Establishing the Prayers

The Meaning of “Establishing the Prayers”

A very important aspect that one should note about this pillar is that what is being referred to is not simply the “performance” of prayer. In the Quran also, Allah is not ordering simply the performance of prayer.

Instead, Allah is requiring from the believers iqaamat al-salat (“the establishment of the prayers”). Hence, this pillar of Islam is not simply praying but it is something special, which Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) called, “establishing the prayer.” Only if one performs the prayer properly and correctly does one fulfill this pillar. This points out that the number of people who pray are many while the number that establish the prayer are few. This is like the statement narrated from Umar about the Hajj, “The number who performed the Hajj are few while the riders [present at the Hajj] are many.”198

Al-Dausiri also pointed out one difference between the two phrases of “establishing the prayer” and “performing the prayer.” He said, “[Allah] did not say ‘performers of prayer’ but He said, ‘those who establish the prayer.’ Allah distinguished between them in order to distinguish between the true and real prayer and the prayer in form only. The true prayer is the prayer of the heart and soul, the prayer of humility, the prayer of those who stand silently and in fear in front of Allah.”199 The prayer “in form only” was never the goal of the command.

Definitely part of the establishing of the prayer is the establishment of the spiritual and inward aspects of the prayer, as al-Dausiri has alluded to. But that is certainly not the only difference between the two as can be seen in the definition or statements about “establishing the prayer” as given by many of the scholars of Islam. For example, the famous commentator on the Quran, ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote, “Establishing it means to perform it within its proper limits, with its obligatory aspects, with what has been made obligatory concerning it by the one upon whom it has been made obligatory.” Then he quoted the Companion ibn Abbas as saying, “Establishing the prayer is to perform its bowing, prostrations and reciting in a complete manner as well as having fear of Allah and complete attention to it.”200 The early scholar Qatada also stated, “The establishing of the prayer is to stick to and guard its timing, ablution, bowing and prostration.”201

In general, one can say that the “establishing of the prayer” means that one performs and executes the prayer in the proper manner as prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah. This includes both the outward as well as the inward aspects of the prayer. Neither of the two are sufficient in themselves to truly establish the prayer. One must be in a state of purity for the prayer. One must perform the prayer in its proper time. One should, in the case of men, perform the prayer in congregation in a mosque if feasible. One must perform the prayer according to its rules and regulations, at the same time, though, the physical acts must be accompanied with diligence, submission, humbleness, calmness and so on. One must perform all of the acts of the prayer properly and in the manner demonstrated by the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). These are all part of establishing the prayer. These are essential aspects of this very important foundation of the entire structure of Islam.

From all of the above it is clear that what Allah is referring to is not something light or something that can be taken lightly. It is to fulfill the prayers in the best way that one can do so, according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), with the correct intention and with the proper attention on the prayer.

However, it may be that the person establishes the prayer to some extent. The person has, from a legal point of view, performed his prayer but the reward from Allah for that prayer may be lacking. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, “A person may finish from [the prayer] and all that is recorded for him of his prayer is one-tenth of it, one-ninth, one-eighth, oneseventh, one-sixth, one-fifth, one-fourth, one-third or one-half.”202

The meaning of “establishment of the prayer” has been stressed here because that is what the pillar of Islam is. This pillar is not simply the performance of the prayer. It is not performing it in any way or with just physical motions. Nor is it simply praying in the heart without any physical parts to it whatsoever. Nor is it praying the prayer at the time one finds convenient. One must be careful to perform this pillar of Islam in the best and correct manner. On this point, Nadwi wrote,

Salat [prayer] is not merely the name of certain physical movements. It is not a wooden, lifeless ritual or something of a military discipline in which one’s choice or volition has no place. It is an act in which all the three aspects of human existence, physical, mental and spiritual, find their due expression. The body, the mind and the heart participate in it jointly and in an ideal manner. The acts of standing erect, kneeling and prostration appertain to the body, recitation appertains to the tongue, reflection and contemplation to the mind, and fear, repentance and lamentation to the heart.203

The importance of the prayer in Islam cannot be overstated. It is the first pillar of Islam that the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned after mentioning the testimony of faith, by which one becomes a Muslim. It was made obligatory upon all the prophets and for all peoples.

Once a man asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the most virtuous deed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated that the most virtuous deed is the prayer. The man asked again and again. The first three times, the Prophet (peace be upon him) again answered, “The prayer,” then on the fourth occasion he stated, “Jihad in the way of Allah.”204

The importance of the prayer is demonstrated in many of the Prophet’s statements. For example, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.”205

The importance of the prayers lies in the fact that no matter what actions one performs in his life, the most important aspect is one’s relationship to Allah, that is, one’s faith (imaan), God-consciousness (taqwa), sincerity (ikhlaas) and worship of Allah (’ibaadah). This relationship with Allah is both demonstrated and put into practice, as well as improved and increased, by the prayer. Therefore, if the prayers are sound and proper, the rest of the deeds will be sound and proper; and if the prayers are not sound and proper, then the rest of the deeds will not be sound and proper, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself stated.

