Islam has few rituals other than prayer, which is the second of the five pillars of Islam. There are no sacraments. Prayer consists of defined movements and recitations of passages of the Qur’an. The cycles of prayer begins after a Muslim orients himself or herself towards Mecca.

The prescribed prayers are recited in Arabic and are accompanied by a series of ritual body movements meant to demonstrate submission to God: standing, bowing, kneeling, and full prostration. Muslims say the prayers at five prescribed times a day, always while facing in the direction of Mecca. Prayers are preceded by a ritual ablution, and, unless the prayer is said in a mosque, a ritual purification of the ground is achieved by the unrolling of a clean prayer rug. Although it is permissible to pray almost anywhere, men pray in congregation at mosques whenever possible, especially on Fridays. Women are not required to pray in public but may attend worship at mosques, which maintain separate sections for women. [Source: Library of Congress]

Prayers are intended to be a public avowal of faith and membership of the Muslim community. According to sura 62:9-10: “O you who believe. When the call is heard for prayer on the day of the congregation, hurry to remembrance of God and leave your trading. That is better for you if only you knew. And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek God’s bounty, and remember God much so that you be successful.”

Prayers can be done anywhere, except a place regarded as unclean, but are ideally done in a mosque. A prayer at a mosque is supposed to bring 27 times more blessing than a prayer outside a mosque. Once a Muslim begins his prayers he is not supposed abandon them even if he or she are approached by a poisonous snake. Women who see their child in danger while they pray and supposed to keep praying while they make the rescue.

The Qur'an reads: “Verily, Prayer prevents the worshipper from indulging in anything that is undignified or indecent.” (Quran 29:46). This verse has some scholars say has two connotations — both essential for being a good Muslim — 1) prayer helps the worshipper by liberating him from sins of all types; 2) prayer educates man, refines his character and cultivates his qualities so that he is worthy of communion with God.

The Qur'an reads:“If a Muslim prays without the right attitude of mind, it as if they hadn't bothered to pray at all. Woe to those who pray, but are unmindful of their prayer, or who pray only to be seen by people.” — Qur'an 107:4-6

Muslims often pray to ask God for his love. They pray, “Oh God! You are Peace and from you, is Peace; Blessed are you, O Lord of Majesty and Bounty.”

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam

Shahadah: the Statement of Faith


The “shahada” is the basic statement of Muslim belief and the first of the Five Pillars of Islam. Confirming a belief in God it goes: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." The Arabic can be transliterated into the Roman alphabet like this; 1) Ashhadu Alla Ilaha Illa Allah Wa Ashhadu Anna Muhammad Rasulu Allah.” It is often featured in calligraphy artwork in mosques. According to Sunni beliefs no person who repeats the “shahada” can be called an infidel or excluded from the Muslim community.

New convert declare the “Shahadah” as a confirmation faith. Pious Muslims repeat it many times every day. The first phrase ("there is no God but Allah”) both repudiates polytheism and declares that it is a sin for any person or creature to imply they have the powers of God. The second phrase (“and Muhammad is the messenger of God”) does not imply there was anything wrong with other prophets such as Adam. Abraham and Moses but rather than Muhammad was the bearer of the final and perfect revelation from God.

According to the BBC: “This is the basic statement of the Islamic faith: anyone who cannot recite this wholeheartedly is not a Muslim. Reciting this statement three times in front of witnesses is all that anyone need do to become a Muslim. A Muslim is expected to recite this statement out loud, with total sincerity, fully understanding what it means. When a Muslim recites this they proclaim; 1) That Allah is the only God, and that Muhammad is his prophet; 2) That they personally accept this as true; 3) That they will obey all the commitments of Islam in their life The Shahadah is written in Arabic on the flag of Saudi Arabia, the state that contains Islam's holiest places. [Source: BBC, August 23, 2009 |::|]

Sunnah Concerning Prayer

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

Takbir of prayer

The Sunnah reads: “Angels come among you both night and day; then those of the night ascend to heaven, and God asks them how they left his creatures: they say, We left them at prayer, and we found them at prayer. The rewards for the prayers which are performed by people assembled together are double of those which are said at home. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“Ye must not say your prayers at the rising or the setting of the sun: so when a limb of the sun appeareth, leave your prayers until her whole orb is up: and when the sun begins to set, quit your prayers until the whole orb hath disappeared; for, verily she riseth between the two horns of the devil. No neglect of duty is imputable during sleep; for neglect can only take place when one is awake: therefore, when any of you forget your prayers, say them when ye recollect.

“When any one of you goeth to sleep, the devil ties three knots upon his neck; and saith over every knot, "The night is long, sleep." Therefore, if a servant awake and remember God, it openeth one knot; and if he perform the ablution, it openeth another; and if he say prayers, it openeth the other; and he riseth in the morning in gladness and purity: otherwise he riseth in a lethargic state.

