Muslim Worship: Prayer Rituals, Procedures and Wudu

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Different postures of a Muslim service

The core of Islamic worship is daily prayer (salat), conducted either individually, in the family, or at a mosque with other Muslims. Muslim men are also required to attend a Friday sermon at a mosque. Juma describes Friday congregational prayer. A raʾka is a unit of prayer. Regardless of race or language, all Muslims pray in Arabic. After a formal ritual prayer, individuals may offer personal prayers (dua) of petition or thanksgiving.

The second of the five pillars of Islam is prayer. Charles F. Gallagher wrote in the “International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences”:Ritual prayer is formal worship, whose ceremony, postures, gestures, and verbal formulas are strictly laid down by law; it is designed to express adoration of God rather than personal communion with him or petition. It may be noted, however, that the period of meditation following upon the prostrations allows the worshiper an opportunity to enter into a relationship of communion with a spirit of humility. Ritual cleanliness is mandatory and is minutely regulated according to the circumstances. Although the Qur’an is silent on the subject, five daily prayers have been standard since the earliest period of Islam. Their times vary somewhat but usually come before dawn, just after midday, in midafternoon, after sunset, and at night, usually in the first minutes of darkness—hours seemingly calculated to avoid any hint of sun worship. [Source: Charles F. Gallagher, “International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences”, 1960s,]

The devout believer prays after purification through ritual oblations usually at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers that the worshiper recites while facing Mecca. Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at a mosque, led by a prayer leader; on Fridays they are obliged to do so. Women may attend public worship at mosques, where they are segregated from men, although most women commonly pray at home. A call to prayer alerts the entire community at the appropriate hours; those out of earshot determine the prayer time from the position of the sun. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989]

Prayers can be done anywhere, except a place regarded as unclean. They can be performed in a mosque but more often they conducted anywhere Muslims happen to be when it is time to pray. A prayer at a mosque, though, is supposed to bring 27 times more blessing than a prayer outside a mosque. Once a Muslim begins his prayers he is not supposed abandon them even if he or she are approached by a poisonous snake. Women who see their child in danger while they pray and supposed to keep praying while they make the rescue.

For Muslims, prayers sanctify their day and express their devotion of God. In many Muslim countries reminders to pray, or "calls to prayer," reverberate at prayer times via muezzin (people who proclaims the call to the daily prayer), aided by speakers on mosque's minarets,. Modern aids such as smartphone chimes, special wristwatches, mosque-shaped clocks, and a variety of computer programs tell Muslim what time to pray and which direction they should face.

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Mosque Worship

Although it is permissible to pray almost anywhere, men pray in congregation at mosques whenever possible, especially on Fridays. Each week on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, the noon prayer is a congregational prayer (juma) at a mosque or Islamic center. Women are not required to pray in public but may attend worship at mosques, which maintain separate sections for women. Prayers can be performed in public or in private. Although not required, it is considered preferable and more meritorious to pray with others, thus demonstrating and reinforcing Muslim brotherhood, equality, and solidarity. The only prayer which must always be performed in public is the noon prayer on Friday (jumʿa).

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Public worship for the average Muslim consists of going to a mosque (masjid ) — normally on Fridays, although mosques are well attended throughout the week — for congregational prayers led by a local imam, following the public call to prayer, which may be intoned from the top of a minaret (minar ) at the mosque. After leaving their footwear at the door, men and women separate; men usually sit in front, women in back, either inside the mosque or in an open courtyard. The prayer leader gives a sermon in the local regional language, perhaps interspersed with Arabic or Farsi (sometimes called Persian or Parsi) quotations, depending on his learning and the sophistication of the audience. Announcements of events of interest that may include political commentary are often included. Then follow common prayers that involve responses from the worshipers who stand, bow, and kneel in unison during devotions. [Source:Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Often only men pray in the mosques. Women, who are sometimes not allowed in mosques, pray mostly at home and sometimes attend ceremonies conducted in a home by female religious leaders. When entering the mosque, some of the faithful discard their canes in hope that the prayers will heal them and make them young again. The act of writing prayers is consider important. The idea behind it is similar to Buddhist concept of earning merit. Sometimes Muslims sway and bob their heads when they pray or recite passages from the Qur’an. This is not all that different from what Jews do when they recite passages from the Torah and what some shaman do before they go into a trance.

