Prayer in Islam (Salat) is the most important practical principle such that no one can be exempted from [i]. Soldiers involved in a war, patients in hospitals, passengers on airplanes or ships, all should perform the prayers (Salat) even with some modifications based on their circumstances. Of course, Islam has placed a lot of emphasis on prayer for some reasons. These reasons are reviewed in this article as the Philosophy of Prayer in Islam.
According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP): “The prayer is the pillar of religion, and its parable is that of the prop of a tent – when the prop remains upright, the pegs and ropes remain straight and upstanding, but when the prop bends or breaks neither the pegs nor the ropes remain upright” . This statement highlights the importance of the prayer in Islam.
The inclination toward goodness and avoiding evils are of the outcomes of practicing the prayers. "Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing ... And Allah knows that which you do" (29:45). In other words, the prayer in Islam is the base, and every other act of a Muslim is influenced by that.
There are two main roles for the prayer in Islam: the spiritual promoter and the permanent reminder. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said: “The prayer of a person is (in reality) a light in his heart, so whoever desires, can illuminate his/her heart (through the prayers)” .
Doing the prayers every day, one repeatedly remembers God in intervals, renews his\her promise of servitude to God, purifies him\herself and tries to keep away all the evil thoughts and actions . According to Imam Ali (AS), Evil will be jealous of the person who stands up for the prayer because he sees the Mercy of God encompassing that person . Hence, the prayer as a repeated reminder stops from sins and develops Infallibility.
Some discuss that why one should perform the prayers five times a day? Is it to show up every day and remind God that we are there and we are His servants? Of course not! As stated earlier, it is to remind us of God unceasingly and to remember that we are His servants. If one forgets for an instant that He is present everywhere and observes us (“Neither drowsiness befalls Him nor sleep” (2:255)), he\she might be easily at the risk of committing evil deeds. These evil deeds might be harmful to either oneself or even others. So, the prayer has both the individual and social consequences.
A real prayer has some prerequisites; cleansing through ablution (Wudu), standing in the presence of God with the whole heart and body, not wearing usurped clothes or not performing the prayer in a usurped place, etc. According to Imam Ali (AS), the prayer will not be accepted if the clothes of a person and where he\she does the prayer are not lawful (Halal) . Moreover, Imam Ali (AS) said that whoever performs the prayer and perceives what he\she is doing and saying, his\her sins will be forgiven once the prayer ends .
All these demonstrate that the attempt for performing a true prayer results in several accomplishments such as respecting the rights of others, purity of the appearance and the inner self, etc. Having fulfilled all these conditions, one could meet the divine requirements and reach the happiness promised through performing a “complete prayer”.
Some people suppose that they do not need to perform the prayers. They say that serving the human beings who are the creatures of God equals worshipping God. They claim that there is no need to do the prayers as an act of worship. Instead, they try to do good to other humans. To answer, the prayer is a support for the morals and social principles. As stated above, it reminds us of the ethical behavior, the social responsibilities that one has towards others, and prevents from doing wrong to others . Hence, the prayer can never be replaced with any other good deed.
[i] The only exception is about women during menstruation.
- Shaikh al-Hur al-Aamili, "Wasail al-Shia", p. 214.
- A. al-Hindi, “Kanz al-Ummal”, vol. 7, T. 18973.
- Allama Majlisi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 82, p. 207.
- H. Harrani, "Tuhaf al-Uqul", p174.
- " Makarim al-Akhlaq", p. 300.
Hajj literally means ‘heading to a place’. In Islamic terminology, however, it refers to the obligatory annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca with the intention of performing certain religious rites following the method prescribed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) .
In essence, Hajj is man's evolution toward Allah. It is social worship that creates a relationship between God and His creatures and has different effects on Islamic society. The performance of Hajj simultaneously signifies many things; it is a show of history, the Islamic doctrine, and that of Islamic unity and brotherhood . Hajj reinforces the religion, i.e., it makes millions of Muslims gather in Ihram; this gathering strengthens the relationship between the followers of Islam and makes their hearts grow closer.
