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Salat: Prayer in the Religion of Islam

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Salat or prayer in Islam is a major tenant of faith and requires a set of conditions be met in order for it to be performed correctly. This article explains how Muslims offer salat the proper way.

The salat are the formal prayers offered five times every day. The religion of Islam is based upon five pillars with prayer being the most important pillar of faith. A Muslim who does not fulfill this tenant every day on time is committing a major sin.

Prayer in Congregation

It is best when the prayers are said in congregation at a mosque. It is a major sin for a man who is able, but does not pray in congregation in the mosque. Salat can be said alone, at home, or another location when necessary. For example, if a Muslim is traveling to a place where there is no mosque nearby.

Women are not required to pray in the mosque, but they are welcome to do so if they choose. This is so as not to inconvenience a woman during her daily routine and household duties. A woman’s prayer is accepted at home equally to those that would be prayed in congregation, while for a man only half of his prayer is accepted when done at home.

Important Rituals in Offering Prayer

Before performing salat, a Muslim should be in the proper state of wudu (ablution o ritual washing) and wudu should be done in correct manner. The procedure of wudu consists of washing the hands, face, and feet in a particular order. Ghusl, a more thorough washing after intercourse, menses or post-partum bleeding is also necessary before prayer when applicable.

In prayer, a Muslim must be humble, submissive, and modest. Women must be covered fully (in hijab) with only her face and hands showing. Men must cover their bodies in a particular way as well, but it is not to the same extent as women. Other than difference in dress, men and women pray the exact same way.

Muslims pray in a certain way, matching particular phrases with particular actions and at the time when prayer is called for. A cycle of prayer is called a rakat, and certain prayer times require a set number of rakats. Some rakats are said loudly and others are silent.

Muslims pray at determined times based on the sun’s movement throughout the day; therefore prayers are not said at the same day after day. The daily prayers are offered during these times:

  • Fajr (dawn) 2 rakats, said aloud
  • Dhuhr (midday), 4 rakats, said silently
  • Asr (afternoon), 4 rakats, said silently
  • Maghreb (sunset), 3 rakats, 2 said aloud, 1 said silently
  • Isha (evening), 4 rakats, 2 said aloud, 2 said silently

To clear up a misconception, Muslims do not kiss the ground in prayer. When in the prostration position, the forehead and nose touch the ground to become as close to Allah as possible.

Prayers must be recited in Arabic because an exact translation in any other language is not possible. During prayer, Muslims may make supplications to Allah for certain needs (forgiveness, health, guidance on matter, etc.) This part of the prayer may be in whatever language you are most comfortable with because Allah understands all languages.

In Muslim countries, the adhan (call to prayer) is heard almost everywhere you go save for the highway or fields far away from a mosque. There are special alarm clocks and computer programs, and even text messaging services that can remind those not near a mosque when to pray.

When Muslims pray, they must do it in the direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia no matter where a person is located around the world. Muslims pray on small rugs or mats that are clean and used only for prayer.

Why Women Pray Behind Men

Women pray behind men in most mosques and at home, and some mosques have separate areas for women and men. Women must be behind men so that they (men) will not be distracted in prayer. Seeing a woman during prayer may break a man’s concentration so to avoid this women stay behind. Congregational prayer often means that arms may touch, which is another reason women do not pray beside men, even at home.

In some mosques, the women pray on a different floor, and sometimes have different entrances to the mosque. This is not meant to oppress women or to deem them as unequal to men. Rather, these measures help both men and women focus on what they should be focusing on, salat, not each other.

At home, women can lead other women in prayer. However, women cannot lead men in prayer either at home or at the mosque because it would require them to stand in front of the congregation.

Special Prayers

During Ramadan, Muslims also offer extra prayers in the evening after the Isha prayer called tarawih. They are optional, and best performed when attending the mosque. Since 1/30th of the Qur’an are read during these prayers they can take up to an hour or more. There are between 8-20 rakats for tarawih prayers.

In Islam, salat is made easy for the sick, disabled, and elderly, and they may pray in a seated position. If they are bed ridden and not able to be in a seated position they may pray lying down. Even when travelling during the time of prayer, such as on an airplane, the prayers may be done seated when standing is not allowed or there is not enough space for fully performing a rakat.

Resources for Prayer in Islam

There are thousands of resources on the internet related to salat. The Right Way to Pray from Islamic Finder provides step by step instructions including audio, video, and English translation. A basic guide to prayer, and this article on wudu and ghusl also give more in depth information on prayer in the religion of Islam.

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Posted on Jun 7, 2010
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Posted on May 27, 2010
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Amanda Antara

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