In reality, if the prayer is performed properly—with true remembrance of Allah and turning to Him for forgiveness— it will have a lasting effect on the person. After he finishes the prayer, his heart will be filled with the remembrance of Allah. He will be fearful as well as hopeful of Allah. After that experience, he will not want to move from that lofty position to one wherein he disobeys Allah. Allah has mentioned this aspect of the prayer when He has said, “Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds” (29:45). Nadwi has described this effect in the following eloquent way,

Its aim is to generate within the subliminal self of man such spiritual power, light of faith and awareness of God as can enable him to strive successfully against all kinds of evils and temptations and remain steadfast at times of trial and adversity and protect himself against the weaknesses of the flesh and the mischief of immoderate appetites.206

As for the Hereafter, Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure is closely related to the prayers. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Allah has obligated five prayers. Whoever excellently performs their ablutions, prays them in their proper times, completes their bows, prostrations and khushu’207 has a promise from Allah that He will forgive him. And whoever does not do that has no promise from Allah. He may either forgive him or He may punish him.”208

The prayers are a type of purification for a human being. He turns and meets with his Lord five times a day. As alluded to above, this repeated standing in front of Allah should keep the person from performing sins during the day. Furthermore, it should also be a time of remorse and repentance, such that he earnestly asks Allah for forgiveness for those sins that he committed. In addition, the prayer in itself is a good deed that wipes away some of the evil deeds that he performed. These points can be noted in the following hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “If a person had a stream outside his door and he bathed in it five times a day, do you think he would have any filth left on him?” The people said, “No filth would remain on him whatsoever.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said, “That is like the five daily prayers: Allah wipes away the sins by them.”209

In another hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The five daily prayers and the Friday Prayer until the Friday Prayer are expiation for what is between them.”210

The essential importance of the prayer with respect to a Muslim’s faith can be seen in the statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Between a man and polytheism (al-shirk) and disbelief (al-kufr) is the abandoning of the prayer.”211 In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the definitive al-shirk and al-kufr, which is a reference to something known and understood. This is understood to refer to the kufr that takes one out of the fold of Islam. Furthermore, both the words shirk and kufr have been used, and this is another sign that the act must take one out of the fold of Islam.

Siddiqi’s words showing the importance of prayer are a good summary to this whole discussion. He wrote,

Prayer is the soul of religion. Where there is no prayer, there can be no purification of the soul. The non-praying man is rightly considered to be a soulless man. Take prayer out of the world, and it is all over with religion because it is with prayer that man has the consciousness of God and selfless love for humanity and inner sense of piety. Prayer is, therefore, the first, the highest, and the most solemn phenomenon and manifestation of religion.212

The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated its place in Islam when he said, “The head of the matter is Islam. Its pillar is prayer. And its apex is Jihad.”213

198 Cf., Al-Raaghib al-Isfahaani, Mu’jam Mufradaat Alfaadh al-Quran (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), p.

199 Abdul Rahman al-Dausiri, Safwat al-Athaar wa al-Mafaheem min Tafseer al-Quran al-Adheem (Kuwait: Dar al-Arqam, 1981), vol. 2, p. 8.

200 Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayaan an Ta’weel Ayi al-Quran (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1988), vol. 1, p. 104.

201 Quoted in Ismail ibn Katheer, Tafseer al-Quran al-Adheem (Kuwait: Dar al-Arqam, 1985), vol. 1, p. 168.

202 Recorded by Abu Dawud and Ahmad. According to al-Albani, it is sahih. Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami, vol. 1, p. 335.

203 Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, The Four Pillars of Islam (Lucknow, India: Academy of Islamic Research and Publica ons, 1976), pp. 22-23.

204 This is from a hadith recorded by Ahmad and ibn Hibban. According to al-Albani, the hadith is hasan. Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Sahih al-Targheeb wa al-Tarheeb (Beirut: al-Maktab al- Islami, 1982), vol. 1, p. 150.

205 Recorded by al-Tabaraani. According to al-Albani, it is sahih. Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami, vol. 1, p.503.

206 Nadwi, p. 24.

207 Khushu’ in the prayer is where the person’s heart is attuned to the prayer. This feeling in the heart is then reflected on the body. The person remains still and calm. His gaze is also lowered.
Even his voice is affected by this feeling in the heart. For more details on this concept (as well as the difference between it and khudu’), see Muhammad al-Shaayi, Al-Furooq al-Laughawiyyah wa Atharuhaa fi Tafseer al-Quran al-Kareem (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ubaikaan, 1993), pp. 249-254.

208 Recorded by Malik, Ahmad, Abu Dawud, al-Nasaa’i and others. According to al-Albani, it is sahih. Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami, vol. 1, p. 616.

209 Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

210 Recorded by Muslim.

211 Recorded by Muslim.

212 Abdul Hameed Siddiqi, trans., Sahih Muslim, (Beirut: Dar al-Arabia, n.d.), vol. 1, p. 206.

213 An authentic hadith recorded by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi and others.