The history of Hajj rituals goes back to the time of Prophet Adam, who was first entrusted by Allah to build the Kaaba, the House of Allah. He and his descendants were the first people to perform Hajj rites. The rites continued up until the time of Prophet Abraham who was ordered by God to rebuild Kaaba along with his son Ishmael:
“When we settled for Abraham the site of the House [saying], Do not ascribe any partners to Me, and purify My House for those who go around it, and those who stand [in it for prayer], and those who bow and prostrate” (22:26).
After building the Kaaba, Prophet Abraham would perform Hajj every year, and this practice was continued by his son after his death. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were changed. Kaaba had turned into a place of idolatry, and the people had totally abandoned the teachings of their leader, Prophet Abraham until the time came for his supplication to be answered:
“Our Lord, raise amongst them an apostle from among them, who should recite to them Your signs, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. Indeed You are the All-mighty, the All-wise” (2:129).
After a long time [i], a man by the name of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullaah was born in the very city that Prophet Abraham had made this supplication. For twenty-three years, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) spread the message of monotheism (Tawhid) – the same message that Prophet Abraham and all the other Prophets carried – the most important message of Hajj.
Not only did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) purify the Kaaba from idols and all the defilements, but he also reinstated all the rites of Hajj and banned all indecent and shameful acts. Consequently, Kaaba became the universal center for the Muslim worshippers of the only true God, once again .
Annually, Muslims from all over the world are encouraged to participate in this great "pilgrimage" (Hajj). Everyone is considered equal. There is no discrimination on the basis of people’s race, sex, or social status.
There are secrets about Hajj exoteric rituals that are somehow beyond man’s understanding and so not easy for everyone to learn. Some steps of the Hajj rites are reminiscent of the events associated with Abraham, Ishmael, and his mother Hagar, and personify their self-sacrifice, altruism and struggle with Satan in the path of Allah . This would help us understand the philosophy behind some of the acts performed in Hajj.
The performance of Hajj begins at Miqat, a place where pilgrims should wear Ihram and from there go for Hajj or Umrah. Donning such unsewn white garments entirely distances man from material ostentations and engrosses him in a world of purity and spirituality. Clothes show individuality and distinction.
They create superficial barriers that separate man from man. The garments of Ihram, however, are the antithesis of that individualism. You join a mass and become nothing but a drop of water in an ocean that has no special identity of its own. Ihram clothing is also a reminder of shrouds that every human has to wear after death. This helps you assume your original shape as a man, just one of the “descendants of Adam” who will die one day.
Hajj is a movement that reminds us of our journey to Allah; “toward Allah is the destination” (24:42). In the state of Muhrim, There is no sex, no perfume, no shoes, no sewn clothes and headcovers for men, no face mask, no cutting of hair or nails, i.e., absolutely no signs of aristocracy or distinction; you don’t even look in a mirror to see your own image.
You don’t hunt any animal; you don’t uproot any plant. So you kill the tendencies of aggression by being peaceful to nature, and this continues until you perform all the rituals and come out of Ihram. All your selfish egos must be buried at Miqat. You witness your own body just like what it looks after death when it is being buried. By sacrificing your individuality, you focus on reality, the basic purpose for which you have been created – that is devoting yourself totally to Allah.
Positioned in the center, Kaaba is like a sun while the people are like stars traveling in their orbit of the solar system. Kaaba symbolizes the constancy and eternity of Allah. The moving circle of people represents the continuous activity and transition of His creatures.
This rite is actually the manifestation of Tawhid, the Oneness of God. The heart and soul of the pilgrim should move around Kaaba, the symbol of the House of Allah, in a way that no worldly attraction distracts him from this path. Only Tawhid should attract him. Tawaf also represents Muslims’ unity. During Tawaf, everyone encircles Kaaba collectively.
There is no individual identification of men or women, black or white, red or yellow. The movement has transformed one ‘person’ into the totality of ‘people’ establishing the universality of the Islamic community with the goal of approaching Allah. Likewise, you must reject self-centeredness and step in the way of Allah, which is the way of people. In other words, to approach Allah, you must first genuinely become involved in people’s problems. This is how you are with the people and where you may approach Allah .
