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Making time to pray five times daily
March 21st, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Why do Muslims pray five times daily?

Editor's Note: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the fight over a mosque’s construction in the heart of the Bible Belt. “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door” airs at 8 p.m. ET March 27 on CNN.

Text by Soraya Salam, for CNN, photos by Angie Lovelace, CNN

ATLANTA, Georgia - It’s 6:00 a.m. The sun isn’t up yet, but Wahaaj Mohammed is.

He’s performing a ritual washing in preparation for his first prayer of the day. He’ll go on to pray four more times before the day is through, a practice called “salat” that many of the estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide perform daily.

It’s a practice that Mohammed, a 21-year old recent graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, can’t imagine life without.

“It reminds you about God throughout your day,” he says. “At fixed intervals, no matter how busy you are, all of a sudden you have to take out a few minutes and you’re remembering, OK, why am I really here?”

“And while I was doing whatever I was doing, was I doing it in a manner pleasing to God?”

Praying five times a day is considered the second most important of Islam’s five pillars, after professing that there is no god worthy of worship but God and that the Prophet Mohammed is God’s messenger.

Each prayer includes a series of movements, supplications, and recitations from the Quran, Islam’s holy book, in its original Arabic.

Muslims consider prayer to be a spiritual and physical act, with various standing, bending, and prostrating postures symbolizing devotion to God.

“When you’re at your lowest point, your head is on the ground, you’re saying ‘Oh, praise to my God, the most high,’” says Mohammed, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “It’s very humbling.”

Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College - which is aiming to be the first accredited Muslim college in the United States - says salat symbolizes what Islam considers the purpose of creation: to worship God.

“As a human being, I have a physical body, I have an intellect, and I have a spirit, and the ritual prayer involves all three of those aspects,” says Shakir, who is also a professor of Islamic theology at Zaytuna.

“My entire being is involved in my prayer, and that symbolizes the dedication of my entire being to the service of my creator,” he says.

The first prayer, called “Fajr” is performed before sunrise; the second prayer, “Thuhr” comes just after noon; the third prayer, “Asr,” arrives during mid-afternoon; the fourth prayer, “Maghrib,” is just after sunset; and the last prayer, “Isha,” is performed at night.

These prayers are considered an obligation for every Muslim by the time he or she reaches puberty. Mohammed says he has rarely missed a prayer.

Preparation

Before each prayer, Mohammed performs a ritual ablution, called “wudu.” The process involves washing the hands, face, arms and feet. Wudu symbolizes a state of physical and spiritual purity required to stand before God.

“There’s a saying (in Islam) that our external form impacts our internal state, just as our internal state has an impact on our external form,” says Shakir.

When Mohammed is away from home for a prayer, he washes up in a public restroom.

“You do feel kind of awkward,” he says. “And it usually happens, for whatever reason, that someone always walks in and your feet are in the sink and they’re thinking, ‘What’s this person doing?’”

Afterward, Mohammed finds a quiet, clean place to perform his prayer, during which he will face northeast towards the holiest site in Islam, the Kaaba. The cube-shaped building is located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and, according to Islamic tradition, was built by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.

“(Muslims) all pray in the same uniform way, wherever they are, whether they’re in India or Indonesia or Saudi Arabia or America or Japan,” Mohammed says. “They all pray in the same manner, facing the same direction.”

Mohammed raises his hands to shoulder level while reciting, “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is the greatest,” signaling the start of the prayer.

Making time

Mohammed often gets questioned about how he finds the time to pray so many times a day.

“I think it’s just where you put your priorities,” he says. “If you put (prayer) at a high level, then it’s not hard.”

As a college student, Mohammed would schedule his classes and social events around the prayers. He says they mostly take five to ten minutes to complete and that technology has made it easy for him to remember when to pray.

“When the prayer time starts, (my phone) sends me a text message,” he says. “I know a lot of people that have the iPhone app that gives a little alarm or a text or something. And some people even have the iPhone app that shows them the direction of the prayer.”

Zaytuna’s Shakir says the intervals between prayer demarcate transitions within the day that necessitate the remembrance of God.

“In the morning we’re getting up from our sleep, so we’re beginning that day by praying to our Lord and our creator,” he says. “And then at noon… just as we take our lunch break to replenish our physical body, we take time to reaffirm our commitment to our creator and thereby replenish our spirit.”

“At night, before we turn in and go to sleep to regroup, we don’t know if we’re going to see the new day,” he says. “Once again, (we) take time to acknowledge our creator and the rights he has over us.”

When Mohammed is at his mosque in Atlanta, Georgia, he has the “adhan” to alert him that a particular prayer time has begun. The adhan is the Islamic call to prayer that consists of a series of phrases recited melodiously, including, “God is the greatest,” “Come to prayer,” and “Come to success.”

In Muslim-majority countries, the adhan is called from an outdoor loudspeaker. For Muslims in America, it is recited in the mosque or in the privacy of one’s home. Mohammed compares it to the ringing of a church bell to signify the start of a service.

