Putting Structure in the Prayer - Part 4: Process & Duration (salah - the actual prayer)
In Islam, what is referred to in English as "praying 5 times a day" is actually called "salah" in Arabic, Salah means "devotion." To me, the actuality of salah carries a rather different connotation than that accompanied by the English word “prayer” (whose etymological association is ultimately from Christianity). The word praying in the Christian-based world generally evokes images and ideas of one calling out to God perhaps on their knees at the bed side and making invocations that can vary. Whereas precise liturgical processes (which are becoming less and less regular even inside churches) are something reserved for Sunday practice in church. The salah in Islam, even though it is carried out both in and outside the mosques, and carried out both in congregation and individually, in any case it is a very precise liturgical process. It is prescribed process taught by Islam's prophet and passed down through generations until today.
I give seminar sessions called "technicalities of following Islam" because Islam is full of actual technicalities in following it, to the point of often being viewed by outsiders as banal. Like almost anything that Islam exhorts Muslims to do, the salah is full of technicalities and processes to perform and conditions to be meet for validity (and validity here would mean being accepted by God - and being accepted by God would mean that the act is now redeemable as reward on the Day of Judgement).
What we will do here is give you an idea of the exact process of performing the prayer and therefore the things the worshipper has to think about when doing the prayer in order to make valid. We will discuss the time frame involved in performing this process, as well as also the factors that can add some variability to the time. A common complaint I receive is that while it takes some kids 5 minutes to perform there prayers, it takes others 12 or 15; then there are some kids who leave class to pray and seemingly do not come pack for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the teacher and educators feel helpless as they themselves do not actually no what this praying in Islam is all about and what it entails. Therefore, they lack the cultural competency with which to engage the students in a discussion that can lead to a common understanding of how long the prayer ought to take; or better yet, they lack the skills necessary in order to put in a place a structure in the school day’s schedule, environment, and planning that is going to effectively accommodate the prayer in a streamlined manner that serves the interests of all. With knowledge of the prayer and its requirements educators can have the competency to put in appropriate structure, reach agreements and understanding with students about what works best for all, and most importantly from the perspective of the educator, have the leverage to hold kids accountable who abuse their right to pray in school by using it as an excuse to avoid academic tasks and/or cause mischief. Once you have an effective structure in place that is developed based on knowledge of the full needs to perform the prayer the school is then well within its rights to restrict students as need be (see the ACLU joint statement - “students have the right to pray… except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them)
The Process of Praying
Once one has wudu and is ready to pray the prayer begins with the worshipper standing upright and facing Mecca (the direction is determined by whichever direction is the most direct path to Mecca via aerial trajectory, this direction is Northeast throughout all of North America, more on this in the blog about spacial needs) and then raising their hands to the side of the face and saying “Allah Akbar” (the saying of this phrase is called takbir and it is what is used to signal the transfer from one position to another in the salah, so if you are in a room with Muslims praying, you will likely here it said several times). They then make a specific invocation, which is 5 lines, and then recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, which is seven lines. Of the 5 prayers in the day there are 2 (the noon, and afternoon ones) where the Qur’an recitation is done quietly under the breath, and there are 3 (the dawn, sunset, and evening prayer) where it is recited aloud. Your students will not be doing the prayers that necessitate the audible Qur’an recitation in school unless they are there after school, most likely in the winter, beyond the point of the setting of the sun. During the noon and afternoon prayer the only thing that is audible is the saying of the takbir by the leader of the prayer.
After reciting the first chapter of the Qur’an the worshipper must then recite at least one more verse of the Qur’an. This is a part where considerable variability in time can be come into play. Reciting one verse of the Qur’an is the bare minimum that needs to be done to meet the obligations of salah. However, there is plenty of religious pretext that it is better to recite the Qur’an longer and just generally speaking in Islam the more one recites the Qur’an the more reward there is for the worshipper. Furthermore, it is simply not the habit that is developed to only recite a single verse more when doing this, and youth tend to go along with the habits that have been developed in this regard. Nevertheless, I would say reciting the Qur’an for a duration longer than a minute here would not be common; reciting a short chapter that is only 4 lines is common.
After completing this second recitation of the Qur’an the worshipper raises his or her hands in the air again and again says “Allah Akbar.” They then bow and while bowing make another 3 line invocation (there are supererogatory invocations that can be done here but the 3-line one is the minimum, even doing a supererogatory invocation is not going to add significant time here) the worshipper then raises him or herself back up to the standing position and says “sami allahu aliman hamida” and then says “Allahu akbar” and then goes down into the position of prostration, preferably with the hands going to the ground before the knees (yes there is direct guidance in the religion and its jurisprudence for matters as banal as whether or not you ought to first touch the ground with your hands or knees, if one goes knees first however, it is not something that nullifies the prayer, that is to say: going hands first is not one of the prayers obligations - but I want to give you an idea of just how meticulous some these matters can be for us).
