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A Discussion on the Meaning and Significance of
Prayers in the Qur'an

Translator’s Note

Perhaps the most important form of worship in Islam is the ritual of five daily prayers. Five times a day the minarets throughout the Islamic world broadcast the call for prayers, and all around the world practicing Muslims perform this ritual in the same language, Arabic, even though they may not know the meaning of the words they say. This book sets out to study the meanings and the philosophy behind this ritual.

A note is in order for readers who are not familiar with the Arabic language. The Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam, is a book revealed and written in the Arabic language. As a result, many key terms in Islamic literature and culture are Arabic or have Arabic roots. In fact, some of these terms have been used so widely that they have attained specific secondary meanings in addition to their original meaning. This presents a challenge in translation, because while it may be easy to translate the original meaning, it is often hard to translate the secondary (and sometimes more popular) meaning, because there is often a rich cultural and religious connotation associated with it.

One of these terms that we are particularly dealing with in this book is “Salat”, which is the Arabic word used for the five daily prayers. However, as we shall see, there are many layers of meaning associated with this term and the concepts behind it, and the ritual daily prayers are perhaps only its most explicit manifestation. Regardless of these layers of meaning, the reader should be aware that the English terms “prayer” or “prayers” have been used as the translation of the Arabic word “Salat”.

There are many other Arabic terms too that the reader will encounter in this study. Like the case of “Salat”, in each case the transliteration of the Arabic term is given in “ ” followed by the common English translation of the word. For further clarification, in some instances the Arabic root of a term is also given, often as three capital letters written within “ ”. In Arabic, a single root can be used in numerous forms, and often times knowing the common root between two words helps in identifying their meanings. Again, the reader should be aware that the English translation may not communicate the same connotations and layers of meaning as the original Arabic term. Therefore, the best approach is perhaps to consider the English meaning as a guide and in conjunction with the discussion that is given in each case to clarify the term in question. Hopefully, this method will bring the reader unfamiliar with these terms closer to their meaning and connotation within the context of the Islamic literature.

There are many references to Qur’anic verses in the text. To make it easier for the reader to find these verses, the chapter and verse number for Qur’anic quotations are given in parenthesis followed by the text of the translation of the verse. There are 114 chapters, or “Surah” as known in Arabic, in the Qur’an. Therefore, in each case the first number in the parenthesis refers to the Surah number and the second numbers (or numbers) refer to the individual verse (or range of verses) within that Surah. The interested reader can therefore easily find each reference in any translation of the Qur’an for comparison and further study.

1. General Perspective into the Meaning of Prayer

1.1. The Meaning of Prayers

What is prayer and what needs drive it? What is this whisper that comes out of the deepest corners of man’s heart, either explicitly or implicitly? These whispers that every morning and night are heard from temples all around this vast earth; where are they originating from, and what purpose do they seek to accomplish? In Islamic tradition, many things have been said about prayers, things like: “Prayers are the ascension of the believers,” or: “prayers are the central column of the religion,” or: “Prayers are the means for the righteous to approach God,” or: “Prayers are the condition for the acceptance of all other deeds.” But exactly what is meant by the term “prayers” in these traditions? Are they talking about the five daily prayers that Muslims perform? Do they mean the bowing down and prostration that we do in our regular prayers? When Ali (AS) said “nobody surpassed me in prayers other than the Prophet himself,” did he mean surpassing in the number and the length of prayers or he was talking about a different core and essence?

When we think of prayers we think of something that only we humans do, but the Qur’an talks about all the creatures in the heavens and earth, including the birds flying in the skies, knowing their prayers (24,41). Indeed, what is this prayer that involves all the creation? The Arabic word used in the Qur’an for Prayers is “Salat” which means to face, or to turn towards something we like or believe in. The opposite word is “Tavalla” which means to turn away from, not to pay attention to, or to disregard. With this explanation, the “Salat” or prayer of all the creatures is their natural following of the laws that rule the universe and their instinctual guidance towards the goal for which they are created. Their glorification and worship is their useful function and the role that they play within the system that they are part of. But when it comes to humans, their prayer is their conscious and voluntary act of turning towards the creator of this world while truing away from their own selfish desires, Satanic impulses and deceiving worldly attractions, in order to fulfill the role they have been given in this world.

In some languages, such as Farsi, we talk about reading the prayers, for example we ask “Have you read your prayers?” But “Salat” is not something to be read, and never, even once, is there mention of “reading prayers” in the Qur’an. Instead, there is always mention of “establishment” of the prayers. To “establish” means to take something seriously and attentively, to care for something so that it is completed. If we see something valuable on the ground, we pick it up and hold it so as to not let it get ruined or damaged. So is our relationship with our creator, we need to take care of this relationship, take it seriously, and not let it down. If this relationship is important to us how can we neglect it and not take it seriously?

The phrase “to establish” the prayers, or “Eghameh” of prayers as the Qur’an calls it, is repeated in the Qur’an 47 times. This phrase is not used solely for prayers; it is also sued on other occasions, for example the establishment of justice, establishment of witness (to be a witness for what is right), establishment of weight (to act justly in matters of trade), and establishment of face (to pay attention to noble ideas). In general, the word “eghameh” or establishment is used for all occasions where one endeavors towards the founding of something or a matter that is to be taken seriously. As an example, Abraham builds the Kabeh - the sacred house in Mecca - so that people establish “turning towards God” (and not turning towards their egos). The Qur’an quotes him as saying: “.. O God, (I am building this place) so that people can establish Salat” and after that, he asks God: “O God! Make me an my children among those who establish prayers (those who turn towards God).” (14,40)

Now that we have seen that the root of the word “Salat” - prayer- is turning towards or facing, we can say that there can be two directions in facing: direction from down upwards, and from up downwards. The direction from down upwards is our prayers and supplications that are man’s transcendence towards the Divine. The direction from up downwards, however, is God’s attention and compassion towards man. In this sense, we can say that God also involves himself in “Salat”, He also turns towards us, shows His face to us, and resonates with our hearts. God is like a beloved who, by looking at the lover, rekindles the fire of love in the lover’s heart. But this love, unlike worldly loves, moves us out of the darkness of ego-centrism and towards the divine light. For example, consider the following verse from the Qur’an:
“He is the one who pays attention to you (Salat)-and His angles too-so as to bring you out of the darkness and towards the light. And God is kind towards the believers” (33,43).

However, in addition to these two directions, the constant flow from up to down and the occasional flow from down to up, there is a third case too. This third case is the flow from the two sides towards a third person in between. This may sound strange, but this is exactly what God has mentioned in the Qur’an: “Certainly God and His angels pay attention (Salat) to the Prophet, O you who believe, you too pay attention to him and obey him completely” (33,56). This is the famous verse that the Muslims usually read after they hear the name of the Prophet. The mechanism through which God and His angles pay attention to the Prophet is God’s compassion and mercy towards the Prophet. On the other hand, the believers pay attention to the Prophet by holding him as their model and following his tradition. We can simplify this matter in the form of an example. If we think of creation as a school with God as principle, the angles as teachers, and the Prophet as the best student, the other students are told that the best student has the approval of the principle and the teachers, so they are asked to also be like this best student and follow his example. In other words, when the creator of this world has chosen a human being as model and has purified him, it is well suited for others to follow the example of this model and try to learn from him. However, because of the ignorance regarding the meaning of this verse, usually when people hear the Prophet’s name they just repeat it by saying: “O God, send your greetings to the Prophet and his family!” They don’t realize that they are asking God to do something that He is already doing. The meaning of this verse is not to repeat a phrase, but to follow the Prophet’s example in action.

Finally, the fourth meaning of “Salat” is the facing of someone in the middle (i.e., the Prophet) towards what is above him (God) or below him (the People). The Prophet’s paying attention to God is obvious from his long prayers, but his paying attention to the believers is also mentioned in the Qur’an, where his attention to the believers is mixed with compassion and encouragement: “Take from their properties a certain portion, by which you cleanse them, and pay attention to them (Salat), because your attention to them is a cause for their serenity. And God is all Hearing, all Knowing” (9,103)

From the above discussion it follows that the word “Salat”, as well as other related words with the same root, all show some kind of paying attention, consideration, and reflection towards something, an attention and consideration that need to be “established” and “raised”. Thus establishment of prayer or highlights an important dimension, i.e., taking our relationship with God seriously. However, this is not the only dimension regarding prayers. There are other dimensions that need to be discussed.

1.2. Moses and the Mission of Prayer

We know that for every action there is a reaction. If that is the case, we may ask, what is the reaction of the human heart when faced with the light of Truth? The poets have used the metaphor of a moth that circles around the candle in a dark night. But whoever is in dark and cold seeks refuge in a source of warmth and light. And while most of us have such an instinct when it comes to physical darkness and coldness, few are as sensitive and as thirsty for light when it comes to spiritual darkness.

This reminds us of the story of Moses who was lost in the desert of Sinai in a cold and dark night. He and his family could not find their way, and the darkness had covered everywhere. Such a scene is frightening for a single man, let alone for someone who has the responsibility of his wife and children. He was distressed under this responsibility, not knowing what to do or where to go. This scene is how the Qur’an, depicts the story of Moses and his journey in the desert where he sees the fire from a distance in the mountains: “Behold! Moses saw a fire in the darkness of the desert. He told his family: Wait here, may be I can bring a portion of this fire for you so that you can get warm, or else I find guidance there” (20, 7-10).
From this verse we can deduce that it was only Moses who saw this light and sensed its warmth. Now we may ask if this were a regular fire, why others didn’t see it? We can also sense that he had two goals, one was to warm his family, and the other was to find guidance. The verses that follow mention Moses being guided towards the holy place of Tuwa and his selection for a grave task. But our intention for mentioning this story is what God says when He introduces Himself to Moses and what He expects from him: “This is Me, the One and only God. Worship me then, and establish Prayers (Salat) for the sake of my remembrance.” As it can be seem, the first result of knowing God and the first reaction for a heart that shines with the divine light is to worship God, i.e., being thirsty for light and being receptive to the divine warmth. Immediately after this step comes the establishment of prayers (Salat). The former is a sign of faith, which is believing in the existence of the source of light and warmth. The latter is “Salat”, which is focusing one’s attention towards that direction and dedicating oneself to that source of Being.

