IN ISLAM, PERFORMING Salah is the most important mandatory act after the testimony of faith. The Prophet ﷺ said,
The head of the matter is Islam; its pillar is the Salah… (Tirmidhi)
It is the last thing the Prophet recommended to his Ummah before he died, saying,
Salah, Salah and what your right hands possessed. (Abû Dâwûd)
An act of this weight and status is really worthy of getting all the attention and care of Muslims –because the Salah which Allah accepts and rewards plentifully is the Salah whose conditions, and basic elements are perfected.
But how can one carry out the Salah in the correct manner? One can attain that goal by learning the way the Prophet practiced it –by knowing its prerequisites, essentials and Sunnah acts. Because botching Salah is a harmful act that results in the forfeiture of the reward, either completely or partially. The Prophet ﷺ warned us,
Truly, a man leaves, and none of his Salah has been recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, eighth of it, seventh of it, sixth of it, fifth of it, fourth of it, third of it, a half of it. (Abû Dâwûd)
In the following paragraphs, a detailed description of the prerequisites (shurût) and essentials (arkân) of Salah is presented.
Prerequisites vs. Essentials of Salah
There is a difference between the terms ‘prerequisite’ and ‘essential.’ The former is an object, quality, or condition that is required in order for something else to happen—and if it is missing, the thing is invalid and unfulfilled. For instance, wuḍu is a prerequisite for Salah, as per the ḥadîth,
The Salah of one without purification is void… (Abû Dâwûd and Tirmidhi).
While ‘essential’ is the property or characteristic of something that makes it what it is—and if it is missing the thing is null and void. For instance, recitation of Sûrat Al-Fâtḥiaḥ in each and every ra’kah is an essential for Salah because the Prophet said,
Anyone who does not recite the Opening of the Book [Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah] in one’s Salah is not credited with observing it. (Bukhâri)
The scholars concur that a willful violation of any essential or prerequisite in Salah invalidates it. However, when an essential act is unintentionally omitted, two things are required:
- Performing the missing act
- Making sujûd al–sahw (remedial prostration):
- Before taslîm if it is on account of an omission or due to both an omission and an addition, OR:
- After taslîm if the cause is only an addition. However, if the mistake is one of involuntary addition—such as an extra bowing, it is atonable by sujûd al-sahw.
THE PREREQUISITES (SHURÛT) OF SALAH
It is obligatory on the one who wishes to perform Salah to make sure that he/she satisfies the following conditions before he enters into it:
- Islam: One must be a Muslim in order for him/her to obtain the rewards of Islamic acts of worship.
- Intention (niyya). The Prophet said,
Verily all actions are [accounted] only by intentions. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
Scholars of all four madhâhib are unanimous that intention takes place in the heart and that it should not be uttered by the tongue. The Prophet never instructed us to audibly or inaudibly state intentions for any act of worship, and the Companions did not do this either.
According to a few of the late scholars, one is only permitted to utter one’s intention in Salah if one is in a severe case of forgetfulness or always doubting what he wants to do—the term they coined to describe the state of such a person is al–mustankah.
- Sanity and Maturity: One must be able to know and appreciate what he/she is doing. Sanity is mentioned in the ḥadîth in which the Prophet said,
The pen (which records one’s deeds) is raised from the account of a person in the following three situations: a sleeper until he awakes, a child until he matures (reaches age of puberty) and the insane until he regains sanity. (Abû Dâwûd)
One must also have a clear mind at the time of making the Salah. Allah says,
O believers! do not approach Salah in a stupor—until you know what you are uttering. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:43]
In addition, the Prophet also said,
If one feels drowsy while making Salah, one should go to sleep until his slumber is over, because if one makes Salah while drowsy one would not know whether he is asking for forgiveness or for a bad thing for himself. (Bukhâri)
- Knowing the proper time for Salah. Allah says,Salah has been enjoined on the believers at prescribed times. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:103]The Prophet recounted,Jibrîl led me in Salah at the Kaʿbah. He led me in the early afternoon Salah (Ẓuhr) when the sun had passed the meridian to the extent of the throng of a sandal; he led me in the mid-afternoon Salah (ʿAsr) when the shadow of a thing was as long as itself; he led me in the sundown Salah (Maghrib) when the one who fasts breaks the fast; he led me in the night Salah (ʿIsha’) when the twilight (redness from the horizon at sunset) disappears; he led me in the dawn Salah (Fajr) when food and drink becomes forbidden for the faster. On the following day, he led me in the early afternoon Salah (Ẓuhr) when the shadow of a thing was as long as itself; he led me in the mid-afternoon Salah (ʿAsr) when the shadow of a thing was twice as long as itself; he led me in the sundown Salah (Maghrib) when the one who fasts breaks the fast; he led me in the night Salah (ʿIsha’) when the first half of the night had passed; he led me in the dawn Salah (Fajr) when there was a fair amount of daylight.Then turning to me Jibrîl said, ‘Muhammad, this is the time observed by the prophets before you and the difference in time for each Salah we made on both days is anywhere between the two times.’ (Abû Dâwûd)
- Purification (ṭahâra): One must make sure that the following three things are clear from all kinds of impurity before he starts the Salah:(A) Body: If one is not in the necessary state of purification then one must attain it for Allah says,O believers, when you establish Salah wash your (hands and) faces (mouth and nose are inclusive) and your hands to the elbows, wipe your heads (ears are inclusive), and wash your feet to the ankles. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:6]Also the Prophet ﷺ said,When you stand for Salah perfect your ablution. (Bukhâri and Abû Dâwûd)and also,
Salah is not accepted from anyone who has nullified his/her ablution until she/he regains another one –nor is charity accepted from stolen property. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
Post-Natal bleeding (nifâs) menstrual bleeding (hayḍ): Both postnatal bleeding and menstrual bleeding waives Salah from a woman.
