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Salah (Arabic: ٱلصَّلَاةُ, romanizedas-Ṣalāh), is the principal form of worship in Islam. Facing Mecca, it consists of units called rak'ah (specific set of movements), during which the Quran is recited, and prayers from the Sunnah are typically said. The number of rak'ah varies from prayer to prayer. Minor details of performing salah may differ according to the madhhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence) of the person performing it.

Salah may refer to the form of worship in general, or specifically to the daily obligatory prayers performed by Muslims, observed three[1][2][3][4] or (most commonly) five times a day. The obligatory prayers play an integral part in the Islamic faith, being the second and the most important pillar (After Shahadah) from the Five Pillars of Islam for Sunnis, and one of the Ancillaries of the Faith for Shiites. In addition, supererogatory salah may be performed by Muslims at any time with a few exceptions, or at specific times in accordance with the Sunnah.

Wudu (Ritual Purity) is a must prerequisite for performing salah. Muslims may perform salah alone or in congregation. Some of these prayers are special and are exclusively performed in congregation, such as the Friday salah and Eid prayers, both are performed with a khutbah (sermon). Some concessions are made for Muslims who are physically unable to perform the salah in its original form, or are travelling.

Etymology and other names[edit]

The Arabic word salah (Arabic: صلاة, romanizedṢalāh, pronounced [sˤɑˈlæːh]) means 'prayer'.[5] The word is used primarily by English speakers to refer to the five daily obligatory prayers. Similar terms are used to refer to the prayer in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Somalia, Tanzania, and by some Swahili speakers.

The origin of the word is debated. Some have suggested that salah derives from the triliteral root 'و - ص - ل' (W-Ṣ-L) which means 'linking things together',[6] relating it to the obligatory prayers in the sense that one connects to Allah through prayer. In some translations, namely that of Quranist Rashad Khalifa, salah is translated as the 'contact prayer',[7] either because of the physical contact the head makes with the ground during the prostration, or again because the prayer connects the one who performs it to Allah. Another theory suggests the word derives from the triliteral root 'ص - ل - و' (Ṣ-L-W), the meaning of which is not agreed upon.[8]

In other countries, including Bosnia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and other countries where Iranian, Turkic and Indo-Aryan languages are spoken, the Persian word namaz (Persian: نماز, romanizedNamāz) is used to refer to salah. This word originates from the Middle Persian word for 'reverence'.[9]

Religious significance[edit]

The word salah is mentioned 83 times in the Quran as a noun.[10][11] Salah is generally classified into obligatory prayers and supererogatory prayers, the latter being further divided into Sunnah prayers and nafl prayers. The primary purpose of salah is to act as a mode of communication with Allah.[12] The objectives of salah are various in Islamic belief, and include purification of the heart, growing closer to Allah, and strengthening one's faith. It is believed that the soul requires prayer and closeness to Allah to stay sustained and healthy, and that prayer spiritually sustains the human soul, just as food provides nourishment to the physical body.[13]

Tafsir (exegesis) of the Quran can give four reasons for the observation of salah. First, in order to commend God, Allah's servants, together with the angels, do salah ("blessing, salutations").[14][a] Second, salah is done involuntarily by all beings in creation, in the sense that they are always in contact with Allah by virtue of him creating and sustaining them.[15][b] Third, Muslims voluntarily offer salah to reveal that it is the particular form of worship that belongs to the prophets.[c] Fourth, salah is described as the second pillar of Islam.[5]

The prayer room in Khonakhan Mosque, Uzbekistan

Performing salah[edit]

There is consensus on the vast majority of the major details of the salah, but there are different views on some of the more intricate details. A Muslim is required to perform Wudu (ablution) before performing salah,[16][17] and making the niyyah (intention) is a prerequisite for all deeds in Islam, including salah. Some schools of Islamic jurisprudence hold that intending to pray suffices in the heart, and some require that the intention be spoken, usually under the breath.[18] A salah is made up of a repeating unit of specific movements and recitations known as a rak'a (Arabic: ركعة, romanizedrak'ah, pl. Arabic: ركعات, romanized: raka'āt). A single prayer can consist of between one and four rak'a. Between each position in a rak'a, there is a very slight pause. The takbir is recited when moving from one position to another, except when standing back up from the bowing position.