If “prayers” is merely the ritual prayer with its usual formalities, does it make sense for God to set up such an amazing scene and invite Moses to that holy place only to ask him to perform some rituals? Being who he was, most likely Moses was already familiar with such formal rituals. So what is the deeper meaning of prayers to which Moses was recommended?

As was said before, the soul and real meaning of Prayers is to focus one’s attention and to direct one’s direction towards God. In a time when the Pharaoh’s name was the only focus of attention, and his orders were the only rule of the land, isn’t God’s command to Moses to establish prayers a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s authority and a mission to free the Jews from his captivity? If that is the case, then prayer has an overarching meaning, encompassing values as justice and truth. Let us consider God’s command once again: “This is Me, the One and only God. Worship me then, and establish Prayers (Salat) for the sake of my remembrance.” Establishing prayers to revive the remembrance of God has dimensions that go beyond individual worship. It also includes a great social mission that is realized only by combating the remembrance of the tyranny of the rulers, inequalities caused by the overtly rich, and deception of those who pretend to be God’s representatives. Effectively, this is a call to combat the triangle of tyranny, injustice, and hypocrisy. And it is for this reason that Moses asks God for his brother Aaron to be appointed as his assistant: “O God! Give me an assistant from my family, my brother Aaron, and give him a share in this mission, so that we remember and praise you much.” (20, 29-33) It is strange that Prayer has also played a key role in the mission of Jesus. The first point that Jesus talks about when he is in his cradle after introducing himself and his mission is: “and God has advised me to Prayers and alms as long as I am alive.” (19,31) The mentioning of the topic of Prayers right after faith and as a result of having the experience of the Divine is often repeated in the Qur’an, and the story of Moses and Jesus are just two examples. To quote the Qur’an, those who are guided: 1. Remember their Lord, and 2. As a result of that remembrance, establish Prayers.

2. Elevation of the relationship with God

2.1. Protecting the prayers

If we have a valuable item for sure we will protect it. Few people will leave their money or diamonds unattended. The same is true when it comes to social relations and connections. The more we need someone, the more we try to maintain our relations with him or her. Specifically, if we know important and powerful persons we try to get closer to them and behave in such a way that pleases them. However, it seems like we don’t feel the same need to keep up our relationship with our creator and sustainer. The concept of “Protecting the prayers” which is repeated three times in the Qur’an by mentioning the phrase “They protect their prayers” about the believers has exactly this meaning. Let us ask ourselves, why has God recommended that we care for and protect our relationship with Him? Is it that God feels lonely and is in need of relationship with His creation? Obviously this cannot be the case. Just as socializing and friendship with those who are more knowledgeable helps us increase our own knowledge, our relationship with God also teaches us and actualizes our potentials so that we also behave better towards other human beings.

As an example, let us consider verses 226-237 from the second Chapter (The Heifer) in the Qur’an. This group of long verses is about divorce and its consequences. After these verses, and apparently without any connection, the subject of Prayer is mentioned and the verses on divorce are terminated by the verse on prayer. Some of the commentators of the Qur’an have not been able to find any relationship between the topics of divorce and prayer, and therefore have concluded that the verses about prayer must have belonged to somewhere else and that those who have gathered the Qur’an must have placed them here. However, if we focus on the reasons for divorce, we realize that they typically involve arguments over material things and forgetting ethical standards of behavior. Therefore, caring for and protecting the prayers are reasons for keeping a marriage healthy. The Qur’an mentions: “Protect your prayers, especially the middle one, and stand up for God in a humble manner.”

2.2. Persistence in Prayers

Protecting the prayers is caring for our relationship with our creator. Such caring is easier in certain occasions, for example in the month of Ramadan when our hearts are ready for such a protection. But at other times the requirements of daily life and our lack of time become so demanding that we almost forget about our relationship with God. The concept of “persistence in Prayers” that the Qur’an has mentioned with regards to believers exactly points to this problem; that we have to be persistent in keeping this connection alive. This does not mean that we have to pray all the time, but it means that we need to keep the remembrance of God alive in our hearts. For example, consider the following verse: “Man is created impatient. The moment he is faced with difficulty he whines, and when faced with prosperity he becomes stingy. (Such is the situation of man,) except those who are persistent in their prayers.” (70, 23) This persistence also is beneficial for ourselves and not for God, because by connecting to a source like God we gain the capacity to tolerate and stand up to the difficulties of life. We won’t be moaning and whining when we encounter hardships, and likewise we won’t become forgetful and arrogant when we are prosperous.

2.3. Humbleness in Prayers

What happens when we are supposed to meet a very important scientific, religious, or political figure? In such instances, all our attention is focused on the person whom we are meeting and we try to behave in a manner suitable to the rank and character of the person we are meeting. Be it due to respect, fear, or greed, we will not forget whom we are meeting even for a moment. Now, how is it possible to be so considerate with respect to other human beings and their illusionary worldly rankings but be totally forgetful when we stand in prayer in front of our God? Our heads and hands move, we pay attention to everything that goes on around us, and our attention is wandering around. Isn’t it the case that when it comes to prayers, for the most part, questions regarding minor formalities are often given much more weight than matters related to the spirit and meaning of prayer? God bless the Japanese who invented mechanical prayer counters so that we don’t have to worry about the number of prayers any more! When we are in prayers and the phone rings or a guest arrives, we use all sorts of gestures to tell others what to do. And we don’t care if while we are in prayers the TV is on or others are talking loudly. When we don’t understand the meaning of our prayers what is the difference between driving and praying? In both cases are just doing something out of a habit. It is considered rude to interrupt and ongoing conversation between two people, and yet it is Ok to talk to someone who is praying! Well, it seems like God does not care! There is a story about a man who was playing with his beard when he was praying. The Prophet said that if his heart were humble, his body would become humble too.

Being humble in prayers means silence and concentrating on our dialog with God. It is a courteousness that shows itself in the body and causes our organs to become calm. In addition it fills in the heart and prevents distraction of attention. And it is for this reason that the Qur’an while talking about the ten characteristics of the believers has mentioned this characteristic first: “Indeed the believers will succeed, those who are humble in their prayers.” (23,1) Here humbleness is a result of feeling our insignificance with respect to God. As long as we are selfish and count ourselves as significant with respect to the whole of the creation we cannot understand the sense of humbleness in the prayers. And also it is for the same reason that we do not respect the Mosques. By talking about personal and worldly matters before and after the prayers we disturb the concentration of others during their prayers, and even when we are praying alone we speak so loudly that a stranger may wonder how we understand what we are saying with such a loud background of noise! Not to mention lying down in mosques and eating and drinking as if the mosque is a restaurant or place for party and not a sacred place we are attending.

2.4. Punctuality in Prayers

If we have an appointment with someone, depending on how important the matter is, being on time becomes important to us. If we are to meet a very important person we take into account unpredictable circumstances and try to be even early, but if we are meeting a regular employee or someone who works for us we don’t care that much even if we are late. According to the Qur’an, prayer is a “timed” obligation, i.e., it is to be performed in certain times: “Prayer is a timely obligation for the believers.” (4,103) Unlike fasting, which can be postponed because of travel and sickness, prayers have to be performed in certain specific times. Is it not fair to say then, that performing the noon prayers in the evening is like being late for an appointment? And isn’t performing the night prayers at the sunset a form of being too early for an appointment? The daily prayers have their names on them: morning, noon, evening, sunset, and night. If, for example, the noon and the evening prayers were meant to be performed together, what would be the point in giving them different names? Some say that the Sunnis are supposed to perform these prayers separately, but the Shiah are free! This cannot be the case, because Ali himself, the first Imam of Shiah, in a letter to the governor he had appointed for Egypt, forbids performing the prayers sooner or later than the appropriate time: “Perform the Prayers in exactly the time that is dedicated to it. Do not perform it soner than its time if you are free and don’t have anything to do, and do not postpone it if you are busy. And know that everything you do is a function of your Prayers.” (Nahjol-Balagheh, Ch. 5, Letter 27)

Some say that there are some traditions to the effect that the Prophet had been seen performing two prayers together. It should be asked then, that throughout the Prophet’s life, how many times such a thing has been seen? And if the normal way for the Prophet was to perform the prayers separately, why is it that we combine them all the time? Of course Islam is supposed to be an easy religion, and under unusual circumstances we are allowed to change the time within the prescribed limits, on the condition of such cases being the exception and not the norm. If an employee is late once in a while because of traffic or other reasons he is forgiven. But if he is always late, then he will be held responsible. The Qur’an has clarified the time for our five daily prayers. Based on these verses, Imam Ali in a directive to the mayors in various cities (who were also Imams for prayers in those times), describes the natural time of prayers when there was no clocks: “Perform the noon prayer with people until such time that the size of the shadow increases such that a goat can sleep in it (the shadow of a pole gets a bit longer from its minimum side) and perform the evening prayer when the sun is still bright and one can travel two leagues before the sunset (about two and three hours before the sunset) and perform the sunset prayers when those who fast break their fasts and the man who is performing the Hajj starts his journey to Mina (exactly at sunset), and perform the night prayers when the dusk is gone and a third of the night has passed (around two hours after sunset), and perform the morning prayers when one can see his friend’s face (almost before sunrise when it is not completely dark)” (Nahjol-balagheh, Ch. 5, Letter 52).

