By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
November 7, 2013
All Islamic schools of thought are unanimous on the number of obligatory prayers performed five times a day. They also agree upon the number of Rak’ats (prescribed movements and words followed by Muslims while offering prayers to Allah) i.e. two Rak’ats in Fajr (the dawn prayer), four Rak’ats in Zuhar (the afternoon prayer), Asr (the late afternoon prayer) and Isha (the night prayer), while Maghrib (the evening prayer) is offered with three Rak’ats.
Not a single Islamic school disagreed to the fundamental shape or essential structure of Salat ever in the past or present. Although there have been some slight differences in minor details that are not related to the basic tenets of Salah. All Islamic sects follow the same styles of Ruku (bowing) and Sujud (prostration) with the same number of Rak’ats associated with them. No Muslim sect has any disagreement or problem with it. Turning face towards the Qibla is mandatory in all Islamic schools. Differences lie only in the secondary and exterior features of the prayer such as reciting the Qur’anic verses in the prayer aloud or silently, raising or not raising finger during Tashahhud (sitting), reciting or not reciting Qunut (a special supplication), turning head right and left during Salaam (turning face to the right saying: "Assalam u Alaikum wa Rahmatullah" (peace and the mercy of Allah be on you) and then to the left repeating the same words), choosing to recite small or lengthy verses of the Quran in the prayer etc. But these are trivial issues that do not affect the fundamentals of the Islamic prayer (Salah).
Islamic prayer is a phenomenon of God-man relationship. The chief purpose of Salat in Islam is to act as a person's communication with and remembrance of God. It is an integral part of the essential Islamic duties that has to be carried out either in person or in congregation. It is a form of gratitude to God for His divine blessings as well as a supplication to Him asking for the fulfilment of one’s yearnings and wishes 1.
Therefore, there are two basic elements in the Salah: (1) Giving reverence, praises, thanks and gratitude to God and (2) asking for His divine blessings believing that He is the giver to all the needy. Namaz or Salah is one of the prayers that existed, in one form or the other, in almost all previous Shariats (revealed religious laws).
Literally, Salat (Salāh) is an Arabic word whose basic meaning is prayer, worship and homage. Islam has prescribed it as an obligatory and formal worship which consists of bowing (Ruku) and prostration (Sujud). In addition, there are certain movements and words in Salat that can be changed neither by a worshipper’s intent, inclination or propensity nor by his desired time, if it is an obligatory prayer 3. A worshipper has to recite the same verses and supplications as prescribed in the holy Quran and Hadith. In synergy with the Islamic Sharia, this form of worship has been perpetually and concurrently practiced by the Muslim community in each of the generations.
The word “Salat” is basically an Aramaic word that has been driven from the root letters ص ل ا meaning “bowing down”. Later, it came to be known in its popular religious sense of worship. Then, Jews began to use this word and thus it became an Aramaic-Hebrew word. It was brought in Arabic language by the people of book before the advent of Islam. Jews used the word “Salatuh” during the later times of the revealed book “Taurah”. This is how this word got popularity in its existing religious meaning.
In dictionaries and lexicons, the word “Slawat ul Yahud” means: Jews’ synagogues”. The holy Quran says: لَّهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِد (there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned) (Al-Haj: 40).
Hazrat Ibn Abbas is reported to have said: the word “Slawat” (in the above Quranic verse) means Jews’ synagogues and it comes from the Hebrew origin: “Slautah” 4.
Some orientalises have mentioned that the word “Salat” and “Zakat” are not written today the way they used to be in the early period of Islam. Back then, both these words used to be written with the letter “و” like “صلوۃ” and “زکوۃ” on the account of their belongingness to the Hebrew origin 5. The orientalists figure out its reason and say that “Salat” is written as “صلوتو” (Slouto) or “صالوتہ” or “صلوتہ”, while the word Zakat (زکاۃ) is written as “زاکوت” (Zakut) in the Aramaic language 6. The root word of Zakat (زکاۃ) is “زکی” or “دکی” meaning ‘to purify’ 7.
Some other orientalists claim that the word “Salat” was not known before the advent of Islam, rather it came to the Arabic language through the holy Quran 8. However, this claim does not stand up to scrutiny, because no one can claim to have an acute grip over the entire language, terminology and doctrines of the people of Jahiliya. Perhaps, time will unravel some texts that were originally created by them.
However, if the orientalists meant to say that the Salat was not known among those Arab pagans in the canonical sense of Islamic, Christian or Jewish way of worship, it would be an absolutely right and undisputed statement. The reason is that Islamic way of worship (Salat) originated in the Islamic period, so, it cannot be linked with the era of ignorance at all. As for the Christian and Jewish ways of worship, they too were not known among the Arab pagans (in the era of ignorance), because they were neither Christians nor Jews. Therefore, they were not acquainted with their ways of worship, except for those who had relations with the Christians and Jews, as has been proven by the poetry of Jahiliya Arab that denotes some of their practices such as Ruku (bowing), Sujud (prostration) and Tasbeeh (chanting the names and attributes of God) 9.
As for the Arab Christians and Jews, they used to offer their prayers (Salat) in their own synagogues and, therefore, were well-acquainted with the particular ways of Salat. But we have got no clue about the ways of worship practiced by the Arab pagans of the Jahiliya era, because we did not come across any of their literature saying something about their prayers. However, it does not imply that they had no form of worship. A people who used to perform pilgrimage to Mecca on almost all the auspicious occasions, engage in so many religious activities and practices and offer regular invocations and supplications could not be completely away from worshipping God. The actuality is that Salat (prayer) was prevalent even among the followers of the primitive religions, but we cannot anticipate that their forms of worship would have been the same as they were among the Christians and Jews. This is because the notion of worship varies from religion to religion and people to people. And the very difference brings changes in the forms and ways of their worship. Nevertheless, Salat remains unchanged much in the same way as in the above-mentioned faiths. Had this slight difference in form and detail not been there, all faiths and religions would have been the same.
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"There are two basic elements in the Salah: (1) Giving reverence, praises, thanks and gratitude to God and (2) asking for His divine blessings." -
Those two elements should be more important than what rakats or words are spoken and in what order, how many times a day, facing which direction and accompanied by what postures and bodily movements. Unfortunately however rigid observation of rituals has become an essential part of Islam.