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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. phoenix

    the heathens say their prayer 5 times a day at happy hour, pour me.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  2. mdeed

    (b) iraq your an idiot and just plainly stated untrue info. hitler was a religious idealist trying to create a super race.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  3. vk

    They pray 5x per day because they're told to in their Koran. It cannot be questioned, reasoned or rationalized. They blindly and mindlessly submit.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  4. mdeed

    yeah that'll show em haha. to reject faith and embrace humanity and intelligence is noble, correct and will serve us all well. lets all grow up and put away the fairy tales...

    March 21, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  5. The all potent one

    Sky fairy's come in different colors to different people but seriously folks, provide one shread of evidence that there is an afterlife other than some 2000 yr old science fiction novel.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Sam

      Ever heard of astral projection? One of many examples.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  6. JesusJam

    It is a horrible, horrible thing to be a child, brainwashed into believing ridiculous dogmas and always feel that you cannot enjoy your life because a god is watching you but you will be rewarded by joining him in an afterlife. And then you grow up and keep on believing.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  7. Atheist

    It is THE perfect way to keep people conditioned to, what is essentially, mindless belief.
    To keep this continuously in their mind, eliminates thinking about just about anything (which is dangerous to any belief and to be carefully avoided).
    And it seems to work well, as Muslims as a group contribute the absolute least to humanity's progress (which requires thinking other than about 'belief'). It makes them leeches on the rest of humanity.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Perspective

      Well I'll agree that muslims in current times are not at the forefront of scientific progress but you obviously have no historical perspective.....Muslims invented Algebra and are credited with the most significant developments in Chemistry (Alchemy) and many developments in medicine including the use of anaesthesia, among many many other things....now lets compare that to your contribution to this forum: ignorance

      March 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Magic

      Perspective,

      "Muslims invented Algebra" - No, they didn't.

      "and are credited with the most significant developments in Chemistry (Alchemy) and many developments in medicine including the use of anaesthesia," - Sure, they did explore science in the Middle East during the time that the dictatorial Christian Church forbade it, but not all of these scientists were Muslims - many non-Muslims were drawn to that area because that's where they were allowed to work.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • American Muslim

      Ok it is evident you now nothing. Do a little homework and maybe you can talk intelligently,.

      March 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Jake

      Well obviously you are illiterate and pathetic to think that muslims contributed nothing because muslims helped progress architecture and geometry and many more. If you must also know, the Taj Mahal was built by a muslim and contains accurate architectural details that were not found during that time. Dubai, a famous city in the world, is an islamic country, in which the largest building in the world is located. By the way, this is all common sense, which apparently you do not seem to hold. All of you stereotypical people out there, should realize that everything you say about muslims are wrong, and you only say it because you have no knowledge on their religion. If you took the time to actually learn and not just hear bad criticism about them, maybe you would also realize how helpful and kind they really are. However, this isn't your fault, if the media did not portray muslim in a biased view, then maybe people would have a better opinion on muslims.

      December 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  8. MadMo

    Muhammed could count up to 5 only. That would be like infinite number for him so he advised it to his herd. 🙂

    check 'fatih freedom'

    March 21, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  9. mdeed

    why is it that religious believers cant even consider what a tremendous waste of time there faith is, they always use the same arguement which is to try and quote the bible. this just santa clause isnt real either. grow up people is 2011 and human race is a mess and we are far from our potential. more pain and suffering has been inflicted in the name of god than any other cause throughout history.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Rick

      Hold your breath..stop breathing.. to the point where you think you are going to die..and tell me Who you think of.

      March 21, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  10. Az Zaqqum

    The Quran says to pray 2 times a day. Sunrise and sunset. You can say a prayer at noon if you need extra help. You will not find one verse that says to pray 5 times, that is Hadith, stories of Muhammad.

    Before the reduction of prayer hadith, there is a hadith before that one in where a man kissed a girl and he liked it. He asked Muhammad what he should do as he wasn't married to the girl he kissed. Muhammad said to pray 5 times. The man asked if this was just for him, and Muhammad said, no this is for all who have comitted the same sin.
    Must be a lot of kissing going on.

