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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. jedi

    5 times daily prayers and attending Khutbah(sermon) every Friday, going to church every Sunday or going to shul for Shabat every Friday night – Saturday Morning doesn't make you a saint. I have live in Malaysia for 23 years which is enough to know many hypocrits (Malay Muslim) that practice 5 daily prayers – Sanctimonious is the right word for them

    March 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • del

      They do it to stand apart from everyone else

      March 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Bryan

      Martin Luther showed us that a good life is not only orthodixic, but also orthopraxic. He wasn't a prophet, but may peace be upon him.

      March 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  2. Has a Compass

    Wait. Mecca is northeast from Atlanta? Of course, this is the same CNN that said one time Pago Pago is an island...

    March 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Timothy C

      I was curious about this too, but it is the correct orientation if you are looking for the straightest as-the-crow flies distance to Mecca.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  3. Skeptic

    The writer of the article only interviewed Sunnis. Shi'ites pray 3 times a day by combining two pairs of prayers.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  4. bush limbush

    Wow, prayer is a great big bunch of sillyness. It accomplishes nothing but waste time. Do people who pray (in any of the religions – and with so many of them, how can they all possibly be correct) wonder why bad things happen even though they pray for the good things? Or do they just foolishly rationalize that god chose not to answer their prayer or that the devil made something bad happen. How come we never see the football player who is so quick to thank god for letting him score a touchdown never ask god how come he dropped that other ball when he failed to score. Does he really think that god helped in score in a football game. And does that same player ever ask himself how come he got to score when the opposing player was also praying to god that the guy playing against him wouldn't score. Seems like a big bunch of hipocracy to me.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • derp

      "I'm trying to wean myself off sports, it's too time consuming. I don't watch football anymore, I gave that up. I got tired of the interviews after the games, because the winning players always give credit to God, and the losers blame themselves. You know, just once I'd like to hear a player say, 'Yeah, we were in the game, until Jesus made me fumble. He hates our team."

      Jeff Stilson

      March 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Rasheed

      It very well might be, but there's something called freedom of religion, right?

      March 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Timothy C

      Even if there is no god (I'm not sure myself, I'm an agnostic), I would wager that prayer does have value. Even if no one is listening, it may help focus the mind, calm the mood, and create periods of calm in an otherwise busy day.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Reality

    Statistically, your prayer request might come true but it is simply the result of the variabiliy/randomness of Nature.

    So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and stop worshiping/revering cows and bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor and continue to follow any good rules of living as gracious and good human beings.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    March 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Colin

      Well said. Prayers no more cause subsequent facts that happen to fit the desires of the prayer than the crowing c-ock causes the sun to rise.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  6. derp

    I just want one of those coolee mooslam beanies. I bet it would double as small crapper if you got stuck out in the woods.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • bush limbush

      LOL!!!!

      March 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • bush limbush

      and you could use one of those kuran books for toilet paper!

      March 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Jake

      then i could just throw the bible in the trash and graffiti a church

      December 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. derp

    "Why do Muslims pray five times daily?"

    Cuz dey stupit!

    March 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  8. MattMan

    "Before each prayer, Mohammed performs a ritual ablution, called “wudu.” The process involves washing the hands, face, arms and feet."

    Now if they would only wash the rest of their bodies...and throw a shave in now and then.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • derp

      "Before each prayer, Mohammed performs a ritual ablution, called “wudu.” The process involves washing the hands, face, arms and feet."

      makes you wonder why they all smell so bad.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Rasheed

      I know many Muslims and non-Muslims, and in general, I think that among the ones I know, Muslims are far more hygienic than those who are not Muslims. So let go of this nonsense about smell. Everyone smells if they don't clean up and some genetically, but it has nothing to do with faith of a person. Does tell me, though, about what kind of people you hang out with.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • derp

      "Does tell me, though, about what kind of people you hang out with."

      A bunch of smelly muslims?

      March 21, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  9. Jackie789

    praying 5 times a day pre-exists islam. in 7th century arabia, a group known as the sabeans would pray 5 times a day. muhammad stole the idea from them.

    also jews at that time would pray facing jerusalem. muhammad tried to get them to join his group by praying while facing jerusalem, that was the direction for the first 2 years of the islamic calendar. that changed, of course, after he conquered mecca, established the kaaba (a polytheist shrine at the time), and it turned out the jews didn't want him!

    also if you notice in the picture, the males always stand in front during prayer. that's because muhammad said that when a man prays facing mecca, his prayers are invalidated if a woman or a dog passes in front of him. this is, of course, because islam gives women so many rights! that's why the world economic forum in its annual gender gap report consistently finds the middle east and north africa are the most male-dominated (and coincidentally the most corrupt and violent) part of the world.

    can the people at CNN do a little research, please? are you people working for CAIR, or what?

