Rafed English

Shiah and Salat (prayer)

Like all other Muslims, the Shi'as too regard "salat" as one of the pillars of religion. This prayer is a means of bringing God's servant near to Him. If one does not perform the prayer, the relation between God and His servant is broken. That is why the traditions of Ahlu 'l-bayt (a.s.) say that not offering the prayer even once or twice is the distinguishing mark between indielity and Islam.

According to the religious code 'salat' has great importance. No other act of worship can bear companions with it. The Imamiyah sect unanimously believe that anyone who does not perfrom 'salat' is a great sinner: moreover he has no place in Islamic society. He is neither credible nor trustworthy. One is even permitted to criticize him behind his back. There are very strick orders about 'salat'; five kinds of 'salat' are compulsory:

1. The five daily prayers.
2. The "salatu 'l-jum'ah" (the Friday prayers)
3. "Salatu 'l-ayat" (on the occasion of a solar or lunar eclipse, and earthquake, or any frightening natural event).
4. "Salatu 'l-idayn" (the salat of 'idu 'l-fitr and 'idu 'l-azhar).
5. "Salatu 't-tawaf" (on circumambulation of the Ka'bah).

In addition, an adult person may make 'salat' compulsory for himself by making a promise or taking an oath to perform a certain number of prayers or by accepting a reward for performing prayers under certain conditions. Besides these, all other kinds of salat are "nawafil" (supererogatory prayers). The most important "nawafil" are those attached to the five daily prayers, which are twice the number of units of the compulsory prayers (that is thirty four units). The total number of units of both "nawafil" and compulsory prayers is thus fifty one.

Here we remember an interesting incident which Raghib al-Isfahani wrote about in his distinguished book "al-Muhadhirat". We learn that during the days of Ahmad ibn 'Abdu 'l-Aziz there was a man named Kanani in Isfahan. Ahmad was learning the correct way to do the prayers and the basic Shi'a beliefs from Kawani. One day Ahmad's mother happened to see them during a lesson and she said to Kanani: "Oh master, you have made my son a Rafidi! (one of the Rafidah - i.e. a particularly zealous Shi'a). Kanani immediately reported: "Foolish woman! The Rafidah perform fifty one units of prayer daily, and your son does not perform even one unit out of the fifty one. How can he be one of the Rafidah?"

The "nawafil" of the month of Ramadhan are of great blessing and significance. Their number is one thousand. Our Sunni brothers also perform these prayers, but in congregation (jama'ah), and they are known among them as "tarawih"; from the Shi'a point of view these prayers are not permissible in congregation (jama'ah), because only the Friday prayer is a compulsory congregational prayer. For details one can refer to the tens of thousands of the correct way to perform the various compulsory or recommended prayers, and the numerous recitations and invocations which are especially associated with each prayer.

According to the religious code correct "salat" depends upon three things. Firstly, there are certain conditions which have be to be fulfilled before the actual performance of the prayers, although they are not included in the salat itself; these conditions are so important that salat becomes absolutely void if they are not attended to. They are six in number: (1) 'Taharah' (one must be in state of ritual purity); (2) Time (each compulsory prayer, and most of the recommended prayers, are to be performed at a particular time); (3) Qiblah (that is one should face the Ka'bah); (4) Covering (dress); (5) Intention (one must make the intention to perform the prayer according to that particular prayer); (6) Place (it must be lawful occupied; and the place for prostration must be pure and clean).

Secondly, the constituent parts of salat are of two kinds: they are either considered to be a fundamental part of the prayer and thus absolutely compulsory, or not. There are four compulsory actions. (1) Takbiratu 'l-ihram (that is the initial "allahu adbar"); (2) qiyam (standing to perform the prayer); (3) ruku' (bending forward) and finally sujud (prostration on the ground). Likewise there are four conditions which are compulsory but do not make the salat void if, for example, one unintentionally does not fulfil them: (1) qira'ah (the reading of Surah al-Hamd and one other complete surah); (2) dhikr, tashahud and the final salam. One must be still and in a state of rememberance throughout the prayer. Adhan and iqamah before the start of the prayer are both strongly desirable (indeed alomst compulsory).

The following invalidate the prayer: anything which beaks one's state of wudhu', turning one's back on the qiblah, and excessive movement. Any other action (which is not a fundamental part of the prayer) such as talking, laughing, weeping, looking to the right or left, eating or drinking invalidate the prayer if done intentionally.

To purify oneself, ready for any act of 'ibadat (such as prayer), one must make either wudhu' (the minor purification) or ghusl (the major purification). In case of absence of water, or for some other reason like illness, unbearable cold, shortness of time, when it is not possible to do either of these two acts of purification, their substitute is "tayammum" (cf. the Qur'an which indicates this method of purification: fa tayammamu sa'idan tayyiban -so perform tayammum on pure earth- Surah al-Ma'idah). The scholars of jurisprudence and the lexicographers give various meanings for the word "sa'id". Some of them say it only means dust, and some say that it means all kinds of ground (including sand, tragments of rocks, stones, and mineral substances). We have limited our description of salat to fundamentals: more detailed studies may be found in numerous other works.

Adopted from the book: "The Origin of the Shi'ite Islam and its Principles (Asl ash-Shi'ah wa Usuluh" by: "Allamah Kashiful Ghita"

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