Salah means prayer in Arabic. The obligatory Muslim prayers, performed five times each day by Muslims, are the second Pillar of Islam.
God ordered Muslims to pray at five set times of day:
- 'Fajr' prayer: dawn, before sunrise
- 'Dhuhr' prayer: midday, after the sun passes its highest
- 'Asr' prayer: the late part of the afternoon
- 'Maghrib' prayer: just after sunset
- 'Isha' prayer: between sunset and midnight
Prayer becomes obligatory after passing puberty. Muslim children are encouraged to pray from seven years old.
Prayer sets the rhythm of the day
This prayer timetable gives Muslims the pattern of their day.
In Islamic countries, the public call to prayer from the mosques sets the rhythm of the day for the entire population, including non-Muslims.
A universal Muslim ritual
The prayer ritual, which is over 1400 years old, is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all round the world.
Carrying it out is not only highly spiritual, but connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history.
Prayers of body, mind and soul
The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken.
Prayer for a Muslim involves uniting mind, soul, and body in worship; so a Muslim carrying out these prayers will perform a whole series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer.
Muslims make sure that they are in the right frame of mind before they pray; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on God.
If a Muslim prays without the right attitude of mind, it as if they hadn't bothered to pray at all.
Muslims don't pray for God's benefit
Muslims do not pray for the benefit of Allah.
Allah does not need human prayers because he has no needs at all.
Muslims pray because God has told them that they are to do this, and because they believe that they obtain great benefit in doing so.
Muslims pray direct to God
A Muslim prays as if standing in the presence of Allah.
In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. There is no need of a priest as an intermediary. (While there is a prayer leader in the mosque - the imam - they are not a priest, simply a person who knows a great deal about Islam.)
Praying in the mosque
Muslims can pray anywhere, but it is especially good to pray with others in a mosque.
Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realise that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah.
Muslims must be clean before they pray. They make sure of this by performing ritual washing, called wudhu. Mosques have washing facilities.