Salah, Salaah or Salat (Arabic: صلاة; pl. صلوات ṣalawāt, meaning "prayer" or "invocation") is the second of the Five Pillars in the Islamic faith, and an obligatory religious duty for every Muslim. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual act of worship that is observed five times every day at prescribed times. While facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca, the holy city of Muslims, one stands, bows, prostrates oneself, and concludes with sitting on the ground. During each posture one reads certain verses, phrases, and prayers. Ritual purity is a precondition.
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4Sevener-Qarmatians, Assassins & Druzes
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9Alevi – Bektashis & Qalandaris; Barelvis, Mevlevis, Süleymancıs & various Sufi orders
Salah consists of the repetition of a unit called a rakʿah, a sequence of prescribed actions and words. The number of rakaʿahs varies according to the time of day and other factors.
The word salah is used by English-speakers only to refer to the formal obligatory prayers of Islam. The English word "prayer" may not be adequate to translate salah, as "prayer" could translate several different forms of Muslim worship, each with a different Arabic name, such as duʿāʾ (reverent supplication; Arabic: دُعَاء) and dhikr (litany; Arabic: ذِكْر).
Words for salah used by Muslims
In some parts of the world, including many non-Arab countries, the Arabic term salat or salah is used alone. In other places, however, a word from the local language is used. The most widespread term is the Persian word namāz (نماز), used by speakers of the Indo-Iranian languages (e.g., Persian, Kurdish, Bengali, Urdu, Balochi, Hindi), as well as by speakers of Turkish, Russian, Chinese, Bosnian and Albanian. In the North Caucasus, the term is lamaz (ламаз) in Chechen, chak (чак) in Lak and kak in Avar (как). In Malaysia and Indonesia, the term solat is used, as well as a local term sembahyang (meaning "communication", from the words sembah - worship, and hyang - god or deity).
Salah in the Quran
The noun ṣalāh (صلاة) is used 82 times in the Qur'an, with about 15 other derivatives of its triliteral root ṣ-l-w. Words connected to salah (such as mosque, wudu, dhikr, etc.) are used in approximately one-sixth of Qur'anic verses. "Surely my prayer, and my sacrifice and my life and my death are (all) for Allah", and "I am Allah, there is no god but I, therefore serve Me and keep up prayer for My remembrance". are both examples of this.
Exegesis of the Qur'an can give four dimensions of salah. First, in order to glorify God's servants, God, together with the angels, perform "salah". 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. Third, Muslims voluntarily perform salah to reveal that it is the particular form of worship that belongs to the prophets. Fourth, salah is described as the second pillar of Islam.
Purpose and importance
- Facing the Qibla, with the chest facing the direction of the Kaaba. The ill and the old are allowed leniency with posture;
- Being in a state of Tahara, usually achieved by a short ritual washing called wudu;
- Being sane and able to distinguish between right and wrong;
- Not performing salah in the pathway of people (unless a stationary object is placed in front, obstructing the people's way), in a graveyard or disrespectful places, on land which has been taken by force;
- Covering one's nakedness (awrah).
- Laughing or speaking, or any unnecessary movements during the salah;
- Burping loudly in such a way that it disturbs other worshippers; and
- Reading the necessary surahs too loudly, in a way that disturbs other worshippers
- Women not praying during their menstruation and for a period of time after childbirth.
- Covering of the whole body; and
- Praying within the time determined for each salah
Sajdah of forgetfulness
Most mistakes in Salah can be compensated for by performing two prostrations at the end of the prayer.
Each Salah is made up of repeating units or cycles called rakats (singular rakah). There may be two to four units.
Each unit 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.
Intention 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.
