As-Salaat (Gist) – What Quran Says – Parwez


The place and importance of as-salaa (obligatory prayer) – or, namaaz, as it is known in Persian – in the Muslim scheme of things cannot be overstated. It has been said that, on the Day of Judgement, the very first inquiry made by the Almighty of a Muslim is going to be about prayer; a Persian saying states: awwalleen pursish e namaaz bood. To offer prayer regularly and punctually is considered to be the first and foremost duty of every Muslim man and woman; it is illustrated in Prophetic Tradition (Hadith) by the incident when Ali ibn Abu Taalib missed his ‘asr (late afternoon) prayer and the Prophet miraculously instructed the Sun to roll back Time a little – which it duly did – so that Ali could perform his prayer at the right time. Also, great emphasis is laid upon performing and ‘acting out’ one’s prayer meticulously. In this regard, a number of points are discussed ranging from the geographical accuracy of qiblah (direction) to the precise gap between one’s feet while in qiyaam (standing position).

Despite all that, we are faced with the undeniable fact that the Quran, the Muslim Scripture, does not contain detailed, categorical instructions about this ritual of primary importance. At best, one finds somewhat vague information on the timing and certain body movements. There is certainly nothing to be found about the number of daily prayers neither is there any guidance about the changes this ritual may go through while a Muslim is travelling in space, living on planets other than Earth, or even certain regions of Earth itself, such as the Poles. To compound matters further, the term as-salaa has been used in the Quran for expressions and meanings which are very clearly other than the ritual obligatory prayer.

This state of affairs gives rise to a number of intriguing and nagging questions. Is as-salaa the equivalent of namaaz? Why is the Quran vague on this popularly the most important ritual? Is it a ritual, anyway? Or, is it an institution with a much wider context than being one of the personal rituals? What broader picture emerges if one considers various linguistic applications of as-salaa? In short, what is the Quranic concept of it as compared to the Islamic? These, among others, are the questions which have been dealt with in this translation of an excerpt from Lughaat al Qur’aan (‘Language od the Quran’), pp. 1034-46, the monumental Urdu work on the lexicon of the Muslim Scripture by the late Mr G A Parwez, the founder of the Tolu-e-Islam Movement, published in January, 1961, by Idara Tolu-e-Islam, Lahore, Pakistan.

Khalid Mahmood Sayyed

As-Salaat (Gist)

Salaat is one of the fundamental principles of Islam. In the Qur’an the word Salaat and its numerous forms, derived from verbal roots Sa’d lam waw and Sa’d, lam ya, have been profusely used. Al-musalli is horse, which occupies the second spot in a race but runs so close that its ears brush the rear portion of the winning horse-(the one in front). The basic meaning of this root is to follow a leader closely and constantly in every walk of life. So Salaat means:

