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Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabiʿ
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The Qurʿānic meaning of ṣalāt can be distilled from a number of verses that describe the characteristic features of worship and its ethical and social aims. In its Meccan phase, the Qurʿān associates ṣalāt with recitation, tasbīḥ (divine praise), zakāt (almsgiving), and ṣabr (patience). The Qurʿān commands the believers to, “Establish regular prayers at the sun's decline till the darkness of the night, [and to establish] the morning prayer and reading: for prayer and reading in the morning carry their testimony” (17:78). Worshipping God can be adequately fulfilled only if the believer is guided by patience and perseverance. This was perhaps a historical necessity for the besieged Muslim community in Mecca in the first twelve years of Islam, “Nay, seek [Allāh's] help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit” (2:45).

In its shift from a doctrinal emphasis to a more behavioral one, especially with the Prophet's political triumph in Medina, the Qurʿān attaches additional meanings to ṣalāt. The Qurʿān seems to indicate that prayer in itself can be a valid mode of spirituality only if it is accompanied by a host of positive behavioral characteristics, such as commanding good, forbidding evil, and paying zakāt, “[They are] those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid the wrong” (22:41). Also, “Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to you, and establish regular prayer: for prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds: and remembrance of Allāh is the greatest [thing in life] without doubt. And Allāh knows the [deeds] that you do” (29:45). In numerous Qurʿānic verses, ṣalāt is synonymous with zakāt (see QURʿāN2:83, 2:110, 2:177, 9:18, 11:114, 17:78, and 58:13). Ṣalāt must also, as a concept as well as a practice, reflect a deeply ingrained attitude in man that manifests itself in acts of humility and patience. The Qurʿān tells us that the believers can succeed in this life and the hereafter only if they humble themselves in their prayers (23:1–2).

In general, the Qurʿānic meaning of patience (2:153, 13:22, and 22:35) reminds the believer of the necessity of constant perseverance and struggle against the evils of the self and life's hardships. To elevate the self to the level of obedience to the divine majesty, believers must observe ṣalāt on time, because it is a kitāb mawqūt—it is enjoined on believers at stated times (4:103). It is clear from the above that the intention of the Qurʿān is not merely to prescribe prayer as a ritual or an institution, but as an immense personal and communal commitment to order, punctuality, change, and coherence. Ṣalāt, in a sense, is the meeting point between the sacred and the secular in Muslim life. It is a reflection of a divine desire to change the world in the direction prescribed by God in the Qurʿān.

Since one of the main goals of Islam is to establish an egalitarian and just moral and social order, the purpose of ṣalāt should be to enhance this outward political and social tendency. And in this regard, Imam Shāfiʿī defines worship as consisting of qawl (word), ʿamal (deed), and imsāk (abstension from the forbidden deeds) (Khadduri, p. 121). Humility, perseverence, devotion, remembrance of God and the Day of Judgment are attributes of the believers who perform ṣalāt.

Origin of the Practice.

One of the earliest and most elaborate sources on ṣalāt in Islam is the often-quoted Ṣaḥīḥ of the famous traditionist Imam al-Bukhārī (810–870 CE). In the section, “The Book of Ṣalāt,” Bukhārī recounts how prayer was made obligatory on Muslims. He relates that prayer was prescribed on the night of the isrāʿ (ascension) in sūrah17 when Muḥammad was taken up by the Angel Gabriel to the highest heaven. There Muḥammad met with Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Adam, and other celebrated figures whom Muslims consider prophets. Muḥammad, Bukhārī tells us, was led to a mysterious spot in heaven where he heard the creaking of the pens, and there God enjoined fifty prayers on Muslims. When Muḥammad was returning to earth, he passed by Moses, who asked him about the number of prayers imposed on the Muslim community. When Moses heard it was fifty a day, he asked Muḥammad to go back and ask God for reduction, “for your followers will not be able to bear it.” Muḥammad did as he was told, and God reduced the number by half, and Moses once again informed him it was still too much. Muḥammad went back and forth between God and Moses until God granted him five daily prayers, which Muslims could tolerate. Bukhārī sums up this interesting anecdote by quoting a ḥadīth qudsī (a holy ḥadīth attributed to God): “These are five prayers and they are all [equal to] fifty [in reward] for My word does not change” (Bukhārī, p. 213).