Facing Mecca

Qibla Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul
Muslims are required to face the shortest distance to the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray. Facing Mecca during the daily prayers is an expression of direct contact with God without intermediaries. Kneeling and prostrating during these prayers is way of showing absolute humility before God.

Muslims can buy a simple compass or get a prayer mat with a compass woven into it that helps them orient themselves at prayer time towards the direction of Mecca. Hotel rooms in Muslim countries often have an arrow in the ceiling or on the floor that shows the direction towards Mecca. These days it is possible to get cell phones with GPS that indicate the direction of Mecca. Some planes have an arrow on the video and movie screens that shows the direction of Mecca.

Sometimes the direction a Muslim faces is not the direction you would think. For example a Muslim in Detroit faces northeast not southeast as many would suspect. Why? The curvature of the earth. The shortest line between two points often look like a big curve on a flat map.

Muhammad initially asked the faithful to their prayers towards Jerusalem but after the Jews of Medina rejected his teachings he told his followers to pray towards Mecca. This decision and the make Mecca the destination for the Hajj may have been influenced by his desire to keep the pilgrimage trade in his hometown of Mecca and thus help merchants and trades people there.

Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg wrote in the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”: The Muslim direction of prayer underwent several changes. The relevant traditions are reasonably clear, but there is no way to verify their historicity. Qur’an 2:216, considered by some commentators to be abrogated, seems to belittle the importance of the direction of prayer, saying that "To God belong the East and the West; wherever you turn, there is the face of God." On the other hand, we have three traditions concerning the direction of prayer in Mecca before Muhammad's migration to Medina in 622. According to one of them, in Mecca the Prophet faced the Kaaba while praying; according to another, he faced Jerusalem; according to a third, which constitutes an attempt to harmonize between the first two ones, he faced Jerusalem, but took care to have the Kaaba on the straight line between himself and Jerusalem. In this way, the tradition maintains, he faced both sanctuaries. [Source: Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, “Encyclopaedia Judaica”, 2000,]

Regarding the period of the Prophet's sojourn in Medina (622–632 A.D.), the tradition is unanimous and maintains that for the first 16 or 18 months of his stay in Medina, the Prophet and the Muslims with him prayed toward Jerusalem; this is why Jerusalem came to be known in Islam as "the first qibla and the third sanctuary" (after Mecca and Medina) (ula al-qiblatayn wa thalith al- aramayn). There is no record of a divine command to do this; nevertheless, some commentators think that such a command was issued, while others maintain that praying in the direction of Jerusalem was the Prophet's own decision. Some suggest that the Prophet was commanded to pray toward Jerusalem "in order to conciliate the Jews." Frequently we read that at some point in time the Prophet became averse to this direction of prayer, and Qur’an 2:150, which commands the Muslims to pray in the direction of Mecca, was revealed in response to the Prophet's desire. The change of the qibla to Mecca introduced a crucial Arabian element into Islam and was a major step in its disengagement from Judaism.

Muslim Praying Positions

Prayers follows a set ritual, accompanied by specified postures or positions. When Muslims pray with other Muslims, one member of the group usually leads the prayers. The prescribed prayers are recited in Arabic and are accompanied by a series of ritual body movements meant to demonstrate submission to God: standing, bowing, kneeling, and full prostration. Muslims say the prayers at five prescribed times a day, always while facing in the direction of Mecca. Prayers are preceded by a ritual ablution, and, unless the prayer is said in a mosque, a ritual purification of the ground is achieved by the unrolling of a clean prayer rug. [Source: Library of Congress]

Each formal prayer session is made up of a specific series of seven postures or movements — each accompanied by an appropriate set of recitations — collectively known as bowing (“ rak’a” or “ rakats”). The prayers are performed in the direction of Mecca and proceed as follows: 1) recitation of the phrase “”Allah akbar” — with hands open on either side of the face or over the ears; 2) recitation of the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qurʾan, often along with other passages of the Qur’an while in a standing position with the hands folded over the chest; 3) bowing from the hips while saying "God is great," then "Glory to my great Lord," then "God hears those who praise Him" ; 4) straightening up and saying "God is great,"; 5) gliding to the knees for a first prostration with the face to the ground while saying "Glory to My Lord, Most High" three times. ; 6) sitting back on the haunches after saying "God is great"; and 7) a second prostration, often touching his or her head to the floor.

