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Flickr - DVIDSHUB - International brothers, sisters in faith gather at Kandahar Air Field for Eid al-Adha (Image 1 of 10).jpg
Pashto Muslims doing Ruku (bowing) during festival prayer in Kandahar.
Official nameصلاة
Also calledPrayer in Islam
Observed byMuslim
SignificanceA Muslim prayer offered to God according to legal jurisprudence.
Related toTilawa, Ruku, Sujud
System of the prayer time.

Salah (Arabic: صَلاة, pl salawat, romanized: Arabic pronunciation: [sˤa'laː(h)], ([sˤaˈlaːt] in construct state) lit. 'prayer'),[1] also known as namāz (Persian: نماز‎) and also spelled salat, are prayers performed by Muslims. Facing the qibla, the direction of the Kaaba with respect to those praying, Muslims pray first standing and later kneeling or sitting on the ground, reciting from the Quran and glorifying and praising Allah as they bow and prostrate themselves in between. Salah is composed of prescribed repetitive cycles of bows and prostrations, called rakat (sing. rak'ah). The number of rak'ahs, also known as units of prayer, varies from prayer to prayer. Ritual purity and wudu are prerequisites for performing the prayers.[2][3][4]

The daily obligatory prayers collectively form the second of the five pillars in Islam, observed five times every day at prescribed times. These are Fajr (observed at dawn), Zuhr prayer (observed at noon), Asr (observed late in the afternoon), Maghrib (observed at dusk), and Isha (observed after sunset). Salah can be performed either in solitude, or collectively (known as jama'ah). When performed in jama'ah, worshippers line up in parallel rows behind a leader, known as the imam. Special prayers are exclusively performed in congregation, such as the Friday prayer and the Eid prayers, and are coupled with two sermons each, delivered by the imam.[2]


Ṣalāh ([sˤaˈlaː(h)] صلاة) is an Arabic word that means to pray or bless.[5] The word is used primarily by English speakers only to refer to the five obligatory prayers of Islam.

Outside the Arab world, the most widespread terms are the Persian word namāz (Persian: نماز) and its derivatives. It is used by speakers of the Indo-Iranian languages (e.g. Persian and some languages of South Asia),[6] as well as by speakers of the Turkic and Slavic languages. In Lak and Avar, chak (чак) and kak (как) are used, respectively. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the term solat is used, as well as a local term, sembahyang (meaning "the act of worshipping", from the words sembah - worship, and hyang - god or deity).[7]

In the Quran[edit]

The noun ṣalāh (‏صلاة‎) is used 82 times in the Quran.[8] Gerrans listed: 2:3, 2:43, 2:45, 2:83, 2:110, 2:153,2:157, 2:177, 2:238,2:277, 4:43, 4:77, 4:101, 4:102, 4:103, 4:142, 4:162, 5:6, 5:12, 5:55, 5:58, 5:91, 5:106, 6:72, 6:92, 6:162, 7:170, 8:3, 8:35, 9:5, 9:11, 9:18, 9:54, 9:71, 9:99, 9:103, 10:87, 11:87, 11:114, 13:22, 14:31, 14:37, 14:40, 17:78, 17:110, 19:31, 19:55, 19:59, 20:14, 20:132, 21:73, 22:35, 22:40, 22:41, 22:78, 23:2, 23:9, 24:37, 24:41, 24:56, 24:58, 29:45, 30:31, 31:4, 31:17, 33:33, 35:18, 35:29, 42:38, 58:13, 62:9, 62:10, 70:23, 70:34, 73:20, 98:5, 107:5.[9]

There are about 15 other derivatives of its triliteral root ṣ-l.[8] Words connected to salah (such as mosque, wudu, dhikr, etc.) are used in approximately one-sixth of Quranic verses.[10] "Surely my prayer, and my sacrifice and my life and my death are (all) for God",[11][a] and "I am Allah, there is no god but I, therefore serve Me and keep up prayer for My remembrance"[12][b] are both examples of this.

Religious significance[edit]

The primary purpose of salah is to act as a person's communication with Allah.[13] Purification of the heart is the ultimate religious objective of Salah. Via salah, a believer can grow closer to Allah and in turn strengthen their faith. Just as humans physically require food and supplement to stay healthy and alive, the soul requires prayer and closeness to God to stay sustained and healthy. In short, it spiritually sustains the human soul.[14]

Tafsir of the Quran can give four reasons for the observation of salah. First, in order to commend God, God's servants, together with the angels, do salah ("blessing, salutations")[15][c] Second, salah is done involuntarily by all beings in Creation, in the sense that they are always in contact with God by virtue of Him creating and sustaining them.[16][d] Third, Muslims voluntarily offer salah to reveal that it is the particular form of worship that belongs to the prophets.[e] Fourth, salah is described as the second pillar of Islam.[5]


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.

