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SALAH (The Prayer)

The Salāh is one of the most essential pillars of Islam, being only second to Iman in importance. In view of its vital importance, this chapter should have been placed just after the chapter on the articles of faith. However, since purification is an essential prerequisite of the Salāh, it is appropriate to present the commands and injunctions concerning the Salāh here.

What is Salah?

The Qur'anic term for Islamic prayer is "Salāh," which means attending to, praying to or seeking nearness to Allah. The Qur'an teaches all the essentials of the Salāh, and Rasulullah (S) demonstrated how it should be observed and performed. The Qur'an says:

"You should keep aright your direction during every act of worship and invoke Him alone, dedicating your faith sincerely and exclusively to Him."

(Al-A'raf 7:29)

Fall prostrate and seek nearness (to Allah)."

(Al-'Alaq 96: 19)

Rasulullah SAW has said:

"Man is nearest to God when he prostrates himself before Him."

(Transmitted by Muslim)

"When one of you is observing the Salāh, he is, in fact, invoking Allah."

(Transmitted by al-Bukhari)

The question arises: How should one to attend to Allah, seek nearness to Him, and invoke Him? The answers lie in the life and example of Rasulullah (S), which alone is the right and authentic way of life and worship. Rasulullah (S) both taught and practiced the essentials of the Salāh, including its full procedure, recital, timings and numbers of Rak'āt, so that his followers could learn from his example in the way Allah commanded. His sayings and practices have been preserved in the authentic books of Hadith. Through Allah's mercy, the consistent practice of the 'Ummah throughout the ages has secured these tenets and practices against any adulteration and doubt for eternity.

The Merit and Importance of the SalĀh

As soon as a person has affirmed belief in Islam, the first duty he is required to observe is to perform the Salāh. Allah declares:

"Surely, I am Allah: there is no God besides Me: so worship Me alone: and establish the Salāh for My remembrance."

(Taha 20:14)

While belief in the existence and attributes of Allah is the essence of the articles of faith, Salāh is the essence of all Islamic practices and deeds. Therefore, it is only logical that the Qur'an has repeatedly stressed the vital importance of Salāh, presenting it as a basic Islamic practice.

It is noteworthy that the other pillars of Islam have been made Far' for particular categories of people on particular occasions. For example, Hajj and Zakah are Far' for Muslims who can afford it and Sawm has been prescribed for only one month during the year. However, Salāh is a duty that has no condition other than that of Iman. As soon as an adult person has expressed faith in Islam, the performance of the Salāh five times a day becomes binding on him, whether he is a male or a female, rich or poor, healthy or sick, at home or on a journey. The performance of Salāh is not even excused in the battlefield and it must be observed in congregation in the way prescribed by the Qur'an. Besides motivating the people to observe Salāh, the Qur'an has issued warnings and held out threats of dreadful consequences and ignominy in the Hereafter to those who deliberately neglect or miss their Salāh :

"Each soul is a pledge for its own deeds except those of the right hand; those in the Gardens will ask the sinners: 'What drove you into Hell?' They will say:

'We were not of those who observed their Salāh."

(Al-Muddaththir 74:38‑43)

"On the dreadful Day, when these people will be summoned to prostrate themselves, they will not be able to do so: their eyes will be downcast, and they will stand utterly humbled. They were summoned to prostrate themselves while they were hale and hearty (in the world but they refused to do so)."

(Al-Qalam 68:42,43)

Rasulullah (S) also stressed the importance of Salāh in various ways. For instance, he said:

"The Salāh is the only distinction between the believer and the unbeliever."

(Transmitted by Muslim: Book of Faith)

"The Salāh of a person who observes it regularly will serve him as a light on the Day of Judgment, and will be the means of his salvation, and a proof of his faith. But the Salāh of a person who does not observe it regularly and with due attention will neither be his light nor will it protect him against the torment of Allah, and such a one will rise with Korah, Pharaoh, Haman and Ubayy bin Khalaf, on the Day of Judgment."

(Musnad Ahmad, Baihaqi)

According to Abu Dharr (R), Rasulullah (S) came out of his house one day during the autumn season and shook two branches of a tree. It started shedding its dry leaves. Rasulullah (S) then said,

'O Abu Dharr! When a Muslim observes his Salāh with due attention and devotion, he sheds his sins just like this tree which is shedding its leaves.'

(Musnad Ahmad)

On another occasion, he said:

"If one of you has a canal of water flowing in front of his door, and he washes himself in it five times a day, will he still remain dirty?

The Sahābah replied,' No, he will become absolutely clean and pure.' Rasulullah said, 'The five daily prayers have the same effect. Allah

wipes off the dirt of sins of the one who offers them regularly.'"

(Sahīh al-Bukhari)

Rasulullah (S) found great solace and satisfaction in Salāh. Whenever he found time, he would rush to the masjid and spend long hours standing in Salāh to the extent that his feet would get swollen. According to 'Ali (R), Rasulullah (S) had the word "Salāh!" on his lips during the last days of his life.

Obviously, the observance of Salāh is a natural consequence of one's affirmation of faith, as one is incomplete and imperfect without the other. A person who is neglectful of his Salāh cannot claim to be true his faith. 'Umar (R) would often remind his governors of their responsibility to observe and establish the prescribed Salāh. He would write to them,

"I believe your duty to establish Salāh'alāh is your most important duty. The one who guards his Salāh indeed guards his whole religion; the one who neglects his Salāh, in time, will destroy the rest of his faith as well." (Mishkāt al-Maābih)

By Muhammad Yusuf Islahi (Everyday Fiqh Vol. 1)