Lexically, the Arabic word for prayer (salah) means supplication. The Qur’an says,
“Pray for them; surely, your prayer is sereneness for them; God is Ever-Hearing, Ever-Knowing.” (Qur’an, 9: 103).
Conventionally in Shari’a, salah is defined in terms of the well-known movements that start with saying, “Allahu ‘Akbar” (God is Great) and end with saying, “Assalamu ‘alaykum” (Peace be upon you). Once the term salah is mentioned in Shari‘a texts, it should be used as referring to prayers in that sense without any restriction. 
The Qur’an indicates that performing prayers is second to belief in God the Almighty, and that it has a significant influence in refining souls, since it restrains erroneous and harmful behaviors. Moreover, the Qur’an considers neglecting prayers as associated with denying the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an says,
“Have you seen the one who denies the Recompose? That is the one who repulses the orphan. He does not urge the offering of food to the needy. So, woe to the ones who pray, while they are unmindful of their prayers! Those are the ones who show off, and refuse and prevent even small kindnesses.” (Qur’an, 107: 1 – 5)
Evidence of the obligation of prayer includes some Qur’anic verses, such as the following:
“In no way were they commanded anything except to worship God, making the religion His, faithfully and unswerving, and to keep up prayers, and pay Zakat; and that is the Religion most upright.” (Qur’an, 98: 5)
“Keep up the prayers for My Remembrance.” (Qur’an, 20:14)
There are many other similar verses spread throughout the Ever-Glorious Qur’an. There are also some hadiths that prove the obligation and significance of prayers in Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) says, “Prayers are ordained, Hajj is prescribed, and rituals are observed to establish the remembrance of God the Almighty.” There is another hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) says, “Abandoning prayers is what separates one from disbelief.”
Prayers in Islam are not confined to certain rites or formalities as it may be the case with other religions. Rather, it is performed simply in some movements preceded by ablution in the form of purifying the exposed parts of the body (basically, the face and limbs) through washing them with water as a symbol of purge from evils and sins. When water is unavailable, it is sufficient to symbolize ablution by using pure earth. The following are some characteristics of prayers in Islam that distinguish it from prayers in other religions:
A- Prayers are not confined to a certain place. In other words, any clean and pure place is good for performing the obligatory prayers. In one of the hadiths, the Prophet says, “The earth has been made sacred and pure and a mosque for me”.
Therefore, the mosque, as a building, doesn’t constitute a necessary requirement for prayers. It is just a place where Muslims gather to perform congregational prayers together.
B- Prayers in Islam do not require a clergyman or an intermediary with whom prayers have to be performed. Any ordinary Muslim can pray individually be an Imam (or leader) of his fellow Muslims. No conditions are set for an Imam except to adhere to the rules and regulations of performing prayers. Unlike Christianity and many other religions, Islam knows no intermediary people to intercede between God and His servant.
C- Prayers in Islam do not have specific theological rites or formalities such as a temple, an altar, hymns, or incense burning, etc. Nothing is required in prayers except a submission of the worshipper’s heart to God, calmness of the soul, refraining from making noise, avoiding ornaments of the worldly life, as well as humbleness and submissiveness to the glory, sovereignty and perfection of God. 
As the human body is in need of nourishment, the human soul is also in need of spiritual nourishment for attaining sublimity and salvation from calamities. Man, by nature, permanently remembers himself and forgets his Lord; seeks his own interest and forgets others, loves to take and dislikes giving, and rarely thanks Allah. He may even deny others their rights! Allah enjoined prayer-doing to purify people from the impurity of worldly life. It teaches them the virtues of true humanity to perfect their worship and carry out their mission in this life. Are not they created only to worship the Almighty?! The defined number of prayers is likened to the calories a body needs! Benefits cannot be achieved except through such amount, otherwise physical and moral imbalance will result.
Ponder over the reality of prayer as mentioned by jurists. “It combines sayings and deeds which are started by takbīr (saying, ‘Allahu ‘Akbar’) and ended by salām (saying as-salāmu ‛alaykum, i.e. ‘peace be upon you’) directed to all of Allah's worshippers. The deeds of prayers combine the etiquettes of salutation and greetings typically made by followers to their kings and leaders, but stripped of evil purposes. They encourage submission, humility, and concentration while sitting down, bowing, and prostration.
They are done day and night to prove submission to Allah Almighty, the Forgiver and the One to be feared, while performing prayers. He says,
“Keep up the prayer at the two extremities of the daytime and in the early reaches of the night. Surely the fair deeds will put away the odious deeds. That is a Reminding to the mindful.” (Qur’ān, 11:114)
However, man may find the performance of such duty burdensome, for man rarely thanks Allah. However, man should get accustomed to this. Allah (may He be Exalted) says,
“Endure patiently, (for) then surely Allah does not leave to waste the reward of the fair-doers.” (Qur’ān, 11:115)
Prayer is full of acts and sayings which requires its performer to be concentrating while doing them. When starting prayer saying, “ˀAllāhu
ˀAkbar” a person should know that he is in a noble gathering with Allah. Jurists call this “takbīratu l-iḥrām”. It means that a praying person forbids things distracting his attention while talking to Allah Almighty. Among the sayings of the prayer is the recitation of ˀUmu l-kitāb or Al-Fātiḥah (the Opening Chapter). The words of this sūrah represent a live meeting between Allah and His worshipper. A worshipper is talking and the Lord is responding!
