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This is the second in a series of posts about the Five Pillars of Islam.  The first diary, about shahadah, can be found here.

Salat (sing., salah) are the formal prayers that are required of Muslims five times per day.  In addition to these required (fard) prayers, Muslims often perform additional prayers that are optional (sunnah); these latter prayers are not required, but Muslims are encouraged to do them.

Before any salah is performed, fard or sunnah, the person must be in a state of ritual purity. This is done through two different forms of ablutions known as ghusl and wudu.  Ghusl is the full-body ablution that is performed less frequently than wudu.  Ghusl is required under certain circumstances.  For men, this is most commonly after sexual activity; for women, it includes after sexual activity, after menses, and after childbirth.  Wudu, on the other hand, is normally done after certain bodily functions; for example, urination, defecation and passing gas. Because of the frequency of these bodily functions, it is not uncommon for Muslims to perform wudu several times a day.  Both wudu and ghusl require various parts of the body to be washed in a prescribed order:  both hands, a rinsing of the mouth, rinsing the insides of the nostrils (by snuffing up a small amount of water - especially helpful if one's had a recent bloody nose), washing the face, washing the forearms up to the elbows, rinsing the hair, washing the ears and, finally, washing the feet up to the ankles.  For all of the above, with the exception of rinsing the hair, everything is performed three times (for the hair, one passes his or her wet hands over his or her hair once).  For the hands, forearms, and feet, the right side is always washed first (three times), then the left side.  Ghusl, on the other hand, is the same as wudu, except that the entire body, including all of one's hair, must be washed three times after the feet are done.  Obviously, ghusl requires the use of a shower to perform, whereas wudu may be done at a footbath or even a sink.

Prior to every communal prayer is the adhan, or call to prayer.  There are actually several different versions of the adhan, although the one most commonly used is the one non-Muslims may be most familiar with.  This version of the adhan reads as follows in English (although it is always recited in Arabic):

God is most great, God is most great.
God is most great, God is most great.
I testify that there is no god but God.
I testify that there is no god but God.
I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.
Hurry to prayer, hurry to prayer.
Hurry to success, hurry to success.
God is most great, God is most great.
No god but God!
For the dawn (fajr) prayer, an additional line is spoken after the second "hurry to success"; that is "Prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep."

After the adhan is recited, salah does not begin immediately, but people are usually given about five minutes to get to the prayer hall.  When salah is about to begin, a second recitation of the adhan is done, called the iqama.  The iqama is a shorter version of the adhan.  It is essentially the adhan halved with the addition of "Stand for prayer, stand for prayer" added after "hurry to success."  Once the iqama is said (in a normal voice, not in the sing-songy version that is most people are familiar with), the prayer will begin as soon as everyone is ready.  (It should be noted that individuals doing their prayers alone do not have to recite the adhan or iqama, although to do so is sunnah (recommended but not obligatory).  Small groups of Muslims praying together may also recite the iqama only, especially if the communal prayer for that time period has already been done.)

When the Muslim is ready to pray, either individually or collectively, he or she speaks quietly his or her niyat, the intention behind the prayer.  In Islam, all deeds are judged by their intentions, and salat is no exception.  Are you praying a fard prayer or a sunnah prayer?  A special prayer (discussed below) or trying to make up for a prayer that was not done at an earlier time?  And so, for the niyat, we will briefly state which prayer we are performing at that time.

To actually describe how salat is performed would take some time to do, so I'd rather put in a video that demonstrates the steps involved in performing salat (see below).  However, several points should be made.  First, due to the number of body postures involved, furniture is not normally used.  (For those who need furniture, like the elderly or handicapped, salat may be done as much as possible either sitting or even lying down.)  Secondly, each prayer is divided into a number of cycles, called raka'at (sing., raka'ah).  Three of the five fard prayers involve four raka'at each, although the dawn prayer only has two and the evening prayer three. Sunnah prayers can be either two or four raka'at in length, two raka'at being the absolute minimum number for any prayer.  Moreover, sunnah prayers may be done either before or after (or both) the fard prayers (with the exception of the dawn and late afternoon prayers, in which case no sunnah prayers are allowed after the fard prayer).  

