Importance of Salat, the Muslim prayer (Part 1) -Prof. Afis Oladosun
“Verily, I am Allah. There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for My remembrance”. (Quran 20: verse 14)
Abu Hurayrah says: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying: “If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet added, “That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out (annuls) evil deeds.”
In nothing less than 700 times, the word Salat (the Muslim Prayer) is mentioned in the Qur’an. Sometimes, the word appears in the Muslim scripture accompanied by another religious obligation, the Zakat (almsgiving to the poor). When the Muslim prayer is collocated, as it were, with almsgiving, it calls attention to yet two other religious obligations both of which go together – worship of Allah and goodness to parents.
But a careful contemplation of these religious duties is instructive of the fact that the obligation to perform the five daily prayers occupies the core of the Muslim religious worship. As evidenced in the above epigraphs, the observance of Salat is the key to other acts of worship.
The Muslim worshipper who observes the Salat at the right time and in the manner in which it has been stipulated or prescribed positions himself for a series of blessings from Almighty Allah. Prophet Muhammad says: “Allah has obligated five prayers. Whoever excellently performs their ablutions, prays them in their proper times, completes their bows, prostrations and khushu` (the word Khushu` refers to the prayer of the worshipper in which the person’s heart is attuned to the prayer) has a promise from Allah that He will forgive him. And whoever does not do that has no promise from Allah. He may either forgive him or punish him. Allah (swt) is giving us a promise that he will forgive us! What more can we ask for? (People) should realize this prayer is a way for them to get their sins forgiven”. These words from Allah and His Prophet exemplify the path we wish to tread in this sermon.
The contemporary period exemplifies the constant necessity for us to read, and re-read our religion. The modern functions in ensuring that we forget where were yesterday; it seeks to occlude our vision with reference to where should be tomorrow.
But before we begin to rehash some of these blessings, it is important to remind ourselves of the step to good prayers, namely, the performance of ablution in the right manner.
Ablution is the ritual that usually precedes the Salat. It is usually done with water or, in the absence of water, with tayamum –ablution with dry and clean sand. One of the reasons which drive this sermon today is the error we usually commit while performing this ritual. Enter any ablution area in any mosque in our neighborhood, you would be shocked to behold a noise as if we are the market place. Whereas each step we take in the course of performing ablution has spiritual implications, the chance is there that our involvement in other activities like chattering while we assume we are performing this ritual can only lead to the invalidation of this whole process. In other words, he who has no ablution would have no reward in his Salat. If your ablution is deficient, it stands to reason that your prayers should be invalid.
One way by which the ablution of the Muslim worshipper may become vitiated is through chattering and unnecessary or unwarranted discussions. We often engage in chattering while doing ablution because of our forgetfulness that the right performance of ablution usually marks the beginning of Salat. Some of our brethren equally engage in chattering and “gisting” while doing ablution because they lack the knowledge of the supplication that should normally accompany each of the acts.
May I remind you and myself, that, unlike all other religions, it is incumbent upon us to have adequate knowledge of whatever acts of worship we want to embark upon before beginning such acts. Let us use ablution as an example. Each of the process involved in this ritual has different supplications which the worshipper is expected to offer. For example, beginning from the point at which we wash our faces three times, the worshipper is expected to supplicate thus: “Ya Rabbi, Bayyid wajhiy yawm tabyad wujuhun wa taswad wujuhun” – “O! My Lord, Lighten my face, the day some faces would be lightened while some would be blackened”.
Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African, and Cultural Studies and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.