Prayer in Islam (Salat) is one of the most important practical principles of Islam . It is a physical, mental and spiritual act of worship consisting of prescribed actions and words. Every action in the prayer in Islam (Salat) is meaningful and if you want to know the Philosophy of Prayer in Islam, we will see what each movement in the prayer means and represents.
The prayer in Islam starts with standing. That is to appear in front of God gently and courtly with your whole heart and body; that is how one demonstrates the respect for others. Having the gaze down in Qiyam demonstrates the modesty towards God. It makes one forget about his\her superiority and helps to overcome his\her arrogance . Also, knowing that one should stand five times a day in front of a superior power, who knows every overt and covert act and behavior, will eventually prevent from evil deeds and sins .
We do many things every day, some of which are repetitive and by habit, and we are not even aware of why we are doing them. Prayer in Islam, one of those works, seems to be a physical practice. That is why the prayer must have a Niyyah to prevent the prayer from becoming a daily habit and to help the Muslim to recall the reason behind that. Hence, a prayer without Niyyah will be a set of physical movements, and it won’t be accepted.
Niyyah reminds one that he\she is showing up to demonstrate the submission to the divine orders. Having a pure intention in the prayer teaches to avoid duplicity. It is not necessary to repeat the words of the Niyyah. That is enough to recall it and to consider it throughout the prayer. Indeed, this should be considered during any other act or practice in daily life; firstly, to purify our intentions for God; then, to stick to that intention until the end.
The sayings in the prayer in Islam (Salat) start with Takbir. Takbir means to regard God as great. By saying Takbir, we express our belief that God is great. There exists nothing similar to Him. He cannot be perceived or touched by our physical senses and understanding . Takbir reminds us of the Monotheism (Tawhid) which is the first pillar of Islam .
Bowing (Ruku) is a perfect demonstration of the gratitude and respect that a human being has for God, as a divine source and a higher power. And, this is a unique posture that a Muslim will never have in front of anyone else . In Ruku, every individual, in whatever position and grade, bows to God which consequently reduces the arrogance and pride within him\her. Lady Fatima (AS) said: “God has ordered […] the prayer to purify you from arrogance and pride” .
According to Imam Ali (AS), holding the neck straight during Ruku shows that one believes firmly in Islam such that he\she won’t give up even if he loses his\her life (to have the neck cut) for this belief. Another point in Ruku is that it is a unique posture that only exists in the Islamic ritual and distinguishes the Islamic prayer.
Prostration (Sujood) is exhibiting the maximum humility and dignity for God. Imam Sadiq (AS) describes that one is closest than ever to God in this posture . According to the Quran: “to Allah prostrates whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth of creatures…” (16:49). This means that in that posture, the human being is in harmony with the whole universe and creatures.
Imam Ali (AS) explained that the first Sujood means that God has created us from the earth. Coming up from the first Sujood is the symbol of this worldly life. The second Sujood represents the death and returning to the earth. Finally, rising from the second Sujood symbolizes the afterlife . According to the interpreters of the Quran, this refers to the fact that: “From the earth, We created you, and into it, We will return you, and from it, We will extract you another time” (20:55).
There have been some attempts in the recent years to analyze and justify the physical benefits of performing the prayer. Those discussions might be true, but they are not the whole reason behind this practical principle of Islam. The prayer is a means of worship that engages the body and soul and is beneficial to both. The reasons above are a small part of the philosophy behind the acts of the prayer. One might refer to the advanced references for more details.
- Shaikh al-Hur al-Aamili, "Wasail al-Shia", p. 214.
- J. Maleki Tabrizi, “The Mysteries of the Prayer”, vol. 1, p. 323.
- Ibn Babawayh, "Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih", Book Salat, Chap. 17
- Monotheism Tawhid
- A. Hosseini Khamenei, “The Prayer in Depth”, p. 5.
- M. Majlisi, "Bihar al-Anwar", vol. 29, p. 223.
- Shaykh al-Kulayni, "al-Kafi", vol. 3, p. 324, T. 11.
- Ibn Babawayh, "Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih", vol. 1, p. 311.