Various prescribed movements in salah, which collectively constitute a rak'ah. From left to right: rukū', qiyām/i'tidal, sujūd, takbīr and qu'ūd/julūs.

The person praying begins in a standing position known as Qiyam, although people who find it difficult to do so may begin while sitting or lying on the ground.[5] This is followed by raising the hands to the head and recitation of the takbir, an action known as the Takbirat al-Ihram (Arabic: تكبيرة الإحرام, romanized: Takbīrat al-Iḥrām). The hands are then lowered, and may be clasped on the abdomen (qabd), or hang by one's sides (sadl). A Muslim may not converse, eat, or do things that are otherwise halal after the Takbirat al-Ihram. A Muslim must keep their vision low during prayer, looking at the place where their face will contact the ground during prostration.[18][19][20]

A prayer may be said before the recitation of the Quran commences. Next, Al-Fatiha, the first chapter of the Quran, is recited. In the first and second rak'a of all prayers, a surah other than Al-Fatiha or part thereof is recited after Al-Fatiha. This is followed by another takbir after which the person praying bows down their waist in a position known as ruku with their hands on their knees (depending on the madhhab, rules may differ for women). While bowing, specific versions of tasbih are uttered once or more. As the worshipper straightens their back, they say the Arabic phrase "سمع الله لمن حمده" (lit.'Allah hears the one who praises him.'), followed by the phrase "ربنا لك الحمد" (lit.'Our Lord, all praise is for you.')[18]

Following the recitation of these words of praise, the takbir is recited once again before the worshipper kneels and prostrates with the forehead, nose, knees, palms and toes touching the floor, a position known as sujud. Similar to ruku, specific versions of tasbih are uttered once or more in sujud. The worshipper recites the takbir and rises up to sit briefly, then recites takbir and returns to sujud once again. Lifting the head from the second prostration completes a rak'ah. If this is the second or last rak'a, the worshipper rises up to sit once again and recites the Tashahhud, Salawat, and other prayers.[18] Many Sunni scholars, including Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab[21] and Al-Albani[22] hold that the right index finger should be raised when reciting the prayers in this sitting position,[18] Once the worshipper is done praying in the sitting position in their last rak'a, they perform the taslim, reciting lengthened versions of the Islamic greeting As-salamu alaykum, once while facing the right and another time while facing the left. Taslim represents the end of prayer.[23][24]

Mistakes and doubts in salah are compensated for by prostrating twice at the end of the prayer, either before or after the taslim. These prostrations are known as sujud sahwi (Arabic: سجود السهو, romanized: Sujud as-Sahw).[25]

Salah in congregation[edit]

In Islamic belief, performing salah in congregation is considered to have more social and spiritual benefits than praying alone.[26] The majority of Sunni scholars recommend performing the obligatory salah in congregation without viewing the congregational prayer as an obligation. A minority view exists viewing performing the obligatory salah in congregation as an obligation.[27]

Women performing the Friday prayer at a mosque, Ohio, US

When praying in congregation, the people stand in straight parallel rows behind one person who leads the prayer service, called the imam. The imam must be above the rest in knowledge of the Quran, action, piety, and justness, and should be known to possess faith and commitment the people trust.[28] The prayer is offered just as it is when one prays alone, with the congregation following the imam as they offer their salah.[29] Two people of the same gender praying in congregation would stand beside each other, with the imam on the left and the other person to his right.[citation needed]

When the worshippers consist of men and women combined, a man leads the prayer. In this situation, women are typically forbidden from assuming this role with unanimous agreement within the major schools of Islam. This is disputed by some, partly based on a hadith with controversial interpretations. When the congregation consists entirely of women and/or pre-pubescent children, a woman may lead the prayer.[30] Some configurations allow for rows of men and women to stand side by side separated by a curtain or other barrier,[31] with the primary intention being for there to be no direct line of sight between male and female worshippers.[32]

Differences in practice[edit]

A Sunni Muslim (left) and Shia Muslim (right) performing the Friday prayer in Tehran. Some Sunnis perform salah with the hands clasped ("qabd"), while Shia offer salah with their hands at their sides ("sadl").