This ritual is a a raʾka, a "unit" of prayer, or A second unit generally follows that is same pattern as the first, except that a different, second passage from the Qurʾan would be recited. Early morning prayer consists of two units. The two afternoon prayers and the night prayer consist of four units. The prayer at sunset consists of three units. At the end of each pair of raka and at the conclusion of the entire prayer the worshiper recites the “ Shahada” and ritual salutations.

Less formal prayers are known as “ du’a” . Faithful who engages in these often kneel, close their eyes, open their hands to sky, palms up, and move their lips as they mutter prayers. When making private prayers, Muslims often sit in the same position with their palms facing upwards. The verses from the Qur’an can be whispered under one breath or repeated silently. Some Muslims get a faintly visible mark at the center their forehead — that looks like a scar or a bruise or birthmark — from repeatedly banging their head on the ground or the stone floor of mosque during the five-times-a-day prayers.

Muslim Daily Prayers

Salat positions
Individually or in groups, Muslims face the holy city of Mecca to pray in Arabic. Believers stand, bow, kneel, and touch the ground with their foreheads—an expression of ultimate submission to God—as they recite verses from the Qur’an, glorify God, declare their faith, and then privately and informally offer personal prayers of request or thanksgiving. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Ideally prayers should be performed congregationally in a mosque under the leadership of a prayer-leader, or “imam” , with all worshippers facing in the direction of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, marked by the “mihrab” (a niche in the wall of the mosque). Prayers can also be performed individually anywhere on clean ground or a rug. Additional or “supererogatory” prayers are frequently recommended, especially during the night.

Friday noon prayers are the one time when Muslim are expected to gather together and listen to a short sermons. Men kneel or sit cross legged on prayer rugs while the preacher (“ khatib” ) gives a 15- to 30-minute sermon that usually follows a regular form: praises to God, blessings invoked on the Prophet, a story the good deed performed by Muhammad or homily regarding the Muslim community, and an invocation of God’s blessing on the local community or leader. Afterward everyone prays together. Similar services are held on major holidays, particularly the Breaking of the Fast after Ramadan and the Feast of the Sacrifice.

Salat requires seven preconditions: 1) It must be time for prayer. Prayer is not to begin early, and late prayers are recorded by the angels in the person's book of deeds. 2) The hands, face, and feet must be washed to achieve ritual purity (See Wudu). 3) Clean clothing must be worn. However, no shoes are worn in the prayer area of a mosque. 4) Prayer must be conducted in a clean place. To ensure cleanliness, Muslims typically use prayer rugs. 5) The body must be covered. For men, this includes pants, a shirt, and/or a robe. Women cover their bodies with appropriate clothing and their heads with a veil or scarf. 6) Those who pray must turn in the direction of Mecca, an act that symbolizes the unity of Islam worldwide. Mosques all have a feature that helps orient worshipers to Mecca. 7) The mind must be in a proper condition for prayer, meaning that the worshiper must approach daily prayer with humility, or modesty. [Source:]

Muslim Daily Prayer Times

Sunnis pray five times a day. Shiites pray three times: before sunrise and two times in the afternoon at one's discretion. The Sunnis praying regimen is as follows: 1) two “r’akas” at dawn (“fahr” ), or one hour before sunrise, often as early as 4:30am; 2) four “r’akas” at noon (“dhuhr” ); 3) four “r’akas” in the afternoon ( “asr” ), generally between 2:00pm and 4:00pm; : 4) three “r’akas” at sunset (“maghred” ); and 5) and four “r’akas” at one hour or 90 minutes after sunset (“isha” ).

Prayer times vary according to the time of the year and geographical location. For example, during the summer, when the sun rises early, fajr may take place as early as 4:00 am, but in the winter it might take place as late as 6:30 am. Pregnant women, travelers, and women who are nursing children are allowed to combine the two afternoon and the two evening prayers. [Source:]

Muslim life often revolves around daily prayer. Alarm clock goes off at 4:30 or 5:00am to wake up for morning prayer. Muezzins sound off at the same time, calling out in Arabic: "Come to prayer; prayer is better than sleep..." Some Muslims are alerted to prayer times by chimes on their computers. There are websites that Muslims can turn to for prayer times at different locations around the world. Employers allow workers to take the time to visit a local mosque.