“When a Muslim performs the ablution, it washes from his face those faults which he may have cast his eyes upon; and when he washes his hands, it removes the faults they may have committed, and when he washes his feet, it dispels the faults toward which they may have carried him: so that he will rise up in purity from the place of ablution.

Prayer in Islam

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: “Worship is common to all religions. What differs is only the manner and style of worship. That which is unique in Islamic mode of worship is that it contains features from the mode of prayers found in other religions. Some people pray to God in a standing posture and some in a sitting posture. In some religions people remember God by kneeling to Him, while others bow down to Him. Some stand before Him with folded arms and others with arms hanging at their sides. In short there is no single mode of worship common to all religions as a whole. It is fascinating however to note that Islam instructs its followers concerning the manner of prayer so comprehensively that all the postures of worship found in other religions are symbolically represented in the Muslim prayer. Another step forward in the direction of ushering in an era of universal religion, it seems. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

“The institution of Islamic prayer is a most highly developed system, covering every human requirement. It should be remembered at the outset that the purpose of worship is not just bowing to a Superior Being and paying homage to His greatness, as if God created man only for satiating His egotistic desire of being praised. All the purposes mentioned in relation to the philosophy of worship and the manner in which a Muslim is required to conduct his prayer, makes it manifestly clear that the benefit of prayer is drawn by the worshipper himself and in no way can it be taken as a favour to God. The Holy Quran declares that God does not stand in need of men’s praises. He is so great in His nobility and so sublime in His character that the praises of His creatures do not add anything to His magnanimity and majesty. The Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam once mentioned that if the entire mankind had turned away from God and committed the worst possible sins, one and all, they would not diminish His universal grandeur even as much as when someone dips a sharp needle into a vast ocean; the water one finds adhered to the surface of the needle would be far more than the sins of the entire mankind could take away from the glory of God.

“So, worship in the Holy Quran is only prescribed for the sake of the worshipper himself. It is a vast subject and we can only illustrate a few points in relation to this as mentioned in the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Remembrance of God and pondering over His attributes during the prayer helps man in refining his spirit, bringing it more into harmony with the nature of God. This is central to the Islamic prayer. Man was made in the image of his creator and he must ever strive to gain closeness to Him. This is a lesson in nobility which is ultimate. Those who train themselves to think like God and to act like Him within the limitations of the human sphere, constantly improve in their relation to all other human beings and even other forms of life.

“In human terms it can be better understood with respect to a mother’s attitude towards her children. For the one who truly gains nearness to a mother, all that is dear to the mother will naturally become dear to him as well. Acquiring the attitude of the creator is like acquiring the attitude of an artist to his works of art. It is impossible for one to be near God and distance himself from His creation. Again, the term used for worship in the Quran is derived from a word which is so significant and different from terms used in other religions. Ain, Be, Dael (‘A’, ‘B’, ‘D’) are the three root letters which have the basic meaning of slavery. Like a slave who loses everything to his master and follows him in all respects, the worshipper in Islam must do the same in his relation to God. The infinitive used for worship has the connotation of following in the footsteps of someone. That is the ultimate in the imitation of God’s attributes. The Quran also says:

Qibla compass
“Another area which is highly important in this regard is the role that worship plays in developing one’s soul. According to Islam, each human soul in relation to the carnal human body can be likened unto a child in the uterus of the mother. To give birth to a healthy child requires so many influences that are constantly transferred from the mother to the embryo and the child at a later stage. If the mother’s influences on the embryo are unhealthy, the child is born as congenitally ill; if they are healthy then the child is born enjoying perfect health. Of all the influences that work towards the making and modification of the human soul, prayer is the most important single factor.”

Mosque Worship

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Public worship for the average Muslim consists of going to a mosque (masjid ) — normally on Fridays, although mosques are well attended throughout the week — for congregational prayers led by a local imam, following the public call to prayer, which may be intoned from the top of a minaret (minar ) at the mosque. After leaving their footwear at the door, men and women separate; men usually sit in front, women in back, either inside the mosque or in an open courtyard. The prayer leader gives a sermon in the local regional language, perhaps interspersed with Arabic or Farsi (sometimes called Persian or Parsi) quotations, depending on his learning and the sophistication of the audience. Announcements of events of interest that may include political commentary are often included. Then follow common prayers that involve responses from the worshipers who stand, bow, and kneel in unison during devotions. [Source:Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Often only men pray in the mosques. Women, who are sometimes not allowed in mosques, pray mostly at home and sometimes attend ceremonies conducted in a home by female religious leaders. When entering the mosque, some of the faithful discard their canes in hope that the prayers will heal them and make them young again. The act of writing prayers is consider important. The idea behind it is similar to Buddhist concept of earning merit. Sometimes Muslims sway and bob their heads when they pray or recite passages from the Qur’an. This is not all that different from what Jews do when they recite passages from the Torah and what some shaman do before they go into a trance.