When Islam took its political, social, and legal shape in Medina, and more so in Arabia after the conquest of Mecca, Muslims focused their attention on three major elements of the new religion: prayer as an institution; the qiblah (direction of prayer); and the mosque as a place for both individual and congregational worship.

The act of prayer, although following certain well-defined movements, involves the following required steps: ablution (wuḍūʿ or ṭahārah or ghusl), intention (nīyah), bowing (rukūʿ), and prostration (sujūd). To perform ablution adequately, one must go through two intertwined processes: spiritual and physical purification. In the first process, the mind and heart are cleansed of any thoughts related to this world, so one is able to concentrate on God and the blessings He has bestowed. In the second, the face, hands, mouth (unless one is fasting), feet, and forehead are washed. The ablution begins with recitation of the formula, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. I am proposing to perform ablution so that God may be pleased with me.” When it is completed, one says, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allāh; He has no partner; and I bear witness that Muḥammad is His servant and Messenger.” In its totality, the act of worship presupposes certain traits that Islam encourages: humility, knowledge, presence of the heart, wisdom, and devotion.

Because of the central position ṣalāt occupies in Islamic thought and life, Muslim jurists and theologians have discussed at length the act of individual and group prayer, the conditions surrounding it, who must pray or who may abstain from praying, characteristics of the prayer leader (imām), the significance of the Friday prayer, prayer times, and making up missed prayers. On the whole, Muslim jurists agree that ṣalāt is obligatory for sane Muslim men and women who have reached puberty. In the words of the thirteenth-century Sunnī jurist, Aḥmad ibn al-Naqīb al-Miṣrī, any person growing up in a Muslim society,

"who denies the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakāt, fasting Ramaḍān, the pilgrimage, or the unlawfulness of [alcohol] and adultery, or denies something else upon which there is scholarly consensus and which is necessarily known as being of the religion, thereby becomes an unbeliever (p. 109)"

.Al-Miṣrī describes the arkān (pillars) of prayer, summarizing the opinion of the majority of Muslim jurists, both Sunnī and Shīʿī. He says that the pillars of prayer consist of the following:1. intention (nīyah); 2.  the opening “God is the Greatest” (“Allāhu akbar”); 3.  standing (wuqūf     ); 4.  reciting the opening sūrah (“al-Fātiḥah”); 5.   bowing (rukūʿ); 6.  remaining motionless a moment therein (ṭumaʿnīnā); 7. straightening back up after bowing (iʿitidāl); 8.   remaining motionless a moment therein (ṭumaʿnīnā); 9.  prostration (sujūd); 10. remaining motionless a moment therein (iʿitidāl); 11.  sitting back between the two prostrations (al-julūs bayna al-sajdatayn); 12. remaining motionless a moment therein (iʿitidāl); 13.   the final testimony of faith (al-tashahhud al-akhīr); 14.  sitting therein (julūs); 15. the blessings on the Prophet (al-ṣalāt ʿalā al-nabī); 16.   saying “Peace be upon you” (“al-salāmu ʿalaykum”), the first of the two times it is said at the end of the prayer; and 17.  the proper sequence of the above integrals.The above features of prayer have always made ṣalāt a distinctive Islamic practice and defined Muslims in a unique way. Thus, although Islam might share the same general spiritual aims as Judaism and Christianity, in that it seeks to establish an ideal state in both the believers’ hearts and in this world, the ṣalāt, with its certain rites and practices, has helped Muslims to set themselves apart from both Jews and Christians.

The Qurʿān discusses at length the meaning of qiblah, and the selection of Mecca as the place toward which Muslims turn when praying. After the death of Muḥammad in 632 CE and the dramatic expansion of Islam beyond its Arabian origins, Muslims were in direct contact with people who held different religious and cultural views. Muslims accepted for a while the idea of worshipping in non-Muslim places of worship, that is, Christian churches, and recent research indicates that the early Muslim prayer was toward the east (Bashear, p. 268; Andrea, p. 4; and Wensinck, 5:82). Ṣalāt, as the institution of worship, became one of the main manifestations of the power of nascent Islam. This can be corroborated by the Qurʿānic verse, “To Allāh belong the East and the West: Whithersoever you turn, there is Allāh's countenance, for Allāh is All-Embracing, All-Knowing” (2:115). In the opinion of Bashear, although the church, as a non-Muslim place of worship, was not favored by the Prophet as the place of worship for Muslims, he definitely did not prohibit Muslims from using it as such (p. 274). With the further evolution of Islam and the establishment of a large empire in the eighth and ninth centuries, Muslims became more conscious of the need to establish their own separate places for worship, and thus the idea of praying in non-Muslim places was forsaken gradually. Bashear contends that