  • To remain attached to the Laws of Allah, to remain within the parameters of the Laws of Allah and to remain devoted to the Book of Allah. As such, tasleah means to walk behind a person without overtaking him, but so closely that there remains hardly any gap between the two, and also to follow him by remaining devoted to him. On the basis of this, Raghib says, “The verse of the Qur’an lam naku minal-Musalliin (74:43) – we were not Musalliin -means that we were not the followers of the Ambia ( Messengers).”
  • To tread a balanced and straight path. This happens to be a du’a (entreaty), the Qur’an teaches us in its very first Surah (Al-Fatiha). A Muslim always desires to be on the straight and balanced path because he has to uncompromisingly follow Allah, Who continuously stays on a straight and balanced path – Sir’at-al-Mustaqeem(11:56). To follow Allah is to adhere willingly to His laws as enshrined in the Qur’an and to imbibe in one’s personality Allah’s most balanced attributes (called Asmaul Husna), of course, as closely as humanly possible.
  • The method to carry out the duties. In Surah Noor (24:41) Allah poses a question: “Have you not pondered over the fact that whatever is there in the universe, including the birds with wings outspread, is continuously accomplishing its assignments with utmost sincerity because it is well aware of its duties (tasbih) and the method (Salaat) to carry them out.” This obviously means that by instinctive drive everything and every being in the universe knows as to what its tasbih and Salaat are; the course it has to take and where it is destined for, and the cycle of struggle it has to undergo. This is called its tasbih and Salaat (For tasbih see siin ba ha – Lughat- ul-Quran vol. 2, p. 834). But Man has not been endowed with this instinctive know-how. He has been told of his duties and methods through wahi ( revelation). As far as man’s physical needs are concerned, he can gain knowledge about them through thought, consciousness, deliberation, intellect, experience and observation. But for the development of his personality and his needs of ‘humanity’ he has to rely on wahi. As such, for a man to know as to what his tasbih and Salaat are he has to know and to have faith in wahi. And in order to fulfil this objective it becomes essential to act as per the programme of wahi. This is, according to Quran, iqamat-e- Salaat– establishing the system of Salaat. To follow the Laws of the Quran is wa yuqiimuunas-Salaat (2:3). Surah Alaq (96:9-10) says, “When an obedient follower of Allah tries to discharge his obligatory duties then he (his enemy) puts obstacles in his way.” The scope of these obligatory duties is quite wide and they encompass all aspects of life. In Surah Hud (11:87) it is stated: “ The people of Shu’aib asked him: ‘Does your Salaat command you that we should forsake that which our fathers (used to) worship, or that we (should leave off) doing what we like with our own property?’’’ In other words they did not fully comprehend the structure of Salaat which encompasses even economic matters.
  • To establish a system in accordance with the Laws of the Quran. It is not possible for a person to individually act per the programme of the wahi (iqamat-e-Salaat). This can only be done collectively within a system. .That explains the Quran’s use of plurals in this context. Hence, it is the responsibility of an Islamic state to establish this order. The Quran says: “They are the ones who, when given power in the land, establish (the system of) Salaat and Zakat (see zay kaf waw Lugat-ul- Quran vol. 2 p 808-811). And they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.” (22:41). Also (9:12) Elsewhere the people engaged in establishing the Divine Order are defined as people who do Rukoo (bow down) and Sajda ( prostrate or fully surrender before the Laws of Allah). (For rukoo see ra kaf ayn and for sajda see siin jiim daal, Lugat-ul-Quran p. 778 and 844-851). It is for this reason that at another place (42:38) iqamat-e-Salaat and mutual consultation for the State’s political affairs are discussed together: “They establish Salaat and (then) resolve their affairs through mutual consultation.” And since all the affairs of the Muslim community are resolved in the light of the Laws of Allah (Book of Allah) therefore in Sura Araaf (7:170) yummassikuu-na bil Kitaabi and aqaa-mus-Salaah are placed together. As such, iqamat-e- Salaat means to establish a system in which all participating persons are consistent in following the laws of the Quran, and in this way remain in harmony with the Quran. In order to highlight this objective the Quran has used the word tawallaa as an antonym of sallaa (75:31-32). Tawallaa means to deny and flout the correct path, to find ways of digression, to turn back, to refuse to acknowledge. Therefore, sullaa would mean to keep moving on the correct path in accordance with the Divine Laws, and to fulfil the duties determined or fixed by the Divine System. It is on this basis that Allama Hamiduddin Farahi in his ‘Mufrad-tul- Quran’ says that one of the meanings of Salaat is to turn towards someone, to look up to him, to be attentive, and to turn one’s face (towards someone) in attention.
  • To surrender completely before the Laws of Allah and not to follow one’s own desires. This meaning has been beautifully elucidated in Surah Maryam (19:59) where iqamat-e-Salaat and following one’s own vain desires have been placed as antonym of one another, “Such unworthy generations succeeded (the Messengers) that they ruined the system Salaat) and followed their own emotions and desires.” It means that to follow one’s own desire is to distort Salaat and to follow the laws of Allah is to establish and keep intact Salaat. In Surah Anam (6:93) it is stated that the guardians of Salaat (system) are no different from those who have Eiman (conviction) in the Hereafter and the Book of Allah. Ibn-e-Qutaiba (Al-Qurtain vol.1, p.13) says that indeed Salaat means ad-Diin and iqaamat-e-salaat means iqamat-ud-Diin.(economic and socio-political system) Moheet and Aqrab-ul-Mwadir).
  • To overcome one’s defects and shortcomings. The author of ‘Al- Minar’ asserts that Salaat is recognition of the fact, both verbally and practically, that in order to eradicate one’s imperfection one needs the Guidance of the Superior Authority, who is Perfect and without any deficiency. Owing to this Qurtabi says that Salaat, in fact, means to obediently follow Allah.