Facing Mecca

Qibla Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul
Muslims are required to face the shortest distance to the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray. Facing Mecca during the daily prayers is an expression of direct contact with God without intermediaries. Kneeling and prostrating during these prayers is way of showing absolute humility before God.

Muslims can buy a simple compass or get a prayer mat with a compass woven into it that helps them orient themselves at prayer time towards the direction of Mecca. Hotel rooms in Muslim countries often have an arrow in the ceiling or on the floor that shows the direction towards Mecca. These days it is possible to get cell phones with GPS that indicate the direction of Mecca. Some planes have an arrow on the video and movie screens that shows the direction of Mecca.

Sometimes the direction a Muslim faces is not the direction you would think. For example a Muslim in Detroit faces northeast not southeast as many would suspect. Why? The curvature of the earth. The shortest line between two points often look like a big curve on a flat map.

Muhammad initially asked the faithful to their prayers towards Jerusalem but after the Jews of Medina rejected his teachings he told his followers to pray towards Mecca. This decision and the make Mecca the destination for the Hajj may have been influenced by his desire to keep the pilgrimage trade in his hometown of Mecca and thus help merchants and trades people there.

Muslim Praying Positions

Each formal prayer session is made up of a specific series of seven postures or movements — each accompanied by an appropriate set of recitations — collectively known as bowing (“ rak’a” or “ rakats”). The prayers are performed in the direction of Mecca and proceed as follows: 1) recitation of the phrase “”Allah akbar” — with hand open on either side of the face; 2) recitation of the Fatiha , often along with other passages of the Qur’an while in a standing position; 3) bowing from the hips; 4) straightening up; 5) gliding to the knees for a first prostration with the face to the ground; 6) sitting back on the haunches; and 7) a second prostration, often touching his or her head to the floor.

Salat positions
The second and later rak’a begin with the second movement. At the end of each pair of raka and at the conclusion of the entire prayer the worshiper recites the “ Shahada” and ritual salutations. Less formal prayers are known as “ du’a” . Faithful who engages in these often kneel, close their eyes, open their hands to sky, palms up, and move their lips as they mutter prayers. When making private prayers, Muslims often sit in the same position with their palms facing upwards. The verses from the Qur’an can be whispered under one breath or repeated silently. Some Muslims get a faintly visible mark at the center their forehead — that looks like a scar or a bruise or birthmark — from repeatedly banging their head on the ground or the stone floor of mosque during the five-times-a-day prayers.

Muslim Daily Prayers

Sunnis pray five times a day. Shiites pray three times: before sunrise and two times in the afternoon at one's discretion.

The Sunnis praying regimen is as follows: 1) two “r’akas” at dawn (“fahr” ), or one hour before sunrise, often as early as 4:30am; 2) four “r’akas” at noon (“dhuhr” ); 3) four “r’akas” in the afternoon ( “asr” ), generally between 2:00pm and 4:00pm; : 4) three “r’akas” at sunset (“maghred” ); and 5) and four “r’akas” at one hour or 90 minutes after sunset (“isha” ).

Prayer times vary according to the time of the year and geographical location. Ideally prayers should be performed congregationally in a mosque under the leadership of a prayer-leader, or “imam” , with all worshippers facing in the direction of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, marked by the “mihrab” (a niche in the wall of the mosque). Prayers can also be performed individually anywhere on clean ground or a rug. Additional or “supererogatory” prayers are frequently recommended, especially during the night.

Muslim life often revolves around daily prayer. Alarm clock goes off at 4:30 or 5:00am to wake up for morning prayer. Muezzins sound off at the same time, calling out in Arabic: "Come to prayer; prayer is better than sleep..." Some Muslims are alerted to prayer times by chimes on their computers. There are websites that Muslims can turn to for prayer times at different locations around the world. Employers allow workers to take the time to visit a local mosque.

Friday noon prayers are the one time when Muslim are expected to gather together and listen to a short sermons. Men kneel or sit cross legged on prayer rugs while the preacher (“ khatib” ) gives a 15- to 30-minute sermon that usually follows a regular form: praises to God, blessings invoked on the Prophet, a story the good deed performed by Muhammad or homily regarding the Muslim community, and an invocation of God’s blessing on the local community or leader. Afterward everyone prays together. Similar services are held on major holidays, particularly the Breaking of the Fast after Ramadan and the Feast of the Sacrifice.

