Five times a day a Muslim is bound to perform the Salaah, the fixed ritual of the Islamic prayer - worship. He should properly go to the nearest mosque to offer his prayers together with the whole congregation, or pray at home, office etc. Each of the five periods is preceded by the adhaan (or azaan - ezan as it is more commonly called). The muezzin (mu'adh-dhin in Arabic) calls out on each occasion:
Allaahu Akbar (four times - "Allah is Most Great").
Ash'hadu an laa ilaaha illallaah (twice - "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah").
Ash'hadu anna Muhammadan-rasulullaah (twice - "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah").
Haya 'alas-salaah (twice - "Come to prayer").
Haya 'alal falaah (twice - "Come to the good").
Allaahu Akbar (twice - "Allah is Most Great").
Laa ilaaha illallaah (once - "There is no god but Allah").
Listen to Ezan, call to prayer
After the call to the good during the Fajr prayer (just before dawn), the crier calls out twice: "Prayer is better than sleep". Then follows the actual performance of prayer itself in which anything between two or four rituals (each one known as a rak'ah - a "bowing") are performed. The worshipper begins with the qiyam, the standing posture. He raises his hands to his ears and then folds them, right over left, upon his breast. Following this is the ruku in which he bows down and places his hands on his knees, thereafter returning to the standing position. Then comes the sajdah (secde), the prostration of the whole body on the ground. This is performed twice with a brief sitting in between. He then comes back to the sitting position, the qa'dah and passes the greeting as-salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah - "peace on you and the mercy of Allah". It is known as the taslim and it is said that the worshipper is greeting his fellow Muslims (though some say he is greeting two angels who sit on his shoulders recording his good and bad deeds).
In between these postures various expressions and passages of the Qur'an (especially the Suratul- Fatihah) are recited. These include the takbir ("Allah is Most Great"), the tahmid from the Fatiha ("Praise be to Allah"), the tahlil ("There is no god but Allah") and the tasbih ("May Allah be Glorified). There are variations of these, for example subhaana rabbiyyal Adhiim - "Glorified be the Lord, the Most High". This fixed ritual of prayer is so rigid in Islam that there may be no departure from it and the pious Muslim will slavishly follow it day after day.
Prayer is also like a gymnastic exercise and a mechanical act, together with total submission to God of course. Before going into the mosque the worshipper must perform an ablution, washing his face, hands and feet (or, in certain circumstances, a washing of the whole body known as ghusl), the ritual of which is set out in the Qur'an:
"When you 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 you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body". Surah 5.7. Later in the same verse it is said that the worshipper may use sand or earth, a ritual known as tayammum, where water is not available, in a desert for example.
In addition to the five daily prayers there are the tahajjud prayers, a late-night ritual practiced by Muhammad but not commanded by him, as well as tarawih prayers after the last prayer, salautal-isha, during the month of Ramadan. Furthermore on Fridays the great congregational prayer just after midday, the Juma prayer, replaces the midday prayer. In all of these the ritualistic performance of raka'at continues but, apart from these prescribed prayers, Muslims also have a more extemporaneous form of prayer, the dua. This takes the form either of set Arabic phrases or of personal devotions which may also be in Arabic or in the worshipper's language.
The times of prayer
Every Muslim, male or female, must offer at least five daily prayers in time, if there is no lawful reason for exemption, combination, or temporary delay, They are:
- The Early Morning Prayer (Salatu-l-Fajr), which may be offered any time after the dawn and before, a total period of about two hours.
- The Noon Prayer (Salatu-z-Zuhr). This prayer may be offered anytime after the sun begins to decline from its Zenith until it is about midway on its course to setting. For example, if the sun sets at 7:00 p.m. the prayer time begins a little after 12:00 noon and continues until a little after 3:30 p.m. Soon after that the time of the next prayer begins. However, there are accurate calendars telling the time of each prayer. But if there is none available, one must resort to one's best judgment.
- The Mid-Afternoon prayer (Salatu-l-Asr), which begins right after the expiration of the Noon prayer time and extends to sunset.
- The sunset prayer (Salatu-l-Maghrib). The time of this prayer begins immediately after sunset and extends till the red glow in the western horizon disappears. Normally it extends over a period of one hour and twenty to thirty minutes.
- The Evening prayer (Salatu-l-Isha), which begins after the red glow in the western horizon disappears (nearly one hour and thirty minutes after sunset) and continues till a before the dawn.
