Summery of 5.4 "Prayers: Form & Significance"
Last time we covered three major points. The first was a brief description of how the main unit in the prayer called raka’a is performed. We described briefly the various movements, standing in the beginning of the prayer including the recitation that is said in the beginning of the prayer. Then we went into the various prostrations with the hands resting on the knees then the standing position the prostrating position with the hands, face, knees and toes on the ground which is repeated after a brief rest in-between. We also mentioned that these prayers are conducted five times every day and that the unit vary between 2 to 4 depending on the time of day.
The second major part of our discussion we tried to analyze some of the movements by looking into their significance. For example we discussed the beginning and the way one raises their hands by way of declaration of submission to God and humility before Him. The very statement of the term Allahu Akbar or God is the most great is most befitting when one stands before God and starts communicating with Him. We discussed what is recited in the standing position which is the first chapter in the Quran. We analyzed the beautiful meaning that it carries and how it praises God, acknowledges His lordship and of one’s servitude to Him alone and in seeking His guidance and help alone in our lives. Then again we described how the various prostrations are preformed.
The last point that was raised was about the significance of these movements and we only touched upon one aspect of that. In a Muslim’s prayers the entire human being is involved in the prayer with his heart, soul, mind and body. This reflect the nature of Islam which is a faith which is regarded as a complete way of life which integrates all these aspects of human life into one with no conflict between intellect, faith or the physical material body. In that sense then when the Muslim prays he prays with his soul, heart, mind as they are all in total harmony under the servitude of God.
5.5 Prayers: Form and Significance (Cont.)
Host: We addressed what is said in the standing portions of the prayer; what is said in the other portions in the prayer?
Just as a reminder the first thing that is recited in the standing position when the hands are placed on the torso is the first chapter of the Quran. It is also encouraged to any additional small chapter or other part of the Quran depending on the time and ability of the individual. After this is finished the person raises their hands again and says Allahu Akbar and then kneels with the hands resting on the knees and the back is strait. In this prostration one recites Subhana Rabia Al-Atheem three times which means God is most great (or glory be to my Lord most great). Then one stands up again saying says Samia Allahu Liman Hamidah and Rabana WaLaka Alhamd which means God hears those who praise Him and Our Lord praise be to You. Then again when the person gets down on the floor and he puts his hands and forehead on the floor in the act of prostration which reflects ultimate humility and submission before God. In this position one says Subhana Rabia Al-A’ala three times which means glory be to my Lord most high. The two prostration are separated by a brief rest where one sits up in which one could say Allahuma Ighfirli Wa Irhamni which means oh my lord forgive me and have mercy on me. Then again the same prostration on the floor is repeated and the same words are recited. So the prayer is not just movements that are void of any meanings but each movement has certain supplication that go with it.
Host: Now you used Arabic and then you translated it, is it necessary for a person to use the Arabic words?
If one really looks into the bare minimum that is required to be recited in Arabic in the prayer it is very simple. These recitations are very simple and are repeated in every unit of every prayer five times a day so it becomes very simple to repeat. It doesn’t mean that one has to repeat it without understanding it. The bare minimum supplication’s meanings are easy to recognize. According to unanimous position of the Muslim jurists the Quran when it is recited in the prayer is the word of God and can not be translated because the Quran was not written by Prophet Muhammad who simply received it by dictation. Not only the meaning but also the words that were dictated to him. The word of God can not be translated as it has to remain in its original language because any translation can not convey fully what the meanings are. Prayer in its nature is an act of submission and complete servitude to God, and as such it should be done in the same way that we are commanded to do it.