Muhammad said its is better to pray than sleep. According to Muslim tradition he devised the custom of praying five times a day during his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven. In one story, Muhammad talked God down into reducing the number of prayers from 50 a day to five a day after being advised by Moses.

Main Points of Salat: Daily Prayers

salat times

According to the BBC: “God ordered Muslims to pray at five set times of day; 1) Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise; 2) Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest; 3) Salat al-'asr: the late part of the afternoon; 4) Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset; 5) Salat al-'isha: between sunset and midnight All Muslims try to do this. Muslim children as young as seven are encouraged to pray. Prayer sets the rhythm of the day This prayer timetable gives Muslims the pattern of their day. In Islamic countries, the public call to prayer from the mosques sets the rhythm of the day for the entire population, including non-Muslims. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“A universal Muslim ritual: The prayer ritual, which is over 1400 years old, is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all round the world. Carrying it out is not only highly spiritual, but connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history. |::|

“Prayers of body, mind and soul: The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken. Prayer for a Muslim involves uniting mind, soul, and body in worship; so a Muslim carrying out these prayers will perform a whole series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer. Muslims make sure that they are in the right frame of mind before they pray; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on God. |::|

“Muslims don't pray for God's benefit. Muslims do not pray for the benefit of Allah. Allah does not need human prayers because he has no needs at all. Muslims pray because God has told them that they are to do this, and because they believe that they obtain great benefit in doing so. |::|

“Muslims pray direct to God: A Muslim prays as if standing in the presence of Allah. In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. There is no need of a priest as an intermediary. (While there is a prayer leader in the mosque - the imam - they are not a priest, simply a person who knows a great deal about Islam.) |::|

“Praying in the mosque: Muslims can pray anywhere, but it is especially good to pray with others in a mosque. Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realise that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah. |::|

“Ritual washing: Muslims must be clean before they pray. They make sure of this by performing ritual washing, called wudhu. Mosques have washing facilities. |::|

Wudhu; Ritual Washing

Ablution (Wudu) in Turkey
Muslims are supposed to state their intention to pray, wash themselves before praying and find a clean place to pray. Muslims are required to be clean before praying. Ablution (washing or bathing) is a sign of purification or. Following a custom known in Arabic as “wudu” Muslim worshipers are expected to wash their face, head, arms, feet. and ankles before praying. All mosques are expected to have a water basin to perform these ablutions. Muhammad said 'cleanliness is half of faith'. Muslims must be clean and wear good clothes before they present themselves before God. There is a certain ritual order in which wudhu is normally performed, but as long as Muslims wash the four essentials at least once, by taking a shower for example, it counts. |::|

When no water is available, they are supposed to use what is at hand. On a Muslim Turkmen he met at a train station, Paul Theroux wrote in The New Yorker: “All Muslims wash before they pray. When water is unavailable, they use sand or dust to perform the dry ablution called tayammum, making an elaborate business of rubbing the hands and arms, and slowly wiping the face, massaging the eyes, the cheeks, the jaw, then drawing the hands downward. Selim went through this ritual as the train rushed across the desert, rattling the windows and the door handles.Then he prayed, for almost a full minute, his eyes closed, speaking into the stifling air of the compartment. When he was finished, I asked him what he had said. Was it a standard prayer or had he improvised it? He said that it was improvised for the occasion. “I thanked Allah for the food. I thanked the friend who gave it to us. I wished the friend blessings on his journey.” [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

The Qur’an tells the faithful: “O believers, when you stand up to pray, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles.” In the scripture there are also details about cleaning the nostrils. Dirty feet in a mosques are regarded as an insult to Islam. Some say the custom also exists so Muslims don’t dirty themselves when they touch their foreheads to floor during prayer. Many faithful carry prayer mats (“ sajjada” ). They are recommended but not required. The idea of behind the mats is that they clean and purify the place where a Muslim is praying.

In 2010, a Malaysian company called AACE Technologies introduced a machine which it said would allow Muslims to purify themselves without wasting water. The ornate green-colored machine is 1.65 meters tall and has automatic sensors, a basin and recordings of many Qur’anic verses. It limits water usage to 1.3 liters per person, much less than is used by worshippers who usually keep the faucet running during the entire washing process. The machines cost $3,000 to $4,000 and took two years and $2.5 million to develop. Many of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims live in places where water supplies are scarce. Washing before five daily prayers can use up a lot of water, During the Hajj it estimated hat the 2 million pilgrims use more that 50 million liters of water a day, a lot of liquid in waters-strapped Saudi Arabia. An AACE spokesman told Reuters that if Meccan authorities invested in their machine only 10 million liters would be used each day.