After Tawaf, you have to perform two rak’at of prayer behind Maqam-e Ibrahim [ii] (Abraham's place of standing), which is a very blessed place for praying . It is the nearest point to Allah. As a matter of fact, there is nowhere on earth where you get more rewards than this place for praying. The stone has the footprint of Abraham. He stood over this stone to lay the cornerstone (Hajar al-Aswad), to reconstruct Kaaba, and to pray . By standing on the same stone, you vow to become like Abraham, the upright friend of Allah, who was uncompromising in his conviction of Tawhid .
Sa’y literally means to strive, to make an effort to reach an aim. Running between the mountains – Safa and Marwa – seven times, you act like Hagar, the mother of infant Ishmael. After Abraham left her and their son, near the valley of Mecca, Hagar had no food, no water, no shelter, neither for herself nor her child, but only uncompromising, relentless faith that the God of Abraham will not leave her and her son without sustenance.
She started looking out for water, running to the top of the mountains, Safa and Marwa. But she did not find any water. She searched again and again. After running seven times between these two mountains, she came down from Marwa to check on her infant son when she heard the sound of gushing water coming from the sand he had dug under his heels. It was Zam-Zam, a sweet and life-giving fountain of water which was a gift from Allah to the mother and son, and all those who came later. So Sa’y is physical work. It is a struggle to satisfy your needs, and a way to achieve a better life.
The name Arafat means acquaintance or cognition. There are a few beliefs for why this place has been given this name; in one of the most famous of which, it is held that Prophet Adam and his wife Eve met each other at this plain after they were separated for many years.
It was the devil (Iblis) who misled our forefather -Adam- by telling him to eat from the tree of eternity and possession and caused them to descend from Paradise . They met in Arafat once again, where they became acquainted with one another and with their sins. They made supplications to God and sought His forgiveness. It was in the center of this plain where they were forgiven by Allah. In short, Arafat represents the beginning of man’s creation, that of our forefather Adam. Here you act like Adam or Eve and seek forgiveness for yourself and your loved ones .
Pilgrims of Hajj, returning from Arafat, spend the night between the 9th and 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah at Muzdalifah in the open air. It is here they gather pebbles to hurl at the pillars of Mina (Jamarat). The shortstop at Mash’ar may remind you of your short life on this earth! That you are only a moment of this eternal time. It is for you to think, to plan, to strengthen your spirit, to prepare yourself for the battlefield to fight with the devil. The verse below best describes the philosophy behind the stop at Mash’ar:
“Then when you stream out of Arafat remember Allah at the Holy Mash’ar, and remember Him as He has guided you, and earlier you were indeed among the astray” (2: 198).
At Mina, the longest and last pause occurs. Millions of freedom-fighters who refuse to obey any power except Allah crowd here.
It has been said that Satan appeared in front of Prophet Abraham at this place three times when he wanted to sacrifice his son under God’s command. Satan tried everything to put doubt in his mind, but Prophet threw seven pebbles at him each time and made him run away. The Devil also tried to pervert the mother and the son to prevent Abraham from obeying God’s command, but they stayed firm in their resolution.
This deed became so monumental that it was made a rite of Hajj to teach us that Satan tries to misguide one sometimes through the spouse or offspring and sometimes approaches directly. Only strong faith in Allah can save us from this evil influence.
Declare monotheism by Tawaf.
Exercise the struggle of Hagar by Sa’y.
Show the descent of Adam by going to Arafat from the Kaaba.
Show the philosophy of man's creation, the evolution of thoughts from pure science to pure love, and the ascension of the spirit from mud to God by going from Arafat to Mina.
The last stage of evolution and absolute freedom from earthly desires with full submission to Allah is here, in Mina. It was at this plain that both the father and the son - Abraham and Ishmael - had surrendered to Allah, where Abraham was being tested to see whether he was capable of overcoming his personal feeling of love for his son for the sake of Allah, to check whether he was prepared to sacrifice his son. But when he was ready, his Ishmael was returned unto him unharmed:
“O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision” (37:104).