If one looks at it in terms of the practical implications one will notice that throughout the Muslim world for 1400 years since Islam was completed with the advent of Muhammad (PBUH) hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world have been praying in exactly the same way and by using the same words or supplications as taught 1400 years ago by Prophet Muhammad. This makes the believer feel a strong sense of identity with other believers in the present, past and future. In different parts of the Muslim world everyone prays in the same way. It is beautiful that one can go anywhere in the Muslim world and despite the hundreds of different dialects the prayer uses exactly the same words message. Whether one is praying in China, Russia, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Arabia, Morocco, Dartmouth, Halifax and North America or wherever one goes the prayer is always the same. Any Muslim does not feel strange wherever he goes in the world because the prayers are the same and the language used in them are also the same. Indeed it is not a bad idea at all that there is one universal language in addition to the language used in any specific location as it would foster communication by people from all over the world. In fact when Muslim civilization was at its height one found Muslims from all over the world all knew Arabic whether they were from India, Russia, China or other parts of the world.
Host: Is there any special way or expression that one would use to end the prayer?
Yes, one doesn’t just walk out of the prayer when one finishes the prayer. Like we said before when one starts the prayer it is like throwing the world behind one and praying and standing in full devotion and submission in front of God. So once the prayer is finished just like when one visits someone great one has to take permission in order to leave, one doesn’t just finish what they came for and turn their back and leave, which is even more important when one is in front of God. After the number of unites are completed with all the recitations and prostrations one would be sitting and there is a specific formula that should be recited. The meaning in English goes something like this “Greetings and prayers are due to God; peace and blessings upon you oh Messenger of God and God’s mercy and blessings. Peace be upon us and upon the righteous servants of God, I bear witness that there is no deity but the One and only God, Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant and messenger. Oh God bestow your grace on the descendants of Muhammad as you bestowed your grace on Abraham and the descendants of Abraham and bless Muhammad and the descendants of Muhammad as you blessed Abraham and the descendants of Abraham. And yours is thanks and glory.” After this is recited a person who is praying turns his face to the right side and says Asalamu Alikum Warahmatu Allah which means Peace be upon you and the mercy of God and His blessing. Then one turns their head to the left side and repeats the same thing. This is almost like someone who comes from travel greets the people around him.
Host: We mentioned that prayers are required five times a day and is in a specified time range. Is there any significance in the timing of the prayers in this way?
The five daily prayers are distributed in such a way that it allows the believer to be in a state of constant remembrance of God throughout his day regardless of other activities or jobs that one may do. This is beautiful in a sense because a believer in Islam is not required to leave his work aside and become an unproductive member in society in order to spend his time in devotional prayers. It doesn’t teach the believer that religion is only one aspect of his life that should not interfere with other activities and only remember God for a couple hours once a week. But rather the course of our activities are beautifully intermingled with the remembrance of God. That is why one notices that each of these prayers, even there are five of them in a day, really don’t take much time. It could take as little as three minutes to perform a prayer. The prayers are distributed throughout the day to keep us on our toes and always in a state of remembrance.
The first prayer is the early morning prayer that is preformed before sunrise. This a beautiful beginning to the day at a time where there is transition from the tranquility of the night the activities of the day, one takes the shift and remembers God on the proper railing.
The noon prayer comes at a time when a person is really involved in his activities and occupation. One stops for a few minutes so as not to forget God and to find encouragement to conduct their activities in accordance to the guidance of God.
The late afternoon prayer which comes between noon and sunset. This comes at a time when a person is in the midst of their activities but getting closer to the end of a working day. Again one affirms his faith in God and seeks inspiration and guidance while relaxing for a few minutes.
The night prayer that comes at sunset, Magrib, is preformed when a person has finished his working day and when one is united with the family. The prayer is an expression of grace to God that a whole day had been completed and fulfilled. God is remembered again when night falls and the day ends.
The last and fifth prayer, which takes place a half an hour or so after sunset and extends to midnight but is preferably done before a person goes to bed. Again one ends the day with the remembrance of God and thanking Him for His grace and things he enjoyed throughout the day.
The prayers are beautifully distributed along the entire spectrum of activities from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. One is always in a state of remembrance of God while still being productive and conducting normal business.