A Divine ḥadīth reads, “I have divided the prayer into two halves between me and my servant. One half of it is for Me and the other is for my servant, and my servant gets what he asks for.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Recite: The servant says, ‘Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.’ Allah the Blessed, the Exalted, says, ‘My servant has praised Me’. The servant says, 'The Merciful, the Compassionate. ’ Allah says, ‘My servant has spoken well of Me’. The servant says, ‘Master of the Day of Judgment. Allah says, ‘My servant has glorified Me’. The servant says, ‘You alone do we worship and from You alone do we ask for help. ‘Allah says, ‘This verse is between me and my servant, and for My servant is what he asks. ‘The servant says, ‘Guide us in the straight Path, the Path of those whom You have blessed, not of those with whom You are angry, nor those who are in error. ‘Allah says, ‘These are for my servants, and for my servant is what he asks”.
Those meanings are so important and should be repeated. This is due to the fact that the blessings of Allah are many and require repeated thanking and truthfully glorifying to Allah for His supreme attributes and noble Names. They, moreover, instill in the hearts a fear from the Day of Judgment which warns those adorning worldly life.
When performing prayer, one vows to worship Allah alone and seek His help as the Lord of Monotheism. Fulfilling his pledge, Allah grants him what he asks for. The most important thing to ask for is Allah's guidance for someone to be saved from deviation, Allah's content to be saved from His curse and straightforwardness to be saved from confusion in order to have the pleasures of worldly life and the Hereafter.
After reciting Al-Fātiḥah, the worshipper reads another surah with it to increase knowledge of the supreme revelation and to have the insight of all life affairs. The worshipper then kneels down and says “subḥana rabiya l-‘Aẓīm” (Glorifications to my Lord, the greatest). How many are those who take partners with Him, deny His existence and lack the knowledge of His supreme attributes?! To the contrary, a Muslim glorifies his Lord and negates imperfection to Him. Affirmed that his glorification has been heard, the worshipper then rises up saying, “Sami‘a Allāhu liman ḥamidah” i.e. Allah has heard those glorifying and thanking Him. The Prophet (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) used to say after raising his head from bowing, “O Allah! Our Lord, to you be the praise that would fill all the heavens and the earth, and all that may please you besides (them). O, You are worthy of praise and glory, most worthy of what a servant says, and we all are Your servants; no one can withhold what You give or give what You withhold; and riches cannot avail a wealthy person against You”.
The last phrase of the ḥadīth denotes that nothing of worldly advancement and pleasures can avail punishment or gets Allah's content,
“Allah outspreads provision for whomever He wishes and detains (it from whomever He wishes); and they exult with (the present) life; and in no way is the present life, beside the Hereafter, (anything) except a (passing) enjoyment.” (Qur’ān, 13:26)
A worshipper then prostrates saying, “subḥana rabiya l-ˀa‘lā” (Glorifications to Allah, the Supreme). With every prayer unit called rukū‘ (bowing down), there should be two prostrations. Putting head on the ground, he gets involved in the best condition and draws nearer to his Lord to ask for His bounty. The Prophet used to say while prostrating, “I have prostrated my face to the One Who created it, and made its hearing and vision, through His ability and power” and “Glory be to the One Who has all power, sovereignty, magnificence and might”. All those acts are to be started and ended with takbīr.
At the first or last sitting, a worshipper acknowledges that all the previous acts and sayings of prayer are devoted to Allah only, saying, “All compliments, prayers and pure words are due to Allah”, then he sends salām (greeting of respect) to the bearer of the supreme message (Prophet
Muḩammad) as a reward for his guidance. Such salām shows the Prophet as the highest example. He, moreover, sends salām to himself and to righteous worshippers of Allah.
How lofty are those words! How great is this prayer performed by Muslims! It is important to stress two aspects: the first is rational and the other emotional. The first aspect entails that a person should have full concentration and be fully aware of his sayings while talking to his Lord. According to the Sunnah of the prophet, no part of a person's prayer shall be rewarded completely except the one on which he concentrated. Distraction while preforming prayer may result in a prayer which has shortcomings,
“O you who have believed, do not draw near to prayer (when) you are drunken until you know what you are saying.” (Qur’ān, 4: 43)
Prayer instills submissiveness, politeness, and awe in the hearts of the believers. It is a spiritual elevation to the heavenly Supreme Gathering. If it is performed according to the divine prescribed manner, it can be a means for forgiveness of sins and purification of souls. The Prophet (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) says, “Say, if there were a river at the door of one of you in which he takes a bath five times a day, would any dirt remain on him?" They replied, "No dirt is left on him." He said, "That is the like of the five (obligatory) prayers. Allah obliterates all sins as a result of performing them.”
In fact, prayer can safeguard a person from sins. Allah (may He be Exalted) says,
“Surely, prayer forbids obscenity and malfeasance; and indeed the Remembrance of Allah is greater.” (Qur’ān, 29: 45)
However, human beings are weak and their will cannot always resist temptation, the devil incites. Do they despair of the source of the sublimity, forgiveness and the way back to Allah?! They should adhere to prayer, which purifies their souls and makes them have firm resolution. A Muslim should not seek fortunetellers' help. This is because a Muslim is better than those deviant people who cannot help him. One should always resort to Allah's Help.