  • To tame, to subjugate, and to arrest someone’s attention. In this reference the exposition of Salaat would be to subdue and tame the forces of the Universe and make them obedient to Man. (Moheet-ul-Moheet).
  • Reverence and admiration. In other words As-Salaat means to demonstrate the Greatness of the Sustainer of this Universe with your realistic programmes, like establishing a socio-economic system. This shows that iqamat-e-Salaat and itaa-e-Zakat are correlated, i.e. to chalk out a programme in accordance with the Divine Laws, follow it practically and sincerely so as to give every person a chance to develop his personality and also provide means of nourishment.
  • To offer Namaz. The varying meanings of Salaat mentioned above clearly suggest that when an obedient Muslim follows the Laws of Allah in any sphere of life to discharge his obligatory duties he, in fact, is performing Salaat only. And for this no time, place or form is necessary. But in the Quran at certain places the word Salaat has been used for a particular act or ritual, commonly called Namaz (A Pehalvi language word not used in the Quran). For instance: verse 5:6 outlines the method of ablution, which is to be performed when you rise up for Salaat. Verse 4:43 prohibits a Muslim from attending a Salaat congregation when in a state of Sukr (inebriation or drowsiness). And neither recite your Salaat aloud nor recite it in an inaudible tone, but seek a middle course (17:110). So the purpose of Salaat is served only when one understands what one is saying. However, it should be noted that for a Muslim the use of all types of intoxicants is prohibited (5:90-91) According to verse $;101 0ne can curtail Salaat if one fears an enemy attack. Verse 4:102 gives the method of shortening of Salaat. And Surah Juma-ah (62:9-10) says, When the call is proclaimed for Salaat on Friday (or at the time of congregation), hasten earnestly to the Zikr of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): that is better for you if you did but know. And when Salaat is over, you may disperse through the land and seek of bounty of Allah: and involve yourself in ‘Zikr of Allah’ frequently so that you may be successful.
  • At this juncture a significant point needs a short explanation. The superstitious instincts of Man concocted stories of the auspicious and the ominous. Similarly, for doing, and also for not doing, specific work he outlined certain hours of day and night with the belief that they were auspicious. The Quran, while eradicating other superstitions about time, also clarified that there is nothing auspicious or ominous about day and night and hours. As such, in Islam the very idea that things should be started at an auspicious hour is irrelevant. So even for Salaat the Quran says; “You can establish Salaat from early morning till late night” (17:78) This means that in order to establish ad-Diin (economic and socio-political system) the efforts of Muslims are not limited to any specific time or place. For example see Surah 3:190, 20:130, 50:39, etc. The whole life of a Muslim—his days and nights, his mornings and evening—is devoted in implementing the Laws of Allah. But in these efforts Salaat congregations also play a significant and essential role. The Quran calls them kitaabam-mawquutaa (4:103). One meaning of these words is: a specially prescribed duty. Another interpretation is a duty that has to be perfected on time. Thus the importance of adherence to time in congregation is obvious. The Quran specially mentions Salaat-ul-Ishaa. From this it is evident that during Rasoolallah’s (messenger) days at least these hours were fixed for the Salaat congregations.
  • To become subservient to Allah. This is an expanded interpretation of the word ibadat which is commonly but wrongly translated in English as worship. A close reading of the Quran unambiguously makes it clear that ‘ibadat of Allah’ is not worship or Pooja as the followers of different religions perform. According to the Quran ‘ibadat’ (see ain bad dal, page 1120 vol 3, Lughat-ul-Quran) means to follow the laws of Allah, or to become subservient to Him.’ Obviously this subservience has to be accepted willingly at every step in life and in every department of worldly affairs. Its practical form is a system of State, which is established in accordance with the Quranic values. About the supporters of this system the Quran says: “They are the ones who respond to their Sustainer, and establish (the Quranic system) Salaat, who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultations; who keep open ( for the welfare of the humanity) that We (Allah) bestow on them for sustenance.” (42:38). In these verses the point to be noted is correlation between obedience to Allah, establishment of a system (iqamat-e-Salaat) and conducting affairs of the State by mutual consultations. Obviously, in order to implement the laws of Allah mutual consultations are necessary to arrive at workable decisions on essential affairs. Thus for consultations assemblies become imperative. If seen in a broad spectrum these assemblies would be part of an establishment and sustaining a system, (iqamat-e-Salat). But in these assemblies one more fact has also been taken into consideration – man’s nature of expressing his feelings through his limbs and other parts of the body (see ra kaf ain and siin jiim daal. Lughaat-ul-Quran page 778 and 844). In reverence one bows one’s head involuntarily. In submission ‘the head surrenders’. Although, the Quran keeps in view the spirit behind action and facts, and does not give weight to mere formalism, but when form is required to represent an emotion or reality, it does not prohibit formalism, provided the form is not considered an end in itself. In the context of Salaat or (Namaz) the practical aspects of sajda and qiyam etc, that have come before us are for this objective. It is essential that when these emotions are practically expressed in collective form they should be in rhythmic harmony, otherwise there would be a total chaos in the congregation. To maintain discipline, harmony and unity in expressing intense respect, veneration, submission and compliance is in itself a big exercise for the development of the human personality.

