Summary of 5.2 "Purity and Hygiene"
Last week’s program dealt mainly with the question of purity or cleanliness as a preparation for prayers. We mentioned that in the most common cases all that is needed before prayers is ablution which is washing the hands three times, rinsing the mouth, nostrils and face three times, washing the right left arm three times, rubbing over the hair, cleaning inside and outside of the ears, washing the right then the left foot. This is the ablution that is done before the prayers.
In some places water is not available or harmful because of skin diseases there are concessions and substitutions of a symbolical act called tayamum. We also mentioned that in the case of washing the feet there is a concession if the person washes his feet in the morning and wears his socks he can gently wipe over them instead of them for the rest of the day. This makes it quite convenient to make ablution in offices or places where there are no facilities for washing the feet. We also briefly discussed the special cases where ablution may not be enough bathing is required. This discussion in fact leads us to two interesting topics. One is the notion that Islam itself has the attitude towards integration of various aspects of life in response to the question of cleanliness. Islam takes human life as an integrated whole which includes all social, political, personal, spiritual and hygienic aspects of life.
The second topic that came up in the topic of discussion was the question of hygiene in Islam. Its not only the ritualistic preparation for prayer and washing in a specific way and order is only part and partial to the Islamic approach on cleanliness and hygiene. We also mentioned that the word tahara is used in the Quran to refer to both spiritual and moral cleanliness as well as physical cleanliness. There is no need for contradiction between the different aspects of tahara as Islam tries to integrate between all of them.
We discovered that quite a few interesting teachings that appear both in the Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which relate to hygiene, preservation of ecology, protection of the environment and prevention of the spread of germs and diseases. It is fascinating to learn that these were revealed as part of Islamic teachings 1400 years ago before germs were even discovered. Some of the things we discussed were keeping water ways and sheds clean, wise use of resources, dental hygiene and the medical benefits of using the miswak the toothbrush used fourteen hundred years ago by Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught quarantine regulations in regards to contagious diseases and prevention of intoxicants. In fact what we touched upon was only part of the issue of Islam and hygiene. I know a lady who is writing her doctorate dissertation at Indiana University just on the issue of the Islamic views on hygiene and physical fitness.
5.3 Preparation for Prayer
Host: Can you explain the role and significance of salah in Islam?
In the first series of this program we mentioned that the supper structure of Islam or the basic minimum duties are the five Pillars of Islam. Immediately after the belief in God and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which implies the belief in all prophets comes the second pillar in Islam which is prayer. Prayer has been mentioned in dozens of places in the Quran. It is tied with charity and many different kinds of virtue as Prophet Muhammad indicated in a number of sayings found in the collections of Muslim, Bukhari and Tirmidhi that the line that divides a believer from a non believer is neglect of prayers. Indeed to neglect the prayers is almost tantamount to disbelief. For a Muslim to deliberately neglect prayers with the understanding that it is irrelevant or by belittling its importance is an actual act of disbelief and a person with that attitude can no longer be called a Muslim. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has also indicated that the first thing that we are held accountable for in the day of judgment is prayer. An example found in the Quran is that the believers will ask those in hell fire “what led you into the hell fire?” and they will say “we did not keep our prayers.”
On the other hand the bright side of the picture we find that keeping regular prayer to God is one of the main causes for people to get into paradise as it is a sign of placidity and success. We fin in (87:14-15) “But those will prosper who purify themselves, and glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer.” In one saying of Prophet Muhammad says “God has enjoined on you five prayers in every day and night any a person who keeps them sincerely, Allah promised to enter him into paradise if he doesn’t then it is up to Allah to forgive him or punish him for his neglect. There are endless sayings on this topic in both the sayings of Prophet Muhammad as well as in the revelation of the Quran. Of course this shows how important and central prayer is in the life of the Muslim and the far reaching impact that it could have on the believer’s life and that it is done in such a way that it is not just a ritual or formal thing but to get all the lessons that prayers are intended to teach.
Host: You had mentioned before that the teachings of all prophets are essentially the same. What about the question of prayer or salah? How do they compare with previous teachings?
There is lots of mention in the Quran that prayer in principle was a requirement in the teachings of all prophets. We don’t know whether the exact format is the same as the Muslim prayer as taught to Prophet Muhammad by angel Gabriel. The Quran insists however that the principal of prayers was in the teachings of all prophets. For example the Quran talks about Prophet Abraham the patriarch of monotheism as is usually excepted in (14:40) “O my Lord! Make me one who establishes regular Prayer, and also (raise such) among my offspring O our Lord! And accept Though my Prayer.” Similarly we find that the Quran indicates that God has inspired Isaac, Jacob to keep regular prayers in (21:72-73) “And We bestowed on him Isaac and, as an additional give, (a grandson), Jacob, and We made righteous men of every one (of them) And We made them leaders, guiding (men) by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us (and Us only).”
In regards to the other side of the household of Abraham, Ishmael his first son, the Quran indicates that he kept his prayers and enjoined it on his people. For example in (19:54-55) “Also mention in the Book (the story of) Isma‘il: He was (strictly) true to what he promised, and he was an apostle (and) a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people Prayer and Charity, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord.” Going to another great prophet in history, Moses, in (20:14) it describes the scene when God gave him the ten commandments “Verily, I am Allah. There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise.” We go down through history and find that this is repeated with Prophet Jesus (PBUH), another great prophet in Islam. In (19:30-31) it quotes Jesus addressing his people “He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah. He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live.” There are similar statements about Mary (PBUH) the mother of Jesus in (3:43) where she was also ordained to bow down and prostrate to God, there are examples of Prophet Shoaib in (11:87) and Luqman the Wiseman mentioned in (31:17). The same thing was reconfirmed in the teachings given to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last of the messengers of God, as found in (17:78-79) it ordains the prophet to establish regular prayers, similarly chapter 73 deals largely with the incumbent duty of Prophet Muhammad to establish prayers at night as a way of showing gratitude and love for God.