Prayer is part of the fundamental Islamic acts of worship practiced on every land under the rule of Islam. The mosque has been the first landmark of the Muslim civilization in any village or city where Islam prevails.
When the believers succeed in establishing their Muslim community away from the slippery paths of misguided people and infidels, the first thing they do is offering the prescribed prayers in response to the following Qur’anic verse: Allah says,
“Those who, in case We establish them in the land, keep up the prayers, and pay the Zakat (i.e., poor due), command beneficence and forbid malfeasance; to Allah belongs the result of all affairs.” (Qur’an, 22:41)
At the time of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH), some people asked to be exempted from the prayer obligation if they were to convert to Islam, yet the Prophet (PBUH) refused decisively, saying, “There is no good in a religion without prayers.”
The Qur’an draws our attention to the fact that the civil nations that perished in the past were destroyed because they were empty of spirituality and were overwhelmed by the worldly and materialistic desires; they were totally disconnected from Allah and deprived of His blessings. Allah describes such nations, saying,
“Then there succeeded even after them a generation who wasted the prayers and closely followed lusts; so they will eventually meet misguidance.” (Qur’an, 19: 59)
Islam urges a Muslim to hurry to the mosque five times a day to perform the obligatory prayers. The first Muslim generation responded perfectly to that to the extent that Ibn Mas‛oud said, “I have attended the time when no one stayed away from prayers except a hypocrite whose hypocrisy was well known or a sick man; if a sick man could walk supported by two persons he would come to prayers. He also reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, taught us the paths of right guidance among which prayer was offered in the mosque and to which adhān (prayer call) was called.”
Apparently, the enemies of Islam at the time of the revelation felt angry at seeing the frequent awesome scene of Muslims hastening from the corners of Madinah to prayer with their Prophet (PBUH) five times a day. Congregational prayers were held regularly around the day. Allah says,
“Surely the prayers have been a timed prescription for the believers.” (Qur’an, 4:103)
The enemies of Islam could not express their anger directly so they started to vent it out through backbiting Muslins and laughing at them. They would gather and make funny and satirical comments on the Muslims going to prayer. It was such an evil act on the part of the Muslim’s enemies.
The following Qur’anic verses were revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) asking the believers to cut off relations with those mockers and to frown at them and that was the least Muslims should do with them. Allah Almighty says,
“O you who have believed, do not take to yourselves the ones who take your religion in mockery and as a plaything- from among the ones who were brought the Book even before you and (from among) the steadfast disbelievers-as constant patrons; and be pious to Allah in case you are believers. When you call out to prayers, they take it to themselves in mockery and as a plaything; that is because they are people who do not consider.” (Qur’an, 4: 57-58)
It is their total disbelief and their wish to defy the new Muslims that led the Jews, idol worshipers, and hypocrites to make fun of the true religion and its rituals. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, disliked to see Islam and its rituals attacked by such a wave of sarcasm and to see the hypocrites supported by the disbelievers hurting Muslims in such mean way. The Prophet (PBUH) then sent out a warning that deprived the hypocrites of sleep; he said, “I was thinking of commanding that the call to prayer be given, then I would tell a man to lead the people in prayers and go out with some other men carrying bundles of wood to burn down the houses of these mockers.”
No prayer is more burdensome to the hypocrites than Fajr (Dawn) prayer and the ‛Ishā’ (night) prayer! It is obvious that the Prophet (PBUH) did mean them with the above-mentioned warning since the Jews and the Christians do not offer Muslim prayers at all.
However, it should be noted that the above-mentioned hadith does not entail that people should be gathered for prayers by threatening them as this is impossible to be the case. The majority of Muslims at that time would hasten to the mosque whenever they hear the call to prayer to please Allah; they sought abundant rewards which would be kept in their records of good deeds for the Hereafter. Ibn Mas‛oud said, “A man would be brought swaying (due to weakness) between two men till he was set up in a row for prayer. The farthest of people from the mosque would come walking to the prayer seeking the reward from the Allah for the steps they took to the prayer until they stand in the prayer’s rows.”
It is of Muslims’ rights when their public congregational prayer is offered to have nothing distracting or mocking gatherings held around, nothing serious or funny until their prayer is over. In fact, the warning issued by the Prophet (PBUH) that he would burn down the houses of those who do not join the congregational prayers proved successful. However, there was no single incident reported from the time of the noble Prophet (PBUH) or the time of the rightly-guided Caliphs that such punishment was executed against those who do not join the congregational prayers. We have previously explained the implications of such warning as found in the authentic Muslim books. Thus, there is no excuse for claiming that Islam is a religion that orders that the houses of those who fail to join congregational prayers be burnt down together with them.
Um Ad-Dardāˀ said, “Abu Ad-Dardāˀ’ entered the house in an angry mood. I said to him. ‘What makes you angry?’' He replied, ‘By Allah! I do not find the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) anymore doing those good things, which they used to do before, except the offering of congregational prayer.’”
ˀAnas ibn Mālik reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When I start the prayer I intend to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut short the prayer because I know that the cries of the child would incite its mother's passions.”
ˀUmm Salamah narrated, “Whenever Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, completed the prayer to its end, the women used to get up immediately and Allah's Messenger (PBUH) would remain at his place for some time before getting up. We think, and Allah knows better, that he did so in order that the women might leave before the men could catch up with them.”