In addition to the sunnah prayers mentioned above (those that may be performed just before or after the fard prayer), there are a number of other sunnah prayers that may be done at different times of the day.  For example, there is the witr prayer.  Witr is a sunnah prayer that is performed at night after the Isha (night) prayer, before going to bed.  Unlike the fard prayers, where there is a maximum of four raka'at, the witr prayer always has an odd number of raka'at, anywhere between one raka'ah and eleven raka'at.  While witr is not fard, it is considered wajib (necessary) and is especially recommended for those Muslims who fear they may die in their sleep.

Other special prayers include Jumu'ah, Eid, the prayer for the mosque, and the prayer for the dead.  Jumu'ah is the Friday congregational prayer held every week in the early afternoon.  It is an obligatory prayer for men to attend, but optional for women.  (Here in Singapore, women don't attend jumu'ah because there is literally no room for them at almost all mosques.  In fact there's often no room for all of the men who attend jumu'ah.  While most mosques here can normally hold several thousand people, the crowds of men frequently spill over outside the buildings.)  Jumu'ah consists of a khutbah (sermon), followed by set prayers spoken by the imam, followed by a two raka'at salah.

Eid prayers are held early in the mornings of the two Eids, Eid ul Fitr (on the day after the end of Ramadan) and Eid al Adha (to commemorate the end of that year's Hajj).  Because everyone in the Muslim community is encouraged to attend Eid prayers, these are frequently held in very large places where thousands of Muslims can be accommodated.  As a result, I personally have done Eid prayers on the floor of a convention center and in the middle of a football field (while it was sprinkling), as well as other locations.  Eid prayers are also a little unusual in that the salah happens before the khutbah, when it is normally the other way around.

The prayer for the mosque is normally done when one enters the prayer hall of a mosque.  It is a two raka'at prayer one makes on behalf of the building.  Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgment, everything, regardless of whether it is animate or not, will be given a voice to speak out its testimony for or against a person.  (This includes body parts, such as one's eyes, ears, and skin; see the Qur'an, verses 41:19-23.)  So Muslims pray for the mosque, which, insha'allah, will testify on behalf of those Muslims who have prayed at that place.

One other prayer to mention is that for the dead, Salat al-Janazah.  The steps by which the funeral prayer is done is completely different from how regular salah is performed.  However, what makes this prayer distinctive is that it is fard kifayah, meaning that there is a collective obligation upon all Muslims within a community to do this prayer upon the death of a fellow Muslim.  This is not to say that all Muslims within a community must do this prayer when someone dies, but as long as some Muslims perform the prayer, then the collective obligation will have been fulfilled.  If the body of the deceased is present, then the body will be placed in front of those Muslims performing the prayer; otherwise, the prayer may be performed elsewhere, such as at a mosque.  (For my late father-in-law, we did his Salah al-Janazah in the living room of his home before we took him to be buried.  For many Muslims who die in Singapore, a Salah al-Janazah is often performed after Jumu'ah has concluded.  Personally, I often line up to perform the funeral prayer even though I may not have known the deceased, my thought being that I hope others will do the same for me when I die, insha'allah.)

Salat is very important in Islam.  On the Day of Judgment, when every soul is assessed as to whether it should go to Jannah (heaven) or Jahannam (hell), the first thing to be judged will be the number of times a person has prayed:

Narrated Abu Huraira that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “First of the deeds for which a slave will be called to account (on the Day of Resurrection) will be his (obligatory) prayers.  If they are complete (he has prospered and succeeded), otherwise Allah (swt) will say (to the angels):  ‘See whether there are any (voluntary) prayers of My slave.’  If any, Allah (swt) will say:  ‘Complete his obligatory prayers with them.’”
The number of times a prayer may be rewarded depends upon whether the prayer is done individually or collectively, and on the location.  Let's say that one prayer done by an individual earns a reward of one unit.  If one prayer is done by two or more persons together, the reward is 27 units.  (The exact number rewarded for collective prayer varies from hadith to hadith, usually between 25 and 27, but the most commonly reported number seems to be 27.  And God knows best.). However, should one pray at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, one prayer is equivalent to 1,000 prayers elsewhere; if the prayer is performed at al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, that prayer is equivalent to 100,000 prayers elsewhere.  However, regardless of the number of rewards earned, it is always best to pray and often.

