Monday, July 27, 2009

History of Salah 1

I have recently shared some information (1, 2) about the universality of the postures in salah, and their existence before Islam, which I learned about in an AlMaghrib seminar. But what was even more interesting to me was the development of salah during Islam--during the lifetime of the Prophet (saws). That development can be broken into four basic stages.

The first stage begins in the 2nd or 3rd year of the Message (i.e., 2 or 3 years after Angel Jibreel visited the Prophet Muhammad saws.) At this stage, there were two daily prayers, but we don't know the specifics about them. When the Prophet (saws) received revelation he was ordered to make two daily prayers: one in the morning, and one in the evening.
So be patient (O Muhammad SAW). Verily, the Promise of Allah is true, and ask forgiveness for your fault, and glorify the praises of your Lord in the Ashi (i.e. the time period after the midnoon till sunset) and in the Ibkar (i.e. the time period from early morning or sunrise till before midnoon.) 40:55
We can understand these prayers to be general forms of ibadah, including bowing and prostrating, but not necessarily the specific form of salah we have today. We can also understand the qiblah to be towards Jerusalem.

The second stage is of the night prayer, and this has basically two parts. The first part was when the night prayer was obligatory, as prescribed in Surat al-Muzzammil:

O you wrapped in garments (i.e. Prophet Muhammad SAW)!
Stand (to pray) all night, except a little.
Half of it, or a little less than that,
Or a little more; and recite the Quran (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style. (73:1-4)
The Prophet (saws) and the sahabah prayed this every single night, as an obligation, for an entire year. That is based on a hadith from 'Aisha recorded by Imam Ahmad and Imam Muslim. Just now I was reading through the surah and came across this ayah, after the above passage:

Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud prayer) is very hard and most potent and good for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah). (73:6)

We learned in the class that this obligatory night prayer was for the sahabah and the Prophet (saws) an institution, a means of learning and also a means of establishing strength and discipline for them. Perhaps many of us might use the excuse that we will start praying tahajjud when we have more discipline. And that is the wrong approach. Instead, we should be praying tahajjud in order to achieve discipline, in order to strengthen our iman--and not because of high iman.

But after a year the tahajjud prayer was no longer obligatory--at the end of this same surah, the burden is eased.
Verily, your Lord knows that you do stand (to pray at night) a little less than two-thirds of the night, or half the night, or a third of the night, and so do a party of those with you, And Allah measures the night and the day. He knows that you are unable to pray the whole night, so He has turned to you (in mercy). So, recite you of the Quran as much as may be easy for you. He knows that there will be some among you sick, others travelling through the land, seeking of Allah's Bounty; yet others fighting in Allah's Cause. So recite as much of the Quran as may be easy (for you), and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) and give Zakat, and lend to Allah a goodly loan, and whatever good you send before you for yourselves, (i.e. Nawafil non-obligatory acts of worship: prayers, charity, fasting, Hajj and 'Umrah, etc.), you will certainly find it with Allah, better and greater in reward. And seek Forgiveness of Allah. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful. (73:20

So perhaps now we can remember that Allah has made our obligations easy--we don't have the obligation to rise and pray every night, the whole night. He knows our weaknesses. And I love the end of the ayah (the part in bold), which can serve to remind the people, once the obligation of nightly tahajjud has been lifted, the immense reward of continuing in voluntary worship. This ayah is a relief for the Muslims, and a reminder that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. But did the Sahabah stop praying tahajjud? No! They were already trained, so they continued that legacy.

The Prophet (saws) used to stand in night prayer until his feet would swell and still said, "Shouldn't I be a grateful slave?" Shouldn't we be grateful, and show our gratitude by voluntary worship? By praying tahajjud?

to be continued...

Coming up: the last two stages of salah in Islam.

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