Abu Hurairah reported the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, as saying, “The best of the men's rows (in prayer) is the first row and the least is the last; but the best of the woman's rows is the last and the least is the first.” It is obvious that the label ‘least’ mentioned in this hadith applies only to whoever tries to pray nearby the opposite gender’s rows from either men or women. For those who do this unintentionally are not considered sinful. The goal of such warning is to make the mosques a pure environment where acts of worship are sincerely performed.
The prophetic traditions quoted above are just a few examples of the many that prove that the mosque was the heart of the whole Muslim nation. Women were never excluded from entering mosques. Therefore, the spirituality and the culture Muslims obtained from their mosques were present in the streets and inside the Muslims’ homes.
If performing the five daily prayers in congregation is an emphasized tradition, attending Friday’s congregational prayer is obligatory for each Muslim who is physically capable of going to the mosque. Allah says,
“O you who have believed, when it is called out for prayer on Friday (the Day of Congregation), then endeavor to hasten to the Remembrance of Allah and leave out your trading. That is most charitable for you, in case you know.” (Qur’an, 62: 9)
Abdullah ibn ‛Amr ibn al-‘Aāş reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Three types of people attend Friday’s prayer; One is present in a frivolous way and that is all he gets from it; another comes with a supplication, Allah may grant or refuse his request as He wishes; a third is present silently and quietly without stepping over a Muslim or annoying anyone, and that is an atonement for his sins till the next Friday and three days more; the reason being that Allah, the Exalted, says, ‘He who does a good deed will have ten times as much.’”
Ali ibn Abi Țālib said on the pulpit in the mosque of Al-Kūfah, “When Friday comes, the devils go to the markets with their flags, and involve people in their needs and prevent them from the Friday’s prayer. The angels come early in the morning, sit at the door of the mosque and record that so-and-so has come at the first hour, and so-and-so at the second hour until the imam comes out (for preaching). When a man sits in a place where he can listen (to the sermon) and look (at the imam), where he remains silent and does not interrupt, he will receive a double reward. If he stays away silently, sits in a place where he cannot listen (to the sermon), and does not interrupt, he will receive the reward only once. If he sits in a place where he can listen (to the sermon) and look (at the imam) but he does not remain silent, he will have the burden of it. If anyone says to his companion sitting beside him to be silent (while the imam is preaching), he is guilty of idle talk. Anyone who interrupts (during the sermon) will receive no reward on that Friday.” Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, said at the end of this narration, “I have heard the Allah’s Messenger say so”.
Friday’s congregational prayer is a religious obligation that outperforms the most sophisticated information apparatuses known to our world. If Muslims now count more than one thousand million, it is supposed that around a million to two million Friday sermons only will be delivered to them on the same day. On each Friday, a knowledgeable Muslim preacher addresses his fellow Muslims in the name of Allah. All the worshipers within the mosque where he delivers the Friday’s sermon listen to him attentively without interruption until the prayer is over.
A nation with such a highly organized worshiping system should be united towards achieving its collective goals; the Muslim nation should continue to maintain its spiritual and intellectual development and get rid of the causes of disunity and division.
I dislike delivering a Friday’s sermon that serves an individual purpose, a political critique, or some comments on passing events because mosques are not primarily established for such purposes. Friday’s sermons have been made obligatory in Islam to strengthen man’s relationship with Allah as mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an; Allah says,
“…then endeavor (to hasten) to the Remembrance of Allah.” (Qur’an, 62: 9)
The intended remembrance mentioned in the Qur’anic verse quoted above is the one that draws people closer to their Lord as they contemplate Allah’s signs in the far-reaching universe as the Noble Qur’an shows us in the following verse:
“We will soon show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it is evident to them that it is the Truth.” (Qur’an, 41:53)
It should be noted here that lengthening the Friday’s sermon is not recommendable. Abu Wāˀil reported that “‛Ammar delivered to us a Friday’s sermon. It was short and eloquent. When he (‛Ammar) descended (from the pulpit) we said to him, ‘O Abd al-Yaqzhān, you have delivered a short and eloquent sermon. Wouldn’t you have lengthened (the sermon)?’ He said, ‘I have heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say, ‘The lengthening of prayer by a man and the shortness of the sermon is the sign of his understanding (of faith). So lengthen the prayer and shorten the sermon.’”
Most of the Prophet’s sermons were composed largely of quotes from the Glorious Qur’an. It is rare to find a Friday’s sermon delivered by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in his own words, and which was memorized by the Companions. It was narrated that Umm Hisham ibn Harithah ibn An-Nu‛mān said, “I only learned ‘Surat Qāf (50) from the tongue of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, who used to recite it every Friday from the pulpit when he addressed people.” It is supposed that the Prophet (PBUH) delivered around five hundred sermons after the migration to Madinah.
We have to introduce this topic and the topic that follows it where we talk about the status to which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) elevates his Companions. Researchers in the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) agree that he had extraordinary spiritual abilities and a great personality that attracted to him whoever dealt with or knew about him. By virtue of the Glorious Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was able to illuminate the hearts and minds of his Companions and guide the steps of his generation and generations to come out from the human narrow-mindedness to the endless blessing and light of Allah.
The generation brought up by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was one that worshiped Allah as if they saw Him; they were a brave generation that deserted the worldly desires and took their steps steadily towards their Lord. They were not keen on money and would love giving alms for the sake of Allah rather than keeping money and food for their own needs. They performed their prayers regularly when they were in good health or sick and whether they were in peace or at war. They would hurry to the mosques at prayers’ time and stand humbly in rows due to their keenness on prayer and love for it.
