Saturday, July 25, 2009

Definition of Salah

In my notes on the "linguistic" definition of salah, I have a few different points. Even though Shaykh Yaser Birjas in Fiqh of Salah discussed the linguistic root of the word salah, and so did Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda in Vocabulary of Salah, the only summary I can give on the subject is that it's not immediately obvious what the root is, or if the word came from another language.

However, there are still some linguistic understandings inherent in the usage of the word, and that is what I will share inshaaAllaah.

So the first linguistic understanding of the word is that it means du'a and istighfar, which in English means supplication and seeking forgiveness. Du'a, or invoking Allah, is the essence of prayer and worship. In English we use the word "prayer" to mean both du'a and istighfar (and even dhikr) but these words in Arabic have special connotations. We can understand however that salah means invoking Allah and asking for His forgiveness.

The second linguistic understanding of the word is that it means forgiveness and mercy. We get this interpretation, which applies to the salat of Allah, from the following ayah:

Allah sends His Salat (Graces, Honours, Blessings, Mercy, etc.) on the Prophet (Muhammad SAW) and also His angels too (ask Allah to bless and forgive him). O you who believe! Send your Salat on (ask Allah to bless) him (Muhammad SAW), and (you should) greet (salute) him with the Islamic way of greeting (salutation i.e. AsSalamu 'Alaikum). 33:56

In this translation (Muhsin Khan), the word Salat is taken to mean "Graces, Honours, Blessings, Mercy, etc." when referring to the Salat of Allah. And then the Salat of the angels is asking for Allah to bless and forgive [Muhammad, saws.] And our salat in this case means asking Allah to bless him.

The way Sh. AbdulNasir explained it was to say that if Allah is the "doer" then the salat means to have mercy on, and to grant blessings. And if the "doers" are the angels then it means that they seek forgiveness. And if the "doer" is a human being, then it simply means to worship.

One other meaning of the word salah, is that the plural form (salawat) can mean masajid, or places of prayer, as in ayah 22:40.

The technical definition of salah, however, is how we understand the term today. That is, worshiping Allah by means of particular prescribed sayings and actions in a particular order at particular prescribed times, beginning with takbir (Allaahu Akbar) and ending with tasleem (As-salaamu alaykum).


Shamsuddin Waheed said...


As always, a very detailed and concise post. I hope to add something to the subject of Salaah.

The linguistic meaning is that the root is salw, which means connection. Salaah is our way of keeping contact with Allah Almighty. It is something we need. The word Silh is from the same root.

In 33:56, we are actually given something beautiful. It tells us that "Surely, Allah and his angels send Salaah on the Prophet.."

Now, what does that mean? Here, it means that Allah, using the medium of his servants the angels, are giving to the Prophet the things he needed to be successful in his mission. We see that Allah spoke the truth. The Qur'an mentions the battle of Badr, when the Prophet threw the dust and it went into the eyes of all the enemy forces. "It was not you [O Muhammad] who threw, rather it was Allah."

Next, we are told "O believers, send Salaah [Salloo 'Alayh] on him [as well].."

The meaning is obvious, the companions are being told to give their assistance, defend him and follow him. Give the Prophet the support he needs to fulfill his job.

In the last sitting posture of prayer, we recite what is known as the Salawat. The Hadeeths reveal something very interesting, and useful in understanding 33:56. 'How do we send salaah on you' [Kayfa Nusalli 'Alayk], the companions asked the Prophet.

The Prophet responded "O Allah, send Salaah on Muhammad and on the followers of Muhammad.." [Allahumma Salli 'Ala Muhammadin wa 'ala ali Muhammad..].

By reciting this line in prayer, we are actually praying for the items needed for the Prophet's followers to be successful as well, for the Muslims to have the ability to make the Prophet's cause successful. In short, we are praying for ourselves.

Next, we recite "O Allah, bless Muhammad and the followers of Muhammad.." [Allahumma Baarik 'ala Muhammadin wa 'ala ali Muhammad..].

Why Baraakah? Blessing is something extra. To use an analogy, one works and receives a salary, but when you get bonuses, extra money, you become happier. Happiness makes for a better Muslim, more able to assist the Prophet's cause. That is the significance.

Something that makes us appreciate the salaah to Allah more, as well as the recitation of Salaah 'alan Nabi in the final sitting posture.

Amy said...

Assalaamu alaykum

Thanks for that. The reason I left out a lot about the linguistic meaning is that there are other opinions about what the root words are, including a word for hips (like how the 2nd place horse in a race has his head at the hips of the 1st place horse), from which the connection could be moving at the hips in salah; a word for burning wood in fire, a metaphor for humbling someone, because wood will curl in the fire; another opinion is that it's a word for begging for mercy; and there's another opinion still that it's from another language entirely, and is a word that simply means prayer.

InshaaAllaah I'll write more about the tashahhud lately.