Prayer and supplication is the centerpiece of a Muslim’s day-to-day life. It is clearly stated in the Quran that God created human beings so that they worship Him. Detailed instructions for the prayers came to us from God through his Prophet, Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him, his family and companions). In terms of prayers, there are five daily obligatory prayers and many daily or infrequent optional prayers. The list is as follows:
Obligatory Daily Prayers:
- Fajr: This is the first prayer every day, at dawn before any part of the sun is visible or out.
- Duhr: This is the afternoon prayer. Every Friday this prayer changes into the congregational Juma’h prayer.
- Asr: This is prayed in late afternoon, somewhat in between the afternoon prayer and the sunset.
- Maghrib: This is the prayer at sunset, right after it is completely set.
- Isha: This is prayed at night after it is dark with the dusk completely over.
- Witr: Daily after the Isha prayer but can be delayed until after mid-night before Fajr.
- Tahajudd: This is prayed after mid-night before Fajr, ideally after waking up from some sleep.
- Ishraq: This is prayed in the morning after sun is completely out.
- Janaaza: This is the Muslim funeral prayer.
- Taraweeh: This is in the month of Ramadan after the Isha prayer.
- Eid-ul-Fitr: This the prayer on the day after the month of Ramadan. It is prayed in the morning after the sun is completely out.
- Eid-ul-Adha: This is the prayer on the day of Hajj. It is prayed in the morning after the sun is completely out.
- Istisqa: The prayer for rain in case of drought condition. No particular time.
- Istikhara: The prayer to seek God’s guidance in case of a difficult decision-making.
- Tasbeeh: No particular time. This is the prayer to particularly and repeatedly remember God and His attributes.
- Masjid or Mosque: A prayer for visiting a mosque.
How to Pray – an Overview
For a Muslim, prayer is a formal way of maintaining a link and communication with God. The following general etiquettes apply to all prayers:
Sanity of mind:
One has to have an understanding of what one is doing for a prayer to be valid and acceptable. One is supposed not to pray in case of any alteration of mind for any reason to the extent of clouding ones thinking and thought process. For this reason, for example, a patient with dementia, if severe enough, might be excused from the requirement of compulsory praying
Ones intention should be clear and valid. Prayers are only to God and they are performed only because He told us to do so. Their benefit, if He grants, is also only to us.
Cleanliness of body, clothing and the place of prayer are the basic requirements of every prayer. We are required to wash our whole body (Ghusl) or a part of it (Wudu), depending upon the circumstances. In brief, Ghusl is required after intimacy, a sexual or a menstrual discharge, and is also recommended before some important prayers such as Juma’h, Eid, or Hajj. Wudu is required after waking up from sleep, or in case of urination, defecation or flatus.
Whole Body Wash or Ghusl:
It is done in private for each individual. Washing the whole body and hairs, including the areas washed during Wudu such as cleaning of nostrils and mouth, is part of the requirement. It is recommended not to waste more water than a reasonable amount.
Briefly, one starts with washing the hands followed by cleaning and washing the mouth and nostrils. Washing the face and arms including elbows follows this. Head, back of neck and ears are cleaned with wet hands, and feet are washed up to the ankles. Washing is generally done for three times each. Only clean water is used and it is recommended not to waste water. In case water or appropriate water is not available for Ghusl or Wudu, one is permitted to clean oneself using a clean dry surface, sand or even dirt in a particular manner, which is called Tayyamum. This is a special relaxation for special circumstances. The concept here is spiritual cleaning more than physical cleaning.
A man covers the body at least from naval to below-knee level. A woman covers the whole body except the face and hands.
A space clear of any obvious trash or anything we may consider unclean is recommended. Other than that, no particular place is required. One could pray inside or outside, on the floor or carpet, on the grass, gravel, road, sand or even clean dirt. Nowadays, people routinely use a mat, a rug or a piece of cloth or a paper for cleanliness. The space should also be free or away from any animal, human or fictional statues, or their figures or pictures.
Proper Physical Direction:
Face is always towards the Kaaba (the first mosque built on earth), which is in the city of Makkah (Mecca), present day Saudi Arabia (21°25’26″N 39°49’27″E).
All obligatory and many optional prayers are performed at their particular timings. It is not recommended to delay an obligatory prayer without any valid reason. At the same time, there is ample flexibility to delay or combine prayers in certain circumstances. The only times, when it is recommended to avoid a formal prayer is the time when the sun is coming out until it is completely out, when the sun is at its highest point and when the sun has started to set, until it is completely set.
Individual or Congregational Prayer:
A prayer in congregation is always preferred and recommended and is many times better than praying individually. Certain prayers are valid only in a congregation, such as Juma’h prayer. If missed, one only prays the regular Duhr prayer instead. In usual congregational prayers, men and women are physically separated.
Men and Women Prayers:
In general, there is no difference in the details of praying between men and women, except a few relaxations given to women. Women do not pray during menses or after childbirth. Also, they may pray at home if they prefer and the Juma’h prayer is not obligatory upon them.
The Concepts of Obligatory, Recommended or Optional Parts of Prayers:
For each of the five daily prayers, some portions are obligatory, some recommended (some highly recommended and some usually recommended) and some optional. Obligatory portions are the ones without which a prayer is not valid. Recommended are the ones that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) always performed (highly recommended) or usually performed (usually recommended). Optional are extra, which he might have performed at some times. The technical or Arabic terms for these parts are Fard (obligatory), Sunnah (recommended) and Nafl (optional). These concepts may vary a little based upon different religious schools of thought.
Briefly speaking, the formal activity of each prayer is divided into two or four continuous portions or “rakaas”. Following is some of the detail of rakaas in each daily prayer:
|Fajr||2 Sunnah||2 Fard|
|Duhr||4 Sunnah||4 Fard||4 or 2 Sunnah|
|Asar||4 Sunnah||4 Fard|
|Maghrib||3 Fard||2 Sunnah||2|
|Isha||4 Fard||2 Sunnah||followed by the Witr prayer|
In certain circumstances, such as during travel or Hajj, it is recommended to shorten the number of rakaas for obligatory prayers or combine some prayers.
All prayers, except supplications, are performed in Arabic. Part of the recitation always includes at least a few verses of the Quran. For details of the words and verses recited, it is better to consult a book or a knowledgeable Muslim. It is our intention, God-willing, to have that detail on this site. Until then, “The Beginner’s Book of Salah” by Ghulam Sarwar (ISBN 0 907261 39 6) is a good start. It is written for English speaking people. Feel free to contact or visit our center or any local mosque for further help and guidance.