Each Salah is made up of repeating units known as rakat (Arabic: رَكَعَات sing. rak'ah). Each prayer may consist of two to four rakat. Each rak'ah consists of specific movements and recitations. On the major elements there is consensus, but on minor details there may be different views. Between each position there is a very slight pause. The takbir which is read as Allaahu Akbar (lit. God is The Greatest), is recited during the time when one goes from one position of prayer to another.


Before prayer, a Muslim should always perform Wudhu, an act in which he first washes his hands, cleans his mouth and nose, washes his face, washes his arms up to the elbow, then with his wet hands wipes over his head including his ears and then finally washes his feet.

Intention, known as niyyah, is a prerequisite for salah, and what distinguishes real worship from 'going through the motions'. Some authorities hold that intention suffices in the heart, and some require that it be spoken, usually under the breath.[17][18]

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 the raising of the hands to the head and recitation of the takbīr, known in combination as takbīrat al-iḥrām or takbīrat at-taḥrīmah (consecratory takbir).Takbir is read as Allaahu Akbar (lit. God is The Greatest). One then lowers their hands. First Takbir represents the beginning of prayer. From this point forward one praying may not converse, eat, or do things that are otherwise halal. A Muslim must keep his vision low during prayer, looking at the place where his face will contact the ground during prostration.[18][19][20]

Common elements of each rakat[edit]

Still standing, the next principal act is the recitation of Al-Fatiha, the first chapter of the Quran. This chapter begins with praise of God and then a supplication is made to God. In the first and second rakat, another portion of the Quran is recited following the Fatiha. This is followed by saying Allaahu Akbar ( lit. " God is The Greatest ") and raising the hands up to the ear lobes(Rafah yadain) followed by Rakooh which is bowing from the waist, with palms placed on the knees (depending on the madhhab, rules may differ for women). While bowing, those praying generally utter words of praise under their breath, such as سبحان ربي العظيم (lit. "Glory be to my Lord, the Most Magnificent"), thrice or more. As the worshipper straightens their back, they say سمع الله لمن حمده (lit. "God hears the one who praises him.") and ربنا لك الحمد (rabbanā laka l-ḥamd, "Our Lord, all praise be to you.")[18]

Mosque.jpg Yemeni Muslim in sujūd, performing salah in the desert during the North Yemen Civil War (above). Syrians in sujūd performing salah in jama'ah behind an imam (below).

This is followed by saying Allaahu Akbar ( lit. " God is The Greatest ") and raising the hands up to the ear lobes and then the worshipper kneels and prostrates with the forehead, nose, knees, palms and toes touching the floor, saying سبحان ربى الأعلى (lit. "Glory be to my Lord, the Most High"). After a short while in prostration the worshipper very briefly rises to sit, then returns to the ground a second time. Lifting the head from the second prostration completes a rak'ah. If this is the second or last raka'ah, the worshiper proceeds to sit and recite the tashahhud, salawat and other prayers.[18] Many schools hold that the right index finger is raised when reciting the salawat.[18] If the worshipper then intends to finish their prayer, they perform the taslim (illustrated below), or continue with a new rak'ah. Mistakes in salah are believed to be compensated for by prostrating twice at the end of the prayer, known as sujud sahwi.[21] The taslim is read as Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullah (lit "Peace and mercy of Allah be upon you All"). Taslim represents end of prayer.

Performing the Taslim Taslim right.jpg Taslim left.jpg
Reciting the salam facing the right direction Reciting the salam facing the left direction

Types of salah[edit]

Prayers in Islam are classified into categories based on degrees of obligation. One common classification is fard or wajib ("compulsory"), sunnah ("tradition") and nafl ("voluntary").[22]

Compulsory prayers[edit]

The five daily prayers are obligatory on every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty, with the exception of those for whom it may not be possible due to physical or mental disabilities,[23] and those menstruating (hayd) or experiencing postnatal bleeding (nifas).[24] Those who are sick or otherwise physically unable to offer their prayers in the traditional form are permitted to offer their prayers while sitting or lying, as they are able.[25] Each of the five prayers has a prescribed time, depending on the movement of the sun. These are the Fajr prayer (2 rakat, observed at dawn), Zuhr prayer (4 rakat, observed at noon), Asr prayer (4 rakat, observed late in the afternoon), Maghrib prayer (3 rakat, observed at dusk), and the Isha prayer (4 rakat, observed after sunset). Salah must be prayed in its time. In certain circumstances, one may be unable to offer one's prayer within the prescribed time. In this case, the prayer must be offered as soon as possible. Several hadith narrate that Muhammad stated that it is permissible to pray salah out of its permissible time if a person accidentally sleeps through the prescribed time. However, knowingly sleeping through the prescribed time for Salah is deemed impermissible by most scholars.[26]

Display showing prayer times in a Turkish mosque.