This generation received the ultimate truth from Allah and protected it until they passed it intact to the next generations. They set the best examples of faithfulness and sacrifice over the history of all humanity.
The angels looked admiringly at the Prophet’s Companions; they set up circles of protection around them while they fought for the sake of Allah and descended upon them when they performed voluntary night prayer. I believe that with the exception of Allah’s Prophets the angels had never seen the likes of the Prophet Muhammad’s Companions. That is why I was not astonished when I came across the following two reports in the authentic collections of hadiths.
ˀUsayd ibn Ḥuđair narrated that while he was reciting Surat Al-Baqarah (Qur’an, Chapter 2) at night, and his horse was tied beside him, the horse was suddenly startled and troubled. When he stopped reciting, the horse became quiet; and when he started again, the horse was startled again. Then he stopped reciting and the horse became quiet too. He started reciting again and the horse was startled and troubled once again. Then he stopped reciting and his son, Yaḥya was beside the horse. He was afraid that the horse might trample on him. When he took the boy away and looked towards the sky, he saw a cloud containing what looked like lamps. The next morning he informed the Prophet (PBUH) who said, “Recite, O Ibn Ḥuđair! Recite, O Ibn Ḥuđair!” Ibn Ḥuđair replied, “O Allah's Messenger, (PBUH)! My son, Yaḥya was near the horse and I was afraid that it could have trampled on him, so went to him. When I looked at the sky, I saw something like a cloud containing what looked like lamps, so I went out in order not to see it.” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do you know what that was?” Ibn Ḥuđair replied, “No.” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Those were angels who came near to listen to your voice and if you had kept on reciting the Qur’an till dawn, they would have remained there till the morning when people would have seen them.”
When I read this narration I said to myself there is no wonder at all. It was the angels of the heavens that drew closer from the angels of the earth (i.e. the righteous people reciting the Qur’an and offering night prayer). Similar experiences happened to other Companions. Regardless of whether such narrations were acknowledged by the materialists or not, they show the special status of a servant who talks to Allah and recites the Qur’an while others are sleeping in their comfortable beds.
The Prophet (PBUH) was reported as saying, “Allah has not heard anything (more pleasing) than listening to a servant reciting the Qur'an in the middle of the night. Blessings are descended in abundance upon the servant so long as he remains in the place where he has performed prayer. The worshipers shall not draw nearer to Allah, Mighty and Sublime is He, with anything they do better than the words that came down from Him.” Abu An-Nadir said that that “what came down from Him” means the Qur’an as it has come from Him and to Him it shall return.
People often go to sleep in their beds at night, thinking that sleeping is a state of unconsciousness with jumbled dreams and worldly thoughts sometimes coming to the sleepers’ minds. Yet, there are some people whose hearts are full of awe of Allah and who seek His pleasure all the time. Their sleeping is similar to the lover whose heart is connected to his beloved. When they wake during the night, they turn their faces to their beloved Allah in prayer.
The following noble hadith depicts the state of those worshipers as the Prophet ( PBUH ) said, “Whoever gets up at night and says, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. He is the Only One with no partner. For Him is all the Kingdom and all the praises are due to Him. He is Omnipotent. All the praises are for Allah. All the glories are for Allah. And none has the right to be worshipped but Allah; Allah is Great and there is neither Might nor Power Except with Allah’. And then says, ‘O Allah! Forgive me.’ Or invokes Allah, he will be responded to and if he performs ablution and prays, his prayer will be accepted.”
There is a big difference between a servant who when falls asleep becomes totally an unconscious person and nothing draws him closer to his Lord and another one who takes some rest in his sleep to glorify his Lord whenever he wakes at night. For the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) his heart was mindful of Allah both during the daylight and at night. His continuous remembrance of Allah that filled his heart and the hearts of those surrounding him with tranquility connected the heavens with the earth and filled the whole universe with divine light. His attitude was in response to Allah’s command conveyed to him through the following verse,
“Keep up the prayer at the sinking of the sun to the dusk of the night and read the Qur'an at dawn; surely reading of the Qur'an at dawn has been witnessed. And keep constant vigil with it (the Qur'an) part of the night (the late night supererogatory prayers) as an accordance for you so that your Lord may rise you to a praised station.” (Qur’an, 17: 78-79)
Out of extreme love for the Prophet (PBUH) and their determination to follow his example, some of the Companions attempted to follow his way in response to the verse quoted above. However, Allah showed His mercy to them and exempted them from such heavy physical obligation, saying,
“Surely your Lord knows that you rise up (for prayer) nearly two thirds of the night, and (sometimes) a half of it, and (sometimes) a third of it, and a group of the ones with you (also rise for prayer); Allah determines (precisely) the night and the daytime. He knows that you (believers,) will never enumerate it; so He has relented towards you. Then, read of the Qur'an whichever is easy (for you).” (Qur’an 73:20)
This was an exception granted to the Companions; but for the Prophet, he continued to offer the night prayer as one of his obligations as a Prophet. He would do so out of his love for Allah and the pleasure he feels in doing so. He never felt it was a heavy obligation or something uneasy he had to do. The Prophet (PBUH) would think deeply of Allah’s favors bestowed upon him and the grace Allah granted him by choosing him as the Seal of His Messengers to humankind. What follows is a verse-to-prose translation of ‛Abdullah ibn Rawāḥah’s poetic lines in reference to the Prophet’s prayer at night:
Among us is the Messenger of Allah reciting Allah’s Book
All the night until the dawn breaks.