When we have such direct evidence both from the Qur’an and Imam Ali, how can we justify our practice? In two cases the Qur’an has reduced the quantity and the quality of the prayers, and in both cases the reason has been to allow for the prayers to be performed on time:
1. Reduction in the length of prayers (Ghasr), when there is the danger of the enemy attacking those who are performing the prayers (2,101-103)
2. Performing prayers while marching or while riding, again when there is the danger of being attacked. (2,239)
Although the battles back then were usually short and the outcome of the battle would usually become clear within few hours, and in spite of the fact that the day is long and there was the possibility of postponing the prayers, the above verses show that it is important to perform the prayers on time even in a situation like during combat, or while marching or riding. It is said that Imam Hossein in the day of Ashura performed his noon prayers and then went back to the battle and was martyred. Based on our standards, he should have performed his evening prayers together with his noon prayer before going back to the battle! It is interesting to compare this with the case of those who perform all their daily prayers at once.

2.5. Shortening the Prayers

Following the prescription of the clergy, most people break the number of parts in their prayers from four to two while traveling. Such prayers are called “Broken Prayers”. Typically, the legal limit for such travels was set at four leagues (about 24 kms), i.e., it was said that anytime someone travels further than four leagues from his home he should break his prayers. It seems like the limit of four leagues was what in old days people could typically travel in a day. Normally then, anything beyond this limit was considered “travel”. Obviously, considering the means and quality of transportation in those days, embarking on a trip for even an hour was a difficult task, and so it seems natural that in the tradition of the Prophet, permission has been given for breaking the prayers under such difficult and strenuous conditions. But today the conditions have changed. On one side, the cities have become much larger and sometimes the distance between two districts within a city is more than four leagues. On the other hand, with new means of transportation one can travel across four continents in a day while resting or sleeping in a plane. Under such conditions, is it still permissible to cut short the most crucial relationship between our creator and us without considering the philosophy behind the permission for such shortening in ancient times?

The important point is that in the Qur’an, other than during the battles, there is no mention of such shortenings. And even during the battles, the Qur’an has only permitted (and not ordered) that the believers cut their prayers short, saying that in such cases the believers have not done any sin (4,101). Those who emphasize on the permission for shortening the prayers agree that there is no such permission in the Qur’an. However, they assert that such permission is seen in the tradition of the Prophet, and there is no way that the Prophet has done something contrary to the Qur’an. Moreover, the Prophet is quoted to have said: “Whatever is mentioned as my tradition should be compared with Qur’an. Therefore, follow it if it agreed with, and leave it if there is a contradiction.” How can we solve this apparent contradiction? It seems that we can solve this contradiction by considering the nature of the prophet’s travels. While it is true that before his prophetic mission he had some trade trips to Syria, all his trips after his mission had been under the fear of attacks from the enemies. As a result, his manner of shortening the prayers does not contradict the verses of the Qur’an. At any rate, in stead of making judgments based on prejudice, or historical narrations, it is better to directly think about the Qur’anic verses which allow for a reduction either in quantity (length) or quality of prayers.

A. Reducing the length of Prayers

 The Qur’an explicitly declares that during military trips when there is a danger of being attacked by the enemy, it is permitted (but not required!) to shorten the prayers (4,101-103). Then it goes into explaining the practical form of such a prayer that was being performed with the Prophet as the Imam: “Whenever you are among them and want to lead the prayers for them, a group of them should stand in prayer with you while keeping their arms with them, and when they are done with the prostration, they should stand in guard for you, and another group who have not yet performed their prayers should stand in prayer with you, and they should keep their arms ready, because the unbelievers wish that you become relaxed and forget your protection so that they can attack you suddenly. And if you are troubled by rain or by sickness, you can leave your arms, but remain cautious. Indeed God has prepared an awful suffering for the unbelievers. And when you are done with your prayers, remember God in all conditions, be it standing, sitting, or when you are lying down on your sides. And when you are calm again (and the danger of enemy is not present anymore) perform your prayers (as usual), because Prayers are a timely form of worship for those who believe.”

Although these verses explicitly talk about the form of prayers during war conditions, in no Muslim country in modern times the soldiers perform their prayers like that during the battles. Why is that? Is it not because they have realized that the form of battles have changed in our time? No longer are the two sides within a few feet of each other, nor are there swords or shields used as arms anymore. Today, the wars are being fought by pressing buttons and from long distances, and the reasonable way of obeying the these commands is to follow their spirit, i.e., to be cautious and aware of the enemy and not to be surprised by the enemy’s attack. It is worthwhile to ask the question then, that while we change the form of an explicit Qur’anic command and only follow its spirit, why is it that in similar situations, including the shortening of prayers for travelers, some people continue to rigidly stick to the form? The main message of the above verses is, in addition to being cautious and prepared for the movements of the enemy, to perform the prayers on time under all conditions, even during the battle time (of course by following the security measures as mentioned).

B. Reducing the quality of the Prayers

It is not just the length of the prayers that changes during the battle; its form can also be subject to change. Changes in form may include details such as the direction towards which prayers are commonly performed, as well as the details of the actions one is supposed to perform as part of his prayers. For example, when there is a real danger present, it is permissible to perform the prayers while in riding or while in move. Obviously in such situations the prayer can no longer be performed in its normal and usual form. In fact, based on some historic narrations (Nor-Al-Thaghalein, Book 1, p239, Tradition 949) during the battle of Ahzab, the Prophet performed his prayers only by gestures and signs. It is also related that Imam Ali in some battles has performed the prayers by only saying certain words such as “There is no god but God” . It is also related from some Imams that in some conditions such as when one is afraid of wild animals it is permissible to change the form of the prayers. (Vasael Al-Shiah, Book 5, p 483, Ch 3, Tradition 3). Based on these traditions, and considering the dynamic nature of jurisprudence, is it not possible to expand the domain of such edicts so as to include some of today’s practical situations?

It is well suited now to read the Verses 238 and 239 from the second Chapter in the Qur’an, The Heifer. These verses include such an edict: “Protect all your prayers, especially the middle one, and stand up for God in a humble manner. And if for some reason (war or other dangers) you get scared, perform the prayers while you are on your foot or while you are riding, but when you are again in a secure state (perform the prayers with the usual form and) remember God just as he thought you things you did not know”. We can see again here that the priority is to perform the prayers on time even if we have to change its shape or reduce its length. This is while all the emphasis form religious teachers and clergy is on the form of the prayers and the rituals associated with it and not its content or its time. However, as we saw from Qur’anic verses, in situations such as battle, one does not need to do the prostration with his body, but with his soul and heart.

2.6. The Four Pillars: Prayer, Time, Nature, and Ritual

At first glance these subjects may seem irrelevant, but with some patience and attention it becomes clear that there are important relationships between these concepts. Of course, for us humans who are prisoners of time, nature, and history these words seem quite irrelevant. We are used to focusing on details and to look at the natural world and historical trends as totally unrelated entities. We think nature and religious rituals are quite distinct and each has its own rules. We don’t value the past because it is gone, and we don’t take into account and prepare for the future because it has not happened yet. We live in present and likewise we look at space as limited. However, is this also the case for God, who is the creator of nature, time, space, and the originator of the religion? Would it be likely that as the creator and originator of all these entities, God has not ordained any harmony and relationship between them?

The truth is that if we look at the world with a different eye we will see a close relationship between all these concepts. For example, if we look at the verses in the Qur’an that determine the timing of the daily prayers, we will see how these timings are related to and harmonized with the significant moments in the evolution of day and night: “Establish the prayers from the moment the sun starts its return (from its highest position is sky, i.e, noon) until complete darkness (when it is totally dark), and also at dawn (the boundary between night and day) since the dawn prayer gives your heart more concentration. Also, stay up a portion of night for worship and prayers.. “ (17,78)

The first question is why the number of daily prayers is set at five, not more, and not less? The other question is why their timing is synchronized with natural cycles in day and night, and not, for example, with when we go to sleep or wake up, or eat, or perhaps when we are not tired and have energy? It seems that the mere consciousness of the cyclic nature of day and night, and the fact that at times the sun is at its highest point and the world is filled with light while at other times it is absolute darkness, and the fact that the dark night soon comes to an end and the curtain of darkness is pushed aside by the beginning of a new day, all include hints and points of guidance which we may become aware of if we synchronize our prayers with the cycles of nature. This message becomes clear from the two verses that follow, which show that we also, during our daily or lifelong activities, enter and exit different phases (school, university, job, marriage, etc.) and all these matters are in fact cycles, and that we should hope that we get through these cycles truthfully and blessed. Moreover, these verses convey the message that falsehood and truth, like night and day, have a cyclic nature. When there is no light of truth the darkness of tyranny encompasses the world, and when the light comes, the darkness naturally goes away because it is the light that really exists, whereas darkness is not essential and is nothing but the lack of light. Let us look at the two verses that follow immediately after the verses that mention the time of the prayers. Both of these verses teach these views by starting with the command of “say”: “And say: My Lord! Let me start all my deeds with sincerity, and let me finish all my deeds with sincerity, and support me with your guidance. And say: Truth has come, and falsehood is gone. Indeed, falsehood is short-lived.”(17,79-80)

Hopefully, with this clarification the relationship between prayers, time, and nature has become clearer. The language of nature is in fact its message, so that we see the changes that take place in nature and learn lessons from it; the lesson that if we are not vigilant in protecting the truth and justice, the darkness of tyranny and injustice may replace them. On the other hand, we should not lose hope if we are in the darkness of injustice, as sooner or later the night ends and is replaced by the light of day. When our prayers are harmonized with natural daily cycles we start to free ourselves from the prisons of injustice while at the same time we won’t be relaxed and un-protective with regards to our freedoms and taking them for granted.

