One of the most contentious debates among Quranist, individuals who follow only the Quran and discard Hadith and Sunnah, is what is the Salat and how does one perform it. This may seem like a strange point of contention outside of Quranist circles as the answer to this question to many Muslims must seem obvious, but there are a lot of Quranist who either claim that the Salat is not a ritual prayer, but instead just means to “follow closely” which based on erroneous translation of the word Salat, or others who believe that the Salat is a ritual prayer but then much debate to how it is to be performed.
This debate becomes particularly critical because the Salat is such a pivotal aspect of the religion that it is described as a characteristic of the righteous in many verses throughout the Quran, but most notably just ten verses in the Quran in the third verse of the second Sura.
[2:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful [2:1] A.L.M. [2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous; [2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and from our provisions to them, they give to charity.
So we see that immediately in the opening verses of the Quran the importance of the Salat is called out and therefore this should be something that all believers should hope to get right, but with all this debate how do we know the right answer to this question of what is the Salat and how do we perform it?
Sura 2 “The Heifer” (Al-Baqarah)
The title of the second Sura of the Quran is “The Heifer” (Al-Baqarah) البقرة. It is not only the second Sura of the Quran, immediately after the opening Sura of the The Key (Al-Fãtehah), but it is also the longest Sura of the Quran. Out of all the possible names for this crucial Sura that disscusses so many aspects of the religion and duties for the followers of the Quran God selected this simple name “The Heifer” or translated more simply as “The Cow” as the title.
Why The Heifer?
To understand the importance of this name it helps to understand the backstory of the heifer as described in the verses of this Sura.
[2:67] Moses said to his people, “GOD commands you to sacrifice a (cow) heifer.” They said, “Are you mocking us?” He said, “GOD forbid, that I should behave like the ignorant ones.” [2:68] They said, “Call upon your Lord to show us which one.” He said, “He says that she is a heifer that is neither too old, nor too young; of an intermediate age. Now, carry out what you are commanded to do.” [2:69] They said, “Call upon your Lord to show us her color.” He said, “He says that she is a yellow heifer, bright colored, pleases the beholders.” [2:70] They said, “Call upon your Lord to show us which one. The heifers look alike to us and, GOD willing, we will be guided.” [2:71] He said, “He says that she is a heifer that was never humiliated in plowing the land or watering the crops; free from any blemish.” They said, “Now you have brought the truth.” They finally sacrificed her, after this lengthy reluctance.
What is the Lesson?
Before we address what the lesson of this verse is that is so important that He placed it as the title of this critical Sura, consider the following questions?
- Is God All-Knowing?
- Does God forget or make mistakes?
The obvious answer to these questions is unequivocally that “Yes”, God is All-Knowing, and “No” God does not make mistakes or forgets. That said, then why did the Children of Israel pose all these questions when Moses gave them a direct commandment from God to carry out a certain act?
- Are you mocking us?
- Which one?
- What color?
- Which one?
Either they thought God was not All-Knowing, or they thought that God forgot or made a mistake to provide them the details they requested.
The reality is more ominous than that. The truth is disclosed in 2:71 when it states that, “They finally sacrificed her, after this lengthy reluctance.“
This shows that the reason they were asking these questions and playing dumb was not because they ddi not understand, but because they did not want to carry out the act and therefore thought if they ask questions they could get out of doing the task.
This reluctant nature of lazy workers is nothing new and still a common practice from people even in modern times. In 1899, Elbert Hubbard wrote an essay entitled “A Message To Garcia” where he describes this very scenario.
When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.
What to do!
Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”
By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – “carry a message to Garcia!”
General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias. No man, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man – the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.
Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.
You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office—six clerks are within your call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Corregio.”
Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?
On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye, and ask one or more of the following questions:
– Who was he?
– Which encyclopedia?
– Where is the encyclopedia?
– Was I hired for that?
– Don’t you mean Bismarck?
– What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?
– Is he dead?
– Is there any hurry?
– Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?
– What do you want to know for?
And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the 2 other clerks to help him find Garcia – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.A Message to Garcia, Elbert Hubbard, 1899
When God commands the believers to do something our obligation needs to be to carry out the task to the best of our ability. If we are looking for more “clarification” it means that we are either questioning God’s Omniscients and Perfection or that deep down we just don’t want to carry out the task and thus looking for excuses.