Originally posted to JDsg on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 01:06 AM PST.

Also republished by Muslims at Daily Kos, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for this information (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JDsg, Navy Vet Terp, SchuyH, Bisbonian

    I too, believe in a Day of Judgement and hope to be found worthy on that day. It is good to live in a place where we can worship as we please and learn to appreciate the differing beliefs of others.

    Just wish there weren't so many who think they are free to trample on those of other faiths and discriminate against anyone different. Every major religion has a version of the "Golden Rule" that tells us to treat each other well. If all who claimed to follow those religions observed that rule, this world would be a better place.

    The deeper that sorrow carves in to your being, the more joy you can contain ~ Khalil Gibran

    by SisTwo on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 04:46:42 AM PST

    •  Here's another 'Golden Rule' (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pengiep, tbutt, SisTwo

      Every major religion (as least the three major monotheistic ones) also has a version of death for unbelievers. If all who claimed to follow those religions observed that rule what kind of shape would we be in?  

      “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens.

      by Velvele on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:50:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dont forget death for the apostates (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I am a former Muslim.  I was brought up, like most Muslims,  to read the Quran in Arabic which I did not understand.  When I read the translation of the Quran, I could not believe how vengeful, angry, paternalistic, & childish the god of the Quran is. That lead me to question all the romanticized stories I had been told about the early days of Islam. From learning that Mohamed was a pedophile, ordered the massacre of the men of the Jewish tribe Qurayzah , and enslavement of thei women and children...and on and on and on.  Lots of horror stories.
        I am a anti-theist now....for which the Muslims are allowed to put me to death.

        In reality there is no freedom of thought in Islam.

      •  This is not true for Judaism (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SisTwo, SchuyH, JDsg, Kane in CA

        "Non-believers", non-Jews, are judged on their adherence to the Seven Laws of Noah.  I suggest most "non-believers" adhere to these laws.  Hopefully you have not committed murder or had sex with your sibling or aunt or uncle, or eaten meat from a still living animal.

        I can't speak for Christianity or Islam, although, for the Catholic Church, I suggest this has no longer been true since the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65.

        "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

        by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 10:39:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Non-believers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SisTwo, SchuyH

          It is true for non-believing Jews (Deuteronomy-17-3). Additionally, the Seven Laws of Noah includes a prohibition against blasphemy. I'm not sure what the punishment is, but I'm sure it's not pretty. As far as the Church is concerned, 1962 is a little close for comfort, but I'm happy for the change.

          “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens.

          by Velvele on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:03:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Deuteronomy 17:3 (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            SchuyH, Marko the Werelynx, JDsg

            Was actually construed by the rabbis who compiled the Talmud as allowing for non-Jews to worship idols or the sun and the moon but be bound by the Noahic Laws.  As far as capital punishment in Jewish law, see my diary on this subject.

            "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

            by Navy Vet Terp on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:14:21 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Seven Laws of Noah (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Navy Vet Terp

            The Talmud laid down the statutory punishment for transgressing any one of the Seven Laws of Noah (but not other parts of the Noahide code) as capital punishment by decapitation. Granted, capital punishment was exceeding rare in those days (as you so eloquently pointed out in your recent D'Var Torah). Still, the language of violence at the core of the three monotheistic religions cannot be ignored and it continues to result in war and misery.

            “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens.

            by Velvele on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:22:33 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  There are "unknown Christians" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          according to my husband who has a degree in Pastorial Ministry. Evidently, they are OK on Judgement Day if they accept Jesus and his teachings?