Wudhu Washing Steps

ablution at Istiqal Mosque

Hands, Mouth, Nose and Face: Muslims start in the name of God, and begin by washing the right, and then the left hand three times. The mouth is then cleaned three times. Water is breathed in gently through the nose three times. The face includes everything from the top of the forehead to the chin, and up to both ears. The face is one of the essentials in wudhu, and must be washed at least once, or the wudhu is incomplete. However, it is usually washed three times. [Source: BBC]

Arms, Hair and Ears: The arms up to the elbow, and including the hands, are one of the four essential areas that need to be washed. The right arm is washed three times first. Then the left three times. Water from wet hands is passed from the beginning of the hairline and over the head. This is only done once. The wiping of the hair is the third of the four compulsory acts. Using damp hands, the back and inside of the ears are wiped. The Prophet also said "If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?" His companions said, "Not a trace of dirt would be left." The Prophet added, "That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out evil deeds." (Bukhari) |::|

“Right foot: The feet represent the last of the four compulsory areas of washing. The right foot is washed up to the ankles three times. Although there are only four compulsory acts of washing, and each has to be washed only once, Muslims follow the example of the Prophet. He usually extended the washing ritual to ensure cleanliness before prayer, and even used to brush his teeth before each prayer. |::|

“Left foot: Then the left foot up to the ankles three times. Wudhu does not need to be performed before every prayer, although this is recommended. Each wudhu lasts for up to a day when not travelling, but must be performed again after going to the toilet, passing wind, bleeding heavily, contact with excrement, vomiting, falling asleep, and taking intoxicating substances. |::|

Muslim Prayer Movements

Although Muslims can pray to God at any time, there are five prayers they are obligated to perform throughout the day. They follow the same pattern so everyone can follow in congregation, and set prayers are always recited in Arabic. [Source: BBC]

Takbir: Takbir is entering into the state of prayer by glorifying God. Muslims face towards Makkah and make the intention to pray. To begin the act of prayer, they say 'Allahu Akbar' meaning God is great, raising the hands to the ears or shoulder. |::|

salat position in the Upper Gallery of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

“Qiyaam: Muslims place their right hand over their left on their chest or navel while in the standing position (this may vary according to the subdivision followed). A short supplication glorifying God and seeking His protection is read. This is then followed by Surah Al Fatiha, which is the first chapter in the Qur'an. Verses from any another chapter are then recited. |::|

“Ruku: Ruku means bowing. During ruku, Muslims says 'glory be to God, the Most Great', three times. During prayer, it is forbidden to fidget or look around. Muslims must pray as though they are in the presence of God, and therefore must be in a state of concentration. |::|

“Brief qiyaam: While moving into the upright position, Muslims recite 'God listens to the one who praises Him' and while in the standing position, 'To God belongs all praise' then is recited. 'God is Great' is recited again. Hands are loosely at the sides this time. Each movement is always preceded by the phrase 'God is Great'. This indicates to followers of the prayer that the leader is about to make the next movement. |::|

“Sujud: Sujud means to prostrate. While in the prostration position 'Glory be to God, the Most High' is repeated three times. Palms, knees, toes, forehead and nose must be the only body parts touching the ground. The Prophet said, "The worst thief is he who steals from his prayer." His companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah, how does he steal from his prayer?" He said, "He does not perfect its ruku and sujud". |::|

“Brief sitting: 'God is Great' is recited while moving to the sitting position. Muslims pause here for a few seconds, either staying silent, or reciting a shorter prayer. 'God is Great' is recited once more as the sujud position is taken again. The Prophet recommended that each movement must last at least the time that it takes for the bones to settle. He compared some people's ruku' and sujud to the way that a crow pecks on the ground, because of the speed at which they perform it. (Ibn Khuzaymah) |::|

“Sujud: This sujud is the same as the first one. After reciting 'Glory be to God, the Most High', one 'raka'ah', or unit is complete. Each salah has its own number of units though. The shortest prayer, Fajr, has two. To continue the prayer from the sujud position, Muslims say 'God is Great' and stand up to repeat everything from Surah Al Fatiha, until they reach this sujud again. |::|

“Tashahhud: After saying God is Great, Muslims return to the sitting position. They recite a set number of short prayers in Arabic, praising God, and sending peace on the Prophet. They repeat the declaration of faith, raising the forefinger of their right hand, in order to act as a witness. They then ask God to bestow blessings and peace upon Prophet Abraham and his family, and ask for the same for Prophet Muhammad. Finally, Muslims ask for forgiveness and mercy, and ask God to bless them and their children until the Day of Judgement. |::|

“Peace to the right: To end the prayer, Muslims first turn their face to the right saying 'Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.' This is said to the Angels which Muslims believe accompany each human being to record their actions. Peace to the left: 'Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah' is repeated turning to the left side now. Muslims believe the Angel on the right side records all good actions and thoughts, while the one on the left records all bad actions. |::|