The lesson that would be learned here is if you love something more than you love Allah, then that thing has become your idol, and you must be ready to sacrifice that. You must be prepared to slaughter your worldly desires, worldly love, your Ishmael in Mina in order to be free from all worldly attachments. If you are, then slaughter a goat, sheep, ram, cow, or camel instead: “Thus do We reward the virtuous” (37:110).
“It is not their flesh or their blood that reaches Allah. Rather it is your God wariness that reaches Him. Thus has He disposed of them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous” (22:37).
After sacrificing an animal, you are to spurn your earthly pleasures once again by shaving or trimming your hair [iii]. You become free from whatever that stands between you and God even if it is as small as superficial beauties.
You acknowledge the Divine beauty by putting aside your pride and arrogance, and cleanse your soul and spirit from impurities. Consequently, it is by this sheer servitude to Allah that you reach absolute freedom.
When you first approached Kaaba, you had not, by then, purified yourself. You were still impure and unconscious. In Arafat, you gained consciousness. In Mina, you purified yourself. So, this is appropriate that you do the Tawaf and Sa’y in the purified state once again before you complete your Hajj and totally come out of Ihram.
It is obligatory for both men and women -either married or single- to perform Circumambulation of women (Tawaf-Un-Nisa). This shows the importance that Islam place on blissful married life and its effects on the family institution and the whole society.
Allah has made the husband promise to treat his wife well:
“Treat them (wives) kindly” (4:19).
As soon as the Ihram clothing for Hajj is donned, the husband and wife become prohibited for each other till the end of the rituals. As a matter of fact, marriage (Nikah) bounds a man and a woman into a married couple; in the same way circumambulation of women (Tawaf-Un-Nisa) and its prayer again reinstate the relationship of the couple. The mistakes they have made in the past get pardoned, and they are given a chance to start a new relationship, to be very careful in performing all their duties in their married life and family unit.
This is the latter Tawaf of the Kaaba, performed after you return from Mina. In Mina, you have defeated Satan and renewed your ties with Allah by following the footsteps of Abraham before you return home. During the rituals of Hajj, you played the roles of Abraham and Hagar. Do not replace your role-playing to something else when you return. Like Hagar, always trust in Allah. Like Abraham's fight against oppression. Like Abraham be prepared to sacrifice your Ishmael, i.e., love or desires, for the sake of your faith. That is the essence of Hajj. You return to Allah the way He wanted you to be: a slave totally dedicated to his/her Lord.
During Hajj rituals, and before Muslims return home, they defeat Satan and renew their relationship with God. They learn always to have faith in Allah and to be prepared to sacrifice their desires for the sake of Him. The rites of Hajj remind us of the Islamic axioms, i.e., monotheism (Tawhid), prophethood (Nubuwwah) and the afterlife (Ma’ad).
They also indicate the importance of unity in the Islamic community. Ultimately, Muslims return home with a reserve of knowledge and experience to share with their society. If accepted by Allah, this holy experience could remain like a glittering beam in their whole life.
The Holy Prophet said: "The daily prayer, Hajj, circumambulation, and other rites are aimed at remembering Allah. But when there is no remembrance of Him in your heart, what value will your oral remembrance have?"
Accordingly, faith is based on three important stages; acknowledgment by heart, affirmation by words, and performance of the principles.
[i]. According to some historical texts, after about more than three thousand years.
[ii]. A large stone on which Prophet Abraham stood while building the upper walls of Kaaba. It is believed that this rock was sent to Abraham from heaven along with three other rocks, the other one of which is the sacred black stone (Hajar al-Aswad).
[iii]. Women should not shave their heads; they only trim slightly at the end of the lock of hair. However Shaving the head is obligatory for men if it is the first time they are performing Hajj.
At the beginning of Islam, the number of literates in the whole Mecca was about 17 people (1). In those times, it was even considered as a shame to be able to read or write (2). In the ancient times, people mostly weren’t able to read and literacy was the exclusive privilege of the royal families or rich people. However, in the Arabia, even the royal families couldn’t read or write. Once, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) wrote a letter to “Bakr ibn Va’il”, a large Arab tribe, and enjoined them to believe in Islam; but when they received the letter, they weren’t even able to read it (3).
