What is the activity of Salat? What are its exact times? How many Rakahs should be done? Can one read Salat in a non Arabic language? Are there are any special conditions for women and prayers?
Salat is an act of Ibadah (Servitude to Allah), which is ordained by Allah over believers at stated timesi. The Qur’an informs us that the command to establish Salat was given by Allah to all Prophets/Messengers and believers. It is a physical act which involves the body postures of Qiyaam (Standing), Rukuu (Bowing) and Sujood (Prostration) and is performed at specific times of the day. During Salat we ask Allah for guidance (al fatiha) and then recite a sura or ayat as a reply to that request. Thus Salat is a means to recall, memorise, rehearse the guidance of Allah, to praise Him, and to surrender to His will, so that such guidance becomes part of our daily life and we recall it when we are in a situation to practice the guidance. If done properly and in accordance with Qur’anic guidance, Salat develops our minds, bodies and souls, and enables us to truly and completely give submission to our Creator. If there is an act of Ibadah that we have to do everyday, continuously, till the last day of our life, then that act is Salat.
THE METHOD OF SALAT
The Qur’an does not stipulate a step by step procedure of Salat because it is an act of Ibadah that was existing during the time of previous prophets and the Qur’an has retained the same practice. The central place where Salat is preserved is the Kabah, which is the focal point of believers. The Qur’an says that as Allah’s Book is guidance, so is the Kaaba a source of guidance for believers, and instructs us in many verses to believe in its signs:
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
“The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.” 3:96
Note that in above verse Kaaba has been termed as the “First House”, and as “guidance for all worlds”. As the Kaaba is the first house and the focal point for guidance believers of all times and eras, till day of judgement, it is there that Salat was practiced in times and eras of all Prophets including Muhammad (p) and Salat continues there even today. We too should take guidance from there as in the Qur’an, Allah commands believers to adopt Musallah (place of Salat) from Maqam Ibraheem at Masjid-al-Haraam (which is the masjid surrounding the first house).
وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى ۖ وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ
And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].” 2:125
Maqam Ibraheem is a place near the Kaaba where the Imam stands to lead the congregational prayer. By observing the actions of the Imam we can earn the complete method of Salat. Following the command of Allah: “..And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer..” we have to pray in the same method and at the same timings that is established at the Musalla at the Haram. Thus the method of Salat that is established inside the Kaaba, the number of Rakaat, the postures, the recitation, the timings, all are to be followed.
THE NUMBER OF RAKAAT
We have seen the Quranic command to take the place of Salat from Maqam Ibraheem. At the Musalla of Maqam Ibraheem, the Rakaat that are performed consist of: two for Fajar, four for Zuhr, Four for Asr, three for Maghrib and four for Isha. There are two Rakaats during Salat ul Jum’a. Funeral Prayer is also performed at Masjid-al-Haraam. Thus in line with the order of Allah, as believers we should perform our prayers exactly in the same method in our local mosques/homes.
THE TIMINGS OF SALAT
The Salat timings that are established at Masjid-al-Haraam are Fajar, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. Tahajud is also prayed but it is Nafilah and the Tawaaf does not stop. Moreover that there are five prayers in the day is also established by the following verse:
وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ
And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night: For those things, that are good remove those that are evil: Be that the word of remembrance to those who remember (their Lord):
In the above verse the nominative masculine dual noun “tarafay” (at the two ends) and the accusative masculine plural indefinite noun “Zulafan” (approaches) clearly indicate that during Nahar (day) there are two prayers, while Layl (night) has three or more prayers (Arabic plurals refer to three or more). We also see a confirmation of these timings established at Masjid al Haraam, such that during day light there are two prayers (Zuhr) (Noon) and Asr (Afternoon), while night time has three prayers of Maghrib (Dusk), Isha (Night) and Fajr (Dawn). Thus the command to take the Musallah (place of Salat) from Maqam Ibraheem is also in confirmation of verse 11:114. We should follow the Salat at five times a day, which are two during day (zuhr and Asr and three during night (maghrib, Isha and Fajr.) The Qur’an also mentions a Nafl prayer called Tahhajud which is to be performed at Night. At Masjid al Haraam the Azaan for Tahajud is also given, but the Tawaf does not stop for a congregation. The congregational prayers which are obligatory are the five prayers. When they are happening, the tawaaf stops and prayer is performed. For Nafl (optional prayers) like Tahajud or Taraweeh or Witr Prayers during Ramadan, the tawaaf around the Kaaba does not stop, indicating that these are optional.