This is different than knowing what God expects of us, yet being unsure of our own ability to carry through the task or our strength to follow through. Take the example of Moses. When God commanded him to go to Pharaoh, he didn’t have to ask who is Pharaoh, what do you mean by “let the Children of Israel go?”, or any other excuse to get out of the situation. Instead He asked God for support and strength to accomplish the task.
This is not the same as knowing what God expects from us, having the ability to carry it out, yet looking for an excuse to not do it. We see this example in the Quran when the believers were commanded to fight and the contrast between the weak believers who wanted to fight but lacked the courage to those who had the means but just wanted to flee.
[9:88] As for the messenger and those who believed with him, they eagerly strive with their money and their lives. These have deserved all the good things; they are the winners. [9:89] GOD has prepared for them gardens with flowing streams, wherein they abide forever. This is the greatest triumph. [9:90] The Arabs made up excuses, and came to you seeking permission to stay behind. This is indicative of their rejection of GOD and His messenger—they stay behind. Indeed, those who disbelieve among them have incurred a painful retribution. [9:91] Not to be blamed are those who are weak, or ill, or do not find anything to offer, so long as they remain devoted to GOD and His messenger. The righteous among them shall not be blamed. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. [9:92] Also excused are those who come to you wishing to be included with you, but you tell them, “I do not have anything to carry you on.” They then turn back with tears in their eyes, genuinely saddened that they could not afford to contribute. [9:93] The blame is on those who ask your permission to stay behind, even though they have no excuse. They have chosen to be with the sedentary. Consequently, GOD has sealed their hearts, and thus, they do not attain any knowledge.
[8:5] When your Lord willed that you leave your home, to fulfill a specific plan, some believers became exposed as reluctant believers. [8:6] They argued with you against the truth, even after everything was explained to them. They acted as if they were being driven to certain death. [8:7] Recall that GOD promised you victory over a certain group, but you still wanted to face the weaker group. It was GOD’s plan to establish the truth with His words, and to defeat the disbelievers. [8:8] For He has decreed that the truth shall prevail, and the falsehood shall vanish, in spite of the evildoers.
[33:10] When they came from above you, and from beneath you, your eyes were terrified, your hearts ran out of patience, and you harbored unbefitting thoughts about GOD. [33:11] That is when the believers were truly tested; they were severely shaken up. [33:12] The hypocrites and those with doubts in their hearts said, “What GOD and His messenger promised us was no more than an illusion!” [33:13] A group of them said, “O people of Yathrib, you cannot attain victory; go back.” Others made up excuses to the prophet: “Our homes are vulnerable,” when they were not vulnerable. They just wanted to flee.
So what does any of this have to do with how to perform the Salat?
Notice no where in the Quran does it state how to perform the Salat. Even for those who typically make the argument that this is why we need Hadith, there is no Hadith that states exact instructions how to perform the Salat. So what are we to make of this?
God commands the followers of the Quran, including Muhammad, to follow the religion of Abraham. This is specifically in regards to the ritualistic practices of Abraham.
[16:123] Then we inspired you (Muhammad) to follow the religion of Abraham, the monotheist; he never was an idol worshiper.
ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
All the practices of Submission (Islam) came from Abraham including Hajj, Salat, Zakat, Sayem (Fasting). Additionally, we never see Noah, who preceded Abraham, performing the Salat, but we do see that all the prophets since Abraham performed these rituals (Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac 14:40, Jacob 21:73, Jesus 19:31, Moses & Aaron, Children of Israel 2:83, 5:12, 7:156). Not only that but we see that the idol worshipers of the Quraish even performed the Salat at the time of Muhammad (8:35), therefore God did not need to inform Muhammad how to perform the Salat.
But if you consult many Quranist they come up with weird archaic understandings to what the Salat is. While some claim that Salat means to “follow closely” they have no unified understandings to what that even means. Or others who attempt to cobble together miscellaneous steps based on various verses of the Quran to decipher how to perform the Salat.
The problem with these kinds of approaches is that trying to figure the instructions to how to perform the Salat from the Quran alone is like trying to figure out how to slaughter a heifer from the Quran alone. God did not need to explain how to slaughter an animal because this process is well understood.
People who are altering the Salat with these kinds of understandings are not only losing out on one of the greatest blessings that God bestowed upon the human race, but also implying that God is not Omniscient or that He forgot or made a mistake by not providing the details in the Quran when God repeatedly told us to perform the Salat throughout the Quran.