Muhammad said its is better to pray than sleep. According to Muslim tradition he devised the custom of praying five times a day during his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven. In one story, Muhammad talked God down into reducing the number of prayers from 50 a day to five a day after being advised by Moses.

Main Points of Salat (Daily Prayers)

salat times
According to the BBC: “God ordered Muslims to pray at five set times of day; 1) Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise; 2) Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest; 3) Salat al-'asr: the late part of the afternoon; 4) Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset; 5) Salat al-'isha: between sunset and midnight All Muslims try to do this. Muslim children as young as seven are encouraged to pray. Prayer sets the rhythm of the day This prayer timetable gives Muslims the pattern of their day. In Islamic countries, the public call to prayer from the mosques sets the rhythm of the day for the entire population, including non-Muslims. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

A Universal Muslim Ritual: The prayer ritual, which is over 1400 years old, is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all round the world. Carrying it out is not only highly spiritual, but connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history. |::|

Prayers of Body, Mind and Soul: The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken. Prayer for a Muslim involves uniting mind, soul, and body in worship; so a Muslim carrying out these prayers will perform a whole series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer. Muslims make sure that they are in the right frame of mind before they pray; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on God. |::|

Muslims Pray Directly to God: A Muslim prays as if standing in the presence of Allah. In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. There is no need of a priest as an intermediary. (While there is a prayer leader in the mosque - the imam - they are not a priest, simply a person who knows a great deal about Islam.) |::|

Muslims Don't Pray for God's Benefit: . Muslims do not pray for the benefit of Allah. Allah does not need human prayers because he has no needs at all. Muslims pray because God has told them that they are to do this, and because they believe that they obtain great benefit in doing so. |::|

Praying in a Mosque: Muslims can pray anywhere, but it is especially good to pray with others in a mosque. Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realise that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah. |::|

Ritual Washing: Muslims must be clean before they pray. They make sure of this by performing ritual washing, called wudu. Mosques have washing facilities. |::|

Importance of Cleanliness and Purity When Doing Prayers

Muslims are supposed to state their intention to pray, wash themselves before praying and find a clean place to pray. Muslims are required to be clean before praying. Ablution (washing or bathing) is a sign of purification. John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”:In a well-known hadith Muhammad is reported to have said, "Purity is half of faith." This saying dramatically emphasizes the importance of purity and purification in the Islamic tradition, especially as a preparation for worship and an encounter with God. Thus, physical purification culminates in a spiritual purity that results from worship. The two major purification rituals are the bath (ghusl) and the ablution (wudu), the latter consisting of washing the face, both arms up to the elbows, the head, and the feet. A bath is a precondition for all forms of worship in Islam, but to over-come any impurities encountered during the day, an ablution should also be performed before praying (salat) and circumambulating the Kaaba. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Ablution (Wudu) in Turkey
When no water is available, they are supposed to use what is at hand. On a Muslim Turkmen he met at a train station, Paul Theroux wrote in The New Yorker: “All Muslims wash before they pray. When water is unavailable, they use sand or dust to perform the dry ablution called tayammum, making an elaborate business of rubbing the hands and arms, and slowly wiping the face, massaging the eyes, the cheeks, the jaw, then drawing the hands downward. Selim went through this ritual as the train rushed across the desert, rattling the windows and the door handles.Then he prayed, for almost a full minute, his eyes closed, speaking into the stifling air of the compartment. When he was finished, I asked him what he had said. Was it a standard prayer or had he improvised it? He said that it was improvised for the occasion. “I thanked Allah for the food. I thanked the friend who gave it to us. I wished the friend blessings on his journey.” [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

In 2010, a Malaysian company called AACE Technologies introduced a machine which it said would allow Muslims to purify themselves without wasting water. The ornate green-colored machine is 1.65 meters tall and has automatic sensors, a basin and recordings of many Qur’anic verses. It limits water usage to 1.3 liters per person, much less than is used by worshippers who usually keep the faucet running during the entire washing process. The machines cost $3,000 to $4,000 and took two years and $2.5 million to develop. Many of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims live in places where water supplies are scarce. Washing before five daily prayers can use up a lot of water, During the Hajj it estimated hat the 2 million pilgrims use more that 50 million liters of water a day, a lot of liquid in waters-strapped Saudi Arabia. An AACE spokesman told Reuters that if Meccan authorities invested in their machine only 10 million liters would be used each day.

