The Accessible Conspectus: Prayer

This is the fourth installment from a series of posts aimed at making The Ultimate Conspectus accessible to readers who have never read fiqh before.


2 Prayer

The original meaning of the word “ṣalāt” is supplication (“dūʿa”). Its technical meaning in the books of fiqh is a set of actions and utterances that begins with saying, “Allāhu akbar,” and ends with saying, “al-salāmu ʿalaykum,” performed according to specific conditions.

The textual foundation for the obligation to pray comes from the Quran and Sunnah. Allah Most High says, “…Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times,” [Q4:104.] The Prophet ﷺ said, “Islam is based on five pillars: testifying that there is no deity except for Allah and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, establishing prayer, offering zakāt, performing Ḥajj, and fasting Ramaḍān.” Prayer is also mentioned in the well-known hadith where Jibril (peace be upon him) came to the Prophet ﷺ and asked about the practices and beliefs of Islam (islām and īmān), and about its perfection (iḥsān) and the signs of the Final Hour (ʿalmāt al-ṣāʿah). When asked about Islam, he ﷺ mentioned prayer and the remaining five pillars.

This chapter explains the specific actions, utterances, and conditions of prayer. We begin by looking at what makes prayer obligatory. First we look at the times for the prescribed prayers and then the general conditions for its performance.

2.1 The Times of the Prescribed Prayers

Only five prayers are obligatory. The evidence for this is the hadith where the Prophet ﷺ said to a bedouin: “Five prayers: Allah has written them upon slaves in the day and night.” The bedouin asked, “Am I required to do others?” He ﷺ said, “No, [not] unless you volunteer.”

These five obligatory prayers are the daily prayers: the Noon Prayer (“ṣalāt al-ẓuhr”), the Midafternoon Prayer (“ṣalāt al-ʿaṣr”), the Sunset Prayer (“ṣalāt al-maghrib”), the Night Prayer (“ṣalāt al-ʿishāʾ”), and the Dawn Prayer (“ṣalāt al-ṣubḥ” or “ṣalāt al-fajr”).

Each one of these five prayers has a time during which it must be completed in its entirety. It is best to pray the prayer immediately after its time enters, or that you set out to pray immediately after the time enters. You should never be so late for a prayer that part of it is performed outside of its time. A prayer is considered to have been performed within its time whenever at least one of its prayer cycles (“rakʿāt”) is completed before its time goes out.