Consecration (takbirat al-ihram)
One says Allahu akbar (اَللهُ أَكْبَرْ, "God is greater/greatest"), a formula known as takbīr. (Takbir literally means "to make great".) This opening takbir is known as the "takbir of consecration", takbīrat al-ihram. From this point forward one praying may not converse, eat, or do other worldly things: the aim is to be alone with God. For many Muslims, the consecration is said with the hands raised and thumbs placed behind the earlobes, as shown. One then lowers one's hands. Some Muslims afterwards add a supplication praising Allah, such as:
- سُبْحَاْنَكَ اَلْلّٰھُمَّ وَبِحَمدِكَ وَتَبَارَكَ اسْمُكَ وَتَعَالٰی جَدُّكَ وَلَا اِلٰه غَیْرِكَ
- subḥānaka llāhumma, wa bi-ḥamdika, wa tabāraka smuka, wa taʿālā jadduka, wa lā ʾilāha ġayruk.
- "Glory to You, all praise is Yours, blessed is Your name, most high is Your majesty. None has the right to be worshiped but You."
Still standing, the next principal act is to recite the first chapter of the Qur'an, the Fatiha. This chapter takes the form of a supplication, at the heart of which is a plea for guidance "to the straight path". Many Muslims precede the Fatiha, as with any recitation from the Qur'an, by asking for refuge with God from "the accursed devil":
In the first and second unit, another portion of the Qur'an is recited following the Fatiha. At the end of the recitations one moves to the next position, saying Allahu akbar as one does so.
The next position is a low bow, with palms placed on the knees (this is for men: most schools say women do not bow so low). While bowing, the one praying generally utters formulas of praise under the breath, such as سبحان ربي العظيم (subḥāna rabbī l-ʿaẓīm, "Glorified be Allah, the Tremendous"), three times or more.
Second standing (iʿtidāl)
As the worshipper straightens their back they say سمع الله لمن حمده (samiʿa llāhu li-man ḥamidah, "God hears the one who praises him.") An additional formula of praise is usually uttered under the breath, such as ربنا لك الحمد (rabbanā laka al-ḥamd, "O Lord, all praise is for you.") After a moment of standing, the worshipper moves to the prostration - again saying Allahu akbar.
During prostration the forehead and nose, knees, palms and toes are placed on the ground. The worshipper usually recites remembrances of God under the breath, such as سبحان ربى الأعلى وبحمده (subḥāna rabbī l-'aʿlā wa bi-ḥamdih, "Glory to my Lord the highest, and praise"). After a short while in prostration the worshipper very briefly rises to a sitting position, then returns to the ground a second time. As they rise from the second prostration, they say Allahu akbar as before. Lifting the head from the second prostration completes the unit.
- If this is the second or last unit, the worshipper proceeds to sitting.
- If not, one returns to a standing position and begins another unit with the Fatiha.
The worshipper sits with legs folded under the body (the precise posture differs between schools), and recites a prayer called the tashahhud. The tashahhud consists of the testimony of faith (the shahadah) and invoking prayers and peace on Muhammad. Many schools hold that the right index finger is raised for these prayers. After the tashahhud prayer,
- If there are further units to follow, a new unit is begun by returning to the standing position, uttering the Allahu akbar as before.
- If it is the last unit, the worshipper adds a short supplication called the Ibrahimiyya, which emphasies the relationship between Muhammad and Abraham (Ibrahim), then the salah is then brought to an end as below.
Ending the prayer (taslīm)
Performing the Taslim Reciting the salam facing the right direction Reciting the salam facing the left direction
The worshipper ends the prayer (and exits their state of consecration) by saying السلام عليڪم ورحمة الله (as-salāmu ʿalaykum wa raḥmatu llāh, "Peace and God's mercy be upon you", the taslīm). This is said twice, first to the right and then to the left.
Differences in practice
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 Qur'an, but rather the consensus of Muslims.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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 left and right shoulder saying taslim. Also, Shias often read "Qunoot" in the second Rakat, while Sunnis usually do this after salah.
Ahmadi Muslims have the same salah practices as those belonging to the Hanafi madhab.
Types of prayers
Fard (obligatory) Salah
The Daily Prayers
Most self-professed Muslims perform prayers five times a day. These prayers are obligatory on every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty, with the exception being those who are mentally ill, too physically ill for it to be possible, menstruating, or experiencing postnatal bleeding. 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.
