Salah (Prayer): The Second Pillar of Islam
Prayer (Salah), in the sense of worship, is the second pillar of Islam. Prayer is obligatory and must be performed five times a day. These five times are dawn (Fajr), immediately after noon (Dhuhr), mid-afternoon (‘Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and early night (Isha’).
Ritual cleanliness and ablution are required before prayer, as are clean clothes and location, and the removal of shoes. One may pray individually or communally, at home, outside, virtually in any clean place, as well as in a mosque, though the latter is preferred. Special is the Friday noon prayer, called Jum’ah. It too, is obligatory and is to be done in a mosque, in congregation. It is accompanied by a sermon (Khutbah), and it replaces the normal Dhuhr prayer.
There is no hierarchical clerical authority in Islam, no priests or ministers. Prayers are led by any learned person who knows the Qur’an and is chosen by the congregation. He (or she, if the congregation is all women) is called the imam. There is also no minimum number of congregates required to hold communal prayers. Prayer consists of verses from the Qur’an and other prayers, accompanied by various bodily postures – standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. They are said in Arabic, the language of the revelation, though personal supplications (Du’ah) can be offered in one’s own language. Worshippers face the Qiblah, the direction of the Ka’bah in the city of Makkah.
The significance of prayer lies in one’s maintaining a continuous link to God five times a day, which helps the worshipper avoid misdeeds if he/she performs the prayers sincerely. In addition it promotes discipline, God-consciousness and placing one’s trust in Allah alone, and the importance of striving for the Hereafter. When performed in congregation it also provides a strong sense of community, equality and brotherhood/sisterhood.