The position of prostration in the salah is called sujud (and as a side note, if you are not aware, what is called a ‘mosque’ in English is not called a ‘mosque’ by Muslims. We call it by its Arabic name masjid, which means ‘place of sujud’). It is the ultimate position of worship (and as such, and as you have learned, it is not something that is to be just jumped into but rather has an elaborate process and preparation to get to) and submission to God (and the word Islam means submission, and the word Muslim means ‘one who submits’) and the religious belief is that the supplication made in sujud is the supplication that is most likely to be accepted by Allah. Therefore, there can be variation on the amount of time spent in sujud as some may prefer to make much extra supplication during this time, perhaps more so in times of stress when they are feeling extra motivated to call on Allah's aid. Nevertheless, the time spent in sujud is going to range from about 3 to 30 seconds (I would say, generally 30 seconds is a long sujud and for a young person it is overall unlikely for it to las that long, but 15-20 seconds is still within reason and possibility; if they are praying in a group the leader of the prayer will in effect be determining the sujud time since everyone else’s actions will follow their lead) however, they will go to sujud 8 total times throughout the course of the salah. Therefore time variation in sujud does have the potential to add up to be a difference in minutes; and as we all know minutes in the school day (and life as well for that matter) are precious.
What is obligatory to do in sujud is a 3 line invocation. When sujud is finished the worshipper says "Allahu Akbar" and raises to sitting position (the knees do not move, they are sitting on their knees here), where they make a two line invocation, then say "Allahu Akbar" again, and make sujud a second time, and then say "Allahu Akbar" again and sit up and rises to the standing position.
At this point the worshipper has completed one unit of prayer - or "raka" - each of the five daily prayers has a certain amount of rakas that are obligatory to make in it. At school it will be 4 rakas, because the noon and afternoon prayers oblige 4 (the evening prayer is also 4, but the sunset is 3 and the dawn prayer is 2). The rakas happen fluidly, there is no break in between them or anything like that they are connected in a continual process with some slight variation in what is to be done to complete each one. At the end of the second raka there is an extended sitting and invocation before rising for the third raka. At the end of the fourth raka there is a further extended invocation and after that the worshipper may choose to make supererogatory supplications before finalizing the salah with the taslim - which is turning the head to the right and saying "asalaamu alaykuk wa rahmatu Allah" and then turning the head to the left and saying the same thing (in the sitting position). The rakas in the prayers after the 2nd in all the prayers do not have a recitation of the Quran beyond the first chapter, like the first two do.
So how long does all of this take? When I timed myself praying dhur (the noon prayer) from the beginning of saying “Allahu Akbar" to the very end of saying "asalaamu alaykuk wa rahmatu Allah" and doing only the minimum recitations and invocations as described here it took almost exactly 5 minutes.
To me the biggest variables for time in the prayer come in reciting the Qur'an after the first chapter in the first 2 rakas and in making supplication while in sujud (prostration), I would say usually Muslims make more supplications and recitation beyond the bare minimum requirements in all these situations - and generally you are talking about time variables between 3 and 30 seconds for these things, possibly longer for the Qur'an recitation, and there are a total of 10 instances here where time variability of such comes into play. Thus, you are looking at a 5 to 10 minute time frame needed to perform the actual prayer (not counting making wudu, and not counting travel time from the classroom to wherever the prayer is taking place, we are talking 5 to 10 minutes afforded for the actual performance of the prayer from beginning to end).
So we said in the post about wudu that we are looking at 3 minutes for making wudu, and now we are saying a 5 to 10 minute time frame for the actual performance of the prayer. This totals an allotment of 13 minutes, but just hold onto your pants there for a second as the variables to consider in all this and in making the students successful in getting this done in the time frame you allot them do not end here.
We will cover these matters in our upcoming blog posts and they include, 1.) the supererogatory acts that are recommend to do after the prayer is finished as well as some cultural practices that some may be inclined to partake in. 2.) The reservation and preparation of a proper place in which to pray, if the school is unable to provide a consistent place for the students to pray that meets the required conditions of propriety in which the Muslim can pray and have their prayer be valid and accounts for the quantity of students that will be praying; you could be setting the students up for massive failure because they will be burdened by having to set up the room appropriately in order to get the prayer done, and that will take plenty of time (this is actually a big area in which I have seen and heard of students being set up to fail in performing their prayers at school, and 3.) Supervision, I do not believe we will have a full blog post on supervision, but all of this needs to be supervised by staff in the building, the whole way through. This is the most important part of setting students up to be successful in performing their prayers at school; too many times I have seen or heard of students simply being released from class to pray without anyone supervising them that they are in an appropriate place (and if the school has not designated an appropriate place and time for the students do their prayers it becomes a whole other matter). Leaving students unsupervised sets them up for failure and leads them into the temptation of acting out on impulses that lead to poor decisions and disciplinary issues. Having staff supervision is critical in this.
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