Now one may consider such interpretations as political and count them as idealistic illusions. However, the truth is that the Qur’an has talked about such relationships in many occasions. As an example, in the Surah Fajr, Qur’an explicitly relates the cycles of day and night to historical events, calling them a sign of the fact that if we live in the time of Pharaohs we should not give in to despair and be intimidated by the pyramids or the symbols of their tyrannical power: “By dawn, and By the Ten Nights (the ten nights of the beginning of the lunar month where it is completely dark). By Even and Odd (additions and subtractions or in general contrasts in life). By night, when it is about to end (the last moments of darkness). Is there a sign in these (evolutions) for those who think? Did you not see what your Lord did with the people of Ad? And with the city of Iram, (their capital city) which had (splendid mansions and) lofty columns? And with the people of Thmoud, who had cut their homes in the valley out of rocks? And with the Pharaoh, with his huge pyramids? All those who rebelled (against the truth) and exceeded in their corruption. Your Lord finally gave them the torment of his punishment, indeed your Lord is watching over.” (89,1-14)

2.7. Swearing by "Time"

For us, day and night are nothing but the states of light and darkness. But in the language of Qur’an, neither night nor day are not flat time periods. Instead, they are such crucial phenomena that God has sworn by them on numerous occasions. In fact, the number of times that different moments in the night or day have been the subject of swears exceeds any other phenomena. Consider the following examples;

By dusk, and by night and what it covers. And by moon, when its illumination is completely full (84,16-18)
By night when it covers, and by day when it illuminates (91,1-2)
By night, when it is easing up, and by morning, when it comes out (81,17)
By night, when it is about to leave, and By morning, when it shows up its face (74,33-34)
By sun’s light, and by night, when it covers everything (93,1-2)
By the Lord of the Easts and the Wests (70,40)
By dawn, and By the Ten Nights, and by the Odd and Even. By night, when it is about to end. (89,1-4)
By time (the time in general, or the evening time in a day). (103,1)

These are but a few examples of oaths taken in the name of day and night. Moreover, apart from these cases, there are numerous other hints at the phenomena of day and night. God has been called the Lord of the mornings (as in when the morning tears down the night). At times day and night have been called signs of God, and the evolutions between them lessons for those who can see and think: “God converts day into night and night into day, and in this there are lessons for those who can see” (24,44) Is it not the case that performing our prayers in time makes us familiar with such lessons?

2.8. The Share of Prayers in Daily Activities

When it comes to our energy and resourcefulness, different times of the day are not the same. Usually we are fresh and full of energy in the mornings, and then after work and other activities we get tired and need rest, otherwise we start to lose our efficiency. As a result, usually we start with matters that we are more interested in, so that we can spend the best part of our day on them, and give them priority over things we are not very much concerned with. Have we ever thought which parts of our time do we dedicate to our relationship with God? Do we use the best of out time for this relationship, or do we leave the dead times for it? Are we enthusiastic in this relationship or do we wait until we are done with all other matters?
One of the valuable points that Imam Ali mentions in his letter to his appointed governor of Egypt, Malik Ashtar, is about dividing the times of the day between prayers and other matters. For sure, for someone like Malik who had to govern a huge and sophisticated country such as Egypt finding time for prayers must have been a challenge, similar to our situation in today’s sophisticated lifestyles in industrial societies. Let us consider how Imam Ali instructs him regarding this issue: “Dedicate your best share of time for matters that are between you and your God, and if you do so and be sincere and in the service of people, your other deeds will also become a form of worship. It is well suited that you purify your intention in deeds that you perform solely for God. Set aside a portion of your days and nights during which spend from your body for the sake of God (spend your energy and make effort) and complete those deeds that draw you near your God in impeccable manner, even if it means that your body would become tired and exhausted.”

In a discussion about prayers, someone once told me that he performed his prayers whenever he was in a good and relaxed mood. Knowing he was interred in Yoga, I replied by asking him if he practiced Yoga whenever he was relaxed, or he practiced yoga to get relaxed? He asked why should we perform prayers five times a day? I replied by asking why do we eat three times a day? He asked even if we don’t have any motive? To which I replied as long as you are full, you don’t seek food, and when you are hungry, you don’t ask about time!

The other point we need to ask ourselves is whether we go towards prayers immediately after hard and intensive works or do we wait a few minutes until our minds slow down and we can relax and get ready for our prayers. It seems like one of the reasons for requiring the ritual of ablutions as a precursor to prayers is, in addition to cleanliness, a refreshment for the soul and a chance to unwind and get ready for the prayers itself. At any rate and like all other things, there are some preparations necessary prior to prayers. Before talking to the beloved, we must get ready for it. When we are not in a calm state of mind we act hastily as if someone is chasing us, we want to get over the prayers as fast as we can! We don’t spend more than a second in prostration, cut down on our words, and shorten our prayers in any ways we can think of. To quote Imam Ali, we “decapitate” our prayers, and make it like the lion in Rumi’s story which didn’t have a tail or belly.

2.9. Congregational Prayers

When we were discussing the times of prayers, we pointed out to a verse that discusses how the prayers are performed during a battle. In such a situation, it is permissible that believers reduce the length of their prayers while they are standing behind the Prophet in prayers and carry their arms. This question then comes to mind: why should everybody stand in prayers at once and together? Why should not each individual perform his prayer on his own and in a time when suits him? Then the danger will also be reduced to them as a group. If we accept that God’s wisdom is not less than ours, we should come to the conclusion that there must be a philosophy behind performing prayers in Group.

All the pronoun we use in the prayers are plural, they refer to “us” not “I”, as if we perform a group choir as we worship our Lord: “We follow only You, show us the right path.” Why have we transferred this group exercise into an individual matter, like many other things in life? Even in Christianity where faith is considered something personal Christians gather on Sundays and worship in groups, why should then we, Muslims, instead of performing our prayers in Mosques, perform them alone in our homes?

2.10. Diversification in Prayers

We are told to read two Surah’s in each of the first two “Rokat”1 of our prayer: The first one is the first Surah of Qur’an, “Hamd”, which should always be read and is in fact a summary of the whole Qur’an. But the second Surah that we should read is not set and we can choose any Surah we want. However, almost always for this second part people chose the Surah “Ekhlas”, which is very short. Moreover, since they have repeated it numerous times, they don’t pay attention to its meaning, and they almost read it unconsciously, like when we are driving and don’t pay attention to the individual acts that we do as a driver. Consequently, they always complain that in prayers they cannot focus their attention and they think about every matter expect their prayers. However, it is worthwhile to try changing the Surah, and for example, choose from among the other short Surah’s towards the end of the Qur’an, or read certain sections from longer Surah’s. And even if we don’t remember the parts that we want to read by memory, we can use a copy of the Qur’an and keep it in our hand or put it on a table. Once we do this, we will see that our prayers find a new spirit and we can focus our attention much better.

3. Potential Problems with Prayers

So far we have discussed certain suggestions for improving the quality of our prayers. If these can be called positive recommendations, in this section we shall discuss negative recommendations, in other words, things that we should avoid in our prayers.

3.1. Wasting the Prayers

During life, human beings have a choice. They can either align their life towards God, who is the source of all values and all that is good, or they can follow the direction of their own desires and whims. In Qur’anic terminology, aligning the life in the direction of God is called “Salat”, while the opposite path is called the path of ego and desire. Desires are not limited to sexual matters; anything that our egos crave is also part of desires. What is meant by “wasting of the prayers”? It does not mean not performing prayers at all. It rather means squandering or rendering it useless and ineffective. When we say someone has wasted his money we mean he has not used it wisely and effectively, not that he has left it all together.

The truth is that most of the people in the world more or less follow a religion and adhere to the principles of their religion. As for Muslims, a high percentage of them perform their prayers. But why is that in Islamic societies the prayers are not effective and do not make any positive change in the life of the society? Isn’t it because we have forgotten the heart of the prayers¬ (which is facing the direction of our lives towards God) and have “wasted” our prayers by limiting them in some formalistic rituals? The most important relationship that an individual can create in his life is the relationship with God. All other relationships, unless aligned with this relationship, can have negative or dangerous consequences. Therefore, is there a loss greater than when someone damages his relationship with his Lord? Wasting something means not using it properly, like having a capital but not investing it properly and letting it lose its value. And what capital is more valuable than our relationship with our Lord? In the Surah of Maryam, God talks about a number of prophets who all obtained high grades in getting close to God by means if prayers. Then, after telling their stories, the Qur’an admonishes the people who came after them and did not pay attention to prayers: “Those who came after them did not attend to their prayers and followed their own desires. And soon they will face the consequences of their sins.” (19,59)

3.2. Boredom in Prayers

Why is it that some of us yawn when we are in prayers? Does anyone yawn while involved in something out of love, passion, and interest? What is the problem in our prayers that we feel bored and tired when we get to prayers? Do we also get bored in other matters that we do out of habit? The term “boredom” has been used twice in the Qur’an and in both cases it is used in relation to the hypocrites:

“And when they stand in prayers they are in a state of boredom and (in fact) they just want to show off” (4,142)
“And they do not stand in prayers unless they are in a state of boredom” (9,54)

Hypocrisy involves difference between faith and action, between what we say and what we do. What a bad sign it is for someone to have his prayers be a sign of his hypocrisy.

