What is Prayer/Salah?
Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God with no earthly intermediaries. A prayer takes a few minutes to perform.
There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person (Imam) who knows the Qur’an, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Qur’an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one’s own language.
An Audience with God
Each prayer is practically an audience with God. Facing in the direction of the Kaaba (the first mosque ever, built by prophet Abraham and his son Ismail for the worship of the One God, at the site which long later became the city of Makkah in Arabia), the prayer is opened by saying “Allah Akbar”, ie. God is Greater (than all else), and practically you are turning your back to all the universe and are addressing God. One of the constant readings during prayer is the Opening Chapter of the Quran that reads “Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. The Compassionate, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. You only do we worship and to You only we cry for help. Guide us to the straight path. The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace, those whose lot is not wrath, and who go not astray.” (1:1-7) Bowing down and prostrating oneself (to God) interjecting “Glory to my Lord the Great”, “Glory to my Lord the Highest”, “Allah listens to those who thank Him” and what fills one’s heart by way of supplication, the prayer is concluded in the sitting position by reiterating the affirmation of the faith, the Shahada, and seeking God’s peace and blessings on Mohammad and Abraham and their people and followers.
When and where
Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. Performing daily prayers is an act of communication between humans and God. The prayers are considered a duty for all Muslims,and on these occasions preparations in ritual purity are required.
Ritual prayer and worship
Ritual prayer (Salah) is a distinct entity from worship in its wider sense, that is communicating your feelings to God at any time in any place and asking for His guidance, help and forgiveness, an ingredient of life which is highly commendable whether in Islam or other religions. Salah takes a special form and content, where both body and soul are harmoniously involved.
In prayer, every muscle of the body joins the soul and the mind in the worship and glory of Allah. Prayer is an act of worship. It is a matchless and unprecedented formula of intellectual meditation and spiritual devotion, of moral elevation and physical exercise, all combined.
Congregational prayer and Mosques
Although salah can be performed alone, it is meritorious to perform it with another or with a group. The word mosque comes from the Arabic masjid, meaning “place of prostration.” Although it is permissible to pray at home, at work, or even outdoors, it is recommended that Muslims perform salah in a mosque.
Who is it applicable to?
Offering of prayers is obligatory upon every Muslim male and female who is sane, mature and in the case of women free from menstruation and confinement due to child birth.
How is it performed?
Requirements of prayer: performing of ablution (Wudu), purity of the whole body, clothes and ground used for prayer, dressing properly and having the intention and facing the Qiblah (the direction of the Ka’bah at Mecca). Only around the Kaaba mosque in Makkah do Muslims stand in circles for their prayers (quite an impressive scene). All the world over they are in straight lines, leaving no gaps, and facing Makkah.
Remebering the Creator
Praying to the Creator on a daily basis is the best way to cultivate in a man a sound personality and to actualize his aspiration. Allah does not need man’s prayer because He is free of all needs. Prayer is for our immeasurable benefit, and the blessings are beyond imagination.
In addition to the prescribed prayer, a Muslim expresses gratitude to God and appreciation of His favours and asks for His mercy all the time. Especially at times of, for example, childbirth, marriage, going to or rising from bed, leaving and returning to his home, starting a journey or entering a city, riding or driving, before or after eating or drinking, harvesting, visiting graveyards and at time of distress and sickness.
The noon congregational prayer of Friday afternoon is mandated to be a collective and must be said in a Mosque, and is preceded by a sermon (Khutba). The Imam (prayer leader) is not a priest nor need be the same person every time, but considerations of scholarship and knowledge of the Quran and the religion are exercised in choosing him (doctors, teachers, business people and others as well as religion scholars are commonly featured in bearing this responsibility).
Prayer, obligatory and spontaneous, is an immense spiritual treasure to be tapped. It inspires peace, purity and tranquility and instills companionship with God. It amazingly reduces the hustle and bustle of life to tame proportions. By their spacing to five times a day, including its beginning, prayers tend to maintain a therapeutic level and practically leave no room for mischievous thought or deed.