He guided us out of the darkness of disbelief into the light of faith.
While disbelievers fall into deep slumber at night,
He rises up from his bed to spend the night standing in prayer.
At the beginning of the Prophet’s mission, Allah commanded him saying,
“Rise up to pray during all the night except a little, a half of it, diminish a little thereof, or increase thereto; and recite the Qur'an in distinct recitation.” (Qur’an, 73: 24)
The Prophet (PBUH) responded to Allah’s command and continued to offer the night prayer until he passed away. For the rest of the Muslim nation, performing night prayer is neither an obligation nor an emphasized Sunnah, even for those who like to stay up late at night or those who can carry out their tasks during the day light time non-affected by standing up in prayer at night. It is sufficient for these to pray as much as they can and recite of the Qur’an at night since they have other acts of worship and tasks to perform throughout the day; Allah says,
“He has known that you will not be able to do it and has turned to you in forgiveness, so recite what is easy for you] of the Qur'an. He has known that there will be among you those who are ill and others traveling throughout the land seeking of the bounty of Allah and others fighting for the cause of Allah. So recite whatever is made easy to you from it.” (Qur’an, 73:20)
In reality, military and economic jihad (struggling for the sake of Allah) requires physical strength and energy and if a Muslim fails to strike the balance between the different acts of worship, the Muslim nation will be adversely affected. I met some people who perform the supererogatory night prayer and come to their offices very tired; so I advised them not to do so and explained to them the religious ruling of what they do. However, they did not follow my advice.
There is a number of weak hadiths instructing Muslims to offer supererogatory night prayer. For example, Bilāl narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) him said, “Hold fast to the night prayer for it is the practice of the righteous before you, and indeed this is a means of getting closer to Allah, a means of prevention from sin, an expiation for bad deeds, and a barrier for the body against disease.”
In spite of the weak chain of narrators reporting the above-mentioned hadith, we support its meaning due to the following hadith mentioned in the authentic collections of hadiths. ‘Uthman ibn ‛Affān, may Allah be pleased with him, reported, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say, ‘One who performs the Evening prayer in congregation, is as if he had performed night prayer for half of the night. And the one who performs the Dawn prayer in congregation is as if he had performed night prayer for the whole night.’” That is because getting up in the dawn for prayer requires resisting the strong desire for sleep; so is walking to the mosque in darkness, and starting one’s day with righteousness before daybreak. Similarly, performing the Evening prayer regularly requires endurance and patience since it was often delayed for some time at night until the performers of the prayer would struggle not sleep before they pray it in congregation.
‛Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, was asked when the Prophet (PBUH) would get up for night prayer. She said, “He used to get up for the prayer on hearing the crowing of a cock.” We thank Allah for what we have understood of the Qur’anic verse that reads, “Their flanks forsake their beds…” (Qur’an, 32:16) matches what Abu Dawud reported from ˀAnas, may Allah be pleased with them, that it was revealed about waiting for the prayer which you call the dusk time of the Evening prayer.
It should be noted that the human body needs a certain number of hours for sleep in order to restore its energy. It is impossible for the body to function properly without having the period of about eight hours of sleep as advised by physicians. The number of hours needed for sleep varies more or less according to the age.
The Glorious Qur’an approves this natural need for sleep and calls our attentions to the wisdom behind Allah’s creation of day and night times, i.e. to give chance for people to rest down. Allah says,
“He is The One Who has made for you the night to rest in, and the daytime a beholder” (Qur’an, 10:67)
Allah Almighty also says,
“We have made your sleep for repose, and the night as a garment; and We have made the daytime for (earning) livelihood.” (Qur’an, 78: 9-11)
There may be circumstances in which an individual has to work at night in peace and war times. Therefore, the person should carry out his duties and his body would cope with the change of the physical efforts it exerts when some rest is taken. There are some people who work longer hours with a few hours of sleep and there are others who have more physical energy than others so that they can do some activities at night beside their work throughout the daytime.
Here, I would like to make it clear that in Islam the day starts with the Dawn prayer. Therefore, staying up too late at night in a way that makes the person miss the Dawn prayer is impermissible. There are a few people who can offer supererogatory night prayers and work hard for longer hours throughout the day; they represent an exceptional case. Some people can recite half the Qur’an at night then get up very tired in the morning that they cannot carry out their mandatory tasks. They are sinful because they cannot contemplate the Qur’anic verses they recite; they may neglect their day tasks and thus adversely impact their own lives and the Muslim nation.
Some people make a grave mistake by staying up all the night chanting Allah’s fairest names until they get up in the morning unable to think of anything related to their worldly life or even the Hereafter due to tiredness.
One night, ‛Omar ibn ‛Abdul‛aziz kept thinking deeply of one Qur’anic verse, namely
“And bid them stand; surely they are to be questioned” (Qur’an, 37: 24),
and repeated it over and over again. He could not sleep that night because he thought he was the one to be questioned and held accountable.
If a judge spent the night thinking of what should be the fair decision he takes at the court, his work that night would be better in the sight of Allah than a reciter of the Qur’an who does not mind what he recites or a worshiper praying all the night with his heart and mind distracted.