The above discussion makes it amply clear that in the Quran aqeemu-as- Salaat has been used both for Salaat or Namaz congregations and for aqamat-e-Diin (the establishment and stability of the whole system in accordance with the laws of Allah, willingly following the Laws and orders of Allah and accomplishing those obligatory duties, which an obedient momin is expected to perform). To find out this distinction one has to consider the whole verse and the context in which it is revealed to see what exactly is meant by aqamat-e-Salaat. Similarly, one has to see in what context the word musalleen has been used, for it has been used for jamat-e-momineen (as a whole) or for those participating in the Salaat congregation. The Quran also tells about those musalleen who are at the pinnacle of human excellence (70:22-35) and about those for whom there is perdition (107:4-7)

  • To respect, to bless, to encourage, to develop, to nourish, not to let decay or chaos to crop up. These are meanings that Raghib has given of Salle alaihe. By keeping them in mind one can easily understand the verses of the Quran in which this root occurs with ‘ala. For instance, “ Allah and His malaaika (forces of nature) encourage you; provide you with necessary means of growth, development and nourishment, and make your efforts bear fruits.” (33:43). This verse is about those momineen who when faced with difficulties in the enforcement and establishment of Diin do not waver or get disheartened, but instead remain steadfast and bravely fight against all odds.  Therefore, they become entitled to all the plaudits and encouragement from Allah (2:157) And with especial reference to Rasool-allah(PBUH) the Quran says: “Allah and all the forces of nature help and encourage the Rasool in the fulfilment of his programme. O jamaat-ul-Momineen: You should also help your Rasool in making his programme a success.  Support him so that his efforts bear fruits.(33:56). And the practical method to help him is to submit before him and follow him (48:9)”. Momineen are, (7:157) it is said at another place: “Those who corroborate and respect him, and help him (in such a manner that) they follow the Light (Quran) which is sent down with him (7:157).” So this is the method by which a Momin fulfills his duty of Salaat alaihe.

This, then, is the Salaat of Allah and His Malaaika on jamat-ul-Momineen and on Rasool-allah. And this is Salaat and Salaam of jamaat-ul-Momineen on Rasool-allah. Notice that the order of salluu alayhi wa sal-limuu tasliimaa (33:56) demands a great action-orientated programme. This means that by following the laws of Allah the Diin brought by Rasool-allah will prevail over all religions and philosophies of the world. On the other hand, it was said to the Rasool that when the members of jamaat-e-Momineen bring their earnings to donate in the way of Allah, he should accept them. And encourage them because encouragement and appreciation from you (Rasool) is an assuagement for them (9:103). They think that spending their earnings in the way of Allah is a means to be near to Allah and getting encouragement and appreciation from Rasool (9:99). (For the meaning of Qurb-e-Allah or to be near to Allah see the heading Qaf ra ba).

  • Jewish temples. According to the Hebrew dictionary Salawat (plural of Salaat) is synagogue or praying place of Jews. In verse 22: 40 this word has been used in this context or meaning.


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