Qasr (Shorterning Prayers)[edit]

When traveling over long distances, one may shorten the Zuhr, 'Asr and 'Isha'a prayers to 2 rakat, a practice known as qasr.[27]

Jam' ( Combining Prayers)[edit]

In Shia Ja'fari Fiqh, one may perform jam' bayn as-salātayn, which refers to praying the Zuhr and 'Asr prayers in combination at one of its time, as well as the Maghrib and Isha'a prayers at one of its time. However, praying separately is considered better. Neither qasr nor jam' bayn as-salātayn can be applied to the Fajr prayer.[28]

Barring the Hanafites, Sunni jurisprudence also permit to combine Maghrib and 'Isha'a prayers or Dhuhr and 'Asr prayers if they are traveling and incapable of independently performing the prayers. Amongst Sunnis, Salafi Muslims allow the combining of two consecutive prayers for a wide range of reasons; such as when various needs arise or due to any difficulty.[29][30][31][32] Taking precedence from Imams of the Salaf and early Muhaddithun; many Salafis amongst the Ahl-i Hadith school permit combining two consecutive prayers generally, although praying separately is preferred.[33][34]

Sunni view[edit]

Of the fard category are the five daily prayers, as well as the Gathering prayer (Jumu'ah), while the Eid prayers and Witr are of the Wajib/Fard category.[35] Abandoning the obligatory prayers due to negligence is Kufr (disbelief) according to the stricter Hanbali madhhab of Sunni Islam, while the other Sunni madhhabs consider doing so a major sin. However, all four madhhabs agree that denial of the mandatory status of these prayers invalidates the faith of those who do so, rendering them apostates. The Islamic prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: "Between man and polytheism and unbelief is the abandonment of salat." (Sahih Muslim Book 1, hadith 154).[36]

Fard prayers (as with all fard actions) are further classed as either fard al-ayn (obligation of the self) and fard al-kifayah (obligation of sufficiency).[citation needed] Fard al-Ayn are actions considered obligatory on individuals, for which the individual will be held to account if the actions are neglected.[37] Fard al-Kifayah are actions considered obligatory on the Muslim community at large, so that if some people within the community carry it out no Muslim is considered blameworthy, but if no one carries it out, all incur a collective punishment.[38]

Followers of Imam Abu Hanifa also include a 6th obligatory prayer, witr. It is supposed to be the last prayer of the night and is composed of an odd number of rakat. This obligation is considered a lesser obligation to the other 5 obligatory prayers, in that its rejection isn't an act of disbelief according to the Hanafi school. The other schools consider this to be a Sunnah muakkadah (emphasized sunnah).

Some Islamic scholars require men to offer the mandatory salat in congregation (jama'ah), behind an imam when they are able however, according to most Islamic scholars, prayer in congregation is mustahabb (recommended) for men, if they are able to do so .[39]

Special congregational prayers[edit]

Women praying in Najaf, Iraq on Eid al-Fitr

The Jumu'ah is a congregational prayer on Friday, which replaces the Zuhr prayer. It is compulsory upon men to pray this in congregation, while women may pray it so or offer Zuhr prayer instead.[40] Jumu'ah consists of a sermon (khutbah), after which two rakats are prayed.[41] Since the khutbah replaces the two rakat of Zuhr, it is believed that listening to it carefully compensates the thawāb of 2 rakat.[42]

The salah of the 'Idayn is said on the mornings of ''Eid al-Fitr and 'Eid an-nahr. The Eid prayer is classified by some as fard, likely an individual obligation (fard al-ayn) though some Islamic scholars argue it is only a collective obligation (fard al-kifayah).[43] It consists of two rakats, with seven (or three for the followers Imam Abu Hanifa) takbirs offered before the start of the first rakat and five (or three for the followers of Imam Abu Hanifa) before the second. After the salah is completed, a sermon (khutbah) is offered. However, the khutbah is not an integral part of the Eid salah.[44] The Eid salah must be offered between sunrise and true noon i.e. between the time periods for Fajr and Zuhr.[27]

Supererogatory prayers[edit]