(B) Clothes: if the clothes are contaminated with impurities, one should wash them for Allah says,
Purify your garments, [Sûrat Al-Muddaththir, 74:4]
and the Prophet ﷺ said,
If menstrual blood is on one’s clothes, she must wash it out and then make Salah. (Bukhâri)
(C) Place: If the ground is filthy one can pour water over the impurity:
A Bedouin entered the masjid and urinated. The people grabbed him and the Prophet ordered his release, told them to pour a tumbler of water over the soiled area, and said, “You have been sent to make things easy and not make them difficult.” (Bukhâri)
It is prohibited to offer Salah in graveyards (Muslim), camel pens (Abû Dâwûd), churches and synagogues with images (Bukhâri), public baths/bathrooms and dunghills (Abû Dâwûd), the roof of the Kaʿbah, slaughterhouses, and the middle of the road.
(6) Covering the private parts (satr al-ʿawra): Allah says,
O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment (by wearing proper clothing/ concealing the ʿawra) for every time/place of masjid (Salah). [Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:31]
The ʿawra for a man outside of Salah is from his navel to his knees; however, inside Salah he must also cover his shoulders (Bukhâri and Abû Dâwûd). It is highly recommended for the man to have his head covered.
The ʿawra of a woman (for Salah purposes) is her entire body except her face and hands.
(7) Facing the Qibla (istiqbâl al-qiblah): Allah says,
Turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid Al-Haram, and wherever you are, turn your faces (in Salah) in that direction. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:144]
The Prophet said,
When you stand for Salah, face the qibla, make takbîr, utter glorification and praise for Allah, recite the ‘Mother of the Book’ [Sûrat Al-FatIḥah] … (Bukhâri and Abû Dâwûd)
There are many ways to decide the qibla. And when one is ignorant of the right direction, one should inquire and strive to determine its exact or approximate direction, and in case neither of the two is possible, one should follow his best judgment.
THE ESSENTIALS (ARKÂN) OF SALAH
The essentials of Salah are:
(1) Pronouncing the opening takbîr: It is done when one commences with Salah by saying “Allâhu Akbar” (‘Allah is the greatest’) while raising the hands to shoulder level with the palms facing forward. The Prophet ﷺ stated,
The key to Salah is purification, its beginning is takbîr, and its end is taslîm. (Abû Dâwûd and Tirmidhi)
(2) Standing (Qiyâm): One must stand during the Salah, if one is able. Allah commands,
Be guardians of your Salah…and stand up (in Salah, if able) with devotion. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:238]
And the Prophet said,
When you stand for Salah face the qibla, make takbîr, utter glorification and praise Allah (duʿâ al–istiftaḥ), recite the ‘Mother of the Book’, [Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah]. (Bukhâri)
and Allah says,
When you recite the Quran, seek refuge in Allah from Satan the Outcast. [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:98]
If one cannot stand, he may perform Salah sitting, lying on one’s side or whatever position he is capable of taking. The Prophet ﷺ said to ʿUmrân ibn Hussain,
Pray standing. If you are not able to stand, then pray sitting. If you are not able to pray sitting, then pray (while lying) on your side. (Bukhâri)
As for the voluntary Salah, one can do it sitting even if he can stand, but one who stands receives a greater reward than one who sits. ʿAbdullâh ibn ʿUmar narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said,
The Salah of one who sits is half [in terms of reward] of the Salah (of one who performs it standing). (Bukhâri and Muslim)
Duʿâ’ al-Istiftâḥ (Commencing Supplication)
“Subhânak allâhumma wa be hamdika wa tabarak asmuka wa taʿâla jadduka wa la ilâha ghayruk”
Istiʿâdha (Seeking Refuge)
“Aʿûdhu billâhi min al-shaytân al-rajîm”
Basmala (Invoking Allah’s Name)
“Bismillâhi al-raḥmâni al-rahîm”
(3) Reciting Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah in every rakʿah of the Salah: While standing one must properly recite Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah. The Prophet ﷺ stated,
If anyone performs Salah and does not recite Sûrat Al-Fatiḥah, then his Salah is deficient and not complete… (Muslim and Abû Dâwûd)
(4) Bowing: Allah says,
O you who believe, bow down and prostrate yourselves… [Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:77]
The manner of bowing is accomplished by bending forward, putting one’s hands on one’s knees, and remaining in that position until one attains stillness.