3.3. Neglectfulness in Prayers

The most sever admonishment in Qur’an with regards to those who perform their prayers out of hypocrisy is in the Surah 107: “Vow to those who perform prayers, (but) they are neglectful and sloppy in their prayers, those who are hypocrites, those who prevent the distribution of wealth among people” (107,4-7)
What is the condition of being neglectful in one’s prayers that has made it the subject of such a sever admonishment? Linguists say that “neglectfulness” or “sloppiness” are involuntary mistakes as opposed to mistakes that we make intentionally. It appears that one cannot be held responsible for those mistakes that one makes out of forgetfulness and not willingly. However, being sloppy and neglectful in matters related to our eternal life cannot be condoned. In general negligence is with regards to those things that are not important, but can we be negligent with regards to the most important matter in our life, that is, our relationship with our Lord?

The interesting point in this verse is that God’s admonishment to those who are negligent and sloppy in their prayers is not because He gets offended by their being sloppy towards Him. God is not in need of us or our prayers. On the contrary, the reason for admonishment is ourselves, because if we become negligent in our relationship with God we lose our direction and become ego-centered. Consequently, we do not care for orphans or the problem of hunger and in general, do not care about just distribution of means and opportunities of life. And this is in fact the whole message of this Surah.

3.4. Understanding Prayers

Qur’an mentions explicitly: “O those who believe, do not approach prayers while you are drunk, until you understand what you say.” (4,43) Someone who is drunk is not aware of what he is saying, and therefore should wait until he is sober and then perform his prayers because then he understands what he is saying. Based on this, can we ask a more general question about the case of those who do not understand the meaning of what they say in the prayers? What is the difference between someone who is drunk and does not understand what he is saying and someone who is not drunk but just says things he has memorized without knowing their meaning? What good it is to say the prayers in Arabic, and not in Russian or Chinese, while we don’t understand the meaning of what we say? Is it something magical in the Arabic language that changes our souls or it is the meaning of what we say that is important and matters?

3.5. Sincerity in Prayers

A different kind of prayers is one that is performed out of love and sincerity, and not out of reluctance and without enthusiasm. In such a prayer the main motive is love and longing for the beloved. There is a story Rumi’s Masnavi that depicts this kind of longing. The story is of a man who arrives at the Mosque late and finds out that the congregational prayers are over and the Prophet and the faithful are about to leave the mosque whereupon he sighs from the bottom of his heart:

He sighed from his heart and got out of the Mosque
His sigh was so sincere that it smelled like smoke and blood
Another man told him: Let us exchange!
I give you my prayers, and you give me this sincere sigh of yours
He agreed and took his prayers
And gave his sigh to other man, who received it dearly

That night the man saw in his dream that to honor his attendance in the Mosque, God has accepted the prayers of all those who were in the mosque. In fact, he had attended and performed the payer with all his heart, whereas those who were physically present in the mosque had their hearts scattered and focused on other things.

The same theme is repeated in the Surah Jomoah, where criticism is directed to those who perform prayers behind the prophet but as soon as they hear the sound of music and performance from a trade caravan that has just arrived, they leave the Prophet alone and rush towards the market. It has been narrated in Nahjol-balagheh that after the battle of Jamal, and the victory of Imam Ali over the enemies, one of Imam’s followers who was really excited about the victory told the Imam: “I hope a certain brother of mine were also present hear and see your victory!” Ali asked him: “Is your brother’s heart with us?” The man replied yes. To which Ali replied: “Then he was present with us. Not only him, but all those believers who are not born yet and will come to exist in future times were also present and witness to this scene.” These two traditions show the relativity of space and time compared to what goes on in the heart, although we are much more stuck in formal traditions and rituals. One should simultaneously live in past, present, and future!

4. Ritual Elements of Prayer

4.1. Bowing Down and Prostration

Have we ever thought about the meaning of bowing down and prostration that we perform in our prayers? When we bend down or put on our forehead on the ground are we repeating what the slaves used to do in front of their masters out of fear or greed? Why God who is not in need of anything has asked us to do these actions in our prayers? What are the symbolisms and meanings in these actions? Of course if we carry out these actions automatically and mechanically we can consider them physical exercise, but what about prayers? Those who want to attain peace and calm practice yoga or T.M. and sit quietly while concentrating and meditating. Why our worship then involves movement and motion? Not only prayers, but also Hajj is full of motion. God has ordered Abraham: “Sanctify my home for those who compass it round, or those who stand, or bow down, or prostrate (in worship).” (22,26) Circumambulation is a movement around an axis. Standing, bowing down, and prostration all involve actions and movements and have their meanings.

Most people only pay attention to the form of prayers and not it’s meaning, and so they perform these actions mechanically. Very few know the meaning of what they say and fewer know the meaning of what they do during the prayers. Likewise, most of the differences and arguments are about details related to the form of the prayers, like how one should stand during the prayers or on what material one should put his forehead while prostrating. There is a narration from Aisha, the wife of the prophet. It has been narrated that one day she criticized the Prophet for performing his prayers without paying too much attention to the location of his prayers. She told him that the location of his prostration may not be clean because there have been children playing there. Rumi has mentioned this tradition in his poems, showing that beyond these formal ritualistic details there lie many deeper levels of meaning:

The prophet replied that for the sake of His friends,
The Lord cleansed the impurities
For this reason, the Lord also cleansed the location of my prostration
From this earth, all the way up to the seventh heaven
Be aware! Give up jealousy while you are with the kings
Otherwise you yourself will become a Satan in this world

And finally towards the end of the poem, Rumi reminds us of the story of the “The Army of Elephant” in the Qur’an pointing out to the purpose of the story, which shows the defeat of that army in spite of its apparent might. He then concludes that one should surpass the surface and pay attention to the spirit beyond the surface:

If you tend to become meticulous, stuck in details of the surface
Then read the story of the “Army of Elephants”

If we pay attention, we find that some things are obvious and trite only because we do not pay attention to them. For example, why is that during bowing down in prayers we say “Glory to my Lord, He is Great, worthy of worship” and then during prostration, we say “Glory to God, He is the Highest, worthy of worship”? What is the relationship between these two attributes, Great (Azim) and Highest (A’ala), and the acts of bowing down and prostration? The great late commentator of Qur’an, Taleghani, explains these relationships delicately as such: “After the mind of the person who is standing in prayers, by saying the phrase “there is no god but God”, and by reading the Surah of Hamd (which is the summary of Qur’an), empties from everything but God, it becomes conscious of the greatness of God and that there is nothing similar to Him. As a result, he bows down in the presence of the Lord, conscious of his own insignificance compared to God’s glory and majesty, giving up half of the world and all there is in it. At this point the tongue comes in praise by saying: “Glory to my Lord, He is Great, worthy of worship.” Next, he goes to prostration, and if only for a moment, neglects everything but God. At that moment he experiences a state of annihilation with respect to God’s majesty. This state then manifests itself in this praise “Glory to God, He is the Highest, worthy of worship”.

Rumi also discusses the concept of prostration in his story about the thirsty man who was sitting on the top of a wall and was throwing pebbles in a water stream running under the wall. The thirsty man cannot reach the water because the wall is high and he cannot jump down from it. But by taking off pebbles from the wall and throwing the pieces in the water he makes the water sound. Listening to this sound is precious for him because it is a relationship he creates between himself and the water. But there is also another purpose in his act, every time he throws a piece of the wall in the water the wall itself loses its height, therefore, by his action he is lowering the barrier between himself and the water, until eventually he can reach it. Rumi compares this action with prostration:

By throwing a piece of the wall in the water
The high wall becomes smaller each time
And that allows the thirsty man to come closer to the water
Likewise, this wall for us is our tall necks and heads
As long as we stand tall with arrogance
We cannot approach the water
One cannot prostrate towards the water of eternal life
Unless one can escape the body and its worldly demands

So for Rumi prostration is a form of freeing the self from the demands of the body (which is a symbol of worldly desires) and getting close to the Divine. To the extent that we get closer to God, our prostration is more effective. These comments show that there are deeper meanings in prostration.

There are traditions to the effect that when the verse “Glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great” was revealed, the Prophet ordered it to be recited while bowing down in prayers. And when the verse “Glorify the name of your Lord, the Highest” was revealed, the Prophet ordered it to be recited during the prostration part of the prayers. We know that the former verse is in Surah “Vagheh” (Surah 56) and the latter verse is in Surah “A’ala” (Surah 87). Now we can ask what is the relationship and difference between the concepts discussed in these two Surah’s, and between the two attributes of Great (Azim) and Highest (A’ala). For if there were no difference between them, we could simply swap them!

Both Surah’s include magnificent verses about the universe but there is a difference between the approach taken in each of them. Contemplation in the difference between these two approaches can be clarifying. With more attention we find out that in the Surah “Vagheh” which includes the verse read while bowing down in prayers the majesty of God’s signs are discussed form a quantitative perspective while in Surah “A’ala” God’s signs are discussed form a qualitative perspective. The quantitative greatness of God is illustrated by bringing to our attention the vastness of the universe and the qualitative greatness of God is exemplified in the creation of man from an insignificant embryo.

We should now consider the contents of these two Surah’s in more detail. As mentioned before, the verse that is read while bowing down was revealed in Surah “Vagheah” in the form of a command directed to the Prophet: “Glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great”. Verses 57-73 in this Surah explain the signs of God in four contexts: The embryo (genetics), the plants, the phenomenon of precipitation and rain, and the energy of fire. One may summarize these signs under the simple elements of wind, water, fire, and earth.
After talking about these signs within the horizon of nature, this verse follows: “Glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great.” In other words, we are asked to contemplate in the creation and its wonders and consequently to glorify these as signs of God. After this, it goes on by drawing our attention to the universe, the stars, and the galaxies, and by swearing to such magnificent signs, we are told that if we had real knowledge we would know how great these signs are: “And I swear by the setting of the stars, and this is a great adjuration, if you really knew.” (56,75-76) However, the verse that we read during the prostration can only be found as the first verse in the Surah “A’ala”: “Glorify the name of your Lord, the Highest. The One who created and then organized. And then established designs and provided guidance.” (87,1-3) As we can see, God’s supremacy is emphasized here in the act of creation, a creation which includes organization, design, and guidance so much so that all things find their proper positions and roles in the whole system.

