The Accessible Conspectus: Conditions Obligating Prayer

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

2.2 Conditions Obligating Prayer

Three conditions obligate prayer. An individual is required to pray when all three of these conditions are fulfilled.

The first condition is being a Muslim. Prayer is not obligatory for non-Muslims and an individual who enters Islam is not required to make up any prayers. However, if an individual leaves Islam (and may Allah protect us!) and later returns, he will have to make up whatever prayers he missed.

The second condition is being sexually mature. Children are not required to pray or to make up missed prayers. However, parents should begin ordering children to pray once they have reached seven years of age and can dress and feed themselves, and take themselves to the toilet. At this age, the parents order and encourage the children to pray. There is no reprimand for missed prayers. When children reach ten years of age, the parents should begin reprimanding the children for missed prayers and order them to make up any they miss. The objective at the end of these two stages is to inculcate in the children the habit of praying on time before they become legally responsible.

The third condition is being of sound mind. Someone who is insane is not required to pray, and neither are they required to make up prayers missed during their insanity.

We will frequently see these three conditions (being Muslim, mature, and of sound mind) mentioned together. This is because the combination of these three conditions is the definition of legal responsibility (taklīf).

We can add two other conditions for prayer being obligatory.

A fourth condition is being free from menstruation and postnatal bleeding. Women are not responsible for prayers that occur when either of these is present. Keep in mind that the previous chapter mentioned these things also render prayer unlawful and invalid.

The fifth condition is that a person fulfills the other conditions for a duration long enough to be able to perform ablution and pray. Once the conditions mentioned above are fulfilled within a prayer’s time, that prayer becomes obligatory and, if missed, would have to be made up.

If you have a good grasp of the material up to here, here’s something slightly more advanced: This last condition has some very important practical implications, especially for women. Suppose a woman begins her period after the call to prayer (ādhān). Will she need to make up this prayer later on? She will if the amount of time between the call to prayer and the onset of her period would have been enough for her to make ablution and perform the obligatory acts of that prayer. (If she is on a journey and eligible for shortening prayers, then the time needed is based on its shortened form. Shortening and joining prayers during a journey will come in section 2.6, in shāʾ Allāh.) Similarly, suppose that her period ends during one of the prayer times. She will need to make up this prayer if what remains of the prayer’s time would be sufficient for her to obtain purification and pray the prayer in their shortest form. If, in addition to obtaining purification and performing prayer, the time suffices to also perform whatever prayer would be joinable with the current prayer while on a journey, then it also is obligatory. These joinable prayers are Noon and Midafternoon Prayers, and Sunset and Night Prayers. So if her period ended during the time for Night Prayer, she would also need to pray it as well as the Sunset Prayer. And if it ended during the time for Midafternoon Prayer, she would also need to pray the Noon Prayer. The current prayer and its prior prayer will both be considered to have been prayed on time if they are performed before the current time ends. Once a woman expects her period to end, she should take care to check towards the end of each prayer time. She should not check so early that she could miss becoming pure (and prayer becoming obligatory), nor so late that she would not be able to obtain purification and pray it on time.

These important practical implications in the last paragraph are not just for women. They also apply to someone who is insane or unconscious upon regaining their sanity or consciousness.

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