Wudu Ritual Washing

Following a custom known in Arabic as “wudu” Muslim worshipers are expected to wash their face, head, arms, feet. and ankles before praying. All mosques are expected to have a water basin to perform these ablutions. Muhammad said 'cleanliness is half of faith'. Muslims must be clean and wear good clothes before they present themselves before God. There is a certain ritual order in which wudu is normally performed, but as long as Muslims wash the four essentials at least once, by taking a shower for example, it counts. [Source: BBC]

Wudu (also spelled wudhu) refers to ablution or cleaning done before worship or prayers. The word ghusl is also used to describe ritual cleansing before worship. Ghusl is often translated as "full ablution", as opposed to the "partial ablution" or wudu that Muslims perform after lesser impurities. Ghusl is a ritual bath. It is the preferred method of cleaning but, especially in desert areas, where many Muslims live and water is in short supply, wudu is a good enough method cleaning before prayer, especially if you pray five times a day..

The Qur’an tells the faithful: “O believers, when you stand up to pray, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles.” In the scripture there are also details about cleaning the nostrils. Dirty feet in a mosques are regarded as an insult to Islam. Some say the custom also exists so Muslims don’t dirty themselves when they touch their foreheads to floor during prayer. Many faithful carry prayer mats (“ sajjada” ). They are recommended but not required. The idea of behind the mats is that they clean and purify the place where a Muslim is praying.

Wudu and Impurities

ablution at Istiqal Mosque

Wudu can be done in a fountain in a mosque or in a sink, wherever there is clean water. A cleansing lasts until the worshiper must use the toilet, after which wudu must be conducted again; otherwise, a wudu can potentially last for several prayer times. Rose S. Aslan wrote in The Conversation: “Islamic law requires Muslims to ritually purify their body before praying. These practices contain both spiritual and physical benefits. According to Islamic law, there are minor and major impurities. Minor impurities involve urinating, defecating and sleeping, among other practices. A person of Muslim faith is supposed to perform a ritual washing of their bodies before praying to get rid of these minor impurities. [Source: Rose S. Aslan, Assistant Professor of Religion, California Lutheran University, The Conversation, March 16, 2020]

“Wudu is to be performed, as was done by the Prophet Muhammad, in a specific order before praying, which takes place five times a day. Before each prayer, Muslims are expected to wash themselves in a certain order – first hands, then mouth, nose, face, hair and ears, and finally their ankles and feet. While washing with water is required when it is available, if a person has limited access to water, then a Muslim is permitted to symbolically “cleanse” their hands and face with dust or sometimes sand or other natural materials. “A Qur’anic verse says: “And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, God is ever Pardoning and Forgiving.”

A hadith from the prophet also describes the Earth as a purifying agent if there is a scarcity of water for washing. “Major impurity is defined in Islamic texts as occurring after sexual activity or when a woman completes her menstrual cycle. A Muslim woman should not pray during her menstrual cycle. To purify oneself after such an impurity, a Muslim is required to take a shower, called “ghusl.” A person needs to wash their entire body, from head to toe, including their hair.

Preparing for prayer by washing one’s body using water can be a deeply spiritual act for Muslims. Islamic studies scholar Paul Powers argues it isn’t “empty ritualism,” but an embodied practice that helps the individual center on an inner religiosity. “Similarly, another Islamic studies scholar, Marion Katz, explains in her 2002 book “Body of Text” that the importance of wudu lies in its symbolic cleansing. It does not always cleanse the parts of the body that are “physically involved in the pollution act.”

Wudu Washing Steps

Hands, Mouth, Nose and Face: Muslims start in the name of God, and begin by washing the right, and then the left hand three times. The mouth is then cleaned three times. Water is breathed in gently through the nose three times. The face includes everything from the top of the forehead to the chin, and up to both ears. The face is one of the essentials in wudu, and must be washed at least once, or the wudu is incomplete. However, it is usually washed three times. [Source: BBC]

Arms, Hair and Ears: The arms up to the elbow, and including the hands, are one of the four essential areas that need to be washed. The right arm is washed three times first. Then the left three times. Water from wet hands is passed from the beginning of the hairline and over the head. This is only done once. The wiping of the hair is the third of the four compulsory acts. Using damp hands, the back and inside of the ears are wiped. The Prophet also said "If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?" His companions said, "Not a trace of dirt would be left." The Prophet added, "That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out evil deeds." (Bukhari) |::|