    March 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • derp

      "his prayers are invalidated if a woman or a dog passes in front of him."

      I guess they are fooked if they live behind a pet store. Can they just turn around an pray the other direction. I mean, the earth is round, the prayers will make it to mecca eventually, it might just take a little longer. I guess they would be realy screwed if dogs lived on both sides of them.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Rasheed

      jackie,
      You're the reason why it is said "little knowledge is dangerous". No one should pass in front of anyone, man or woman engaged in prayer, not just dogs and women. And women can pray side by side with men (watch the Holy pilgrimage) on other days they can be on one side not necessarily behind the men. If you want women to always be with men, why do you have mens' rooms separate from women's rooms in your your western countries.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Colin

      @Rasheed. You are not seriously going to try and argue that women are as free in Islam as they are in the West?

      March 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Allah

    You know, it all started many years ago. I was bored and decided to make some stuff. First it was little rocks, then big ones. I kept trying to make rocks so big that I couldn't lift it I made this one so heavy that it exploded and made the universe. The rest is history. Thought you guys might want to know the real story...

    March 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  11. marty

    Muslims pray 5 times a day because they copied the Jews, who pray 5 times once a year, on the holiest day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; on other days, Jews pray 3 times a day. When Mohammed was making up his religion in the 7th century CE he wanted to show that Muslims were more pious than Jews. Many parts of Islam were based on Judaism.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Steven

    This may be plagerism at it's worst but it expresses my veiw perfectly.

    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
    I will choose a path that's clear
    I will choose freewill.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • derp

      Peart 1980, Permanent Waves.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  13. Vera

    And while praying 5 times a day, ask yourselves why women are treated so shabily in most Moslem countries. Are women not made by God...are they not as human as men? Is the person who gave you birth to you not a female and should be revered and respected? Ponder that one next time you see women in those countries forced to wear chodors or berkas in unbearably hot climates, sometimes treated worse than farm animals and ask youselves WHY! Maybe after you ponder that question and hopefully changing your behaviors you might become a more complete human being and others would in turn become more tolerant of Islam.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Rasheed

      As if the (mis) treatment of women is really why you and most others are tolerant of Islam!

      March 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • derp

      Funny how christians babble about islam and women, while they are all busy trying to strip women of their reproductive rights here in the states. NO CHOICE FOR YOU!!! and put on that burka!

      March 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Noshin

      I am a muslim women who came from one of the middle eastern countries, and I must say, that many of you are mistaken. We women are not forced into covering ourselves. I'm not really sure where you got this idea from (I'm assuming from the media), but I wore a hijab when I was living in the Middle East, and continue to wear one in America, WILLINGLY. Not by force. All of you who say we are forced are those who do not wish to understand out point of view, but only wish to demean our beliefs through stereotypical and illiterate thoughts.

      December 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  14. fsmgroupie

    get on your knees and beg for forgiveness– or burn in hell
    worship me –or burn in hell
    sing songs of praise to me –or burn in hell
    believe in me –or burn in hell
    love me –or burn in hell

    March 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  15. Magic

    5 times a day X 5 minutes = 25 minutes - and maybe 5 minutes each time for prep. work = 50 minutes per day.

    This is ok, as long as they do no harm to anyone or anything... like block streets or yodel loudly. What they do during the other 23 hrs. 10 minutes is more telling.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • derp

      "What they do during the other 23 hrs. 10 minutes is more telling."

      Blowing crap up

      March 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  16. Testorshia

    This was actually very interesting; I've always wondered what all the prayers were for. I also find it interesting that so many people are arrogant about their ignorance of such matters. It's distressing and sad to be lumped in with such people...

    March 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  17. Chip

    Haemisch – your arrogance and ignorance of science is why I hate all religions. i.e., You propose that you "know" you will be with your "almighty father" after you die. Here's hoping you meet him – today. Do the world a favor, blow yourself up already, and go play with your 72 virgins.

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

    Amen.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  19. conradshull

    I know a number of Christians who pray five times or more a day, just not publicly.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Colin

      Poor, deluded fools.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • derp

      I fart 5 times a day. Am I saved?

      March 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  20. Peter

    To Colin- Oh no it hasn't, what we know today is consistent with the Bible. Reat the book referenced earlier.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Colin

      Only AFTER Darwin, Copernicul, Gallileo etc. showed the talking snake theory to be nonsense did some Christians (now about 60%) abondon the bible fantasy of six days anda talking snake. 40% still cling to it. Sheer nonsense.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Tripp

      @Peter...You are another indoctrinated, brainwashed religious fanatic. The bible has no fact, its all stories. 99% of those stories were taken from earlier cultures that had polytheism at its core. Not only are you delusional in your assesment in that the bible is fact, but you're also perpetrating one of the best scams held over the human race.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Tripp

      peter.....Sorry Peter, I meant propagating... Typo.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
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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.