Remembrance in Bowing
“Subhâna rabbiya al-ʿaẓîm” (three times)
(5) Resuming the initial standing position: In a famous ḥadîth the Companion Abû Ḥumayd’s described what the Prophet did after bowing saying,
He would raise his head from his bowing, and then stand straight until all of his backbones returned to their [upright] places. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
(6) Prostration: The Prophet ﷺ explained the proper prostration by saying,
Then prostrate until you attain stillness in your prostration, then rise (and sit) until you attain stillness in your sitting, and then prostrate until you gain stillness in your prostration… (Bukhâri)
Remembrance in Prostration
“Subhâna rabbi al-aʿla” (three times)
(7-8) Rising into a sitting position and sitting between prostrations: Rising in a sitting position and taking a short pause in a sitting posture between the two prostrations are obligatory acts in Salah.
Remembrance between Prostrations
“Rabbi aghfir lî”
(9-10) The final sitting and recital of the testimonial (tashahhud): Ibn ʿAbbâs said,
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to teach us the tashahhud like he taught us the Quran. He would say, ‘Salutations, blessings, prayers and good deeds for Allah. Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and the mercy of Allah and His blessings. Peace be upon us and the sincere slaves of Allah. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger. (Muslim and Abû Dâwûd)
“Al-taḥiyyâtu Lillâh w’l-salawât w’l-ṭayyibât. As-salâmu ʿalayka ayyuha al-nabi wa raḥmatullâhi wa barakâtuhu. Assalâmu ʿalayna wa ʿala ʿibâdi Allâhi al-ṣâlihîn. Ashhadu al lâ ilâha illa Allâh wa ashhadu anna Muḥammadan ʿabduhu wa rasûluhu”
Salah and Benediction for the Prophet
“Allâhumma ṣalli ʿala Muḥammad wa ʿala âli Muḥammad kama ṣalayta ʿala Ibrâhîm wa ʿala âli Ibrâhîm innaka hamîdun majîd. Allâhumma bârik ʿala Muḥammad wa ʿala âli Muḥammad kamâ bârakta ʿala Ibrâhîm wa ʿala âli Ibrâhîm innaka ḥamîdun-majîd”
Supplication between Tashahhud and Taslîm
Seeking Refuge from Four Things: “Allâhumma innî aʿûthu bika min ʿathâbi jahannam wa min ʿathâbi al-qabr wa min fitnat al-mahya w’l mamât wa min sharri fitnat Al-Masîh Al-Dajjâl”
(11) Termination (taslîm): This act concludes the Salah by looking to the right and left, each time saying “Assalâmu ʿalaykum wa raḥmatullâh” (Peace and Allah’s mercy be unto you!).
ʿAmr ibn Saʿd related that his father said, “I saw the Prophet saying the salâm on his right side and on his left side until I could see the whiteness of his cheeks.” (Muslim and Aḥmad)
The majority of scholars, excepting the Ḥanbalis, consider uttering salâm once as sufficient.
“Assalâmu ʿalaykum wa raḥmatulllâh”
(12) Stillness (ṭumânîna): All acts and positions of Salah should be executed with deliberation and moving into a position of stillness. Stillness is achieved by sitting in the position until the bones are set [in alignment] and reaching a stillness.
The Companion Abû Ḥumayd said,
I am well-informed about the Salah of Allah’s Messenger and I saw him stand for Salah raising both hands to the shoulders and he uttered takbîr with every bone coming to rest in its place properly and motionless. He recited Sûrat Al-Fatḥiah and uttered takbîr raising both hands to the shoulders. Then he bowed placing his palms on his knees keeping his back straight/parallel to the floor and coming to a still position. Then he stood up straight with composure saying “SamiʿAllâhu liman ḥamidah rabbanâ wa laka al-hamd” while raising both hands to the shoulders. Then while saying takbîr he prostrated. Then he sat up resting on his left foot with the right heel propped up [by the toes] while saying takbîr. Then he prostrated again while saying takbîr. Then momentarily he sat up again (jalsatul istirahah – the Sitting of Rest) before standing for the second unit (rakʿah) to repeat all of the above except takbirat al-iḥrâm and the duʿâ’ of istiftâh. In the second rakʿah (at the point of jalsat al-istirâḥa) he sat more than momentarily to recite tashhahud and offer blessings on the Prophet. In the last rakʿah he pushed his left foot forward and sat on his left hip and recited two additional duʿâ’ before concluding. (Bukhâri and Abû Dâwûd)
(13) Sequence (tartîb): Proper sequence is mandatory between the different acts of Salah. Hence the opening takbîr must come before reciting, the reciting must precede bowing, and bowing must happen before the prostration, and so on.
Undoubtedly, the fulfillment of all the necessary conditions for the Salah enhances its chances of receiving the best recognition and full reward of Allah. However, the satisfaction of the arkân and shurûṭ of Salah is not the only guarantee for success in this great act of worship. There are also other things a Muslim should learn such as the invalidators of Salah, its Sunnah acts, its recommended acts, etc. But those are subjects for another time.