TAHARAH (PURIFICATION) IS A PREREQUISITE FOR SALAT
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ ۚ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“O ye who believe! when ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If ye are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that ye may be grateful.” 5:6
We can see in above verse that before performing Salat we need to be in a state of taharah (purification). This is attained by performing ablution by washing the face, arms to the elbows, performing masahaa (wiping) of the head and washing the feet to the ankles. In a state of Janaba (sexual emission) tahara has to be done. This is by bathing the whole body as mentioned in 8:11 (see below). Things which break the ablution are Safar (travel) Maraz (Sickness, vomitting etc), Al Ghaith (breaking wind, extretion/urination) Laamastum Nisaa (Sexual touch of women i.e. Sexual arousal). If any of these acts take place then ablution will have to be performed again. If one is in Junub (i.e. has sexual ejaculation) then the command “fa taharoo” purify yourself applies which is described by taking shower/bathing entire body in 8:11. However if water is not available or if one is travelling or is sick then “tayyamam” (dry ablution) can be done by rubbing against clean earth particles. Also see 4:43.
SALAT SHOULD NOT BE DONE DURING MENSES
We have seen in above verse that the Qur’an says that one of the conditions of Salat for believers is “Taharah” (Purification). It is mandatory that before one performs Salat he or she should be in a state of Tuhoor. For women, this means being in a state when they are not having monthly mensuration cycle, as the Qur’an says:
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَاعْتَزِلُوا النِّسَاءَ فِي الْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
“They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” 2:222
The above verse is clear in indicating that women are not having Taharah during monthly cycle. The verse mentions two states (1) “yathurna” (when they are pure) indicating the stage when mensural blood has stopped and (2) “ tatahharna” (When they have purified themselves) this is by taking a bath as stated in 8:11
إِذْ يُغَشِّيكُمُ النُّعَاسَ أَمَنَةً مِّنْهُ وَيُنَزِّلُ عَلَيْكُم مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً لِّيُطَهِّرَكُم بِهِ وَيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمْ رِجْزَ الشَّيْطَانِ وَلِيَرْبِطَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتَ بِهِ الْأَقْدَامَ
“Remember He covered you with a sort of drowsiness, to give you calm as from Himself, and he caused rain to descend on you from heaven, to clean you therewith, to remove from you the stain of Satan, to strengthen your hearts, and to plant your feet firmly therewith.” 8:11
“..rain to descend on you from heaven, to clean you therewith..” shows shower/bathing entire body makes one tahir (purified/clean). When it is said that women are to purify themselves after their monthly courses: “..But when they have purified themselves..” then it is by taking a shower/bath. Thus it can be inferred from above verses that believing women should not perform Salat during mensuration. Once mensuration is finished, then they should take a shower/bath, and then it is permissible for them to perform Salat.
IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE QURANIC RECITATION DURING SALAT
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىٰ تَغْتَسِلُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا
“O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (Except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. If ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. For Allah doth blot out sins and forgive again and again.” 4:43
The command “..Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say.” makes it mandatory on us to understand the meaning of the words of Salat we recite.
PRAYING IN NON-ARABIC LANGUAGES
Salat is to be performed according to the command of Allah i.e. He commands believers to take the Musallah from Maqam Ibrahim near the Kaaba. In accordance with this command we should pray in the language that is the medium at that place i.e. the Arabic language. Salat in non Arabic language is not valid because by doing that (a) we are not following the command of Allah of taking our Salat from Maqam Ibraheem and (b) we are not reciting the actual words that were revealed by Allah which were Arabic words and not non Arabic words. Thus we should familiarise ourselves with the meanings of those Arabic words that we recite in Salat. Also if one were to pray in a language other than Arabic then they cannot lead in prayer those people who do not follow that language. Imagine an Imam reciting words in Turkish, will non Turks be able to join his congregation? As Islam is an international Deen it has one uniform language of the Qur’an, whose standard is to be followed by everyone. We have to understand the Qur’an in its original and recite it in Salat in its original language. Translations do not replace the original.