    For more, you can read my blog, Az Zaqqum Islamic Scholar for the Infidel

    March 21, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Skeptic

      That's right and very interesting. How is that the Qur'an says 2 times and the Ahadith say 5 times? Don't forget Muhammad's claim to have reduced the number of prayers to 50. Don't tell me that you can't use the Ahadith, without them, the Qur'an is uninterpretable. This yet another one of Islam's many contradictions.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Mr Spockk

    How counterproductive and ineffectual.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  12. sarah

    If you could somehow do a survey of terrorists, I would bet that they didn't bother waking up for sunrise prayer and forgot to do their prayers on a daily basis.
    The prophet Mohammad, pbuh, never encouraged believers to kill non-believers. Why not? Because he always hoped that one day they would embrace Islam, or that their children would embrace Islam, and who are we to take away God's creation through our imperfect judgment?
    God did not beget, nor was he begotten. It is a nonsensical to worship Jesus, pbuh, when he is simply the creation of the Almighty Creator. This is a lovely article.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Big Bob

      But if I don't embrace Islam, I'd be required to pay jizya and to be subdued. I know, you don't know what I'm talking about, right?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  13. mdeed

    i love it when these religious nuts claim there is proof of god because of these so called holy books. we could right a similar book today that would look like a bible in 2000 years. so just because it says so in the bible doesnt make it so. and faith isnt required to believe in gravity either! its funny what little understanding religious freaks know about our physical world. the exist of gravity can be proven with accrurate prediction about events involving the force of gravity. there is no repeatable process to prove there is a god. FAITH is the practice of making virtue of nonthinking and is a brainwashing tool the human race would be eternally better without!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  14. derp

    "Why do Muslims pray five times daily?"

    Because they are even dumber than christians.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Mr Spockk

      Because five is the magic number.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • skeaky

      All other religions are about reaching up to god. They think if one does enough good(prays 5 times a day, good karma, helps the poor and widows, gives to some charitable organization) this will somehow gain god's favor. How good does one have to be? Do you live and die by the scales? Do you keep a daily tab of all your good deeds and just hope God will let you in to Heaven? My God knew one could never be good enough to gain His favor so he reached down to us through His son Jesus Christ. It's not what you do...it is what He did.

      March 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  15. T3chsupport

    From an outsider's view (agnostic) of Abrahamic religions, I think this practice makes a lot of sense as far as living your life for your god. That's 5 times a day when you stop doing whatever you're doing, however you're doing it, and ask yourself 'is this really the right way I should be handling this? Is this pleasing to god?'. Instead of finding this prayer/meditation time only once or twice a day, when you're asking forgiveness for being rude to the checkout lady at the grocery store or something like that. They can get that 'forgiveness' out of the way, and still have time left in the day to try to make it right.

    Sure, they've got some craziness in their religion, but all religions do, whether they follow the god of Abraham or not. If you're a Christian, try not to judge Muslims too much just based on what's in the Quran, because the Christian bibles really are just as crazy insane when you read through the whole thing.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • joe

      I agree, all religions are crazy.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  16. phan

    Because they are dumb people.. they lack intelligence and because they have their heads buried in the sand for half the day they cant take back their land.. it shameful we have to fight there war.. maybe one day these moderate muslims get a message from Allah and start helping us out.. but im not holding my breath. they hide the radicals, dont give us any help... i say bomb'em and lets move on tomorrow..

    March 21, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • American Muslim

      Boy this is an ignorant statement. You think Muslims are dumb. In Islam education is one of the highest aspirations in the Holy Quran. It was stated to go as far as possible for knowledge, even to China which was considered a very far away land. Study a little and you may see the math you studied here in the gold old USA was developed by Muslims. A very large percentage of Muslims have Masters degrees and PHD's. A large amount of Muslims are doctors and engineers much larger than the US population. Saying they have their head in the sand is RIDICULOUS. Perhaps you should attend a University and broaden your train of thought. Their are bad people in all societies and religions. Don't blame one complete religion for a couple of bad apples!!

      March 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • ?

      You're an idiot. Go gack to school and get a degree or maybe not becasue you never got accepted into a university because you were too dumb.

      March 22, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Well

      Maybe the Muslim people should stop blowing stuff up... just saying

      March 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      phan:
      They boast to be 1.5 brainwashed Islamists and most of them live in poverty. Only the Islamict countries that have oil have an artificial wealth provided by the Earth. They did not have to work for it by contributing to the world with modern technologies or hard work. many of them have squanderd their oil wealth: Their royal families reproduce themselves like rabbits like that Saudi prince who looks like Cheech Marin with a rag on his head; He has more than 200 children. And Islamists claim to have respect for women.

      March 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  17. OldGoat

    Religion and astrology: both havens for fools.

    March 21, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • whatifyou'rewrong

      1 Cor 1:18-19 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it it the very power of God. As the scripture says: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • RAWoD

      But what about luck?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Dennis

      @whatifyou'rewrong

      The writers of a "holy" book include admonishments to the doubters? Think I'll cite that any time I run into some darn skeptic; that'll show 'em!

      And even worse than falling for such nonsense is your contempt for wisdom and intelligence! Shameful.

