bismillahir rahmanir raheem – In the name of Allah, the most merciful the most compassionate.
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Salat (obligatory 5 times per day prayer) is the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is the first practice that a Muslim is expected to do after Shahada, the statement of faith.
Prayer is given such an important place in this way because it is one of those things that we do on a daily basis. That is repeated throughout the day, every day, for the rest of our lives. It is so basic and essential to our lives as worshippers and it is also one of those things that is so often left aside.
Rasul Allah (SAW) said that prayer would be one of the first things lost by the community of Muslims (Ummah). And certainly it seems difficult for us to do this day after day. But the truth is that in these very short minutes that we spend in communion with God a very special connection is made and nurtured that will help us in ways we cannot foretell.
Remember that Salat is a connection with God. It is a way of connecting your heart with God’s. It is so much more than simply bowing down.
That being said, this manual is mostly simply that. A manual or “How To” for the Islamic Prayer. In doing so, insha’allah, you may gain some insight into the deeper dimensions of the salat and that would be wonderful. But even just to start, or to go back to it as a daily practice in your life, will give you great benefit. What that benefit is, only Allah knows, but if you do it, and you keep your heart and mind open, then I think you will notice the benefits when they come.
When we describe Salat, we say that we “do” Salat rather then saying we “say” Salat. This distinction is important. Salat is a physical ceremony that involves the body, heart and mind in an all-inclusive way. One cannot simply sit and say the prayers. One has to commit ones entire physical, mental and emotional self to a prescribed set of movements and declarations.
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There are five sets of prayers in the course of the day. Generally speaking they are at sun set (Maghrib), early evening (‘Isha), daybreak (Fajr), mid-day (Duhur), and Afternoon (‘Asr).
More precisely however, the prayer times are intimately linked with the passage of the sun through the heavens throughout the course of the day. Allah (SWT) has given us the sun to keep track of the time of day and the most correct way of determining the prayer timings is to be aware of the changes in the sun and in the light.
Because of this connection with the Sun, the timing of the prayers will differ at different locations around the world and at different times of the solar year. For example the Fajr prayer occurs earlier and earlier in the Northern Hemisphere as we move from the Winter Solstice to the Summer Solstice. Similarly the Maghrib prayer occurs later and later. Secondly, on the same day of the year the Fajr prayer occurs at a different time in Oslo then it does in a city in the same time zone that is on the Equator.
So even in the timing of the prayers we begin to see connections with Allah (SWT). The first connection is that of acknowledging the sun’s movements as being directed by Allah and the knowledge that it is there for the benefit of our time keeping. Secondly we gain a connection to the Earth as well because the timing is entirely a local phenomenon. The people in any given area are thus connected in an intimate way with the relationship between the sun and earth where they live, and thus act according to this relationship.
In these times we have the technology to instantly generate a table showing the times of the prayers at any location on Earth. This is possible through computers and the Internet It should be pointed out that while these generated times are extremely helpful and accurate, they still do not represent the real witnessing of the passing of the sun and quality of light from one prayer time to another. This method removes the worshipper from connecting with the natural phenomena Allah has given us to indicate the times. I strongly advocate that each of us spend some days in observing the sun through the course of the day and making prayers according to it. This kind of connecting moves the heart toward remembrance of Allah, which can be our daily goal.
Sunset (Maghrib). The Arabic word Maghrib literally means “the place of sunset” and is the given name to the prayers that happen then. The Islamic day begins just after sunset. This is consistent with other Semitic calendars such as the Hebrew calendar. This means that the sunset prayer is the first one of the Islamic day although most of us think of it as the ending of our active daylight and the beginning of night-time. That is also consistent with the fast (Sawm) in Islam, which is broken with the beginning of night, at the call to prayer of the Maghrib prayers.
Whether you prefer to think of it as the end of the active part of the daytime or as the beginning of a new day, the timing of this prayer is right after sunset. When the disc of the sun has passed below the horizon (There are no prayers during the time the sun is setting.) and there is still red in the clouds, the time of Maghrib is upon us. This time lasts until the middle of the night or until the next prayer, ‘Isha is performed.
Evening (‘Isha). The evening prayer, sometimes called the night prayer, starts after the glow in the western sky from the sunset is faded. If there are clouds that were red during the Maghrib time, the redness has gone away. Sometimes people say that this is after “twilight” has faded. This is a subjective term and means different things to different people. There is also a mathematical way of determining this time. In North America the standard method is simply 90 minutes after sunset, or when the sun is 18º below the horizon.
But again, the best way is to watch the sun in the evening after the Maghrib prayers. Watch how the colors begin to disappear from the sky. Watch how the colors of the objects, plants and buildings around you begin to turn to shades of gray. This is the time of ‘Isha. And the usual way is to pray ‘Isha as soon as you are able, but you can delay it until Midnight if you need to.
Dawn (Fajr). Dawn is the time for Fajr. Once again, there are mathematical and astronomical methods for determining this. In North America a standard is that dawn occurs when the sun is 15º below the horizon. But the best method is to go outside and watch the eastern horizon. You will begin to see the line between the earth and the sky. The eastern sky just begins to brighten and it looks like a line of light is reaching up into the sky from one central point. That is dawn. And that is Fajr. This time then lasts from that moment until the disk of the sun begins to break above the horizon. While the sun is rising there are no prayers.
Mid-Day (Duhur). The mid-day prayer occurs just after the sun has crossed the zenith. Be careful in areas where Daylight Savings Time is observed in the summer months. This does not mean noon as is shown on our watches. In some places the sun will cross the zenith as late as some minutes after 1:00PM. In the winter months, when Standard Time is in effect this may be as early as 10 minutes before noon.