Mosques and the Social Aspects of Prayer

Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: ““All mosques are frequented five times a day, a task which appears to be over-much demanding to a casual observer. This aspect should be further elaborated to build a more comprehensive picture of the role of congregational prayers in the Muslims’ way of life. Of course in an ideal Muslim society, where mosques are provided within reach of almost every citizen, the five time congregational prayer becomes a routine way of all Muslims’ life. The Midday Prayer, which ordinarily is more problematic, is performed in Muslim societies during the midday break from work. Thus it is not only a lunch break, but is slightly extended to accommodate the performance of prayer as well. The next prayer after the midday prayer is the Afternoon Prayer, which is performed almost immediately after return from an ordinary day’s work. Then no prayer is permitted until after sunset. The time between the two is spent in outdoor activities like sports, shopping, walks, visits to friends and relatives etc. It is a period of relaxation in which prayers are practically forbidden, except for the quiet remembrance of God which becomes a constant feature with some believers. At sunset, the night of the believer begins with the Sunset Prayer, after which there is again a time for relaxation, dining, and so on. The night is capped before retirement with the last prayer which is called Isha. It is discouraged to stay awake after Isha in wasteful occupations of gossip and vain talk etc. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

“The Muslims are encouraged to acquire a habit of early to bed and early to rise. The day, next morning, begins routinely in the small hours before dawn. The prayer which is performed at the end of the night is called Tahajjud. It is not obligatory, but is a very highly emphasised optional prayer. The dawn ushers in the time for Morning Prayer, which is called Al-Fajar.Optional prayers are not recommended between Fajar and sunrise, for obvious reasons. Then till Zuhar, the midday prayer, only two optional prayers are mentioned; otherwise the pre-Zuharperiod is expected to be spent in normal day to day activities.

“Looking at the institution of prayer in Islam from another angle, it is intriguing to note how well organised, disciplined and comprehensive it is. There are certain prayers of congregation in which recitation of the Quran is done in a loud, audible voice, in a semi-singing tone, which does not exactly conform to the concept of singing, but which has a rhythmical tone that is deeply penetrating. The Holy Prophet(sa) also advised that there should be a shadow of sadness in the tone in which the Quran is recited; this makes it more touching, with the meaning of the verses sinking deeper into the recesses of the heart. In some prayers, particularly the two afternoon prayers, there is no loud chanting; this goes well with the general mood of the time. Even the birds cease to sing during the early parts of the afternoon and there is a general air of silence covering the hubbub of normal work. The Morning Prayer, the prayer after sunset and the prayer after the fall of night all include periods where chanting of verses is the routine practice.

Shia prayers

“The prayer can be further divided into two categories. As against congregational prayers, individual prayers are also highly emphasised. In congregational prayers, society pays homage to God collectively and openly. In individual prayers, emphasis is laid on privacy and there should be no effort to display such prayers to anyone. Similarly the late night prayer is performed in perfect privacy. Members of the same house try to find their own niches and even husband and wife try to say their prayers separately, so that communion with God becomes a highly personal affair.

“It has been observed that the institution of the five time congregational prayer has worked very well, for over fourteen hundred years or so, for the protection and preservation of this holy institution. The mosques have been the mainstay in keeping this noble institution alive. They also serve as education centres for young and old and throughout history they have played the most prominent role in religious teachings and instruction.

The places of worship in Islam, whether congregational or private, are kept meticulously clean. Everyone is expected to take his shoes off before entering such places. Although in every prayer the worshipper has to touch the floor with his forehead, sometimes briefly and sometimes for longer periods, it is surprising that no skin diseases have been transferred from forehead to forehead in the Muslim society. Some may attribute this to the high standard of cleanliness and some to the blessings of God, but this is a well observed fact.

Types of Prayers

“As far as the contents of the prayer go, they are of two types: A formal routine recitation of verses of the Quran and other prayers which are done essentially in the language of the Quran, which is Arabic. All worshippers are expected to know the meaning of what they are reciting, otherwise they will deprive themselves of the immense benefit which they may draw from the meaningful recitation. It will make this discussion too lengthy if we were to go into the details of the contents, but such readers as are interested in further study can always consult the relevant literature. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Tuareg praying in the desert

“To the second category belong the individual prayers in one’s own language in which one is free to beg as he pleases. This second category is controversial in the sense that many a school of jurisprudence disallow such practices and insist on the recitation of only the prescribed form, irrespective of whether the worshipper understands that or not. However, they do appreciate the need for private and personal prayers, so they suggest praying in one’s own language after the formal prayer has ended and not during its course. We, the Ahmadi Muslims, recommend and practice the former option of praying to God in one’s own language as one pleases during the formal prayer.