Mohammed says that in addition to adding structure to his day, salat helps keep him accountable for his daily actions and lets him have a personal relationship with God.

Striving for spiritual success

In the glow of a recent coming dawn, Mohammed and his family complete their first prayer of the day with a phrase in Arabic that means, “May the peace and mercy of God be upon you.”

He notes that the call to prayer before sunrise has an extra phrase added in: “Prayer is greater than sleep.”

“So, no matter what you’re doing in your life, it’s always, ‘God is greater than that’ - whether it’s sleep, whether it’s work, whatever it is, God is the greatest,” Mohammed says, pausing to rub his eyes.

“Behind any type of success,” he says, “there’s always a sacrifice.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Prayer • Uncategorized

soundoff (834 Responses)
  1. Owen Dale

    Why Pray at all ? its a persons belief .. FACT religion is a belief ALL religions are based on FAITH .
    If I said plodda was my god and said I must clap hands every day for 4mins would you believe me? NO ..
    if I produced 4000 year old script Would you believe it then? for me its still a big NO , script has been wrote by human hand. whatever their name and how ever old the script is . I for one would never believe it FULL Stop.

    January 4, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
  2. haroon112

    so we can have a better life

    December 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  3. Rich

    Take a look at Matthew 6:5-6 in the Christian bible. Do we need to have a relationship with God or do we need to show everyone else that we have a relationship with God? It is good to lead by example but is even more important to know truth. That is, to know God.

    March 1, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  4. Ewaz Safi

    Allah bless you SISTER, and all of us

    December 8, 2012 at 5:54 am |
  5. MasSes

    Something about 'wudhu'. The act of cleaning before Salat.

    It means that moslems are obliged to wash their hands at least 5 times a day.
    (WHO said washing hands reguarly keeps you from most illnesses)

    washing the face is one of the acts
    (looking younger and cleaner is the effect)

    one of the acts is also cleaning the ears and the back of it.
    (try yo rub the back of your ear where the ear folds and meet the neck, and smell it)

    also cleaning the feet
    (how many days until your shocks smell terribly? Moslems have longer timespan for this. Much more)

    September 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  6. Name:(required)

    I think the piece answered to the 'how' question, and very slightly to the 'why' question. It is more interesting is to show why some Muslims pray 5 times a day vs those who do not pray. This story then will be more about 'why'. The main argument here is that if Muslim does not pray 5 times a day, his soul deteriorates and connection with God disappears. What does it mean? so the man turns to the bad? are there anecdote stories on some people who stopped parying 5 times a day? or is it possible that at those early days, when 99% of population was illiterate and all kind of chaotic, there was a need to bring unifying religion, a religion that not only unifies people, but also reminds them about it every day, teaches them throught these everyday practices about goodness. And today, when most are literate, and there are plenty of opportunities [in reading casual and academic literature] of going and exploring not just the other cultures but most importantly the spiritual, is it possible to say that modern man is more spiritually educated, than the one who lived 500 years ago? And with such a great knowledge, why dont people ask questions about old practices in the religion. Think about this analogy; compare two kids, where one needs a tell from adult every time he breaks a rule with the other kid, who can be told the rules only ones. So, do you keep telling that other [good-beaving] kid those rules over and over again? Another question could be something like "Are the 'Muslim' protestants"? (Although prayers read in arabic, the vast majority of Muslims are not native speakers of arabic. This plus the discussion above naturally leads to one to wonder if there was Muslim Martin Luther?

    September 5, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  7. abqTim

    It's all about having control over their lives. If a child is raised to do the same something 5 times a day to save their soul and fit in, it can only help put that person on the road to being obsessed or radical or at least teaches them what a fanatic acts like. 5 times a day is more like being a slave to God instead of honoring him. 5 times a day sounds like no trust to me...beat it into their brains...5 times a day!!!! No wonder it's so easy to radicalize Muslims; they are already taught obsessive and extreme behavior.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  8. El Bum

    my religion tells me to stay home whole day and collect welfare checks.

    September 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Ismail Fatawachod

    Why we pray five times a day? Oh we get to eat five times,,, mosques provide free bread and milk every time you go there to pray.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  10. gliese 42

    His poor colleagues have to do his work and yet share the same salary. lol

    July 23, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • realitytakesall

      Not... They're busy smoking outside or talking about nonsense like NFL or worldy gossip.
      The fact is these prayers take no more than 5 minutes.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  11. Sal

    Well I just don't trust them because their allegiance is to that religion of theirs and not to this country! 

    July 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Shape

      Sal,
      So? Is God not greater than a country? Christians should be devoted to God the same way. In fact, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God; they are all People of the Book.
      At least Muslims here want to just be able to worship, live, and work. The Christians want, and are in the process, of making the laws in this country reflect the beliefs of their religion. Were we not founded on freedom of religion? Besides, a few bad people calling themselves Muslims do not reflect the opinion or belief of the Billion Muslims in the world. It is just like people saying all Christians believe in the terrorist acts performed by the kkk, as they were a christian terrorist group, but is that the case?