If you are going by observing the sun you can measure shadows to find the time of Duhur. The shadow of a stick or any object will get shorter and shorter during the morning as the sun rises in the sky. When the sun is at its zenith the shadow will be the shortest. Then it will begin to lengthen again. When that happens, it is time to pray Duhur.
It is always best to pray as soon as the time for that prayer begins, but if necessary you can pray Duhur up until the time of ‘Asr.
Afternoon (‘Asr). The time of the ‘Asr prayer is during the time between the Duhur prayer and the Maghrib prayer. But when exactly it occurs differs between several of the schools of Islamic law. The majority of the schools put the time as being when the shadow of a stick, or other object, is as long as the object is tall. The Hanafi School, which I follow, stipulates that the time is when the object’s shadow is twice as long as the object is tall. This makes the ‘Asr time later according to the Hanafi school.
You can measure your shadow directly by pacing out on the ground from the point where you are standing to the point where your shadow ends. (Remember where that point on the ground is when you start pacing because your shadow will move with you.) If it is the same length as your height then that is ‘Asr for Maliki, Sha’afi, and Hanbali schools. If it is twice as long as you are tall, then it is ‘Asr for the Hanafi school. (1)
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The first step in preparing ones self for salat is ritual purification. Purification in Islam involves two basic methods and one method for special cases. The two basic methods are Wudhu and Ghusl and the special case is Tayammum.
Wudhu‘ is the common method of purification that is used under normal ordinary situations for the five daily prayers. The word wudhu’ comes from the root wadhu’a which means to be pure or clean. Other words that are in this root family mean to be brilliant, radiant, and bright or to become clear as in understandable or manifest.
Indeed Rasul Allah (SAW) has said that his people will be recognized in the afterlife by the way their faces, hands, feet are radiant with light of purity from performing wudhu’
One must always perform the prayer in a state of purity and therefore it is necessary to perform wudhu’ in order to achieve this state. Also, very importantly it is a time of “transition” between our ordinary time and our special time for prayer. It produces an acknowledgement of the accommodation we are making in our lives for the worship of Allah (SWT).
Wudhu’ begins to focus our hearts toward Allah (SWT) and tells us and Him that we are doing something special in order to recognize our status as worshippers. Additionally, just as we set our mind and hearts to Allah (SWT) through our intention (see the section on intention below), we also engage in physically change the state of our body for the same purpose.
There are several occurrences that make it necessary for us to re-do our Wudhu. When any one of them happens we should try to do Wudhu immediately, but if that is not possible we should at the very least do it just before praying. If you are praying in a Masjid (Mosque) you will always find a place to do wudhu’ there.
Things or actions that invalidate wudhu’ are:
- Elimination of body waste (including gas) from the anus or urethra
- Seminal discharge
- Sexual intercourse
- Bleeding from any part of the body.
- Puss discharge from any part of the body
Method. The method of wudhu’ is described in ahadith by Rasul Allah (SAW) and by his family and companions. Different interpretations by the different schools of Islam exist and all are correct if based on sunnah. The method here is the Hanafi method. If you have a predilection for a different school’s method you are invited to perform wudhu’ that way. If you are not following a particular school, this method offers you an introduction to one of the valid methods.
The water you use should be pure and clean. Do not use water that you know is contaminated with blood or feces or harmful chemicals. If that is the only water available then you can do Tayammum (see below under special cases). It is ok for several people to share a bowl of water for wudhu’. It is ok for men to use water that women have used for wudhu’ and vice versa.
The first step is to prepare one’s self for purification and to set the intention for purification. This is done by setting one’s intention that the acts one is about to perform is for the purpose of wudhu’. Then recite:
Bismillahir rahmanir raheem (In the name of Allah, most merciful, most compassionate.)
Then start the washing:
1. wash both hands up to the wrists three times starting with the right hand.
2. Rinse out the mouth three times, gargling as well, if you are not fasting. (Some say to use miswak or a finger as well on the teeth and gums.)
3. Rinse the nostrils next by sniffing water into the nose from your right hand and blowing it out three times. Clean the inside of your nose with the little finger of your left hand, making sure that the water reaches the soft part of your nose.
4. Collect water in your hands and wash your face three times from one ear to the other and from the top of the forehead to below the chin.
5. Making Khilaal of the beard follows this. The Khilaal is done by passing the right hand through the beard and thus wetting the skin.
6. Wash the right hand and arm up to the elbow with the left hand, then wash the left hand and arm up to the elbow with the right hand.
7. Wash the head by wetting your hands and passing your palms over your head to the back and then bringing your hands back to the front.
8. Wash your ears by placing your forefingers into your ears and follow the channel away from the ear hole. Then run your thumbs behind your ears starting at the bottom.
9. Wash your neck by passing the back of your hands over your neck. Here three fingers are used of each hand. First wipe the right hand side of your neck using your right hand then wipe the left hand side using your left hand.
10. Wash your feet three times each, starting with your right foot up to the ankles. Then wash the left foot in the same way.
11. Wash the toes. Pass the little finger of the left hand in between the toes of both feet, starting from the little toe of the right foot and ending with the little toe of your left foot.
Upon completing the Wudhu, you should recite the Kalima ash shahadat:
Ash shahadu la illaha illa allah wa ash shahaduanna Muhamadan Rasul allah. (I bear witness that there is no God but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.)
Do not dry the water left over from the wudhu’ there is great benefit in beginning to perform the prayer with the wudhu’ water still dripping from you.
(more to come, insha’allah)
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(1) This document is not intended to provide information about the differences in the various Islamic Schools of Law. This discussion is well documented in many other publications and on the Internet.
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