Muslims believe that Muhammad practiced, taught, and disseminated the salah in the whole community of Muslims and made it part of their life. The practice has, therefore, been concurrently and perpetually practiced by the community in each of the generations. The authority for the basic forms of the salah is neither the hadiths nor the Quran, but rather the consensus of Muslims.[33][34]

A turbah or mohr is a small piece of soil or clay, often a clay tablet, used during salah to symbolize earth.

This is not inconsistent with another fact that Muslims have shown diversity in their practice since the earliest days of practice, so the salah practiced by one Muslim may differ from another's in minor details. In some cases the hadith suggest some of this diversity of practice was known of and approved by Muhammad himself.[35]

Most differences arise because of different interpretations of the Islamic legal sources by the different schools of law (madhhabs) in Sunni Islam, and by different legal traditions within Shia Islam. In the case of ritual worship these differences are generally minor, and should rarely cause dispute.[36]

Common differences, which may vary between schools and gender, include the position of legs, feet, hands and fingers, where the eyes should focus, the minimum amount of recitation, the volume of recitation, and which of the principal elements of the prayer are indispensable, versus recommended or optional.[citation needed]

Places and times at which salah is prohibited[edit]

Salah is not performed in graveyards and bathrooms. It is prohibited from being performed after Fajr prayer until sunrise, during a small period of time around noon, and after Asr prayer until sunset. The prohibition of salah at these times is to prevent the practice of sun worship.[37]

Obligatory salah[edit]

The daily prayers[edit]

Display showing salah times in a Turkish mosque

The word salah, when used to refer to the Sunni second pillar of Islam or the Shia ancillary of faith, refers to the five obligatory daily prayers.[38] Each of the five prayers has a prescribed time which depends on the position of the sun in the sky. Given the Islamic day begins at sunset, the first prayer of the day would be Maghrib, performed directly after sunset. It is followed by the Isha salah that is performed during the night, the Fajr salah performed before sunrise, and the Zuhr and Asr prayers performed in the afternoon.

The five daily prayers must be performed in their prescribed times. However, if extenuating circumstances prevent a Muslim from performing them on time, they must be performed as soon as possible. Several hadith narrations quote Muhammad saying that a person who slept past the prescribed time or forgot to perform the obligatory salah must pray it as soon as they remember.[28]

These prayers are considered obligatory upon every adult Muslim,[38] with the exception of those with some physical or mental disabilities,[39] menstruating women, and women experiencing postnatal bleeding.[40] Those who are sick or otherwise physically unable to perform their salah standing may perform them sitting or lying down according to their ability.[41]

Some Muslims pray three times a day, believing the Qur'an mentions three prayers instead of five.[42][43][44]

Friday and Eid prayers[edit]

Friday prayer for Muslims in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh

In general, Sunnis view the five daily prayers, in addition to the Friday salah, as obligatory. There is a difference of opinion within the Sunni schools of jurisprudence regarding whether the Eid and Witr prayers are obligatory on all Muslims,[45] obligatory only such that a sufficient number of Muslims perform it,[46] or sunnah.[47]

All Sunni schools of jurisprudence view the Friday salah as an obligatory prayer replacing Zuhr on Fridays exclusively. It is obligatory upon men and is to be prayed in congregation, while women have the choice to offer it in congregation or pray Zuhr at home.[48] Preceding the Friday salah, a khutbah (sermon) is delivered by a khatib, after which the 2 rak'a Friday prayer is performed.[49] A minority view within the Sunni schools holds that listening to the khutbah compensates for the spiritual reward of the 2 rak'a that are discounted from the prayer.[50]

The Eid salah is offered in the morning hours of the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It consists of 2 rak'a, with extra takbirs pronounced before the beginning of the recitation of the Quran in each. The exact number of extra takbirs is differed upon within the Sunni schools, with the majority opining that seven takbirs are pronounced in the first rak'a and five in the second. The Hanafi school holds that 3 takbirs are to be pronounced in each rak'a. After the prayer, a khutbah is delivered. However, unlike the Friday prayer, the khutbah is not an integral part of the Eid prayer.[51] The prescribed time of the Eid prayer is after that of Fajr and before that of Zuhr.[52]

Jam' and Qasr[edit]