“As we have amply demonstrated above, the institution of Islamic prayer is a highly developed one, where the individual is required to pray five times a day, both individually and in congregation with others. Islamic prayer thus plays an important role in the life of a Muslim and in the spiritual and moral upbringing of the individual.

Written and Spoken Muslim Prayer

Most prayers are passages in Arabic from the Qur’an that Muslims know by heart. One Islamic scholar told Newsweek, the act of saying prayers in Arabic “is to experience the presence of God with the same kind of intimacy as Catholics feel when they receive Christ as consecrated bread and wine at mass.” Some non-Arabic-speaking Muslim have no idea what they are saying when they recite some Arabic passages.

The most basic and essential prayer is the shahada. It goes: " La ilaha ill Allah; wa-Muhammad rasul Allah —“There is no god but God; and Muhammad is the Prophet.” These are the first words that are whispered into Muslim baby and the last words a person hears when he or she is on her deathbed. They are also the words Muslims say when they are praying or are in a great deal pain.

First Surah of the Koran

During prayers time the faithful say:
"God is Great
God is Great
God is Great
God is Great
I attest that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
I attest that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
Rise up to Worship
Rise up to Worship
Rise up to Well Being
Rise up to Well Being
God is Great
God is Great
There is no God if not God Himself"

“God’s mercy be upon him” is a common Muslim blessing. All the chapters of the Qur’an, except Chapter 9 begin with the words: “In the name of Allah, the Merciful and the Giver of Mercy.” This is often recited whenever an activity is begun. The end of the first chapter of the Qur’an?"Guide us on the straight path, the path of those you have blessed...not those who have gone astray”---is often recited.

Sheik Urges Muslims to Pray Less, Work More

A respected cleric said ten minutes of prayers is sufficient and Muslims should pray less and work more. Jefferey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The call to prayer is pervasive, comforting echo across the Middle East, but a prominent Islamic cleric has urged Muslims to spend less time prostrating and more time working .Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi said people often prayer to slip away from their jobs longer than they should. “Praying is a good thing...10 minutes should be enough," according to a fatwa, or edict, posted on Qaradawi's website. The sheik's opinion is shared by many clerics and highlights the predicament between economic productivity and religious devotion in a part of the world where piety is prized.

Devout Muslims pray five times a day during set time periods, two of which fall during working hours.They kneel in mosques or unfurl prayer mats in offices, clogging aisles and bringing work to a halt. The time for ablution — washing face, arms and feet — and a prayer can take 10 minutes, but many Muslims spend as many as 30 minutes on the ritual. Companies and store owners have been complaining for years about lost labor minutes and inefficiency. The problem goes well beyond prayer time.A recent government study found that Egypt's six million govt. employees,a massive platoon of bureaucracy, are each estimated to spend only 27 minutes a day working.

If frustrated citizens or customers ask to speed things up,they are met with a sigh,a roll of the eyes and the centuries-old reply: "Inshahallah" (God willing).

Prayers in the Air

Martin Abbugao of AFP wrote: “As a frequent flier and devout Muslim, businessman Abdalhamid Evans always comes up against the same challenge in the air: when to say his prayers. Muslims are required to pray five times a day at certain hours, but this schedule becomes complicated when crossing various time zones at thousands of metres above sea level. "I usually don't pray when I am in a plane," said Evans, the London-based founder of a website that provides information on the global halal, or Islam-compliant, industry. "But lately I have been thinking that it is probably better to do them in the air than make them up on arrival," he told AFP. [Source: Martin Abbugao, AFP, April 6, 2012 ^^^]

“The problem may be solved for travellers such as Evans thanks to an innovation called the Air Travel Prayer Time Calculator, developed by Singapore-based Crescentrating, a firm that gives halal ratings to hotels and other travel-related establishments.” Launched in April 2012, “the online tool takes data such as prayer times in the country of origin, the destination city and in countries on the flight path and uses an algorithm to plot exact prayer hours during a flight. Current programmes only allow Muslims to find their prayer hours according to their position on land, and the absence of any tools that can be used to calculate during a flight has compromised many travellers . "I knew there was lot of frustration among the travellers on this issue, but nobody had really attempted to solve it," Crescentrating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen told AFP. ^^^

“Before embarking on a trip, a Muslim traveller can now go to the online calculator in the Crescentrating website and input their departure airport, time of flight and destination. The calculator then comes up with the prayer times set either in the local time of the airport of origin, the destination city or the country that the aircraft is flying over, which the traveller can then email to themselves to access later. Fazal said his team plans to develop a mobile app that will also point users in the direction of the Islamic holy city of Mecca, to which Muslims must face when they pray, based on the flight path.” ^^^