Therefore, the wise worshipper glorifies the Lord in two ways: In his bowing down he comes to glorify God from a quantitative perspective by contemplating in the vastness of universe. In prostration, however, he comes to glorify God by contemplating in the supreme quality, beauty, and perfection of creation. The former is glorification in quantity, the latter in quality. To give an example, we may appreciate a building from the point of view of its vastness or the number and size of its rooms. On the other hand, we may appreciate the building from the point of view of its design, its architectural beauty, or its colors and proportions. In both cases we admire the architect, but once from a quantitative perspective and the other time from a qualitative perspective.

4.2. Levels of Glorification

The Late commentator Taleghani in his commentary on the Surah of A’ala has established four levels of glorification: 1. A general glorification common to all beings resulting from their nature and the energy that is flowing through them, 2. Glorification through praise. This level is a result of consciousness of attributes such as beauty, perfection, compassion, and benevolence. 3. Glorification through the praise of Lord. In this level conscious praise is directed towards the Lord who is the source of all good attributes.
4. Glorification through the praise of Lord and recognition of His greatness and supremacy. This is the most advanced level of praise, and in this level praise recognizes not only the Lord as the source of all that is good, but also the Lord’s greatness and supremacy and the nothingness of everything besides Him.

It appears that in order to understand these levels first we need to be familiar with the meaning of glorification (Tasbih) and Praise (Hamd). In the verses that we read during bowing down and prostration we praise and glorify God as the Lord of universe and by his attributes of greatness and supremacy. The four terms of Lord (Rabb), Glorification (Tasbih), Name (Esm), Greatness (Azim or A’ala) are mentioned in the verses, but the word Praise (Hamd) has not been used in these particular verses.
“Glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great” (56, 74 and 96)
“Glorify the name of your Lord, the Highest” (87,1)
What is the more in-depth meaning of these terms, and what is the purpose in repeating these terms in our prayers?

In the Arabic language Glorification (Tasbih) comes from the root “SBH” which means floating, organized movement, or moving on a pre-determined path or orbit. When the Qur’an talks about the glorification performed by all the creation we feel a sense of energy and movement in all the particles in universe which drives them towards a goal and a purpose. To illustrate this concept, we can think of a great factory that consists of numerous employees, engineers, and technicians who, in spite of having diverse specialties, all work towards a single goal of producing some specific product with best possible quality. In such a factory the system is designed so meticulously that every employee has a crucial job such that the absence of any employee has an adverse influence on the performance of the system. One can say, therefore, that each employee in such a factory has a specific and crucial responsibility in the complex system of production that results in the final product. Glorification has the same meaning. The universe is also a complex factory in which all the creatures are given a crucial role to play by their creator, a role that is in the service of the whole system. With this explanation, glorification of the Lord is the recognition of this synergy and coordination with this current whose source is the Lord of the universe. When in our prayers we worship God as our Lord, not only we recognize Him as the creator and God of the whole universe, but also as our Lord, the One who leads, nourishes, and guides us. And by asserting God as our Lord we continually warn ourselves against following the numerous false worldly leaders.

Now let us consider the meaning of Praise, or “Hamd” in Arabic, which is the other part of what we say in the verses we use in our prayers. To go back to our example of factory, one may work in such a factory and fulfill his duties completely and yet, his diligent work is not based on enthusiasm, but a result of the social or economic pressures such as need for having a job etc. In this example, such an employee fulfills his duty of “glorification”, but he does not have any “praise” towards the factory or the manager. The meaning of “praise” includes a sense of admiration and content towards the environment and the system, it means working out of love and passion, and not out of pressure. This also is the meaning of praise when it comes to the universe and its creator.

Next let us reflect upon the meaning of Name, or “esm” in Arabic. Typically when we talk about a name we think of a mere agreement on the meaning of a sign and do not give it any independent weight. For example if in English we say “wall”, “tree”, or “sea”, we do not think that any of these words have an independent and objective content beyond the meaning that we agree to associate with them in the English language. Therefore, someone who is not familiar with the English language has no way of understanding the meaning of these words unless he is already familiar with them. But in the Arabic language name is more than just a word, it describes the quality of an object. Grammatically for example, a name has the function of an adjective. For example the Qur’an never talks bout the “attributes” of God, even the term attribute (“Sefat” in Arabic) has never been used in Qur’an. In stead, Qur’an talks about God’s names, such as Compassionate, Merciful, All knowing, Forgiver etc., names that play the role of adjectives, as we normally understand the term.

In Qur’an in the story of the creation of man, God teaches man the “names”. Here again “name” does not mean a mere arbitrary vocabulary as one may find in a dictionary but rather points towards the essence and function of things. Likewise when God gives the good news of the birth of John (the Baptist) to Zakaria, He tells him: “ We have not put this name on anyone before him”. Here God did not mean to be innovative and just come up with a new name. John, or “Yahya” in Arabic, comes from the root “Hay” which means life. Therefore, the point was that this child would in future revive the values that were forgotten and bring the gift of spiritual life to humanity. The same holds with names like Maryam, Masih (the anointed one), and Issa (Jesus). When Jesus foretells the coming of a prophet after him with the name “Ahmad” he is talking about the coming of someone with a great ethical character.

Reflection on the meaning of “name” can give us a clue about the concept of “glorification of the name”. There are numerous good names for God, which of them do we glorify? Do we glorify God as “Allah”, or “Rahman” (compassionate), ..? Each of God’s names emphasizes a particular attribute. But among these names it is only the name “Rabb” or Lord, that has the connotation of leadership, organizer, designer, and manager of the matters. Thus, in our prayers we glorify God with his name as Lord, as the real designer and leader of the universe. The main argument between Moses and the Pharaoh, or between Abraham and Nimroud, was about the question of “Rabb”, or Lord. Throughout the history the masses have taken the kings and the tyrants as their lord, being afraid of them and having hope in them. But the Qur’an emphasizes that the only true lord is God Himself, and it is only by throwing away all the false lords that man can move from the darkness towards light.

4.3. Contemplation on the meaning of bowing down

The Arabic term “roku’e” is normally associated with the act of bowing down that Muslims do while in their prayers. However, this term, along with the term “Sojoud” (prostration) play such an important role in the Qur’anic world that it is well worth to dedicate some more time on them. The original meaning of these terms is to declare humility and humbleness with respect to a person or a thing, like when we take our hat off or in Japanese culture when people bend towards each other as a sign of respect. The act of bowing down in our prayers is called “roku’e” because of this reason, because we are showing our humility in front of our creator. But as we said, and contrary to popular assumption, the term “roku’e” itself does not mean bowing down. This assumption has resulted in the misunderstanding of several Qur’anic verses. For example, God commends Mary as such: “O Maryam! Be humble towards your Lord (ghonut), and perform “roku’e” and “Sojoud” along with others.” (3,43) As mentioned earlier, the typical meaning of “roku’e” and “sojoud” is associated with the ritual acts we Muslims perform in our prayers. Moreover, in the time of Mary there were no congregational prayers in the form we Muslims have, and even if there were any such group prayers, it is unlikely that men and women mixed in such rituals. Therefore, we need to understand these terms in their primary literal meaning, not the secondary meaning that these terms have come to get associated with.

The term “ghonut” in its primary meaning is continuation of obedience and submission. In our daily prayers, we perform “ghonut” by raising our hands in front of us as a sign of worship and need towards God. The term “roku’e” also primarily means showing the ultimate level of submission towards God and “sojoud” means showing the utmost level of service towards God. An example can be found in the Qur’an where mention has been made of those who pay alms while they are in a state of “roku’e”: “Those who establish prayers, and pay alms, while they are in a state of submission (roku’e).”(5,55) Most Shiah commentators have considered this verse to be about Imam Ali, and the story of giving his ring to a beggar while he was bowing down in his prayers. Although there is no doubt about Imam Ali’s rank in giving alms and his involvement in all kinds of charity, this verse has used a plural and not a singular pronoun: those who establish prayers. Moreover, it has been narrated that Imam Ali used to be so much immersed in his prayers that he would become totally unaware of his surroundings, to the level that an arrow was pulled from his leg without him taking notice. If that were the case, how could he notice a beggar going around in the mosque? Moreover, no one in his sound mind would start begging in a mosque while congregational prayers are going on. The reasonable thing is to wait until the prayer is over and then start begging. The next problem is that if someone is asking for money during the prayers, he will wait for the prayer to be over, because it is not reasonable for those who are praying to initiate an extra act during the prayers. The other problem with this story is that it is usually held that this ring was a very valuable piece, in which case, this question needs to be addressed: how could Imam Ali who was so strict in his justice give away a very expensive ring, which almost certainly belonged to the government, to a beggar? This problem becomes more obvious when we consider the fact that in those days usually a ring was not used as a means of decoration and personal jewelry. A ring was used as a stamp and a form of putting signature under the documents. Based on this how could someone give away his signature to a beggar?

It seems that the more reasonable meaning of this verse becomes clear when we take the term “roku’e” as its primary meaning: Those who establish prayers and involve themselves with charity and alms while they are content and humble (not out of force). Even today, the absolute majority of those who pay taxes do so out of force and not out of their own sense of responsibility. But the Qur’an mentions those believers who work so that they can get involved with charity: “Those who work so that they can pay alms” (23,4)

4.4. The Meaning of “Sojoud”

The meaning given for “sojoud” (prostration) by most commentators is very close to the meaning given for the term “roku’e”. But there must be a difference otherwise these two terms would have been identical. It seems that “roku’e” involves showing submission and humility while “sojoud” is implementation and realization of these qualities in action. For example, we may show our submission to a manager, but in reality do not follow his directions. But “sojoud” involves submission in practical levels.