      What if you actually thought about it?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • JohnY

      "Sir, I have studied it, you have not" -Isaac Newton, Astrologer (190 IQ) said in defense of astrology to disbeliever in Halley (comet discoverer)

      March 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  18. Skeptic

    The real reason for five prayers is that Muhammad commanded five, claiming that he reduced the number from fifty, per the last paragraph of the Sahih (authentic) Hadith (story of Muhammad):

    Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 345:

    Narrated Abu Dhar:

    Allah's Apostle said, "While I was at Mecca the roof of my house was opened and Gabriel descended, opened my chest, and washed it with Zam-zam water. Then he brought a golden tray full of wisdom and faith and having poured its contents into my chest, he closed it. Then he took my hand and ascended with me to the nearest heaven, when I reached the nearest heaven, Gabriel said to the gatekeeper of the heaven, 'Open (the gate).' The gatekeeper asked, 'Who is it?' Gabriel answered: 'Gabriel.' He asked, 'Is there anyone with you?' Gabriel replied, 'Yes, Muhammad I is with me.' He asked, 'Has he been called?' Gabriel said, 'Yes.' So the gate was opened and we went over the nearest heaven and there we saw a man sitting with some people on his right and some on his left. When he looked towards his right, he laughed and when he looked toward his left he wept. Then he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious son.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' He replied, 'He is Adam and the people on his right and left are the souls of his offspring. Those on his right are the people of Paradise and those on his left are the people of Hell and when he looks towards his right he laughs and when he looks towards his left he weeps.'

    Then he ascended with me till he reached the second heaven and he (Gabriel) said to its gatekeeper, 'Open (the gate).' The gatekeeper said to him the same as the gatekeeper of the first heaven had said and he opened the gate. Anas said: "Abu Dhar added that the Prophet met Adam, Idris, Moses, Jesus and Abraham, he (Abu Dhar) did not mention on which heaven they were but he mentioned that he (the Prophet ) met Adarn on the nearest heaven and Abraham on the sixth heaven. Anas said, "When Gabriel along with the Prophet passed by Idris, the latter said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious brother.' The Prophet asked, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Idris." The Prophet added, "I passed by Moses and he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious brother.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Moses.' Then I passed by Jesus and he said, 'Welcome! O pious brother and pious Prophet.' I asked, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Jesus.

    Then I passed by Abraham and he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious son.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Abraham. The Prophet added, 'Then Gabriel ascended with me to a place where I heard the creaking of the pens." Ibn Hazm and Anas bin Malik said: The Prophet said, "Then Allah enjoined fifty prayers on my followers when I returned with this order of Allah, I passed by Moses who asked me, 'What has Allah enjoined on your followers?' I replied, 'He has enjoined fifty prayers on them.' Moses said, 'Go back to your Lord (and appeal for reduction) for your followers will not be able to bear it.' (So I went back to Allah and requested for reduction) and He reduced it to half. When I passed by Moses again and informed him about it, he said, 'Go back to your Lord as your followers will not be able to bear it.' So I returned to Allah and requested for further reduction and half of it was reduced. I again passed by Moses and he said to me: 'Return to your Lord, for your followers will not be able to bear it. So I returned to Allah and He said, 'These are five prayers and they are all (equal to) fifty (in reward) for My Word does not change.' I returned to Moses and he told me to go back once again. I replied, 'Now I feel shy of asking my Lord again.' Then Gabriel took me till we " reached Sidrat-il-Muntaha (Lote tree of; the utmost boundry) which was shrouded in colors, indescribable. Then I was admitted into Paradise where I found small (tents or) walls (made) of pearls and its earth was of musk."

    March 21, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • william

      Good lord... what are you talking about? No wonder so many of us think that the religious are a bunch of wackos. Get a life, pal.

      March 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Sean Webb

    I have no interest in prayer of any kind.

    March 21, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  20. Flakeysnowmom

    Has anyone here learned about tolerance for each others views?

    March 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • rite

      Haven't you heard about intolerance of the intolerable?

      March 21, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Flakeysnowmom

      The intolerable in my world consist of rapists, child molesters, murderers, etc. I am unaware of any religion that teaches these things. There are people withing all religions that do unspeakable things. To lump all of these together, is not tolerable. I was taught at an early age to have tolerance and respect for what other people believed. It doesn't mean that I believe the same things that they do. Thank you to our youth leaders in the United Methodist Church.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • rite

      You obviously have not read your bible then. Your god ra-ped a little girl while she was asleep, murdered millions of people and made slaves of everyone else, and on and on and on.....even to murdering own supposed son who was supposedly innocent to somehow "erase" the responsibility of everyone for their own actions.
      Your god is a jealous god, too, who would torture innocent people forever. That's not a god you're worshiping there...

      March 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
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About this blog

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.