too “bowed down and prostrated” before God. The following references point to this fact:
• “And he (Jesus) went a little further and fell on his face, and prayed…” (Matthew 26:39),
• “…he (Daniel) kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed…” (Daniel 6:10),
• “…And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship…” (Joshua 5:14)
• “And he (Elijah) bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:42),
• “And they (Moses and Aaron) fell upon their faces…” (Numbers 20:6), and
• “And Abraham fell on his face…” (Genesis 17:3).
Throughout the ages, the “falling on the face” or the prostrating posture is regarded by followers of many religions as the supreme form of expressing total submission to God. Islam provides further postures. The Islamic prayer, consists of four main postures, namely standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting, all done from the floor. No chair is used unless the person has some temporary or permanent physical inability to sit on the floor.
Whether performing the solat in the mosque or at home or anywhere else, Muslims face towards the qibla (direction of the Ka’aba, a cube-like structure in the middle of the Grand or Sacred Mosque called Masjidil-Haram, in Mecca, as instructed by God. God says: “Turn thy face towards the Sacred Mosque, and (O Muslims), wheresoever you may be, turn your faces towards it (during prayers.)” (2:144) [The next article will feature this subject.]
The postures, together with the prayer recitation made during each posture, involve the mind (concentration), the heart (virtue) and body (effort). Eyes are not closed as consciousness is required in every action of the prayer. (Going into a trance, for instance, is forbidden in Islam.)
Like a strict programme of exercise or skills development, the solat, also known as namaz in the Indian continent, is a formal activity of worship with innumerable gains. In his book, “Namaz, the yoga of Islam”, Ashraf F. Nizami, says: “It is worthy to realise that gymnastic exercises are relevant only to the physique or body whereas the influence of namaz postures is four-fold. It has effect on the body, mind, intellect and soul and helps the brain and the nervous system to function efficiently.”
Men and women do not position themselves in the same row next to next. The women are at the row behind the men, often two or more rows away. In the mosque, men pray in one room/hall and the women in an adjacent room. The reason for such male-female separation is to prevent any male-female distraction from taking place as prayer is solely for the purpose of communication with God. Prayer etiquette, whether in the mosque or at home, is to be strictly observed. For example, a woman has to be in hijab (Islamic attire that covers the whole body except the face and hands) and the man’s attire has to cover the knees. No foot-ware is worn. The wudhu (ablution is taken first and after that no one talks unnecessarily.) While waiting for the azan/prayer time, the worshipper reads the Qur’an silently or meditates.
After the prayer, as a befitting conclusion to it, a Muslim, while in the sitting position, makes a supplication (doa) to God. With his hands raised at chest-level, palms open, he seek God’s Favour for any personal blessing and for those who had done good to Muslims and Islam and seeking His Guidance to lead all Muslims in His Way – the Straight Way.
By: Shaik Kadir
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It is sad to learn that in Sydney a so-called Muslim cleric took hostages of some people and in Pakistan the Taliban killed some 132 school-children. Terrorists are condemned by all Muslims, and, of course, the rest of the world. Our sympathy and condolences are with those who died in these two incidents. These terrorists have their own personal agenda that has nothing to do with Islam.
Islam always emphasises the doing of good. Even the verse that instructs about prayer also includes the instruction to do good. See the verse 22:77 mentioned above, thus: “…and do good that you may prosper.” (Qur’an, 22:77)
Those brained-washed and mis-guided Muslims who kill people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, face the wrath of the law of the country and that of God in the Hereafter. A well-known verse of the Qur’an clearly states that if one kills another person, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, he has done the most heinous act: “…if any one slew an innocent person, it would be as if he slew the whole mankind: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)
The value of a single human life is so very sacred in Islam that the Qur’an equates the taking of even one human life without (the country’s court) justice with killing of humanity. The Qur’an prohibits homicide and terrorism clearly. Killing anyone can never be reconciled with the teachings of Islam. It is against Islam, and Muslims condemn such acts and the perpetrators.