Host: Are there any other preparations needed before one commences prayer or salah?
There are other preparations that are only befitting to prayers. First of all as human beings before we go to meet any person of position we try to dress properly and so on by the same token a Muslim who is going to pray should be dressed appropriately. This doesn’t mean that there is a specific style that one is required to wear but one should cover his body properly. This applies to both males and females and especially in the case of the female since prayer is about total devotion and they may pray in the same place as males, the minimum requirement is that they have their entire body covered except for their face and hands. They should wear something that is not transparent and doesn’t show the shape of the body. It doesn’t mean that they have to wear any particular style of dress that is related to any particular culture as ling as the minimum requirements are met.
In addition to ablution a person should be free from any impurities or unseemliness. In addition a person should pray in a place that is clean. Some people prefer to use a prayer rug which is very commonly found all over the Muslim world. Of course this doesn’t mean that one has to have a particular rug, this is just a convenient mobile item. Any other place and proper can be a place of prayer. For example if someone is traveling and the only place they have is clean grass or clean sand one can pray on it. One can pray anyplace as long as it is free from impurities which will invalidate the prayers.
Host: Is there any pa reticular place or building that a Muslim must go to in order to perform the prayer?
It is not necessary to pray in a specific place except in a few cases of congregational prayer. The main requirement is to find a place that is clean and adequate for prayer. We can pray at home, at the park or at the rest areas on the highways One of the saying of Prophet Muhammad in which he says that “the whole earth was made as a Mosque or place for prayer for me and my followers. Any person where ever he is can stop and pray when the time of prayer comes.” This doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific buildings called Masjids or Mosques as is usually translated in English where congregational prayers are held. People are actually encouraged to pray in the Mosques but it is not a precondition for the prayer to be accepted. This makes it flexible and easy and keeps a person’s personal relationship with God possible anywhere and under any circumstances.
Host: Many people say that Muslims pray towards the east, is this correct?
No it is not and many references are correcting this. Muslims neither pray towards the east or west but rather to God and in the direction (which is called the Qibla) of the Kaaba the holly shrine. So for example if one is in North America the direction is north east which is the closest line connecting North America with the Qibla. So the direction of prayer depends on where one is located.
There may be cases where a person is unable to determine the direction of the Kaaba in which case a person should try his best to determine the approximate direction and then he can go on and perform his prayers. In fact there may be cases where a person may be traveling in a bust, plan, train or ship for a long time and several prayers would be missed if he doesn’t pray on board. In this case a person can determine one direction and he can continue the prayers and not bother about the constant change of direction.
Host: What is the significance of facing in the direction of the Kaaba during prayer?
The Kaaba is the first house on earth to be built for the worship of the one God by Prophet Abraham. Perhaps its history might go beyond the time of Abraham because of some indirect evidence we find in the Quran. When Abraham left his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar he said “oh God I have left my progeny in a barren place near your holy house.” This was before he built the house because Ishmael was a young man and helped him with its construction. In that sense then the Kaaba is the symbol of monotheism that goes back to old prophets, it is a symbol of the unity of the mission of all prophets throughout history especially with the role played by Prophet Abraham and his decedents, Israelite prophets through Isaac and Ishmaelite through Ishmael the last of whom is Prophet Muhammad. In the initial period before Islam the pagans perverted the use of the shrine in order to put idols in it and this is why in the early period of Islam, Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem, another holy place for Muslims, until the psychological association of the Kaaba with idols was removed and Muslims were able to revert to the first house of worship on earth for the worship of the one God. For 1400 years now the Kaaba remains the center for the Muslim world. One could be in Indonesia, Nigeria or wherever one is they will always direct themselves towards the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a symbol of unity under God.
Host: What are the proper times for each of the five daily prayers?
There is one prayer at dawn which depending on the season is roughly 90-75 minutes before sunrise. The second one is at noon which is half way between sunrise and sunset. The third one is in the afternoon which is roughly between noon and sunset. There is one immediately after sunset. Then there is the night prayer which starts when the redness in the horizon disappears and depending on location is 75 minutes to an hour and half after sunset and extends till midnight or even till dawn if a person is not able to do it on time.
It is preferable that a person making salah performs them at these exact times. All prayers have a range of time and the basic rule except for the morning prayer is from the beginning of that prayer till the next one starts. So the noon prayer can be performed at noon or any time before the mid afternoon prayer and mid afternoon prayer should be performed anytime before sunset. Only the morning prayer has a cutoff at sunrise which is not the beginning time of the next prayer.
Host: Muslims have a unique way of alerting other Muslims that it is time for prayer, could you give us a description of the nature of this call and its meaning?
In the Muslim for 1400 years this call to prayer has been made from tens of thousands and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Mosques or places of worship throughout the Muslim world and sometimes outside of the Muslim world where there are significant Muslim minorities in any given area. The athan is a unique way of announcing prayers that is the made using the same formula at the beginning of each prayer. Instead of using material objects to announce the prayers like a bell it uses the human voice that does not only announces the prayer but has a special formula that affirms the faith in God and is a summery of the nature of the teachings of Islam.
The athan repeats “God is great” twice “I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah the one and only God” repeated twice, “I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” is also repeated twice “come to the prayer” twice “come to success” is also repeated twice. The athan ends by saying once “ God is great, God is great, there is no deity but Allah.” This is an affirmation of faith and the belief in God and belief in Muhammad which implies the belief in all prophets. It is a call for prayer and success and then rounding it up by praising God as the great and affirming faith in Him.