I do not see any words better to listen to and contemplate on than the words of adhān; and I do not see a caller closer to righteousness than the muˀazzin (caller to prayer). The words of adhān are those beautifully loud words that echo in the horizons reminding the humans of the remembrance of Allah and His due rights upon them; they remind us of the mission for which we have been created. The call to prayer is a sort of kind call to the children of Adam to come back to the straight path, hold fast to it, and keep away from the slippery paths that lead to misguidance.
When the muˀazzin repeats twice, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater); it is as though he tells man,
“Do not get perplexed and remember your Lord who created you and shaped you in the best form. Make Allah your destination and make His pleasure your ultimate goal in this life in order for Him to bless your time and efforts. Truly, Allah says, ‘Whoever is willing (to gain) the tillage of the Hereafter, We will give him increase in his tillage.” (Qur’an, 42:20)
When the muˀezzin repeats twice, Ashhadu ˀala ilāha ˀilla Allah (I bear witness that there is no god except Allah); it is as though he tells man, “Never fear any false deities on the earth. Everything shall return to Allah, the True God. He is the Judge and His wisdom and will are irresistible. None can deprive of what He bestows and none can bestow what He withholds. Therefore, feel proud of your religion and come to prostrate to Allah because He is the Only One you should bow your head to in humbleness.”
When the muˀazzin repeats twice, Ashadu ˀanna Muhammadan Rasūlu Allah (I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah); he shows to your heart the example of human perfection so that you may follow him and take him as a role model for you. It is the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the fairest human example in attaining faith, piety, good character, and righteousness.
When the muˀazzin repeats twice, Ḥayy ‛ala-ş-Şalāh (Hurry up to the prayer), he invites you to receive the honor of standing up before your Lord to exalt His praise, seek of His bounties, gather with your brothers in faith for His sake and in love for Him.
When the muˀazzin repeats twice, Ḥayy ‛ala-l-Falāḥ (Hurry to success), he calls you to the fruitful, most successful work. How many are those who exert huge efforts, yet reap nothing! How many are those who go on long journeys, yet never reach their destinations! However, those who perform their prayers regularly are the exception; Allah says,
“Surely Allah guides the ones who have believed to a straight Path.” (Qur’an, 22: 54)
When the muˀazzin repeats twice for the third time, Allāhu ˀAkbar (Allah is Greater); he stresses that Allah is the True, the Ever-Lasting One whom the person should seek throughout his entire life. A person goes out to his work every day to get the best for himself and his household, yet the words of ˀadhān urge him to seek the pleasure of his Allah by devoting all righteous deeds to Him. When the person dedicates himself to the service of his Lord, Allah would bless him and grant him prosperity and well-being. By contrast, the one who prefers himself would eventually lose it. Allah Almighty says,
“And do not be as (the ones) who have forgotten Allah, so He caused them to forget themselves; those are immoral ones.” (Qur’an, 59:19)
ˀAdhān ends with the statement of monotheism, namely Lā ˀilāha ˀilla Allāh (There is no god worthy of worship except Allah) that puts an end to idol worshipping. Our world today no longer bows down in worship to an idol made of stone. However, it does its best in bowing down before alive idols in the form of human beings who have distinguished positions in the areas of governance and finance. Unfortunately, today people awe such figures and fear them more than they fear the Supreme Allah.
The words of ˀadhān constitute a complete program of guidance and a perfect call to prayer. No bell, whistle or flute could do the job of the ˀadhān more perfectly than it does. It is a call from Almighty Allah urging the human being to return to their heavenly origin once again.
The words of ˀadhān came down from the heavens and were not composed on the earth; a number of the Prophet’s Companions heard them in their true visions while they were sleeping, in slightly different dreams. One of Allah’s angels whispered those words into their ears following a gathering in which the Companions were discussing with the Prophet (PBUH) the best way they should follow to call people to prayers. This part is very relevant to the answer to the previous question where we showed how Allah’s angels would descend from the heavens to the earth to listen to Allah’s remembrance from the one who recites the Qur’an. This once again proves the great spiritual impact the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had on his Companions.
One of the Companions reprimanded himself when he felt there was a wide gap between his state of mind when he was in the company of Allah’s Messenger and his state of mind when he was with his household and while seeking his life provision. He thought that his being busy in the worldly affairs for some time is a sort of hypocrisy. He noticed that when he was with the Prophet (PBUH) he had an illuminated heart and that he would worship Allah as if he was seeing Him out of his deep awe and reverence for Almighty Allah. Yet, when the Companion went home and got engaged with the people in the street, his spiritual state declined. When he complained that to the Prophet (PBUH) he said to him, “If your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the angels would shake hands with you in your beds and in your roads; but some time should be devoted to the worldly affairs and some other time to prayers.”
Many of the Companions would remain in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) in the early morning following the Dawn prayer until sunrise, then go out for a longer time to take care of their livelihood and worldly affairs.
Abu ‛Umayr reported on the authority of his uncle, who was from the ˀAnşār (the helpers of the Prophet), that the Prophet (PBUH) was keen as to how to gather the people for prayer. The people told him, “Hoist a flag at the time of prayer; when people see it, they will inform one another.” But he did not like it. Then someone mentioned to him to use a horn like that of the Jews. He did not like it either. He said, “This is the matter of the Jews.” Then they mentioned to him the bell of the Christians. He said, “This is the matter of the Christians.” ‛Abdullah ibn Zayd returned anxiously from there because of the keenness of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). He was then taught the call to prayer in his dream. The following day, he came to the Messenger of Allah and informed him about it.