"as far as the first century [seventh century CE] is concerned, one cannot speak of “one original qiblah of Islam,” but rather of several currents in the search for one. It is also plausible that this search was eventually decided after Islam acquired a central sanctuary, prayer places, and religious concepts and institutions of its own (p. 382)."

The Prophet's mosque in Medina, as the first Muslim place of worship, functioned as a gathering place for worship, meditation, and learning. Because of the quality invested in this Muslim sacred space, the mosque has exerted an ideological influence on the believers, and this might explain why modern Islamic movements have paid special attention to the social and intellectual significance of the mosque as a place from which the organization of society and state emanates.

Mystical Worship.

Ṣūfī literature abounds in references to prayer, its virtues, and various characteristics. Great Ṣūfīs, especially those defining themselves as ahl al-sharīʿah wa-al-ḥaqīqah (followers of Islamic law and the esoteric truth), have viewed the Qurʿānic verses of dhikr (invocation or remembrance of God), duʿā (supplication), and taḍarruʿ (beseeching God in great humility) as the heart of worship, without which ṣalāt becomes a meaningless ritual. According to ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (d. 1166 CE), remembered by some as al-quṭb al-aʿẓam (the greatest [Ṣūfī] pole), when the remembrance of God is invoked, at any time of day or night, the heart of the believer hears the invocations and is “enlightened with the light of that which is remembered. It receives energy and it becomes alive—not only alive in this world, but alive forever in the hereafter” (al-Jīlānī, p. 48; see also al-Bakrī, al-futūḥāt al-rabbānīyah; Ibn ʿAṭāʿ Allāh, al-ḥikam al-ʿaṭāʿīyah; and Maḥmūd, al-madrasah al-shādhilīyah). Closeness to God and obedience to His injunctions should be the main goal of the Muslim. A true Muslim has to exert the effort necessary to bridge the gap or chasm that may exist between him or her and God. Besides being the heart of Islam, ṣalāt is an obligatory duty that each Muslim man and woman must perform five times a day. Although ṣalāt, as described above, involves a well-known ritual, its final aim is to transcend any formal barrier between a person and God. The Prophet expresses that clearly in one of his sayings:

"God, most blessed and most high, says, “Nothing brings humans near to Me like the performance of what I made obligatory for them… Through works of duty, My servant comes ever nearer to Me until I love him, and when I have bestowed My love on him, I become his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, his hand with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks.”"

Taken metaphorically, the righteous, those who follow the divine path, will be guided by the mercy and compassion of God.

Supplications are the heart of the Ṣūfī understanding of ṣalāt. The Qurʿān expresses that in a succinct fashion, “When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close [to them]: I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me: let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way” (2:186).

Ṣūfīs, from Abū Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī (d. 857 CE) to Abū al-Ḥasan al-Shādhilī (d. 1256 CE), wrote beautiful poetry extolling the meaning, virtue, significance, and final goal of ṣalāt. The true Ṣūfī is in constant contact with the divine through daily, if not hourly, prayer. Ṣūfīs ask God to provide them with yaqīn (incontrovertible certainty), tawḥīd (unity) that is unassailed by shirk (association), and an obedience that no insubordination can confront. They also ask God to grant them neither love nor preference of any worldly thing, neither fear of nor for any thing. Since one of the main goals of Ṣūfī worship is to converse with God through association with and comprehension of divine secrets (asrār rabbānīyah), there is a constant reminder of human fragility and imperfection. Ṣūfīs tend often to repeat the Qurʿānic verse, “O my Lord, I have indeed wronged my soul” (27:45). A Ṣūfī meditative prayer might end by asking God to prescribe a way out from all sin, anxiety (hamm), grief (   ghamm), and anguish; from every carnal impulse, desire, alarm, involuntary thought, idea, will, and act; and a way to heed every divine decree and command. The supplicant, in the final analysis, cannot attain any of the above goals without divine mercy. The Ṣūfī, and the Muslim in general, remains hopeful, since God's mercy comprehends everything. In Islamic meditative practices, ṣalāt has been used as a means to heal and remove worry and anxiety.