Unlike many socialistic or capitalistic economies, the Islamic economy is the one in which all kinds of people have their own right to financially benefit from their society. Therefore, a typical feature of this kind of economy is essentially social justice in which poor people are not neglected or excluded from the beneficiary circle of society. Accordingly, Islam, the religion that even cares about animals and plants let alone human beings [i], has established some rules with regard to people who are suffering from deprivation; one of the most important of which is called “Zakat” (Alms Tax).
Alms-tax (Zakat) is an obligatory rule, which is considered one of the foundations of Islam [ii]. In a literal sense, Zakat means growth and purification while technically it is defined as “paying an exact amount of money that has become obligatory through the rules of Sharia in order to be used in favor of the people in need or for certain beneficial deeds in society”  in order to purify and cleanse one’s money or his incomes. Its significance becomes evident through many verses in the Holy Quran, which sometimes consider it along with prayer (Salat) as a sign of true believers .
Despite the fact that the concept of Zakat had never existed in the full form that Islam offers, it is not the first religion that introduces Zakat as a kind of task that should be done for the benefit of the individual as well as the society. According to the text of the Holy Quran, Jesus Christ and Moses, as well as Ishmael, are among the prophets who recommended their followers to carry out this advantageous task .
In the Bible, Christians are advised to help the poor financially: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and “But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luk 11:41). Moreover, the act of “Tzedakah” in Judaism, is a religious obligation that includes almsgiving as one of its manifestations . However, in Islam Zakat is a compulsory rule while in others it is just a recommendation .
The performance of this vital task is accompanied by many definite and specific criteria:
A person will be obliged to pay Zakat if he is grown-up, of sound mind, and in possession of something.
A person is considered a good recipient of Zakat if he is living in poverty, in debt, and cannot pay for it. Also, it can be used for public jobs such as building schools, hospitals, etc.
The amount of money that should be paid depends on the kind of the material through which Zakat has become obligatory; these are two kinds of metal- gold, and silver-, four grains- barley, wheat, date, and raisin- as well as three kinds of animal - cow, sheep, and camel. Each of the aforementioned products has its particular amount and time of payment which have been specified in detail in the sharia of Islam . Nevertheless, under certain circumstances and based on the needs of people at every time, other things – whether an object or a concept (e.g., Knowledge) – may be included to which Zakat is ascribed.
There are certain manners that should be carefully observed when giving someone Zakat; for instance, it should be given with complete contentedness, respecting the person who is receiving it, and also should be from the best materials at hand .
Aside from its financial benefits - purifying one’s money, preventing the economy to be manipulated by a certain group of society, and enabling neglected people who are taken care of to act as advantageous agents of society and have a job-, it will also purify and elevate one’s soul.
This happens through collaborating and helping other members of the society which spread the spirit of kindness and affection, causes people to feel more attached to one another, form an unbreakable bond together, and finally direct one’s attention to others’ needs rather than his own. Also, it would relieve him from greediness and eventually make him a better person.
It is noteworthy that Zakat has been ascribed to those products that are provided for human beings through nature; most of the work has been done by nature for free and with the least effort of human beings. Of course, his mental and practical effort is involved, but the main part is accomplished by nature. So in order to make up for this generosity, we would give away a very small amount of money to the ones in need.
[i]. It is known through a hadith said by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) that watering a thirsty tree is like quenching thirsty Muslims with water .
[ii]. There are many hadiths that consider the skeleton of Islam to be founded on five practices: prayer (Salat), holy pilgrimage (Hajj), fasting (Sawm), alms-tax (Zakat), and guardianship (Velayat) .
- Sheikh Al-Hur Al-Aamili. Wasail Al-Shia. Vol. 7.
- Muhammad ibn Yaqub Al-Kulayni. Al-Kafi (The Sufficient Book). Vol. II. Tehran: Masjed Publication.
- Mohsen Qaraati. Khums and Zakat. Ahl al-beit's Maaref research and publication institute.
- Holy Quran 2:177,277- 4:162- 9:71
- Morteza Avini website
- Holy Quran 19:31, 55 – 2:43
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.