Sunnah and nafl[edit]

Sunni Muslims perform optional sunnah salah (voluntary prayers offered by Muhammad) of two categories: sunnah mu'akkadah (verified sunnah) and sunnah ghair-mu'akkadah (unverified sunnah). The primary difference between the two being the frequency of Muhammad having performed the relevant salah. Certain sunnah prayers have prescribed times. Those ordained for before each of the fard prayers must be offered between the first call to prayer (adhan) and the second call (iqamah), which signifies the start of the fard prayer. Those sunnah ordained for after the fard prayers can be said any time between the end of the fard prayers and the end of the current prayer's waqt.[45]

While Sunni Muslims classify these prayers as sunnah, Shia consider them nafl. Nafl salah are voluntary and can be offered at any time.[46] Many Sunni Muslims also offer two rakats of nafl salah after the Zuhr and Maghrib prayers. During the Isha prayer, they pray the two rakats of nafl after the two sunnah mu'akkadah and wajib prayers.[47] There are many specific conditions or situations when one may wish to offer nafl prayers. They cannot be offered at sunrise, true noon, or sunset. The prohibition against salah at these times is to prevent the practice of sun worship.[48] Some Muslims offer voluntary prayers immediately before and after the five prescribed prayers. A table of these prayers is given below.

Table of supererogatory prayers with compulsory prayers, with minor differences between madhhabs[47]
Compulsory (fard) prayer Prescribed time Voluntary before fard[t 1] Obligatory Voluntary after fard[t 1] Total Salat times.png

The prescribed times of the prayers depicted in place of the position of the sun in the sky, relative to the worshipper.

Sunni Shia Sunni Shia Sunni Shia Sunni Shia
Fajr Begins at dawn, may be performed up to sunrise after Fajr nafl prayer 2 rakat¤ 2 rakat[t 1] 2 rakat[t 1] None 2 rakat[t 1] 4 r. 6 r.
Zuhr From when the sun has passed the zenith, may be performed up to the time of Asr. 4 rakat¤ 4 rakat 4 rakat[t 2] 2 rakat¤[t 3] 8 r.[t 1][t 4][t 5] 10 r. 16 r.
Asr From when the shadow cast by an object is twice its length, may be performed up to the time of Maghrib.[t 6][t 7] 4 rakat 4 rakat 4 rakat None 8 r.[t 1][t 4][t 5] 8 r. 16 r.
Maghrib Begins at sunset, may be performed up to the end of dusk. 2 rakat 3 rakat 3 rakat 2 rakat¤[t 3] 2 r.[t 1][t 4][t 5] 7 r. 11 r.
Isha[t 8] Begins with the night, may be performed up to dawn[t 7] 4 rakat 4 rakat 7 r.× 4 r. 2 rakat¤[t 3] 2 r.[t 1][t 4][t 5] 13 r. 10 r.
Jumu'ah From when the sun has passed the zenith, may be performed up to the time of Asr, on Fridays. 2 rakat 2 rakat 2 rakat with khutbah 4 rakat¤

2 rakat¤

2 r. nafl

2 rakat 14 r. 6 r.
¤: denotes sunnah mu'akkadah (verified sunnah), which must be offered by adherents of the Hanafi madhhab.

‡: denotes sunnah ghair-mu'akkadah (unverified sunnah).

×: offered as two prayers of 4 and 3 rakat each, with the 3 rakat considered wajib and performed after the 4 fard rakat.

Prayers of the night[edit]

Though not a mandatory part of the course, most Muslims supplicate after completing salah.

Tahajjud (Arabic: تَهَجُّد) are supererogatory prayers offered late at night. Prayers of this kind are observed from midnight to the prescribed time of the Fajr prayer.[49] The prayer includes any number of even rakat, performed in twos or fours, followed by three or more odd rakat of witr prayer.[50] Shia Muslims offer similar prayers, simply called nightly prayers (Arabic: صَلَوَات اللَّيل). These are considered highly meritorious, and can be offered in the same time as tahajjud.[51][52] These prayers include eleven rakat: 8 nafl (4 prayers of 2 rakat each), 2 rakat shaf' prayer and 1 rakat witr.[52] Witr (Arabic: وِتر lit. 'string') are prayers offered either with the Isha prayer or with the tahajjud/salawat al-layl. Some consider this prayer compulsory (wajib), while others consider it supererogatory. These are performed in odd numbers of rakats, with slight differences between madhhabs. The prayer usually includes the qunūt.[51]

Other prayers[edit]

