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Islam - Religious Duty - Five Pillars

2. Prayer: Salat, Dhikr, And Du'a - Acts Of Worship

Three practices embrace the Islamic concept of worship. 

A devoted Muslim is required to reserve time each day for five acts of devotion and prayer. 

At dawn
The second at midday
At mid-afternoon
At sunset and 
After the fall of darkness or at bedtime. 


Salat is preceded by an act of ablution by which Muslims purify themselves in order to appear before God in a state of ritual purity. 

The cleaning involves:

Where running water is available, these parts are washed. All mosques provide facilities for this act of cleansing. Where water is not available, sand or a stone is used for a symbolic cleansing of the same parts of the body. 

This act of ablution links water as the symbol of purity to the idea of prayer as the means of purification of the soul. 

The ritual of cleansing is an integral part of the ritual of prayer itself. Ablution provides outer purity; prayer provides inner purity. Islamic prayer, thus, is designed to cleanse mind, body and soul. 


Any clean place may be chosen for prayer, although when possible Muslims are encouraged to pray with others at a mosque.

The salat begins with a call to prayer often recited from the minarets that adorn a mosque, inviting the believers to hasten to the virtuous act of prayer. 

The devotee typically rolls out his prayer-rug, stands reverentially and offers certain prayers; bows down toward Mecca with hands on knees, to offer to Allah less a petition than ascriptions of praise and declarations of submission to his holy will; then straightens up again, still praising Allah; then falls prostrate, kneeling with his head to the ground, glorifying God the while; then sits up reverentially and offers a petition: and finally bows down once more.

Throughout, the sacred sentence Allah akbar ("God is the greatest") is repeated again and again.

The pattern of salat may be divided into seven steps: 

1. The first step consists of facing the qiblah (Mecca), raising one's hands to the ears, and pronouncing the takbir, or recitation of praise: "God is Great" ("Allahu Akbar"). The worshiper remains silent, readying his attention for the performance of the prayer. 

2. During the second step, known as the "standing," the chapter al-Fatiha is recited together with additional verses from the Quran. 

Fatiha, the Muslim Lord's Prayer. (Sura 1): 

Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being, 
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate, 
the Master of the Day of Doom.

Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour. 
Guide us in the straight path, 
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, 
not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, 
nor of those who are astray.

3. With the recitation of another takbir, the worshiper bows, with his hands on his knees, and in this bent position, praises God. 

4. After assuming the standing position, the worshiper prostrates himself, with his head touching the ground, as a sign of humility and submission. 

5. The fifth step involves raising oneself from prostration while reciting another takbir and remaining in a sitting position, praying. 

6. There follows another act of prostration, when the praises of God are repeated. 

7. The final step involves the sitting position and silent recitation of prayer, after which the individual worshipers turn their faces to the right and the left to greet their neighbors. This greeting, or salam, concludes the prayer proper. However, it must be noted that where additional rakahs are to be said, the first six steps are always repeated. 

Thus the process of prayer involves:

The words of supplication and praise
The postures of submission, and 
The acts of cleansing 

These, together, symbolize the meaning of true worship, integrating the Muslim into a rhythm of universal adoration. 

Prayer on Fridays

Friday is the special day of public prayer for all Muslims, when the faithful assemble in the mosque, under the leadership of the imam, usually at noon, or at sunset. 

The service is conducted in the mosque's paved courtyard, or at the covered worship area, under the dome or vault. They leave their shoes at the entrance and then proceeds to the pool or fountain to perform their ablutions (of hands, mouth, nostrils, face, forearms, neck, and feet). Then they sit down for a few minutes to hear a "reader" (qari) recite from the Koran. When the imam appears, they will quietly sit down in long rows facing Mecca and spaced so as to allow their throwing themselves forward in "prostration" on their prayer-mats. No discrimination of any kind is permitted inside the mosque. Everyone is equal before Allah irrespective of their race, nationality, or social status. If women attend, they ordinarily stay behind screens and are not seen. 

Before the prayer service is held, the imam preaches a sermon. The primary purpose of the sermon is the exposition of Muslim doctrine. During the ritual of prayer (or salat) that follows, the imam recites all the necessary words and the worshipers silently repeat his motions, standing erect when he does so, or inclining the head and body, or dropping on their knees to place their hands upon the ground a little in front of them and press their foreheads to the pavement, in prostration, at the exact moment they see him do so. 

In their acceptance of social equality, Muslims are far ahead of other religions. Once they are inside mosque, there is no difference between the devotees, whether he is a king or a pauper or beggar. Maulana Muhammad Ali, author of "The Religion of Islam" describe this custom thus:

"Once within the doors of the mosque, every Muslim fills himself in an atmosphere of equality and love. Before their Maker they all stand shoulder to shoulder, the king along with his poorest subject, the rich arrayed in gorgeous robes with the beggar clad in rags, the white man with the black. Nay, the king or rich man standing in the back row will have to lay his head, prostrating himself before God, at the feet of a slave or a beggar standing in the front.... Differences of rank, wealth and color vanish"

Dhikr and Du'a

Dhikr (the remembrance of God) and du'a (voluntary prayer) are the other forms of worship in Islam. In contrast to salat, which is a required duty, Dhikr (remembrance) is voluntary and complements ritual prayer. It provides an opportunity for contemplation within the heart, and a way of drawing closer to God. Dhikr draws the individual inwards, creating an inner sense of harmony and peace. The Koran emphasizes this aspect in the verse that states:

"Surely in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find peace" (13:28). 

The essence of such prayers is praise rather than petitioning, an attempt to go beyond the requirements of ritual worship by adoring God. One of the best known examples of such an attitude is reflected in the saying attributed to a Muslim woman called Rabia, who lived in the eighth century C.E.: 

My Lord, if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and 
if I worship Thee from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise, but 
if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty.

Dhikr is explained by Al-Ghazali in a passage that has been summarized by D. B. Macdonald and cited in 'A Moslem Seeker After God' as follows:

These acts of worship, representing the devotional spirit in Islam, bring believers into daily communication with the Creator. 

Islamic Prayers

Next Topic: Almsgiving (Zakat)

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