In numerous occasions the Qur’an talks about the prostration (sojoud) of all the creation, the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, trees, animals, angels, and a great majority of human beings. However, the term “roku’e” has never been used for anything other than human beings. The reason seems to be that “sojoud” involves submission and fulfillment of one’s role as a part of the whole system, be it with or without free will. Whereas “roku’e” is showing respect and submission and seems to be associated with the concept of free will. The same goes with the command to the angles to prostrate before Adam. This also was not a ceremonial act, but was a command to the angles to put them in the service of Adam and his perfection. The Qur’an talks about the prostration of not only all the creatures, but even their shadows (or their reflection and effects in the nature), in mornings and evenings (all the time). This prostration is of two forms, one form is in line with their nature and is actually a sign of their obeying the laws of nature, and the other form may be against their nature in matters of hardship, such as death. Either way, be it out of contempt or otherwise, all creatures follow the path that is destined for them by their Lord. “Have they not paid attention to God’s creatures and their shadows, which move around form left and right, in obedience to God (and the laws that he has ordained in nature)?” (16,48) “All those who exist in the heavens and earth prostrate for God out of their free will or otherwise. And their shadows too, in the morning and evening (al the times)” (13,15)

The Qur’an also talks about the signs of prostration in the faces of the Prophet and his disciples. Some have thought that this means that there were physical signs of prostration in their foreheads and therefore try to have the same physical signs in their own foreheads. They don’t pay attention that God talks about the signs of prostration on Prophet’s face, not forehead. Moreover, traditions like “mohr”2 and rosary are dated to later times and did not exist in the Prophet’s time. Although it is possible that someone develops a physical sign on his forehead naturally and as a result of prostration, it is improbable that Qur’an mentions this mere physical sensitivity of the skin with such high praise. But if we pay attention to the meaning of the terms used in this verse, we can probably translate this verse as such: “One can see the signs of their (spiritual) rank in their faces (characters) as a result of their humility (and their dedication to the service of others)” (48,29) Therefore, if the signs of pride can be seen in the faces of the arrogant, so too the signs of humility and dedication can be seen in the faces of the true believers.

4.5. The meaning of “Ghonut”

What is “ghonut” and its meaning? Why is the raising of the hands in front of us in the second part of each prayer called “ghonut”? Some think “ghonut” means supplication, or asking various things from God, because that is what we typically do in our “ghonut’s” during our prayers. This is not the case, although supplication is a result of having “ghonut”. God has introduced Mary as someone who had the characteristics of “ghonut”: “(Mary) was of the obedient (She had “ghonut”).” (66,12) Abraham has also been named as someone with such a characteristics: “Indeed Abraham was a model and he was one of the obedient (he had “ghonut”). ” (16,120) How can we describe this condition?

Indeed it is difficult to come up with a single word as the meaning of the Arabic term “ghonut”, a word that encompasses all the dimensions of the term. But may be a historical story can help us grasp this concept better. It is said that one day, Bahai, who was a prominent clergyman in the time of King Abbas during the Safavid Empire, went to the mosque to prepare himself for the noon prayer. While he was doing his ritual ablutions meticulously following all the details, he saw a naïve villager who came to the mosque and went through his ablutions and prayers very fast and without paying attention to the details. Upon seeing this scene, Bahai reproaches the villager. “What kind of prayer this was, O man” Bahai said, “Are you making fun of yourself or God?” The villager got ashamed and replied: “O Sir! I am an illiterate villager and I don’t understand the meaning of all that we say and do in our prayers. All I am trying to do with my prayers is to show to God that I have not become rebellious against Him; that I am still His servant.” Upon hearing this Bahai was ashamed and understood that the villager had grasped the truth and the spirit of prayers while he himself with all his fame and claims to religious knowledge was stuck in formalities and appearances.

“Ghonut” involves such a state of humility, the sense of servitude that the believer feels during prayers. Lexicographers have said that “ghonut” is the state of continuation of servitude. It seems they have come to this conclusion from Qur’anic verses in which the state of “ghonut” is ascribed to all the creation:
“And they said God has adopted a son. Praise to God! He is far from such descriptions. Whatever exit in the heavens and earth belong to Him alone, while they are continuously showing their servitude (ghonut) to Him.” (2,116)

From this perspective, the fact that Mary or Abraham are described as having “ghonut” is a sign of their continual servitude to their Lord during all the stages of their lives, while others mix such a state with periods in which they become forgetful of their Lord.

Moreover, the term “ghonut” has once been used as the opposite of the term “noshouz”, or rebelliousness. And this gives us another clue as to the meaning of “ghonut”. In the Surah 4, verse 34, two types of spouse are described: The women who have “noshouz”, i.e., they are constantly in the state of fight and disorder, and those women who have “ghonut”, i.e., they are peaceful and obedience to God’s orders. From this we also get to the same meaning that the naïve villager was getting at with his simple act of prayers. For this reason, the Qur’an has called upon all of us to stand up in the path of God while we show “ghonut”, or humility: “You should all stand up for God with humility (ghonut).” (2,238)

4.6. Four Steps Towards God (The Four Glorifications)

In their third and fourth section of prayers, instead of the Surah Hamd and another Surah from the Qur’an, the Shiah Muslims recite what is known as “The Four Glorifications”. These glorifications have four foundations and are as follows: 1. Glorify to God, and 2. all praise is for Him, and 3. there is no god but the One God, and 4. God is the greatest. Have we ever thought about these four statements and the meaning and purpose behind them? Let us analyze each of these four foundations in more detail:
1. God is glorified = glorification, not associating anything or anybody with God.
2. Praise is for God= giving all Praise to God
3. There is no god but God= (Monotheism) Asserting God’s unity
4. God is the greatest= Regarding God as better and higher than anything else.
As we can see, the name God (Allah) has been repeated in each of these statements, but each time with a different attribute.

The first step is glorification. Glorification is the assertion of God’s perfection, and not associating any faults or shortcomings with Him. This is a level of negation; in this stage we distance ourselves from all the false concepts that are attributed to God as a result of human imagination or cultural conditioning.

The second step is Praise. Once we rid our heart from the deposits of false concepts and ideas about God, we get ready to appreciate His majesty and the beauties of His manifestations in the world. As long as we are busy with our ego we are not capable of this appreciation, but once the ego is set aside we make room for God and His beautiful manifestations. Thus, praise is the reflection and result of beauty in our heart.

The third step is monotheism. Here monotheism involves the focusing of attention to one single point. It means following a single path towards a single goal, the organization of life and all its diverse aspects around a single axis. This axis for a monotheist is God and nothing but Him.

And finally the last step is the assertion that God is the greatest, that He is greater than all we can possibly conceive, that He is the Absolute, that He is First and Last, that He is immanent and yet transcendent. Monotheism only recognizes one source in the whole universe, as opposed to schools that give weight to false worldly gods such as capital, power, and the like.

It is interesting to note that we follow these same four steps every time we want to correct our views about another person. For example, if we have heard false accusations about a good friend, the first step is to exonerate him from these accusations, this is the meaning of glorification. The next step is to remind ourselves of some of his nice characteristics, this is the meaning of praise. After that, we realize that he is the only one with all these good characteristics, and this levels corresponds to monotheism. Finally, we emphasize that he is above whatever we think of him. Shouldn’t we, therefore, follow these four steps with regards to our closest friend, God?

4.7. Glorifications through Action

The previous discussion was about our four steps towards God, but instead of “step” which has the connotation of action, we talked about concepts that for the most part were theoretical. Now the question is whether these concepts are purely theoretical or they can be generalized to include practical matter too.

The general view is that these concepts are purely theoretical. However, the Qur’an relates the act of glorification to such phenomena as the sun, moon, stars, mountains, trees, and the birds, not as a theoretical glorification, but as the roles they actually play within the universe. Moreover, in several occasions the Qur’an talks about glorification through actions with regards to humans. For example, when Moses asks God to appoint his brother Aaron as his assistance: “Appoint him as my assistant so that we can glorify you to a great level” (20,30). Obviously, if glorification meant a theoretical matter or limited to reading some prayers, there would not be any need for assistance.

It seems like concepts like glorification and praise, like many similar concepts, have three levels: Theoretical, verbal, and through action. Therefore, glorification in the case of Moses and Aaron involves their actions for freeing the Israelites from Pharaoh’s system. The concept of glorification therefore here includes cleansing of the society from Pharaoh’s tyranny and its effects. It also includes substitution of the name of God in place of the name of the Pharaoh and the like of Pharaoh, which would be the dominant name in corrupt societies. In another example, God has encouraged the Prophet to perform prayers during the night, a time of calm and quiet when the conditions for contemplation about God and the divine bounties are ready. At the same time, the day, which is the time to be active, is called the time of “glorification” (tasbih), which means the Qur’an recognized being active as a practical level of glorification.

The Qur’an also tells the story of some garden owners who were miserly, because their whole intention was to collect the fruits from their gardens without giving any portion of it away to the poor. This miserliness is called a lack of “glorification” (tasbih) according to one of them who was more moderate, as if sharing the produce with the poor is a form of glorification because it has a positive role in the society. Of course this glorification is realized through action and in practice, not by reading prayers and supplications. “The most moderate among them said: did I not tell you why you don’t glorify? They said glory to our Lord, we were indeed not just”. (68,28-29) Considering this dimension of glorification, can we not say that depending on our specialties, every morning that we go to our work, in fact each of us goes to his field of glorification? Let us hope that God teaches us about the ways we can glorify Him in our lives and through our actions and save us from our egos.