Times of prayers
Each of the five prayers has a prescribed time measured by the movement of the sun. They are: between dawn and sunrise (fajr), after the sun has passed its zenith (zuhr), when afternoon shadows lengthen (asr), just after sunset (maghrib) and around nightfall (isha).
Salah must be prayed in its time unless there is a compelling reason preventing this.
The Fard Salah is all of the compulsory Muslim prayers – the five daily prayers, as well as the Friday prayer (Salat al-Jumu'ah) and the Eid prayers (Eid prayers). Non-performance of any of these prayers renders one a non-Muslim 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 compulsory status of these prayers invalidates the faith of those who do so, rendering them non-Muslim. Fard prayers (as with all fard actions) are further classed as fard al-ayn (obligation of the self) and fard al-kifayah (obligation of sufficiency). Fard al-Ayn are actions considered obligatory on individuals, for which the individual will be held to account if the actions are neglected. 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.
Men are required to perform the fard salat in congregation (jama'ah), behind an imam when they are able. According to most Islamic scholars, performing prayers in congregation is mustahabb (recommended) for men, when they are able, but is neither required nor forbidden for women.
Qasr and Jam' bayn as-Salaatayn
When travelling over long distances, one may shorten some prayers, a practice known as Qasr. Furthermore, several prayer times may be joined, which is referred to as Jam' bayn as-Salaatayn. Qasr involves shortening the obligatory components of the Zuhr, Asr, and Isha prayers to two rakats. Jam' bayn as-Salaatayn combines the Zuhr and Asr prayers into one prayer offered between noon and sunset, and the Maghrib and Isha prayers into one between sunset and Fajr. Neither Qasr nor Jam' bayn as-Salaatayn can be applied to the Fajr prayer.
In certain circumstances, one may be unable to perform one's prayer within the prescribed time period (waqt). In this case, the prayer must be performed as soon as one can do so. Several Ahadith narrates that Muhammad stated that permissible reasons to perform Qada Salah are forgetfulness and accidentally sleeping through the prescribed time. However, knowingly sleeping through the prescribed time for Salah is deemed impermissible.
Muslims who reject Hadith and Quranists, pray three times a day instead of five. Quranists in Algeria for example "perform the salat, unlike their usual pillars, and do not bow, but believe that prostration is the second pillar after the reading (of the Quran) is completed."
Nafl salah (supererogatory prayers) are voluntary, and one may offer as many as he or she likes almost any time. 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. Some Muslims offer voluntary prayers immediately before and after the five prescribed prayers. Sunni Muslims classify these prayers as sunnah, while Shi'ah considers them nafil. One schema of the number of rakats for each of the five obligatory prayers as well as the voluntary prayers (before and after) are listed below - once again there are minor differences between schools.
|Name||Prescribed time period (waqt)||Voluntary before fard||Obligatory||Voluntary after fard|
|Dawn to sunrise, should be read at least 10–15 minutes before sunrise||2 Rakats Sunnat-Mu'akkadah||2 Rakats||2 Rakats||—||2 Rakats|
|Dhur (pronounced "Zuhr" by people from the Indian subcontinent)
|After true noon until Asr||4 Rakats Sunnat-Mu'akkadah||4 Rakats||4 Rakats||2 Rakats Sunnat-Mu'akkadah||8 Rakats|
|Afternoon||4 Rakats Sunnat-Ghair-Mu'akkdah||4 Rakats||4 Rakats||-||8 Rakats|
|After sunset until dusk||2 Rakats Nafil||3 Rakats||3 Rakats||2 Rakats Sunnat-Mu'akkadah||2 Rakats|
|Isha (عشاء)||Dusk until dawn||4 Rakats Sunnat-Ghair-Mu'akkadah||4 Rakats||4 Rakats||2 Rakats Sunnat-Mu'akkadah,
3 Rakats Witr
Many Sunni Muslims also perform two rakats nafl (voluntary) after the Zuhr and Maghrib prayers. During the Isha prayer, they perform the two rakats nafl after the two Sunnat-Mu'akkadah and after the witr prayer.