          My knowledge of philosophy is pretty simplistic. My brain is more mathematical and logical. Philosophy is a whole different way of looking at things

          The deeper that sorrow carves in to your being, the more joy you can contain ~ Khalil Gibran

          by SisTwo on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:11:48 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I read Dante's Inferno in High School, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Navy Vet Terp

          a long time ago, but as I recall, Aristotle was in limbo (not in hell) because he lived before Jesus's time. Unbaptized babies are apparently in limbo, too. I think this was the accepted theology in Dante's time. Limbo is not heaven, but it's not hell, either.

          So there's that. Just wanted to throw in my two cents worth.

          "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

          by Dbug on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:50:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I Hope You Will Continue with This Series (11+ / 0-)

    There has been a lot of interesting information so far.

    "Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything even remotely true." -- H. Simpson

    by midnight lurker on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 10:01:04 AM PST

  •  Another interesting diary. (4+ / 0-)

    Though my own path is not at all like Islam, I still enjoy learning things about other faiths.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:17:31 AM PST

  •  Thanks for the diary and the series, JDsg... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx, Mad Season, JDsg

    To my more or less non-religious ears, there's yet something quite moving and beautiful in the salah al-fajr as the call is slowly picked up in village after village, passing like a wave, stirring the communities as it goes and marking the beginning of the new day.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 11:59:45 AM PST

  •  I would like to add my voice (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mad Season, SchuyH, JDsg, here4tehbeer

    to those who have already expressed thanks for this diary and this series.  I hope you do continue.

  •  Thank You... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SchuyH, JDsg

    Jazak Allahu Khair.

  •  Intention (0+ / 0-)

    It is in the heart, utterance does not mean anything. I can utter it without actually believing in it.

    Verbalizing intention is not from sunnah.

  •  Just to let everyone know... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot, Navy Vet Terp

    ...I did begin the third diary in the series last night.  I'm not writing to any fixed schedule, but will publish it when it's ready, insha'allah.

    Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

    by JDsg on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 04:25:05 PM PST

  •  Always interesting to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JDsg reminded how Islam lays out its rules quite clearly.

  •  Fascinating and enlightening, especially for a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    non-religous mutt like myself.

    At what age would one be expected or required to formally participate in these prayers?  

    Dear TSA: I want my fucking Swiss Army knives back. kthxbye.

    by here4tehbeer on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 07:41:51 AM PST

    •  Children are expected... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp, here4tehbeer begin praying salat at the age of seven.  Of course, they may try to do so before that age, although often it is no more than mimicking the movements of their parents.  Still, the positive example is being set for them.  

      What is remarkable (at least to me) is just how many teenage boys I see at Jumu'ah, the Friday congregational prayer, here in Singapore.  Depending on the location of the mosque, it is not unusual for me to see one-quarter to one-third of everyone present being teenagers.  In raw numbers, that might be a thousand or more teenage boys coming to prayers on any given Friday at a single mosque.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 08:27:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I can't recall much about life at seven years, (0+ / 0-)

        but my sense is that I was doing pretty well just being able to stumble through the morning Pledge of Allegiance and Lord's Prayer in elementary school :)

        Dear TSA: I want my fucking Swiss Army knives back. kthxbye.

        by here4tehbeer on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 07:16:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Also - the link back to your first diary is broke. (0+ / 0-)

        Looks like it got pasted twice or something... but stripping off the first part (up to the "http") gets me there.

        Dear TSA: I want my fucking Swiss Army knives back. kthxbye.

        by here4tehbeer on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 08:15:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for letting me know. (0+ / 0-)

          I fixed the link.

          How many of us really remember much at that age except for snippets of memories?  And yet it's that repetition that we parents do that allows our children to memorize what seems like (to us) vast amounts of data near effortlessly.  I get to see this every day with my four-year-old daughter.  I marvel at her intelligence and wonder, was I that smart at her age?

          Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

          by JDsg on Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 09:32:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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