5. General Points about Prayers

5.1. The relationship between prayers and alms

Throughout our spiritual journey in our lives, we first experience faith, which is to experience a glance of the light of Truth. In the next level, because of the light and warmth radiated from that source of light, we try to get rid of all the various forms of darkness that fill our souls, things like fear, miserliness, greed, and jealousy. This level is called “purification of the self”. The literal meaning of this spiritual purification, or “tazkieh” in Arabic, is to grow, as in growing a flower from a seed and taking care of it. The most important manifestation of purification of self is giving up wealth and other worldly matters. That is why giving alms is called “zakat”, which means purification and is from the same root as “tazkieh”. In other words, giving alms is freeing the self from the weight of worldly burdens. That is why in the Qur’an the term “prayer” is followed by the term “zakat” (giving alms) at least 26 times, and by “infagh” (helping the poor) at least 6 times. The two concepts of prayer and alms are therefore dependent on each other, neither one can be of great use without the other. And indeed is it possible for someone to know God as compassionate and yet not be compassionate in his own life? This is why giving alms is also called “sadagheh”, which comes from the root “sedgh” which means truthfulness. In other words, giving away from one’s wealth is a sign of being true in one’s faith.

Consequently, we see that the three concepts of faith, prayer, and alms are inter-related as if they are the three sides of a single triangle. The inter-relationship of these three has been mentioned in various forms and in several occasions in the Qur’an. Let us look at some examples from the Qur’an:

“A. L. M. This is the Book, in which there is no doubt, a guidance for those who have faith. Those who believe in the Unseen and establish prayers and give away from that which we give them.” (2,1-3)

“And those who are firm in knowledge, and those who have faith, believe in what is given to you, and what was given to those who came before you, and those who establish prayers and those who pay alms.” (4-162)

“And those who build mosques for the sake of God, have faith in God and believe in the Last Day, and establish prayers, and give alms and fear none but God.” (9-18)

“Those who respond to God’s call, and establish prayers, and carry out their business through consultation with each other, and give away from what we give them.” (42-38)

The fact that giving alms comes after prayers, and the wider meaning that giving has, i.e., the concept of spiritual purification, also points out why true prayers keeps man away from corruption and unethical acts.
“Indeed prayers prevent from wrong doing and corruption, and verily the remembrance of God is the greatest (thing in life).” (29-45) Is it possible to have claim to prayers and yet be involved in wrong doings? Can we say that the Islamic societies really practice prayers?

5.2. Can children be forced into Prayers?

Such a question may seem irrelevant in today’s world when it is impossible to force anything on the youth. However, there are still parents who think they can force something on their children if it is beneficial to them. They think if the kids don’t appreciate it today, they will in future. Sometimes such parents mention their own parents and that had it not been for their parents’ strictness, they were not religious today. However, they forget that a larger group has been driven away from religion exactly because of such treatments, and that if they are religious most likely it is because of other reasons. In short, many parents are worried about their children and the fact that their children don’t feel any need to prayers.

Belief in forcing children to prayers is not limited to traditional families who merely follow old traditions and the clergy. Even those who are familiar with the Qur’an at times refer to certain verses in defense of such forcing. They say that the Qur’an has praised Ishmael because he used “to order” his family to prayers and paying alms: “he used to “order” his family to prayers and alms, and God was satisfied with him.” (19,55) And more importantly, God has ordered the Prophet to order his family to prayers. So, the argument goes, such a method must be approved by God Himself too: “Enjoin you family to prayers, and be persistence on it” (20,132)

However, prayers is a relationship of heart and love, it is a matter of spiritual need. Is it possible to force someone into such a spiritual relationship? True, in both of the above verses the Arabic word “amr” is used, and this word is usually translated as order. Thus, the translation we gave for these verses is what people usually understand from these verses. However, the meaning of the term “amr” is not necessarily limited to “order”. In several occasions, this term has been used with the meaning of consultation, showing the path, or suggestion. In one occasion, when the Pharaoh is consulting his court on how to handle Moses, he says: “What do you “suggest”?” (42,35) The term used here is also “amr”, but of course it doesn’t make any sense for the Pharaoh to say: What are your orders? In another occasion, the Qur’an tells us of the story of the prophet Shoaib and his people, where they ask him: “Does your prayer “suggest” you to prevent us from worshiping what our fathers were worshipping?” (11,87) Obviously they knew that prayers do not “order” someone to do something in the common sense. That is why the correct translation here is “suggest”, and not order. Qur’an also refers this term “amr” to both faith and reason. In such contexts “amr” means guidance and showing the right path, and it cannot mean order in its strict sense. In fact, the Qur’an calls for mutual consultation between a husband and wife and calls such consultation “amr”: “and consult each other (“amr”) in an accepted manner.” (65,6)
Can we say that Qur’an has called upon the husband and wife to order each other? Qur’an also forbids whispering (in ways as that promote suspicion) and asks people to encourage each other to help the poor. But again the verb used for encouragement comes from the root “amr”. Can we say that Qur’an wants us to order each other to give away to the poor? Can we say that “amr” in such examples means to order, or to force? Based on these examples, can we not assume that Qur’an has asked the Prophet to encourage his family to prayers in a kind and loving manner, so as to motivate, but not to force them?

Appendix 1. A commentary on the supplication of Imam Sadjad

When we were discussing the timings of the prayers, we briefly mentioned Imam Sadjad’s supplication. To complete our discussion, here we will consider it in more detail. This supplication starts as follows:
“O God! Give us the knowledge of the appointed times of the five daily prayers”. The Arabic term that we have translated as “appointed time” is “mighat”. What is the meaning of “mighat”, and how the five daily prayers are related to it? “Mighat” is an appointment time to meet someone. For example, Moses had a “mighat” with God in the mountain, which was supposed to be thirty days but lasted forty days. (7,142). Moreover, the time set for his public challenge with the magicians is called “mighat” (42,38). This term has also been used for the Day of Judgment (78,17) or different phases of the moon during the month.

But why is that in the supplication Imam asks God for the knowledge of the “mighat”s of the five daily prayers? If we read the supplication on the surface we may think that Imam is asking God to let him know the times of the prayers. But a more careful reading reveals that here Imam is asking a deeper knowledge of these times, a knowledge that is accompanied by wisdom, and includes comprehension of the various dimensions of the times. Let us read the supplication further: “O God! Give us the knowledge of the appointed times of the five daily prayers. With the limits that you yourself have set, and with the obligations that you have put in place, and with the responsibilities that you have established, and with the times that you have ordained.” Therefore, prayers are based on four concepts: limits, obligations, responsibilities, and times. Let us read further: “O God! Give us the status of those who have attained the high levels of prayers. Those who were protectors of its limits, those who fulfilled it in its proper time just like the Prophet. In all its parts, the bowing down, the prostration, and all other important parts, while they had cleansed themselves to the utmost level, and had attained the utmost level of humbleness”

Appendix 2. Statistical observations regarding the subject of prayers in the Qur’an

Some researches have studied the mathematical relationships in the Qur’an with regards to the statistical and numerical usage of various concepts and terms. Specifically, they have found interesting results about the concept of prayers, which we briefly mention here.

(1) The term “salat” and its various roots have been repeated a total of 99 times in the Qur’an. This number is, according to a tradition from the Prophet, the number of God’s names. From this numerical equality the conclusion has been reached that “salat” is a means of establishing a relationship with God and His Beautiful names.

(2) Exactly in 17 verses of the Qur’an the two words God “Allah” and Prayers “Salat” are used concurrently in the same verse. On the other hand, the total number of sections (rokat’s) in the daily prayers is also 17. Moreover, in these 17 verses, the word “salat” is used 19 times (because in one occasion it appears three times in the same verse). The number 19 is one of the key numerical codes in the Qur’an.

(3) The 99 instances of the term “salat” occur in 90 verses. If we write down these instances sequentially, the 17th instance is verse 103 of Surah Nisa (Women). Only in this verse prayers is introduced as a form of worship that is tied with time: “Indeed, Prayers are enjoined on the believers on stated times (five daily times)”.

(4) In the attached table that shows the 17 instances where the two terms God “Allah” and Prayers “salat” are used in the same verse, if we count the number of times the word “Allah” and the word “salat” are used going from the bottom to top, we see that by the time we reach at verse 103 of Surah Nisa each of these two words have been repeated exactly 19 times.

(5) It seems like verse 103 of Surah Nisa plays a key role in this subject. It is the only verse in the Qur’an where the word “salat” is used three times in a single verse.

(6) Looking at the attached table, in the 17 verses that the words “Allah” and “salat” have been used together, the word “Allah” is used 21 times and the word “salat” is used 19 times. If we add up these three numbers, we get a number that is itself a product of the number 19:
17 + 21 + 19 = 57 = 19 → 3

(7) If we write down the number of sections (Rokat’s) in each of the daily prayers sequentially next to each other, we get a number that is again a product of 19:
2 – 4 – 4 – 3 – 4 → 24434 = 19 → 1286

(8) Now if we write the number 1286 separately and add up all the digits in it, we get back the number 17, which is the total number of sections (Rokat’s) in the daily prayers:
1286 → 1+ 2 + 8 + 6 = 17

Table. 1. Occurrence of the word "salat" in the Qur'an

Table. 2. Occurrence of the verses where the words "Allah" and "Salat" coincide together


1- A “Rokat” is almost like unit of prayer which is repeated a certain number of times in each of the daily prayers. For example, the Morning Prayer is 2 Rokat’s, while the noon and evening prayers are four Rokat’s each. The total number of Rokat’s in the five daily prayers is 17

2- A “Mohr” is usually a piece of clay that Shiah Muslims use in their prostration during their prayers. The reason is that they believe during prostration one should put his forehead on natural soil or whatever comes out naturally from ground, and not synthetic materials.