I used to tell people that we Muslims pray five times a day (called Salat in Arabic) and I would get responses such as “ I only pray to my Gods when I need something (comment from a Hindi friend)” or “ we are better, we only pray to God one (or three) time(s) and thus we bother God less than you”. These statements confused me, our five daily prayers are basically avenues in which we can remember God and his greatness, why is praying less better?
I then realized that maybe we are using the same word to explain two different phenomena. In Islam our five prayers involved following a strict set of steps. We stand for prayer and recite the opening chapter of the Quran (Surah Al-Fatihah), followed by verses or chapters from the Quran that we choose. After that we kneel/bow, glorify the greatness of Allah and then we prostrate to the floor and glorify the highness of Allah. This is repeated anywhere between 1 to 4 times depending on the type and time of prayer. Compared to Christianity where they may kneel and pray to God in usually an unscripted manner (to the best of my knowledge), this is probably what leads to the above confused statements. Our prayers are mainly to glorify and remember Allah, while others pray usually to thank or request something from God.
What does the word “prayer” actually mean? I checked oxford dictionary and got the following meanings for prayer, “(noun) a request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity…”. While the word correctly defines the Christian mode of prayer, I found it lacking in describing what we call prayer. If prayer is not the best word then what is a better word? Worship which is defined as “(noun) the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. 2 religious rites and ceremonies…” according the Oxford dictionary seems to be a better definition.
Okay now that we resolved the name question regarding our five acts of Worship (see, I am adapting already), I can speak about the Muslim form of prayer. In Arabic it is called du’aa and before today I could not use a term to distinguish it from our five acts of worship (since both would translate into prayer). Like the Christian prayer, it is unscripted and basically a means to ask or thank Allah for something. It is usually done after an act of worship, at night, in the morning, before we eat, after we eat, before an exam or basically at any and all times of the day or night. Since Muslims are encouraged to constantly remember God and ask from him, du’aa (or the Muslim prayer), happens countless times a day. Even our greetings ( my favorite greeting ever), Salam Alakium or Peace be upon you is a form of du’aa and we try to compete with each other by returning a better greeting such as “and Peace be upon you and Allah’s Mercy and Blessings” (Arabic version: Walakium Asalam wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatu)
All du’aas’ are not equal and there are usually simple forms that we should follow in our du’aa to increase the chance of Allah accepting the du’aa. Surah Al-Fatihah, the first chapter in the Quran (literally translated as the Opening) and the chapter that we must recite during every act of worship we do, teaches Muslims how to make du’aa (prayer) that is most acceptable to Allah. Actually the reason I wrote the whole article above, was to get a chance to take about Surah Al-Fatihah and it verses. This topic, however, I will leave this for a latter blog. I guess consider this post an introduction
For some reason the word worship used to define the five daily prayers does not seem to be the best word fit. Worship, feels too big and vague, let me know if you have a better suggestion.
I will end with a reminder (to Muslims) or an interesting theological point to others.
When Muslims make du’aa, they hope that it will be accepted (as everyone else). However, sometimes ones du’aa never gets answered (according to our perceptions), then what? Well Muslims believe that any du’aa that has not been accepted will be a reward waiting for us in the Day of Judgment and that Allah loves to hear and respond (which may not be in the manner we expect or realize) to our du’aa and thus Muslims are encouraged to make du’aa for every small and large thing they can.