Muslims may pray two obligatory prayers together at the prescribed time of one, a practice known as jam'. This is restricted to two pairs of salah: the afternoon prayers of Zuhr and Asr, and the night-time prayers of Maghrib and Isha. Within the schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, there is a difference of opinion regarding the range of reasons that permit one to perform jam'. With the exception of the Hanafi school, the other schools of jurisprudence allow one to perform jam' when travelling or when incapable of performing the prayers separately. Hanbalis and members of the Salafi movement allow jam' for a wider range of reasons.[53][54] Some Salafis ascribing to the Ahl-i Hadith movement also permit jam' without reason while preferring that the prayers be performed separately.[55][56] The Shia Ja'fari school allows one to perform jam' without reason.[57] Exclusively when traveling, a Muslim may shorten the Zuhr, Asr, and Isha prayers, which normally consist of 4 rak'a, to two. This is known as qasr.[52]

Supererogatory salah[edit]

Muslims may perform supererogatory salah as an act of worship at any time except the times of prohibition. Such salah is called nafl.[58] Prayers performed by Muhammad consistently, or those that he recommended be performed but are not considered obligatory, are called sunnah prayers.

Sunan ar-Rawatib[edit]

The Sunan ar-Rawatib (Arabic: السنن الرواتب, romanizedِas-Sunan ar-Rawātib) are sunnah prayers performed by Sunni Muslims during the prescribed times of the five daily obligatory prayers, either before performing the obligatory prayer or after it. Within the Sunni schools of jurisprudence, these amount to 10 or 12 rak'a, spread between the five prayers except Asr. The Sunan ar-Rawatib performed before the obligatory prayers are performed between the adhan and iqama of their associated salah, while those performed after the obligatory prayer may be performed up to the end of the prescribed time of the associated salah.

Salah during the night[edit]

Witr salah (Arabic: صلاة الوتر) is a short prayer generally performed as the last prayer of the night. It consists of an odd number of rak'a, starting from one and going up to eleven, with slight differences between the different schools of jurisprudence.[59] Witr salah often includes the qunut.[60] Within Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanafis view that the Witr salah is obligatory, while the other schools consider it a sunnah salah.

Within Sunni schools of jurisprudence, Tahajjud (Arabic: تَهَجُّد) refers to night-time prayers generally performed after midnight. The prayer includes any number of even rak'a, performed as individual prayers of two rak'a or four. Tahajjud is generally concluded with Witr salah.[59] Shia Muslims offer similar prayers, called Salawat al-Layl (Arabic: صَلَوَات اللَّيل). These are considered highly meritorious, consist of 11 rak'a: 8 nafl (performed as 4 prayers of 2 rak'a each) followed by 3 witr,[61] and can be offered in the same time as Tahajjud.[60]

Tarawih salah (Arabic: صلاة التراويح) is a sunnah prayer performed exclusively during Ramadan by Sunnis. It is performed immediately after the Isha prayer, and consists of 8 to 36 rak'a. Shi'ites hold that Tarawih is a bid'ah initiated by the second Rashidun caliph, Umar. Tarawih is also generally concluded with Witr salah.

Eclipse prayers[edit]

Following the sunnah of Muhammad during the solar eclipse that followed his son Ibrahim's death, Sunni Muslims perform the solar eclipse prayer (Arabic: صلاة الكسوف, romanizedṢalāt al-Kusuf), and the lunar eclipse prayer (Arabic: صلاة الخسوف, romanizedṢalāt al-Khusuf) during solar and lunar eclipses, respectively. These consist of 2 rak'a with 2 ruku in each rak'a instead of one. It is recommended to lengthen the recitation of the Quran, the bowing, and prostration in these prayers.

Istikhara salah[edit]

The word istikharah is derived from the root ḵ-y-r (خير) "well-being, goodness, choice, selection".[62] Salat al-Istikhaarah is a prayer offered when a Muslim needs guidance on a particular matter. To say this salah one should pray two rakats of non-obligatory salah to completion. After completion one should request Allah that which on is better.[52] The intention for the salah should be in one's heart to pray two rakats of salah followed by Istikhaarah. The salah can be offered at any of the times where salah is not forbidden.[63] Other prayers include the tahiyyat al-masjid, which Muslims are encouraged to offer these two rakat.[64]

See also[edit]




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Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Jane I.; Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck (1993). The Oxford Handbook of American Islam (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 162–163.

External links[edit]