      July 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ismael

      God is, was and always will be. Countries come and go. USA will go too. Read this:

      "And every nation has its appointed term; when their term is reached, neither can they delay it nor can they advance it an hour (or a moment)." (Qu'ran 7:34)

      July 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  12. shutternhoney

    if we're talking about freedom here then I would think everyone has the right to dress and look the way they choose. Why must we conform to a norm or standard to be a part of a society? Does dressing differently make us a less of a part of society?
    The only reason women would be subjugated is when they are not allowed to choose what they wear.

    July 13, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  13. ecrire

    You really make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I'd by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I am looking ahead to your subsequent post, I'll attempt to get the grasp of it!

    May 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  14. SISTER

    I love Islam, it brings peace & serenity to my heart & life ... God is the truth .. & only Him knows how we humans can feel & live a better life ... everything in Islam makes sense .. I love my religion again & I respect all the other religions :)

    May 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Ismael

      Alhamdulliah.

      July 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • R J Jordan

      Very Sincere and from the Heart ! Thank You !

      July 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Ewaz Safi

      Allah j bless you SISTER

      December 8, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  15. Mohammed Wahid

    Allahu Akbar!!!

    April 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Mike

      shama lama ding dong!

      July 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Ismael

      How old are, Mike? Make fun out of a language like that.

      July 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Ismael

      How old are you*, Mike? Make fun out of a language like that.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  16. fahima rahman

    this is very interesting mashallah it will help me alot jazak allah khair :)

    February 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  17. pat behr

    Anything that subjugates persons (women) can't possibly be something freedom loving people would wish to pursue. I don't wish to criticize anyone's beliefs in Islam but the practice of setting themselves aside by the wearing of coverup clothing sends a message that says "we don't wish to be a part of your society". If that is so, then accepting the benefits of that society should not be done. We have Amish and Mennonites with their separate societies who choose to be self sustaining. Is this true of the Muslims?

    August 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Sar

      Dear Pat
      what makes you think that wearing a certain outfit is a manner of subjugating a human being? I am not asking you to think positive about our Islam but i dont understand the concept of 'freedom' that u in ur religion have for women. they act and dress up like they are an object of pleasure for every one who sees them. Is that what u think freedom is?

      June 5, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • pat carr

      What a bizarre cult that is so afraid of people looking at it's women. And praying 5 times a day. What a waste of time and life

      July 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • tj

      Other than Muslims, no one seems to realize that Mary, mother of Jesus is covered. And how about the nuns, aren't they covered, too? Do people only cover themselves during Church services or some events, and why?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Ismael

      "And praying 5 times a day. What a waste of time and life."

      Each prayer takes around 5 minutes and we pray 5 times a day. That means we "waste" 25 minutes a day. When you consider that we sleep around 8 hours (480 minutes), you begin to realise that it's nothing.

      Interestingly people eat around 5 times day and also go to the toilet around 5 times a day. What would happen if you thought "it's a waste of time and life" and stopped? Your body and health would slowly deteriorate. This is what happens to the soul and Iman when one doesn't pray.

      Anyway Muslims enjoy praying to God. The same way anyone enjoys communicating with people whom one loves. Salah is a blessing, not a nuisance. Unfortunately a non-Muslim can never understand the sweetness of Iman.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • R J Jordan

      'Subjugatiion of Women' is the former way of most Christian denominations ; it is written in the Bible . It is only in the recent past that women in the West have risen to a new 'liberal-liberated' status. Do You expect other 'faith' systems to accept Our liberated values??? Do You really expect people(women) of other cultures to dress as WE DO??? Why would YOU believe this is disrepectful??? Sounds like "Mccarthyism' all over again! Stop being so fearful !

      July 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Follower offload

      Although we cover ourselves, you will see that many of us still interact with others in society, and we do not look down upon non Muslims as you guys think we do. All you basically say is that we wish to isolate ourselves from society, but that's not true. Everything you said was just stereotypical and you were not understanding us, you were just saying what everyone else says. Those of us who do cover ourselves do it willingly to get closer to god, not to stray away from society.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  18. Dima al-husseien

    Honestly guys listen to yourselves!
    The video was just to show how or why Muslims pray five times a day. This place isn't about hate or arguing whose religion is the best or whose is not. I being a muslim respect all religions even though I may not approve or follow. And as for Jesus (May god have mercy on ) is a very important prophet in Islam. In qura'n Prophet isa's (Jesus) name is mentioned 25 times and Moses is mentioned 136 times.Whereas Muhammad ( PBUH)' s name is mentioned only 4 times. NO one should be forced to accept a religion or discriminate others' religion . I'd appreciate that instead of fighting you can check up on the Holy Quran or bible and find out that both muslims and christians love isa (jesus) . And for the record We muslims aren't terrorists. We are recognised as terrorists because of one person.I guess you all know. It is the extremists who do this sort of things. As for burying girls alive was years ago before Islam spread.If you look up in Bible you can also see the Christians were ignorant . All this happened because there was no right person to lead them before
    So I beg you Please read and find out instead of arguing pointlessly . -Dima-

    May 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.