"Your Lord says: Pray to Me, I will
answer you." (40:60)
"Surely prayer keeps (one) away
from indecency and evil." (29:45)
"And seek assistance through
patience and prayer, and this is hard except for the humble ones."
What is prayer?
It is to put ourselves in touch with God, remind ourselves of His
greatness, goodness and beauty, think over how we can develop the qualities
He has placed in us, remember the goal He has put before us, and ask
for His help in enabling us to do good and refrain from evil. Prayer
also makes us see our lives, with all the successes and disappointments,
in their true perspective, and makes us pause for a moment to see what
we are doing in the light of what God wants us to do.
Is prayer necessary?
Just as the body requires food, cleansing, and exercise to make it
fit for everyday living, the spirit or soul has spiritual needs for
its development, so that one's character and conduct remains good and
healthy. The needs of the spirit are provided by acts of worship and
devotion, the most important and frequent of which is prayer. Not supplying
these needs weakens the highest part of man, damaging his ability to
do good and refrain from evil, just as not having enough food makes
his body unfit to work and prone to disease.
What are the most important points Islam teaches about prayer?
Among many other important points about prayer, the first is that
a person should say his prayers "as if he is seeing God",
or at least be conscious that he is in God's presence. This means that
prayer should be said with full attention, concentration of mind, and
feeling of heart, just as if we were talking to someone in front of
us. Another very important point Islam teaches is that a main purpose
of prayer is to lead one to do good, to refrain from evil, and to behave
better towards others. If prayer does not have this effect on a person's
daily life and conduct, it means that he or she is not performing prayers
properly, in the way required by Islam.
How does one pray in Islam?
Prayer, of course, is a general turning towards God. Islam has prescribed
a particular form of prayer in order to make it systematic and to enable
the whole community to pray together. The details of the Islamic prayer
are available separately in many books. Briefly, certain bodily postures
are adopted (standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting on the ground)
in each of which some prescribed prayers and other words extolling and
praising God are said. This is the regular prayer known as Salaat,
and is said in congregation (if possible) at five fixed times of the
day. Apart from Salaat, one can just address a prayer to God
at any time, in any situation, using any words one chooses.
What is the significance of the various postures during Salaat?
It is to give greater force and feeling to the words of prayer that
are being said, and in fact to address God with the whole of oneself
and not just the tongue. This is just as when people talk to each other
they move their hands, head, etc. to stress what they are saying. The
standing posture is as if to say to God that we are ready and keen to
obey Him. Bowing down and prostrating is to express the inner feeling
that we want to bow to God's commands in our daily lives and submit
to Him completely, with humility. The words that are said in these two
positions mean that "God is flawless and the Most High", i.e.
we, who are imperfect, humble ourselves before the Perfect Being so
that, through contact with Him, our defects may be removed.
What prayers does one say during the Salaat?
First of all, there are a few short prayers and expressions that must
be said in particular positions during the Salaat in Arabic.
The main such prayer is the Fatiha, the first chapter of the
Holy Quran consisting of seven short verses, which is really the heart
of the whole Salaat. In addition to the compulsory words of prayer,
we may say any prayer we like, in any language we prefer, at any stage
in the Salaat. The Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad's
Sayings contain a large number of apt and beautiful prayers for various
situations. We must, of course, know the full meaning of any prayer
we say, Arabic or otherwise, and it must be said with the full presence
of mind and sincerity of heart.
Please explain briefly the meanings of the Fatiha?
This is the fundamental Muslim prayer, which illustrates the basic
aim of the worshipper:
1. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,
2. The Beneficent, the Merciful,
3. Master of the Day of Judgment.
4. You (O Allah) are the one we worship, and You are the One Whose
help we seek.
5. Guide us on the right path,
6. The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favours,
7. Not those who incur wrath or those who go astray.
What are the important points to be noted about this prayer?
We pray to be guided on the right path all the time, so that we progress
along it constantly and develop the good qualities that God has placed
in every person. This "right path" is that on which the righteous
persons of all times have walked, whose lives show that God graced them
with His spiritual favours. While praying for this, we recall that we
are weak, and so we also pray that we may avoid wrongdoing as well
as wrong beliefs (no. 7). This makes one feel humble while walking on
the right path, and prevents arrogance, selfrighteousness, and complacency.
Why are parts of the prayer said in Arabic?
The main reason is that, when the Salaat is performed in congregation,
some words and passages are recited aloud by the man leading it, so
that the assembly is praying in concert and harmony, as a single body.
Since Islam is an international religion and Muslims praying in a congregation
may well come from different countries (as often happens in prayer-meetings
in the West), using Arabic, the original language of the Holy Quran,
means that they can pray together. The Arabic prayers and expressions
necessary for a Muslim to learn are very short and easy, and can be
learnt by a child in a few days. Using Arabic also enables the people
gathered for Hajj (in Makka, Arabia), from every part of the
world, to worship together in step.
Does this mean that a purpose of Salaat is to bring people closer together?
Yes. Besides taking man closer to God, the other main purpose of Salaat
is to bring people together and teach them equality and brotherhood.
The worshippers stand in rows, shoulder to shoulder, without any distinction
of race, nation, colour, wealth, family, status, etc., and all pray
together as one body. They feel humble before God and brotherly among
themselves. The Salaat ends with the worshippers turning their
faces to the right, and then left, and in each direction wishing peace
and God's mercy upon those in that direction. They are really wishing
peace and the mercy of God upon the whole world. The purpose of the
prayer, therefore, is to train people to acquire such qualities and
character that they bring peace to the world.