In another detailed narration, narrator report mentioned that a man of the ˀAnşār came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! I returned home anxiously because of your keenness and I had a vision in which a man wearing two green garments rose up to the mosque and called to prayer then he sat down for a while and called again to the prayer using the same words he used for the first time. Yet, he added the phrase Qad qāmati ş- Şalāh (Stand for prayers.) If people did not call me a liar, I would say that I was awake; I was awake; I was not asleep.” The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “Allah has shown you a good vision. Ask Bilāl to pronounce them for calling people to prayer.”
‛Omar ibn al-Khattāb said, “I have also seen the same vision. However, when the man told his vision before me, I felt ashamed.” The angel who came to ‛Omar in his vision faced the direction of Ka‛bah and pronounced, “ˀAllāhu ˀAkbar, ˀAllāhu ˀAkbar (twice); Ashhadu ˀalla ilāha ˀilla Allah (twice), Ashhadu ˀanna Muḥammadan Rasulu Allah (twice), Ḥayya ‛ala-ş-Şalāh (twice), Ḥayya ‛ala-l-Falāḥ (twice), ˀAllāhu ˀAkbar, ˀAllāhu ˀAkbar; Lā ˀilāha ˀilla Allāh.” The man then paused for a while then pronounced the same words, yet added the phrase Qad qāmati ş- Şalāh (twice) following Ḥayya ‛ala-l-Falāḥ. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said to ‛Omar , “Teach them to Bilāl.” Bilāl then announced them loudly.
Bilāl was gifted with a charming voice and an excellent recitation of ˀadhān. Narrations differ slightly in terms of the words of ˀadhān, yet all of them agree to the story of ˀadhān and how it was taught to the Muslims. Apart from the narrations about ˀadhān , when I listen to its beautiful words, I like to be guided by them through contemplating on their meanings rather than getting amused by listening to them. Indeed, ˀadhān awakens my heart and lets me discern my Lord in a way that matches the intact human nature.
That is why Allah likes that those who listen to the call to prayer repeat its phrases after the caller to have these beautiful meanings of ˀadhān instilled in their hearts. Abu Hurairah reported, “We were with the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and Bilāl stood up and made the call. When he fell silent the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, ‘Whoever says the same as this (what the caller says) with certainty, he will enter Paradise.’” Abu Waqqāş reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “On hearing the caller to prayer, whoever says, ‘I testify that there is no god but Allah alone with no partner, and that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger; I am satisfied with Allah as my Lord, with Muhammad as the Messenger, and with Islam as the true religion, his sins would be forgiven.’”
Jabir reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “He who says upon hearing the ˀadhān, ‘O Allah, Lord of this perfect call and of the present prayer, grant Muhammad Wasīlah (Intercession) and superiority, and resurrect him to the best and the highest place in Paradise , it becomes incumbent upon me to intercede for him on the Day of Resurrection.”
By contemplating on the words and phrases of ˀadhān, one realizes that they sum up the divine message of Islam. Moreover, it is a very clear description of Allah based on His absolute and eternal right to be worshipped.
ˀAdhān is a call that moves continuously on the surface of the earth and goes freely beyond the coordinates of longitude and latitude, either on the land or in the sea. The call to prayer has become inseparable from the Earth as it travels in its orbit around the sun. Muhammad’s greater obligation as defined by Almighty Allah was to answer this noble call; Allah says,
“And extol with the praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and then extol (Him) at various times of the night and at the two ends of the daytime, that possibly you would be satisfied.” (Qur’an, 20:130)
In fact, the whole universe reacts to the voices of the callers to prayer as they call human beings to hurry to please their Lord, the Most High. It is not odd that those who hear the call to prayer are required to follow it immediately with a supplication for the great man (the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who shows them the way to Allah and guides their steps on the straight path. He is truly worthy of constant supplication from each Muslim that Allah elevates his status and rewards him abundantly on behalf of all Muslims.
It should be noted that the dreams human beings might see in their sleep can never be considered a source of the divine revelation or evidence on religious legislation. Had not the Prophet (PBUH) approved the Companions’ visions about ˀadhān, they would not have been put into practice.
Perhaps Allah Almighty wanted to assure His Prophet (PBUH) of the success of his mission of bringing up a generation of pure hearts to whom the angels descended from the heavens in theirs sleep to advise them on their religious matters. I mentioned in a previous answer to another question that angels descend upon the righteous believers to guide them to the right path, support them in holding fast to righteousness, and bring them glad tidings. Allah says,
“Surely the ones who have said, ‘Our Lord is Allah,’ thereafter they have gone straight, upon them the angels keep coming down to them (saying), "Do not fear (anything), nor do you grieve.” (Qur’an, 41:30)
However, in order to prevent any illusion or dispute over religious affairs, revelation and religious texts are only accepted from the infallible Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There is unanimous consensus among all Muslims that the only major authentic sources of the Islamic law are the Glorious Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah.
 Prof. Aḥmad Muḥammad Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, “Essential Features of Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 120.
 Badran (1985: 59).
 Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 153 and 146.
 Muslim, Book 5, Hadith 3, and Book 4, Hadith 1058.
 Al-Mubarak (1981: 180).
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 58.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 367.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 378.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 385.
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