Host: What is the position of an individual if inadvertently or due to circumstances beyond their control they might miss the prescribed period for a prayer? And what can be done in this case?
As a principle one should try their best to perform the prayer in its proper time or range which usually extends to the beginning of the next prayer. It is not a desirable act to deliberately delay a prayer from its appointed time or range of time especially if it is out of neglect, apathy or lack of attention because this reflects the attitude of the person towards God. This is not encouraged.
But there may be circumstances where a person may inadvertently forget, a person may be sleeping and is really tired and does not wake up until the time for the prayer has passed, or there may be a Muslim physician in the middle of an emergency operation and he cant leave the person to go pray where there is reasonable justification by exception to delay the prayer. If this is the case a person should perform the prayer as soon as the cause for this difficulty is removed. The prayer is not left out but makes it up in an effort to catch up.
Host: Is there anybody who is exempt from praying or are there any special concessions that are made as a result of circumstances?
If you mean exemptions as in a person would not be required to pray there is a basic rule that this is very rare and in very specified cases. For example a small child would not be required observe the prayer as this requirement begins with puberty. A person who has mental disease where a person can not understand the concept can not be punished for not keeping the prayer. But other than that any adult Muslim be it male or female is required to keep their prayers from the age of puberty up till death. There are some specified concessions. The most important of which are given to women during their monthly cycle and during their postnatal period of rest. It may be too hard for them to perform the prayer when they are in a state in where they might be suffering. Of course they can make other types of supplication but not the prayer in this form and with these movements. Women are exempt in these cases and are not required to make up for it after their cycle is finished or after their postnatal natal rest period (maximum of forty days) is over.
There may be however some concessions which do not exempt a person from prayer but rather makes it easy for them to adapt under special circumstances. Prayer is such a central and important aspect in the life the believer that it is required to be maintained under all circumstances. It is not like fasting where some people might be exempt for health reasons or like the pilgrimage where the person may not be required to do it if he can not afford it and it is not like the poor’s dues where if a person is not rich he would not be required pay the poor’s due. Salah is the second most important pillar of Islam that keeps the believer in contact with his creator. An example of concessions however is if a person is sick and is unable to pray while standing he can pray while sitting, if he is not able to pray while he is sitting he can pray while laying down and there are special formats for this that meet the requirements of the person.
A person may be traveling and facing difficulty and regardless of whether one is traveling on horse back, train or plane is always hectic and tiring. For travelers there is special concession. The prayers that are required to be four unites like the noon, afternoon and night prayer can be shortened to become two unites. Also a person can combine prayers by prayer the noon and afternoon prayer together either in the noon or the afternoon time. One can also combine the sunset prayer and the night prayer together either at the time of sunset or later at night to make it easier for the traveler and facilitate this process.
In principal however, even if a person is on the battle field or under fear the prayer should still not be left out and the person should still make the prayer in whatever form possible. This keeps the remembrance of God always in the mind and heart of the believer irrespective of health, disease, travel or residence but it is adaptable depending on the circumstances.
Host: Is it possible for a person to make more prayers than the five required prayers?
Oh certainly the sky is the limit. Muslim jurists divide prayer into three types. There are prayers that are absolutely mandatory which include the five daily prayers and it includes by way of collective duty on the community the funeral prayers. Then there is a second category called Sunnah which is highly recommended by the Prophet. Within this there are degrees with certain prayers which are highly recommended which are called wajib which just next to the absolute requirement like praying two unites before the morning prayer, two or four unites before noon and two or four after, two unites after sunset prayer and prayers after night prayers. There are other prayers which are less emphasized which regularly go before or after the five main prayers. The third category is called nafilah or nafl which are prayers that are conducted anytime one feels like praying, and especially for the night prayer. One should only avoid prayers when the sun rises or sets or in the few minutes shortly before noon but other than that one can pray at any time.