Salat al-Jumu'ah is a congregational prayer on Friday, which replaces the Zuhr prayer. It is compulsory upon men to perform it in the congregation, while women may perform it so or may perform Zuhr salat instead. Salat al-Jumu'ah consists of a sermon (khutba) given by the speaker (khatib) after which two rakats are performed. There is no Salat al-Jumu'ah without a khutba. Khutba is supposed to be carefully listened to as it replaces Sawaab of two Rakats.
|Name||Prescribed time period (waqt)||Voluntary before fard||Obligatory||Voluntary after fard|
|After true noon until Asr||4 Rakats Sunnat-e-Mu'akkadah||2 Rakats Sunnat/ Mustahab||2 Rakats Furz||4 Rakats Sunnat Mu'akkadah
2 Rakats Sunnat Mu'akkadah 2 Rakats Nafil
|2 Rakats Sunnat Mu'akkadah|
Sun'nah sal'ah are optional and were additional voluntary prayers performed by Muhammad. They are of two types: the Sunnah Mu'akkaddah, practiced on a regular basis, which if abandoned causes the abandoner to be regarded as sinful by the Hanafi School; and the Sunnah Ghair Mu'akkaddah, practiced on a semi-regular practice by Muhammad, of which abandonment is not considered to be sinful.
Certain sunnah prayers have prescribed waqts associated with them. Those ordained for before each of the fard prayers must be performed between the first call to prayer (adhan) and the second call (iqama), which signifies the start of the fard prayer. Those sunnah ordained for after the fard prayers can be performed any time between the end of the fard prayers and the end of the current prayer's waqt. Any amount of extra rakats may be offered, but most madha'ib prescribe a certain number of rakats for each sunnah salah.
Witr is performed after the salah of Isha (dusk). Some Muslims consider witr wajib while others consider it optional. It may contain an odd number of rakats from one to eleven according to the different schools of jurisprudence. However, Witr is most commonly offered with three rakats.
To end prayers for the night after Isha, the odd numbered rakats must have the niyyah of "wajib-ul-Lail," which is mandatory to "close" one's salah for that day.
Shi'ahs offer this as a one rakat salah at the end of salatul layl (the night prayer), which is an optional prayer according to some shi'ah scholars, and a wajib (obligatory) prayer according to others. This is to be prayed any time after Isha, up until fajr. The best time to perform the prayer is the last third of the night (the night being divided into three, between maghrib and fajr of that night). It is considered highly meritorious by all Shi'ah Muslims, and is said to bring numerous benefits to the believer, mainly gaining proximity to Allah. There are various methods of salatul-layl's performance, including shorter and longer versions, in the longer version the believer must perform eight nawafil salah, in sets of two rakats each, then they must pray a two rakats salah called 'salatul shafa'ah' this is to include surah nas after surah fatihah in the first rakat and surah falaq after surah fatihah in the second rakat, and unusually no qunut (a du'ah recited before going into ruku' of the second rakat of most prayers performed by shi'ahs) It is after this that the believer performs salatul witr, it's long method being - Starting with takbiratul ehram, then surah fatihah, then surah ikhlas, then surah falaq, then surah nas, then the hands are raised to recite qunut, upon which the believer can recite any du'a, however there are many recommended du'as for this purpose. Within qunut, the believer must pray for the forgiveness of 40 believers, then further prayers are read where the believer asks for forgiveness for himself a certain number of times using specified phrases and amounts of time to repeat those phrases. The believer then completes the salah in the usual way, by completing his/her qunut, reciting takbir whilst raising his/her hands, going into ruku' and reciting the usual phrase for that, then returning up right and reciting takbir whilst doing so and upon being upright recites 'sami allahu liman hamida' (verily Allah has heard the one who has praised them) thereupon the believer recites takbir whilst raising one's hands and goes into sajda. One recites the proscribed phrase in sajda rises, recites takbir whilst rising and then again whilst returning to sajdah, then rises with takbir again and recites tashahud and salam, thus ending this prayer. It is then optional to recite certain other du'as and dhikr (remembrance of Allah through certain phrases and some of his names being repeated) It is then recommended to perform sajdah ash-shukr (prostration of thanks) and to then recite ayatul kursi (verse of the throne) and then perform another sajdah ash-shukr.