It is noticeable that Islam has set the times of prayer in such a way that our spiritual recreation remarkably coincides with our physical nourishment, and combines the peace of mind with the relaxation of body. The early Morning Prayer is due in the regular period of breakfast; the Noon Prayer coincides with the lunch period; the Mid-Afternoon Prayer falls about the break time for tea or coffee; the sunset Prayer is about the supper time; and the Evening Prayer corresponds with the late snack. It is also noticeable that the Muslim, by observing these prayers, marks the whole day with a spiritual stamp in the beginning, at the end and throughout. So he combines religion and life, feels the presence of God within him throughout the day, concludes his daily transactions with a spiritual feeling and builds up his moral prestige on strong foundations. Moreover, in this way the Muslim introduces spiritual vitality into all aspects of his life, and religion presents itself to all fields of activity. Indeed, this timetable of prayer is remarkable because it is the work of God and the product of Islam. It is always preferable to offer the prayer as soon as the time sets in, last some things cause unexpected delay or postponement. These prayers are Divine contests. The Noon (Zuhr) and the Afternoon (Asr) Prayers may be offered together, if a person is traveling, sick or pregnant. The same permission is granted with regard to the Sunset (Maghrib) and the evening (Isha) Prayers.
The partial ablution
Before offering the prayer one must be in good shape and pure condition. It is necessary to wash the parts of the body which are generally exposed to dirt or dust or smog.
- Declare the intention that the act is for the purpose of Worship and purity.
- Wash the hands up to the wrists three times.
- Rinse out the mouth with water three times preferably with a brush whenever it is possible.
- Cleanse the nostrils of the nose by sniffing water in to them three times.
- Wash the whole face three times with both hands if possible from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the chin and from ear to ear.
- Wash the right arm three times up to the far end of the elbow and then do the same with the left arm.
- Wipe the whole head or any part of it with a wet hand once.
- Wipe the inner sides of the ears with the forefingers and their outer sides with the thumbs. This should be done with wet fingers.
- Wipe around the neck with wet hands.
- Wash the two feet up to the ankles three times beginning with the right foot.
At this stage the ablution is completed and the person who has performed it is ready to start his prayer. When the ablution is valid a person may keep it as long as he can and may use for as many prayers as he wishes.
Nullification of the Ablution
The ablution becomes nullified by any of the following:
- Natural discharges i.e., urine, stools, gas, etc.
- The flow of blood or pus and the like from any part of the body.
- Falling asleep.
- Losing one's reason by taking drugs or any intoxicating stuff. After the occurrence of any of these things the ablution must be renewed for prayer. Also, after natural discharges, water should be applied because the use of toilet tissues may not be sufficient for the purpose of purity and worship.
Complete substitute for the Ablution (Tayammum)
Tayammum or resort to pure earth may substitute for the ablution and even the bath. This is allowed in any of the following cases:
- When a person is sick and cannot use water.
- When he has no access to water in sufficient quantity.
- When the use of water is likely to do him harm or cause any disease.
- When the performance of ablution makes the person miss a funeral or Eid prayer which has no substitute.
In any of these instances it is permissible to make Tayammum which is performed as follows:
- Strike both hands slightly on pure earth or sand or stone.
- Shake the hands off and wipe the face with them once in the same way as done in the ablution.
- Strike the hands again and wipe the right arm to the elbow with the left hand and the left arm with the right hand.
Special Facilities in Ablution
With regard to the ablution Islam has offered certain facilities. If socks or stocking are on and have been put on after performing an ablution, it is not necessary to take them off when renewing the ablution while traveling. Instead of taking them off, we wet hand and may be passed over them. They should be removed, however, and the feet washed at least once in every twenty four hours. The same practice may be restored to if the boots are on and their soles and appearance are clean. Similar a wound in any of the parts which must be washed in the ablution, and if washing that particular part is likely to cause harm, it is permissible to wipe the dressing bandage of the wound with a wet hand.
The complete Ablution (Ghusl / Bath)
The whole body with the nostrils, mouth and head must be washed by a complete bath before entering prayer in any of the following cases:
- After intimate intercourse;
- After wet dreams;
- Upon expiration of the menstruation period of woman;
- At the end of the confinement period of nursing woman, which, is estimated at a maximum of forty days. If it ends before, complete ablution should be done.
It should be pointed out that at the start of the bath or ablution the intention must be clear that it is for the purpose of purity and worship. Also, a person who is performing an ablution, partial or complete, should combine his performance with some utterances glorifying Allah and praying him for true guidance. The forms of such utterances are described in detail in the elaborate sources of the religion. One, however, can say his/her own best utterances if he/she doesn't know the exact words as long as it is in the praise of Allah and is said with sincerity.