Right foot: The feet represent the last of the four compulsory areas of washing. The right foot is washed up to the ankles three times. Although there are only four compulsory acts of washing, and each has to be washed only once, Muslims follow the example of the Prophet. He usually extended the washing ritual to ensure cleanliness before prayer, and even used to brush his teeth before each prayer. |::|

Left foot: Then the left foot up to the ankles three times. Wudu does not need to be performed before every prayer, although this is recommended. Each wudu lasts for up to a day when not travelling, but must be performed again after going to the toilet, passing wind, bleeding heavily, contact with excrement, vomiting, falling asleep, and taking intoxicating substances. |::|

Wudu and the Coronavirus Pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Netflix did docuseries called “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak”. One segment illustrated how “wudu” may help spread a good hygiene message and deter or slow the spread of disease. Rose Aslan wrote: “The series focuses on Syra Madad, a Muslim public health specialist in a New York hospital, who takes a break to say her prayers at the Islamic Center of New York University. Before entering the prayer room, Madad stops to perform wudu, and washes her mouth and face as well as her feet. [Source: Rose S. Aslan, Assistant Professor of Religion, California Lutheran University, The Conversation, March 16, 2020]

Ritual purity is different from hygienic practices, although Islam also emphasizes good hygiene. Muslims take care to wash often, including using water after going to the bathroom. In view of the coronavirus risk, Muslim leaders around the world, including in the U.S., have aligned their religious opinions with public health experts. Muslim institutions have begun to recommend that people make sure to wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap before doing wudu. Emphasizing that wudu alone cannot prevent the virus from spreading, other Islamic institutions recommend that mosques supply extra soap and hand sanitizer near the washing area.

“They have issued rulings to cancel Friday prayers, urged Muslims to wash their hands with soap regularly, refrain from touching their face and practice social distancing. While people have cleared local store shelves of hand sanitizers, wipes, cleaning supplies, gloves and masks, basic hygiene practices remain the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other viruses. Islamic practices that emphasize purity of body could help reiterate the importance of hygienic practices along with the use of soap or hand sanitizer, to reduce one’s vulnerability to the virus.

Muslim Prayer Movements

Although Muslims can pray to God at any time, there are five prayers they are obligated to perform throughout the day. They follow the same pattern so everyone can follow in congregation, and set prayers are always recited in Arabic. [Source: BBC]

Takbir is entering into the state of prayer by glorifying God. Muslims face towards Makkah and make the intention to pray. To begin the act of prayer, they say 'Allahu Akbar' meaning God is great, raising the hands to the ears or shoulder. |::|

Qiyaam: Muslims place their right hand over their left on their chest or navel while in the standing position (this may vary according to the subdivision followed). A short supplication glorifying God and seeking His protection is read. This is then followed by Surah Al Fatiha, which is the first chapter in the Qur'an. Verses from any another chapter are then recited. |::|

Ruku means bowing. During ruku, Muslims says 'glory be to God, the Most Great', three times. During prayer, it is forbidden to fidget or look around. Muslims must pray as though they are in the presence of God, and therefore must be in a state of concentration. |::|

salat position in the Upper Gallery of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Brief qiyaam" While moving into the upright position, Muslims recite 'God listens to the one who praises Him' and while in the standing position, 'To God belongs all praise' then is recited. 'God is Great' is recited again. Hands are loosely at the sides this time. Each movement is always preceded by the phrase 'God is Great'. This indicates to followers of the prayer that the leader is about to make the next movement. |::|

First Sujud means to prostrate. While in the prostration position 'Glory be to God, the Most High' is repeated three times. Palms, knees, toes, forehead and nose must be the only body parts touching the ground. The Prophet said, "The worst thief is he who steals from his prayer." His companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah, how does he steal from his prayer?" He said, "He does not perfect its ruku and sujud". |::|

Brief Sitting: 'God is Great' is recited while moving to the sitting position. Muslims pause here for a few seconds, either staying silent, or reciting a shorter prayer. 'God is Great' is recited once more as the sujud position is taken again. The Prophet recommended that each movement must last at least the time that it takes for the bones to settle. He compared some people's ruku' and sujud to the way that a crow pecks on the ground, because of the speed at which they perform it. (Ibn Khuzaymah) |::|