Meuzzins in Cairo

Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Sandals in alleys, keys scraping locks, the holy men are the first ones up, opening mosque doors and clicking on microphones, their cadences crackling across the sleepy city, summoning the faithful to another day of struggle and grace. “Mohamed Ahmed is among them in the half-light. Since he was a child, he's wanted his voice to be an instrument for God. A small, swift man in a white tunic, he's one of thousands of prayer callers whose tenors and baritones [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

the first muezzin, a slave on the Kaaba

Like many muezzins, Ahmed receives occasional donations but no salary. He grew up a farmer's son in southern Egypt and traveled to Cairo in his 20s, wandering from mosque to mosque and studying the timbre and rhythm of the city's revered callers. Maghfera has been his spiritual home for 20 years and he is not likely to let the state pull the plug on his vocation, especially now during the holy month of Ramadan. "I've wanted to serve God since I was a boy," he said. "I never wanted a prominent job or big money. For me, life is a phase, a space before paradise. The afterlife is the most important, and the best way to earn credit with God is to be in a mosque calling people to prayer. My reward will come later. A lot of young men stop by and ask if they can make the call to prayer so they can gather the goodness of God." |*|

“He knows the fathers and sons washing themselves for prayers in the spigots of the green and yellow mosque. He has watched them grow, succeed, fail, and, for the older ones, his voice is as recognizable as a long-ago song on a car radio. It has stayed constant — a soothing tenor chanting ancient words — while this city of 18 million has grown anxious, fretful and desperate for solace. "The old Cairo I knew," he said, "has been swapped for another one. There are so many more mosques now than there used to be, and the number of people coming goes up every year." |*|

“He checks the time, steps to his microphone. “Hayya 'ala-salatt. Hayya 'ala-salatt. (Make haste toward prayers.) “Men and boys come from across the neighborhood, putting down tools, tucking papers away; they slip off shoes and step into the dimness beneath overhead fans. More and more arrive and soon the small mosque, smelling of aftershave and sweat, is crowded with men and the murmur of prayer. The descending planes and the traffic on the highway seem to fall silent and Ahmed, a speck of white in a colorful sea, stands in the front, hands raised, palms open.|*|

“Still spry in his 60s, Ahmed prostrates himself. The men follow, bent rows from wall to wall. A few worshipers open Qur’ans. The soft turn of pages. A breath. A child looks toward the door light. The prayer done, the men disappear as quickly as they came. Ahmed steps outside into the breeze. In a few more hours, the call would come again and the men would retrace their steps, following that trusted voice toward a moment of grace.”

Cairo Call to Prayer Cacophony

Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In Cairo there are “thousands of prayer callers whose tenors and baritones fill the Cairo skyline with, depending upon your ear, a clamor reminiscent of the caw of migrating birds or sacred music borne from deep in the desert. The dueling rhythms fit this city, a ramshackle clutter of emotion and humanity, where the individual battles for recognition against the screech and bustle. The prayer caller, or muezzin, is that rare distinction, a neighborhood's singular note of repose, the first sound many hear when car engines are cold and the moon fades to a powdery smudge in the sky. [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

muezzin in the old days

“But one man's tranquillity is another's cacophony. The Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees the nation's mosques, says when you stitch all those voices together you've got an out-of-tune, rambunctious chorus that plays five times a day and brings anything but serenity. The ministry has decreed that the call to prayer, which is supposed to start in unison but often sounds like an overbearing echo, must now be delivered by one muezzin broadcast over a radio system linking the city's 4,500 mosques. |"The call to prayer in Egypt has recently become a very chaotic process involving a war of microphones and sound disruptions that do not suit the spirituality of calling for the prayer," said Minister of Endowment Hamdi Zaqzouq. "The unified call for prayers will bring back its spirituality, because its main aim is to attract people to praying and not repel them."

In 2010 the Cairo government decreed 'chaotic' call of prayer by thousands of muezzin would be unified by one muezzin broadcast over a system linking 4,500 mosques. Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The ambitious plan is part of a nationwide drive that began this month in Alexandria. Cairo's large mosques have embraced the idea, but this being Egypt, technology problems have caused delays. And in a country where rules can be regarded as mere discretionary annoyances, many neighborhood muezzins, the tone deaf and the melodic alike, are not surrendering their loudspeakers. [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

“"No one came to tell me of this new regulation," said Ahmed, sitting near stacks of prayer rugs in the Maghfera (Forgiveness) mosque below the flight path to Cairo International Airport. "I think I heard something about it last year. But if this happens, the call to prayer will lose its mystique and spirituality. People in these streets know my voice. And in other mosques and in other neighborhoods the worshipers know the voices of their muezzins." He paused, less exasperated than intrigued at how the new system will reach thousands of small, unregulated mosques, known as zawiyas. "It'll never work," he said. "It's too expensive to coordinate such a plan." |*|

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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