Changing Function: The View of Islamic Resurgence.

Muslim revivalist movements in recent centuries have looked for inspiration to the past, when Islam was in its strength and glory. Their main goal is socioreligious: to bridge the increasing gap between state and religion in modern Muslim society. They advance Islam as an all-encompassing ideology, and some contend that a true Muslim individual and family can exist only in a genuine Muslim state, that is, a state that is based on the sharīʿah. The teachings of Ḥasan al-Bannā (d. 1949) of Egypt, Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (d. 1979) of India/Pakistan, and Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989) of Iran, illustrate the new dynamic meaning given to ṣalāt and the mosque as a sacred place in modern Islam. Revivalists went about organizing their movements with ceaseless zeal and energy and preached the message of revolution and change. They viewed the mosque not merely as a place for worship, but as a place where radical transformation and renewal might take place. In this, they follow the Qurʿānic maxim: “The mosques of Allāh shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allāh and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, and fear none (at all) except Allāh” (9:18).

In the view of modern Muslim revivalists, the mosque offers a multiplicity of functions. First, it is a place of worship; it links the people of this earth with the affairs of the heavens. In addition to reflecting man's spirituality, worship, in Ḥasan al-Bannā's view, for instance, reflects the social, political, and ethical values of the three major systems known to man: communism, dictatorship, and democracy. Bannā captures the connection between Islamic prayer and the three systems in the following:

"Islamic prayer… is nothing but a daily training in practical and social organization uniting the features of the Communist regime with those of the dictatorial and democratic regimes…. the moment [the believer] enters [the mosque], he realizes that the mosque belongs to God and not to anyone of his creatures; he knows himself to be the equal of all those who are there, whoever they may be; here there are no great, no small, no high, no low, no more groups or classes…. And when the muezzin calls, “now is the hour of prayer,” they form an equal mass, a compact block, behind the imam…. That is the principal merit of the dictatorial regime: unity and order in the will under the appearance of equality. The imam himself is in any case limited by the teachings and rules of the prayer, and if he stumbles or makes a mistake in his reading or in his actions, all those behind him…have the imperative duty to tell him of his error in order to put him back on the right road during the prayer, and the imam himself is bound to accept the advice and, forsaking his error, return to reason and truth. That is what is most appealing in democracy. (Karpat, p. 121)"

In other words, Bannā places the mosque, far from being an abstract metaphysical locus, squarely within this world and its secular systems.

The mosque is the abode of the newly found religiosity. Here, secular domain and space ceases to exist. The mosque is also the criterion against which the religiosity of society is judged. It is the symbol of Islamic rule. “Mosques,” in Ḥasan al-Bannā's words, “are the schools of the commoners, the popular universities, and the colleges that lend educational services to the young and old alike” (p. 128). Briefly, a mosque should have the triple function of being a place of worship for people; a place of education; and a hospital for the spiritually, mentally, and physically sick. In this Bannā invokes the early experience of the Prophet in Medina when the latter saw the mosque as the concrete embodiment of Islamic belief and as a culmination of many of the ideals that he had preached in Mecca.

On the surface, modern Islamic revivalist movements use conventional Islamic terminology that is common to all who share Muslim culture. Their use of the mosque as a key term is significant for the meaning it denotes and for the social and political functions it can render. The physical space, that is, the mosque, is interpolated with the cultural and religious space, or the mosque's functions. Thus they put emphasis on the mosque as a key, in order to demonstrate its usefulness and in order to cleanse it of the meaning other religious groups, especially the ʿulamāʿ (community of religious scholars), had attached to it. Above all, the mosque purifies the intentions and physical outlook of the person in prayer, and initiates a new meaning of religiosity that compels the believer to conquer the secular domain of life.

In sum, Islamic revivalism elevates politics to the level of prayer. Sacred space is the center of political activity, and prayer is just one of its many expressions.



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