Prayer (salat) is the first duty imposed by God Almighty upon mankind after that of the belief in tawhid and constitutes a pillar of the Islamic faith.1 The position of prayer is very important and unparalleled by any act of other worship. Like the pole of a tent without which it cannot stand straight, Islam cannot stand without prayers. Prayers are also an act whereby it will be accounted for on the Day of Judgment, of which the Prophet(P) said:
“The first thing of the slave to be reckoned on the Day of Judgment will be his prayer. If it is good, the rest of his deeds will be (accounted as) good, and if it is rotten, the rest of his deeds will be rotten.” 2
The Purpose of Prayer
Prayer in Islam is considered to be the foundation of the religion. Any Muslim who fails to do his prayers and have no reasonable excuse is committing a grave offense and heinous sin. This offense is so grave because it is not only against God, which is bad enough, but also against the very nature of man to adore and love God. Hence to neglect prayer is to oppress the good qualities in human nature and unjustifiably deny it the right to adore and love Him, the right to aspire and ascend, the right to excel in goodness and achieve noble aims. Praying to the Creator on a daily basis is the best way to cultivate in mankind a sound personality and to actualize his aspiration. It should be borne in mind that God does not need a man’s prayer because He is free of all needs. Here man is the center of gravity and his common interest is the main concern.3
The Effectiveness of Prayer
In salat, every muscle of the body joins the soul and the mind in the worship and glory of God. The Islamic prayer is hence is not only a superficial act of worship as noted in other religions, but it is also a matchless and unprecedented formula of intellectual meditation and spiritual devotion, of moral elevation and physical exercise, and all these elements are combined. The benefits that man can derive from the Islamic prayer are immeasurable and the blessings beyond his imagination.4
The effectiveness of the Islamic prayer (salat) is:
– It strengthens the belief in the existence and goodness of God and transmits this belief into the innermost recesses of man?s heart.
– It enlivens this belief and makes it constructive in the practical course of life.
– It helps man to realize his natural and instinctive aspirations to greatness and high morality, to excellence and virtuous growth.
– It purifies the heart and develops the mind, cultivates the conscience and comforts the soul.
Hence it is clear that the Islamic prayer, encompassing the above, fosters the good and decent elements in man, and suppresses the evil and indecent inclinations.
Breakdown of the Islamic Prayer
Offering of prayers is obligatory upon every Muslim male and female who is sane, mature and – in the case of women – free from menstruation and confinement due to childbirth. Requirements of prayer includes the performing of ablution (wudu’), the purification of the whole body, clothes and the ground used for observing the Islamic prayer, dressing properly and having the intention and facing the kiblah (the direction of the Ka`abah at Makkah).
The following is a summarized breakdown of both the obligatory and optional prayers in the Muslim daily life:
Obligatory prayers: Five daily prayers, the Friday’s noon congregation prayer and the funeral prayer. Times of obligatory prayers:
1. Early morning: After dawn and before sunrise.
2. Noon: After the sun begins to decline from its zenith until it is about midway on its course to set.
3. Mid-afternoon: After the expiration of the noon prayer time until sunset.
4. Sunset: Immediately after sunset until the red glow in the western horizon disappears.
5. Evening: After the expiration of the sunset prayer until dawn.
Highly recommended prayer: Those accompanying the obligatory prayer and the two great festival prayers.
Optional prayer: Voluntary prayer during the day and night.