“So give glory to Allah, when you reach evening and when you rise in the morning; for to Him belongs all praise in the heavens and on earth; and also in the late afternoon and when the day begins to decline.” (Qur’an, 30:17-18)
During the past 1400 years, millions of Muslims have lived and died, in every corner of the world and in every walk of life. At first glance, one may see very little in common between them; after all, how many similarities could there be between the life of a Bedouin nomad from the ninth century, a Persian philosopher from the sixteenth, and a Malaysian professor from the twenty-first? However a closer look into the lives of devout Muslims, regardless of time and culture, reveals an interesting similarity; every day they recite the same words and perform
the same actions at five specific times, part
of a ritual known as salah (prayer).
When Abdullah bin Masud, one of Prophet Muhammad salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam’s (peace and blessings be upon him) companions asked him what was the best of deeds, the Prophet responded, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.”
In another occasion the Prophet (S) referred to salah as one of the pillars of faith. Furthermore, unlike other major obligations in Islam, like sawm (fasting) and the pilgrimage to Mecca, which under certain conditions can be deferred, under no conditions is a Muslim relieved of their responsibility for salah. It is clear that salah is given utmost importance in Islam, but one wonders, why? What is the reasoning behind the salah?
The Qur’an commands, “Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to you, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains you from shameful and unjust deeds; and the remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And verily Allah knows that which you do” (Qur’an, 29:45). From this verse, it is evident that one of the benefits of salah is preventing a believer from committing sins. The root cause of all sins is forgetfulness of God’s presence. If an individual is truly conscious of the Lord’s presence, he or she would never fall to temptation. However as one gets consumed by the never ending affairs of this world, it is easy to lose focus of one’s ultimate purpose, submitting to God. Salah is a protection against this downfall; it is a constant reminder for humanity of the presence of its Lord. Hence the first action a Muslim performs every morning and the last before going to bed, as well as during the noon, afternoon, and at sunset, is salah. In each prayer, the believer twice recites “You alone do we worship, and your aid alone do we seek” (Qur’an, 1:5). By constantly reminding his or herself of this, a believer trains oneself to be both wary of temptation and ready to do the right thing, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be.
There are of a number of additional reasons to perform salah. It can be to show gratitude towards God for all the infinite blessings He has provided, to achieve tranquility, or to promote greater unity in the Muslim community (in the case of congregational prayers). Indeed, there may be many hidden benefits of salah that humanity is not yet aware of. Verily, Allah knows best.
ALI MANSOURI is a second year Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering double major at the University of California, Irvine
Photo by SANA IQBAL