In spite of these shameful circumstances, Allah al-mighty sent His most important apostle to the people with only a book as his miracle. The first verses of the Quran, revealed to the Prophet (PUBH & HP), are about reading:
Read in the Name of your Lord who created; (1) created man from a clinging mass. (2) Read, and your Lord is the most generous, (3) who taught by the pen, (4) taught man what he did not know. (5) [96:1-5]
Muslims differentiate between the era before the Messenger (PBUH & HP) and the era after him based on peoples’ knowledge. We call the time before the rise of Islam “The Ignorance era”.
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) taught people that knowledge is the criterion that sets them apart . The Holy Quran says:
Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition (39:9)
About learning, the Holy Messenger (PBUH) says:
Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China to find it. (4)
Imam Ali (AS) also highlights the Importance of knowledge in his speech with one of his companions:
O Komeil! Knowledge is better than wealth, because knowledge protects you. But for wealth, you have to protect it. Wealth and money get less when you spend them, but by using your knowledge or by teaching it to others you even get more knowledgeable … O Komeil! The ones who love wealth excessively, are like dead people (spiritually) even if they are alive (Physically). However, the spirit of knowledgeable ones will always be alive in the hearts of people even if their bodies are dead. (5)
The Holy Messenger (PBUH & HP) even considered learning as “Vajib” which means that learning is an obligation for every Muslim:
Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim, men and women (6)
One of the clearest signs that shows the Prophet (PBUH & HP) wanted everybody to be literate and knowledgeable is that he ordered the slaves after the Badr war to teach the children of Medina to read and write and in return, the slaves would be free. (7)
The Holy Quran says:
By the pen and what they write (68:1)
We all know that without writing, we weren’t able to communicate our thoughts and ideas with each other and we couldn’t keep them for future generations. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) says:
Keep your knowledge safe.
Some people asked:
How can we do that?
The Prophet (PBUH & HP) replied:
By writing it! (8)
Moreover, Imam Sadiq (AS) said to one of his pupils, Mufazzal ibn Umar:
Write and spread your knowledge among the people and if you were going to die, leave your writings for your children because there will be a chaos in the future and in those times, people will not find any peace except in their books (9)
He also said:
Keep your writings because you will need them in the future (10)
Imam Hassan (AS) would gather his children,his niece and nephews and tell them:
You may be considered as kids now, but it is so likely that you will be the elders of many groups and families in the future. Therefore, it is your duty to seek for knowledge. And if there are some people among you who cannot memorize their knowledge, they must write and put their writings in their houses and keep them safe. (11)
Action and knowledge are inseparable in the Islamic view. If you act without having enough knowledge and data about the work you’re going to do, you will spoil it and your efforts will be in vain. Imam Sadiq (AS) says:
The one who acts without having enough knowledge is like a passenger who goes on the wrong road. So they get farther and farther from their destination as they go faster and faster. (12)
On the other hand, knowledge without acting is also useless. Imam Ali (AS) says:
Knowledge without action is like a tree without fruit or like a bow without its string (13).
The Holy Quran also says:
The example of those who were charged with the Torah (Old Testament), then failed to carry it, is that of a donkey carrying books. Evil is the example of the people who deny Allah’s signs, and Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot. (62:5)
- Fotooh al-Boldan, Pg.473
- Al-She’r va ash-Sho’ara, Pg.334
- As-Sahih fi sirah an-Nabi al-A’zam, Vol.1, Pg.49
- Vasa’il al-Shia, Vol.18, Pg.14, number 20 & 23
- Nahj al-Balaghah, Utterance no.147
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.3
- At-Tabaghat al-Kubra, vol.2, pg.22
- Bihar al-Anvar, vol.2, pg.151
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.52
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.52
- Kanz al-Ummal, vol.1, pg.752
- Tohaf al-Uqul, pg.362
- Mizan al-Hikmah, vol.4, pg.2841