Second Sujud is the same as the first one. After reciting 'Glory be to God, the Most High', one 'raka'ah', or unit is complete. Each salah has its own number of units though. The shortest prayer, Fajr, has two. To continue the prayer from the sujud position, Muslims say 'God is Great' and stand up to repeat everything from Surah Al Fatiha, until they reach this sujud again. |::|

Tashahhud: After saying God is Great, Muslims return to the sitting position. They recite a set number of short prayers in Arabic, praising God, and sending peace on the Prophet. They repeat the declaration of faith, raising the forefinger of their right hand, in order to act as a witness. They then ask God to bestow blessings and peace upon Prophet Abraham and his family, and ask for the same for Prophet Muhammad. Finally, Muslims ask for forgiveness and mercy, and ask God to bless them and their children until the Day of Judgement. |::|

Peace to the Right: To end the prayer, Muslims first turn their face to the right saying 'Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.' This is said to the Angels which Muslims believe accompany each human being to record their actions. Peace to the left: 'Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah' is repeated turning to the left side now. Muslims believe the Angel on the right side records all good actions and thoughts, while the one on the left records all bad actions. |::|

Prayers in the Air

Martin Abbugao of AFP wrote: “As a frequent flier and devout Muslim, businessman Abdalhamid Evans always comes up against the same challenge in the air: when to say his prayers. Muslims are required to pray five times a day at certain hours, but this schedule becomes complicated when crossing various time zones at thousands of metres above sea level. "I usually don't pray when I am in a plane," said Evans, the London-based founder of a website that provides information on the global halal, or Islam-compliant, industry. "But lately I have been thinking that it is probably better to do them in the air than make them up on arrival," he told AFP. [Source: Martin Abbugao, AFP, April 6, 2012 ^^^]

“The problem may be solved for travellers such as Evans thanks to an innovation called the Air Travel Prayer Time Calculator, developed by Singapore-based Crescentrating, a firm that gives halal ratings to hotels and other travel-related establishments.” Launched in April 2012, “the online tool takes data such as prayer times in the country of origin, the destination city and in countries on the flight path and uses an algorithm to plot exact prayer hours during a flight. Current programmes only allow Muslims to find their prayer hours according to their position on land, and the absence of any tools that can be used to calculate during a flight has compromised many travellers . "I knew there was lot of frustration among the travellers on this issue, but nobody had really attempted to solve it," Crescentrating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen told AFP. ^^^

“Before embarking on a trip, a Muslim traveller can now go to the online calculator in the Crescentrating website and input their departure airport, time of flight and destination. The calculator then comes up with the prayer times set either in the local time of the airport of origin, the destination city or the country that the aircraft is flying over, which the traveller can then email to themselves to access later. Fazal said his team plans to develop a mobile app that will also point users in the direction of the Islamic holy city of Mecca, to which Muslims must face when they pray, based on the flight path.” ^^^


Muezzins are people who issue the call to initiate the five daily prayers. Serving as a Muslim crier in a ritual is over 1,400 years old, these men traditionally stood at the top of a mosque minaret and called the faithful to prayer through cupped hands, with a waling, mellifluous chanting of Qur’anic verses. Now muezzin generally either sit in the mosque and summons the faithful with a microphone and a crackling set of loudspeakers or they play a tape of an imam with a "particularly beautiful voice".

According to the AFP All across the Muslim world, muezzins, broadcast the "adhan" or “azan” call to prayer, five times a day. Intoned in Arabic over minaret loudspeakers, it reminds Muslims: "God is the greatest" and they should "hasten to prayers". There is a quiet hierarchy among muezzins. A particularly melodic caller can increase the standing of a mosque. House hunters might judge the neighbourhood adhan before making an offer. And at prestigious mosques, the job is highly coveted. [Source: Zain Janjua, AFP, April 11, 2023]

Salat originated at a time when there were no clocks or watches to inform the people that it was time for them to come together in prayer. The call to prayer is issued by a muezzin, usually a man with a loud but pleasant voice. The call to prayer is similar to the Shahadah, with repeated calling of Allahu Akbar ("God is great"), "I declare there is no god but God," and "I declare Muhammad is the Messenger of God." [Source:]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources:Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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