Salat: Ritual Prayer
What is Salat?
Perhaps the most well-known Muslim practice among those who don't adhere to the religion of Islam is ritual prayer, or salat, which is performed five times a day: at dawn (al-fajr), midday (al-zuhr), afternoon (al-'asr), sunset (al-maghrib) and evening (al-'isha). Salat is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Prayer is always directed in the direction (qibla) of the Ka'ba shrine in Mecca. A prayer mat, sajjada, is commonly used during salat. Salat may be performed individually, but it carries special merit when done with other Muslims. The focal prayer of the week is the midday prayer at the mosque on Fridays.
Salat must always be preceded by ablutions (wudu') of ritually washing the face, hands, and feet. This can be done with sand when water is not available. (Quran 5:6; also 2:222, 4:43.) At the five appointed times, a muezzin announces a call to prayer (adhan), traditionally from a mosque's minaret. The words of the shahada feature heavily in the call to prayer:
Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah
Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah
Haiya 'ala al-salat
Haiya 'ala al-falah
Al-salat khayrun min al-nawm
La ilaha illa Allah
God is most great
I bear witness there is no god but God
I bear witness Muhammad is the prophet of God
Come to prayer
Come to wellbeing
Prayer is better than sleep
God is most great
There is no God but God
In modern times, the muezzin is usually heard on the radio. One can also utilize a service such as the "salat pager," which sends a reminder to the believer's pager as prayer times approach.
When performing salat at the mosque, worshippers are aligned in parallel rows behind the prayer leader (imam), who directs them through the rak'as (prescribed postures and recitations).
Islamic prayer begins in a standing position and moves through several simple postures until the supplicant is kneeling. (IslamicVoice.com has an illustrated guide to the rak'as, with an emphasis on the health benefits of the postures.) Specified recitations are said in each posture.
The content of prayer is glorification of God, recitations of the Qur'an, and blessings on the Prophet. Salat concludes with the taslima (greeting), "Peace be upon you," even when praying alone.
In addition to the regular prayer times, special congregational prayers take place just after noon on Fridays and mid-morning on the two major Islamic holidays. Individual devotional prayers, though not obligatory, are encouraged, especially during the night (tahajjud).
The other five pillars of Islam:
Daily confession of faith (shahada)
Paying the alms tax (zakat)
Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj)
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