The word istikharah is derived from the root ḵ-y-r (خير) "well-being, goodness, choice, selection".[53] 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 God that which on is better.[27] 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.[54] Other prayers include the tahiyyat al-masjid, which Muslims are encouraged to offer these two rakat.[55]

Differences in practice[edit]

A Sunni Muslim (left)[56] 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 worship ritual 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.[57][58]

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 the Prophet himself.[59]

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.[60]

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

Specific differences[edit]

Common differences, which may vary between schools and gender, include:[61][62][63][64][65][66]

  • Position of legs and feet.
  • Position of hands, including fingers
  • Place where eyes should focus
  • The minimum amount of recitation
  • Loudness of recitation: audible, or moving of lips, or just listening (Loud prayer [ar], Silent prayer [ar])
  • Which of the principal elements of the prayer are indispensable, versus recommended, optional, etc.

Shia Muslims, after the end of the prayer, raise their hands three times, reciting Allahu akbar whereas Sunnis look at the right and then left shoulder saying taslim. Also, Shias often read "Qunoot" in the second Rakat, while Sunnis usually do this after salah.[67] The use of a turbah is compulsory in most Shi'a schools of Islam, and disapproved among many Sunnis.[citation needed]

A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that women are 2% more likely than men to pray on a daily basis.[68]

Prayer in congregation[edit]

Bosniaks praying in an open field, ca. 1906
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia (front row, fourth from left) joining prayer in congregation with Vice President Jusuf Kalla (third from left), other cabinet members, and other worshippers.
Friday prayer for Muslims in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Prayer in the congregation (jama'ah) is considered to have more social and spiritual benefits than praying by oneself.[69] As per hadith traditions, the reward of a prayer in congregation increases twenty-five times. A hadith says: "The prayer in congregation is twenty five times superior to the prayer offered by person alone."(Sahih Bukhari 646).[70]

When praying in congregation, the people stand in straight parallel rows behind one person who conducts the prayer, called imam, also called the 'leader'. The imam must be above the rest in knowledge, action, piety, and justness and possess faith and commitment the people trust, Balanced Perception of Religion and the best knowledge of the Quran.[26] The prayer is offered as normal, with the congregation following the imam in order as he/she offers the salah.[71]

Standing arrangement[edit]

For two people of the same gender, they would stand in line, the imam would stand on the left, and the other person is on the right.[72] For more than two people, the imam stands one row ahead of the rest.[citation needed]

When the Worshippers consist of men and women combined, a man is chosen as the imam. In this situation, women are typically forbidden from assuming this role. This point, though unanimously agreed on by the major schools of Islam, is disputed by some groups, based partly on a hadith whose interpretation is controversial. When the congregation consists entirely of women and pre-pubescent children, one woman is chosen as imam.[73] When men, women, and children are praying, the children's rows are usually between the men's and women's rows, with the men at the front and women at the back. Another configuration is where the men's and women's rows are side by side, separated by a curtain or other barrier,[74] with the primary intention being for there to be no direct line of sight between male and female Worshippers.[75]

Men standing in prayer in Tulehu, Indonesia.

See also[edit]


Table notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i According to Shia Muslims, these are to be said in two and two rakats (four in total). This is not the case for Sunni Muslims.
  2. ^ Replaced by Jumu'ah on Fridays, which consists of two rakats.
  3. ^ a b c According to Sunni Muslims, there is a difference between Sunnat-Mu'akkadah (obligatory) and Sunnat-Ghair-Mu'akkadah (voluntary). Unlike for the Sunnat-Ghair-Mu'akkadah, the Sunnat-Mu'akkadah was prayed by Muhammed daily.
  4. ^ a b c d Mustahab (praiseworthy) to do everyday. (Shias)
  5. ^ a b c d According to Shia Muslims, this prayer is termed nawafil.
  6. ^ According to Imam Abu Hanifa, "Asr starts when the shadow of an object becomes twice its height (plus the length of its shadow at the start time of Zuhr)." For the rest of Imams, "Asr starts when the shadow of an object becomes equal to its length (plus the length of its shadow at the start time of Zuhr)." Asr ends as the sun begins to set.
  7. ^ a b According to Shia Muslims, Asr prayer and Isha prayer have no set times but are said any time starting from midday. Zuhr and Asr prayers must be offered before sunset, and the time for Asr starts after Zuhr has been prayed. Maghrib and Isha prayers must be offered before midnight, and the time for Isha prayer can start after Maghrib has been prayed, as long as no more light remains in the western sky signifying the arrival of the true night.
  8. ^ Further information on the usage of the word "Isha" (evening) see Quran 12:16, Quran 79:46


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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.