A Timeless Miracle Called Salaah
The Miraculous Salaah: Made in the Qur’an
All over the world, Muslims know what Salaat is. Urdu and Farsi folks call it Namaaz. English speakers call it “prayers”. But, Salaat is more – much, much more – than prayer as the world understands and uses that expression.
What is salaah then? All you need to do is ask any Muslim in any part of the world. And they will tell you the full miraculous story.
In addition to what we understand as “prayer” in the English language, that which we call Salaah is all of the following, every time:
- Performing formal ablution before you begin.
- Forming the correct intention as you begin.
- Facing Makkah.
- Standing upright, unless there is a serious excuse for not doing so, in which case you may sit down.
- Raising your hands shoulder level or higher.
- Folding your hands in front or dropping them straight to your side.
- Bending down and holding your knees firmly with your arms and back straight.
- Rising from that position and standing upright.
- Going down into a semi-prostration-like posture where you almost assume a vertical fetal position such that your knees are on the ground, your hands are planted on either side of your face, which is already on the ground with your forehead and nose resting on the ground, such that your elbows, chest and stomach are not touching the ground.
- And so on … and so on … in addition to “praying” as we know it in the English language in the sense of asking God for his favors and blessings.
Is this what you call “prayer” in the English language? Have you ever observed a non-Muslim? When and where did they “pray” like that last?
So how in the world do you sum up this rich range of actual physical activities that Qur’an’s original Arabic expression “Salaah” routinely encompasses, in addition to all the readings and chanting and prayers, into the common English expression “prayer” without seriously and irredeemably losing the original content and meaning and without completely misleading the readers about what that expression “Salaah” really stands for?
Tragically, humanity has been extremely ill served by our English translations of some of the key expressions of the Qur’an.
Again – Salaat – one unit of it – involves standing upright; it involves sitting with your knees folded under you; it involves prostrating in a fetal position; it involves bending, rising, bending deeper and rising again; it involves turning your head symmetrically 45°-90° degrees, first to your right and then to your left in the same way – and a few other things.
And every Muslim does it all, in every Salaat, in every part of the world. And Muslims have done it without stop, and without change, for the past 1400 years – since Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, taught them how to do it personally.
I don’t think any non-Muslim speaker of the English tongue has any clue as to any of these things when he or she says the word “prayer.” Therefore, Muslims do themselves and Islam – and the world – a great disservice when they continue to refer to this amazing divine institution of Salaah as prayer.
Covering Up the Light of Allah’s Book
Persistently referring to Salaah as prayer may have the unfortunate effect of covering up from the eyes of the world the light of what God Almighty has revealed in his book for its guidance and what he sent down as a standing miracle and, therefore, an open and timeless invitation to all of humanity to come to Islam.
And the miracle of miracles is that this Salaat – I don’t know how many people fully realize or appreciate this – is made in the Qur’an, practically every bit of it.
Isn’t it miracle enough that this Qur’an comes down, hand-to-hand, and generation after generation, for 1400 years, the way Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, himself taught and practiced it? And the way the Companions practiced and taught it to their Followers thereafter – right down to our times and us?
A Miraculous Detail of the Salaat in the Qur’an
So, where did we get the details of how to perform our daily Salaah? Yes, we got them from the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, as the Muslims so rightly point out. But does the buck stop there or does it go any further – to the Qur’an, for example, and to Almighty Allah himself?
Well, hear Allah himself answer some of our questions in this regard in the Qur’an. Here is one miraculous detail of the Salaat right from the pages of the Qur’an:
Should we stand or sit or lie down when we “pray”? When we do our Salaah that is?
Answer from the Qur’an:
(a) Idhaa qumtum ilas-salaah – when you stand up for Salaah.
(b) Qoomoo lillahi qaaniteen – stand up for Allah with single-minded humility.
A Personal Scale of Salaah for Every Muslim Man and Woman
Of course, the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, thereafter, created a most magnificent scale of Salaah, which he personalized for each individual in his Ummat – each follower of Islam – man as well as woman.
And here is how that highly personalized scale of “prayers” works:
(a) “Pray” – the compulsory “prayers” that is – in groups. But pray by yourself when you are alone.
(b) “Pray” standing up if you can. But if you were unable to stand up, then pray sitting down.
(c) And should you find yourself unable to even sit and pray, then lie down and pray.
Can you think of a more compassionate, accommodating and broad-based model for the rather complex routine of your personal Salaat or prayers?
Can you think of anything more responsive to varying human needs and situations across time and across the globe?