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More than a ritual. The Muslim prayer

The Muslim prayer is more than a religious ritual. It is not only one of the pillars of Islam, or the duties of every Muslim, but also a series of preparations, acts and movements. What do you need to know about salat, prayer in Islam?

The most important thing is the niyyah, the intention. As Janusz Danecki writes in „Podstawowe wiadomości o islamie”[eng. “Basic Knowledge of Islam”], in order for the duty of prayer to be ritually valid, it must be approached with full awareness and realization of intention. Muslims believe that the deeds of the faithful will be judged by the purity of their intentions, and religious duties are fulfilled without expecting anything in return. Salat is therefore more than “pattering prayers.”

The praying person should furthermore be purified in body and, if possible, in mind and soul. Tahara, the state of ritual purity, is achieved through ablution, which consists of a sequence of strictly-defined actions. The sight of bathrooms, wells and fountains right next to the mosque, in which Muslim men and women wash themselves, is not unusual. Shoes must also be removed before praying, so pairs of shoes are piled up at the entrance to a mosque.

Time and place

The prayer should be recited five times a day: before dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset and at night. Interestingly, the Quran mentions only three prayers, and it was the Prophet Muhammad who was to change the number. The hour of salat depends on the season and the place in the world where the praying person is located, as well as the moon. The upcoming prayer is announced from the minaret of a mosque and the azan, the call, is carried through the streets of cities in Muslim-majority countries. Today, the time can also be checked, for example, in apps or on special watches that take into account the time of the obligatory ritual. 

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Followers of Islam may perform salat anywhere in the world: in a mosque, in a musalla (a space outside a temple designated for prayer), or in a clean place on a mat or sadjada, a prayer rug. Praying in places considered unclean, such as a slaughterhouse, cemetery, bathhouse or garbage dump, is not permitted. The direction in which the praying person turns is also important.

In the early years of Islam, Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem. Later, the Prophet Muhammad set a new direction for prayer. Muslims turn toward the al-Kaba shrine in Mecca. The direction of prayer is called qibla and in many places, for example, in hotel rooms in Muslim-majority countries, you can find special stickers indicating where al-Kaba is located. 

Salat at various times consists of a certain number of recitations and prostrations (raka’a). Special prayers are also recited on many occasions. And these are not just holiday or funeral rituals, but also prayers during travel, during times of danger, prayers for rain or prayers for an eclipse.

Translated by Anna Trela.

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