Eid salah is performed on the morning of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The Eid prayer is most likely an individual obligation (fard al-ayn) and Niyyah for both Eid salah is made as Wajib, though some Islamic scholars argue it is only a collective of the obligation(fard al-kifayah). It consists of two rakats, with seven (or three for the followers Imam Hanafi) takbirs offered before the start of the first rakat and five (or three for the followers of Imam Hanafi) 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. The Eid salah must be offered between sunrise and true noon i.e. between the time periods for Fajr and Zuhr.
Salat al-Istikhaarah is a prayer performed when a Muslim needs guidance on a particular matter. To perform this salah one should pray a normal two non-fard rakats salah to completion. After completion one should request God that which on is better. The intention for the salah should be in one's heart to pray two rakats of salah followed by Istikhaarah. The salah can be performed at any of the times where salah is not forbidden. The salah must be performed in the Arabic language.
Prayer in congregation
Prayer in congregation (jama'ah) is considered to have more social and spiritual benefit than praying by oneself. When praying in congregation, the people stand in straight parallel rows behind one person who conduct the prayer, called imam, and face the qibla. The imam is usually chosen to be a scholar or the one who has the best knowledge of the Qur'an, preferably someone who has memorized it (a hafiz). In the first row behind the imam, if available, would be another hafiz to correct the imam in case a mistake is made during the performance of the salah. The prayer is performed as normal, with the congregation following the actions and movements of the imam as he/she performs the salah.
For two people of the same gender, the imam would stand on the left, and the other person is on the right. For more than two people, the imam stands one row ahead of the rest.
When the Worshippers consist of men and women combined, a man is chosen as the imam. In this situation, women are typically forbidden from performing 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. 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, with the primary intention being for there to be no direct line of sight between male and female Worshippers, following a Qur'anic injunction toward men and women each lowering their gazes (Qur'an 24:30–31).
The prayer commences with the imam saying "Allahu akbar" out loud. For the five daily prayers, the Imam would read the surah fatiha and the following section of the Quran out loud only for the first two rakats of Fajr, Maghrib and Isha. To move between positions, the Imam would say "Allahu akbar" out loud, such as when going to the bowing position, except when standing up again from the bowing position, when the Imam would say "SamiAllahu liman hamidah" out loud. The prayer is concluded with the imam saying the taslim out loud.
A Worshipper who has joined a congregation prayer late after missing rakats is called a masbuq. The masbuq would participate with the rest of the group in prayer, however, when the taslim is said at the end, he or she would not say the taslim but would instead stand up and continue for the number of rakats missed. If he joined after the bowing stage of a rakat, then he or she would have considered having missed that rakat.
- According to Shia Muslims, these are to be performed in sets of two rakats each. This is not the case for Sunni Muslims.
- 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.
- Replaced by Jumu'ah on Fridays, which consists of two rakats.
- Mustahab (praiseworthy) to do everyday. (Shias)
- According to Shia Muslims, this prayer is termed nawafil.
- 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.
- According to Shia Muslims, Asr prayer and Isha prayer have no set times but are performed from mid-day. Zuhr and Asr prayers must be performed before sunset, and the time for Asr prayer starts after Zuhr has been performed. Maghrib and Isha prayers must be performed before midnight, and the time for Isha prayer can start after Maghrib has been performed, as long as no more light remains in the western sky signifying the arrival of the true night.
- Further information on the usage of the word "Isha" (evening) see Quran 12:16, Quran 79:46
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