In my opinion, the Quranist today who are debating what the meaning of Salat are behaving worst than what the Children of Israel who were commanded to sacrifice a heifer. This would be like the the Children of Israel not asking “which heifer” but instead if they had the hubris to ask, “but how do we slaughter a heifer” or “what is the meaning of slaughter?”
But based on the profound lesson of the heifer, the motivation for the people who are twisting the Salat is more likely that they just don’t want to do the Salat. I heard from numerous people that they find the act of placing one’s forehead on the floor in prostration as degrading and attributed it to a pagan practice, and others who just don’t want to have to commit themselves to drop all activity and perform this immense blessing for our souls five times a day. So instead they are trying to find an excuse to get out of it while still trying to maintain a clear conscience.
[2:13] When they are told, “Believe like the people who believed,” they say, “Shall we believe like the fools who believed?” In fact, it is they who are fools, but they do not know.
But what do you do if you have never done Salat before? Then you simply find out how it is done and filter the practice through the Quran.
That said what are the universally accepted aspects of the Salat that is practiced by the majority of Muslims in the world are the following:
- The five salat times
- The number of units for each Salat (2, 4, 4, 3, 4)
- Making intentions before starting the Salat
- Saying Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest) when transitioning from each step in the Salat
- Saying the Fateah at the start of each unit (including the Bismillah)
- Saying “Subhāna Rabbi L’azim (Glory be to my Lord, Most Great) when bowing
- Saying “Sami‘ Allâhu liman hamidah” (God hears from whoever praises Him) when going from bowing to standing
- Saying “Subḥāna Rabbī l-‘Aʿlā (Glory be to my Lord, Most High) when prostrating
- Saying the Shahada “Ashadu an lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāh” or some rendition of the Shahada that only mentions God after the second and last unit while sitting kneeling
- And finally saying “salāmu ʿalaykum” to the right and left before finishing
The Salat is just that simple. The innovations that people have included are easily detectable because they contradict the Quran:
- Mentioning other names besides God.
[72:18] The places of worship belong to GOD; do not call on anyone else beside GOD.
وَأَنَّ الْمَسَاجِدَ لِلَّهِ فَلَا تَدْعُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ أَحَدًا
[39:3] Absolutely, the religion shall be devoted to GOD alone. Those who set up idols beside Him say, “We idolize them only to bring us closer to GOD; for they are in a better position!” GOD will judge them regarding their disputes. GOD does not guide such liars, disbelievers.
أَلَا لِلَّهِ الدِّينُ الْخَالِصُ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِنْ دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلَّا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَىٰ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ فِي مَا هُمْ فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي مَنْ هُوَ كَاذِبٌ كَفَّارٌ
[39:45] When GOD ALONE is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink with aversion. But when others are mentioned beside Him, they become satisfied.
وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ اشْمَأَزَّتْ قُلُوبُ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ دُونِهِ إِذَا هُمْ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ
- Saying the first two units aloud, while the third and fourth units quietly.
[17:110] Say, “Call Him GOD, or call Him Most Gracious; whichever name you use, to Him belongs the best names.” You shall not utter your Contact Prayers (Salat) too loudly, nor secretly; use a moderate tone.
قُلِ ادْعُوا اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُوا الرَّحْمَٰنَ أَيًّا مَا تَدْعُوا فَلَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ وَلَا تَجْهَرْ بِصَلَاتِكَ وَلَا تُخَافِتْ بِهَا وَابْتَغِ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ سَبِيلًا
- Reading of other Suras in the Quran as the Fateah is believed to have not only predated the Quran but also is the only Sura that not only mentions only God, but is a direct communication from humans to God as other Suras like Ikhlaas, Falaq, or Nas all start with “قُل / gul” “say”
- Or worst of all altering of the Shahadah to include the names of anyone else besides God.
[3:18] GOD bears witness that there is no god except He, and so do the angels and those who possess knowledge. Truthfully and equitably, He is the absolute god; there is no god but He, the Almighty, Most Wise.
شَهِدَ اللَّهُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ وَأُولُو الْعِلْمِ قَائِمًا بِالْقِسْطِ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
Despite this I know there are going to be a number of Quranist and followers of Hadith that are going to be angry about this argument and try to construct verses or Hadith to contradict what is being stated, but God warned the believers about this.
[18:54] We have cited in this Quran every kind of example, but the human being is the most argumentative creature.
وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلًا
Since God did not provide the details of how to perform the Salat and provided these verses as if we should already know what they are then the answer should be obvious and no different than when God told Moses to command the Children of Israel to sacrifice a heifer.