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.


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. A. W.

    As a catholic I can pray all day long if I want, or just a couple of times... It's up to me. The bible asks that I go to mass and respect holidays and on a day to day basis to be a good human being.
    So, what? Make an article about a catholic, a Jewish, a Hindu, a protestant, a Buddhist, etc. The only reason we spend so much talking about muslims is because is the only religion I know where lying to an infidel is ok since it is their job to kill us!
    Stop making it sound like muslims are such nice people, like in any religion there is good and there is evil. TRUST ME! I am catholic, I know.
    So from this article we learn that in Islam they pray a lot, LIKE THE REST OF THE OTHER RELIGIONS! BIG DEAL...

    March 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  2. Upperhand

    Deport these foreigners!!! Deport all the murderous Rug-Pilot Roach-Rancher Dune Monkey Muslims, Smelly Curry-Muncher Diaper-Head Indians and Waki Pakis....Deport'em all!!! Deport'em now!!! I say!!! I say!!!

    March 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  3. Thomas in Los Angeles

    There's nothing wrong with religion; whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. Knock yourself out as long as one does not infringe, violate, force, or dictate their religious or personal beliefs on others. That is really the crux around "Freedom of Religion". That you can pray to whom ever, whether it be god above, or the worm below and no one has the right to change you, force you, or stop you from your own religion or beliefs as long as you do not hurt or injure others.

    It is when others force their beliefs on others and do not respect other religions, that we have problems in the world. I am a Christian and have high regard and respect for the Muslim and Jewish religion, as well as others. They are unique in their own sense and we can all learn a lot from others, and their beliefs. However, it all stops when it is being forced upon you. That is the point. Lastly, no one religion can say they pray to the only right god, and others do not. As far as I'm concerned, if the only real god was the Christian God, then all others are children of the devil. Oh wait, wasn't man and woman created in the image of the Christian God? From Adam and Eve? And don't Jews, Christian and Muslim's all believe in what is in Genesis, from Adam and Eve to today?

    March 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  4. jeb

    i wish someone could educate CNN and FOX news on religion.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  5. stonedwhitetrash

    Must be because they are brainwashed

    March 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  6. xyzzy

    The wise sees all paths lead to God.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  7. rajeev

    I am a religion neutral person but here is my thoughts on the religion on Islam. I think there are good and bad people in every religion,caste or creed. The problem is the way Islam is stuffed down the throat of muslims. They are made to believe that there is nothing else truer other than the teachings of Islam. They are brain-washed into thinking a certain way and not use their own heads. How else would you explain a general arrogance and disrespect for women in ALL MUSLIM men?

    March 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Thomas in Los Angeles

      Even Christians do this... stuff the religious bull crap down peoples throats – like the Jimmy Swaggers of the past, who preached form the pulpit and looked so righteous, while others were sinners. At the end, it was the Swaggers and the Bakers who were the hypocrites and sinners. The Christians are no better so let's not assume we Christians are saints. Let the Muslims believe what they want – good for them, just like many in the South who are strong Baptist and Christians. However, as soon as anyone forces, infringes, and stuffs their religious beliefs on others, that is when the line is crossed. We in America believe in Freedom of Religion. Let it be said, let it be done. Be free to practice your religion because ultimately, it only you, the individual person who will be responsible to answer for your soul, and to your god – and no one else.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • AmericanPiex

      brain washed is an opinion of yours that comes from generalization.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  8. John

    It is, I think an error to believe that there is any need of religion to make life seem worth living. . . . . . . Sinclair Lewis

    March 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • James

      Why do men and people in general need religion? Because they fear the unknown future ahead of them.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  9. John

    The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. . . . . . Albert Einstein

    March 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  10. Terry W. Brookman

    I might have to pray five times a day if I believed I was supposed to kill everyone that was not like me, That might set up a conflict that would need to be reinforced constantly seeing that they don't get a response confirming their nonsense,

    March 27, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  11. Barbara Chaddick

    Thank God people are praying! It's sad to me that so many people haven't felt the presence of God's love. When the population of this planet realize that we all believe in the same God, no matter we if we, call him God or Allah,he's the same God. As for Muslims in America, America is a country of immigrants and WE ALL HAVE FREEDOM OF RELIGION. It doesn't matter how many Churches, Synagogues, or Mosgues there are. I think they should be near the people who choose to worship in them. We all need to work together for a better life and help our fellow human beings!

    March 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  12. John

    It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  13. America is a Christian Country

    Take your religon else where, we dont want your sharia law nor do we want your jihad, but if you decide to bring it, we rednecks in Florida will feed your butt to our gators and heat our house with your quron, Abide by the American way or LEAVE

    March 27, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • D

      No this country was built on the idea of religious tolerance, and in fact the founding "fathers" complimented much of Islam as a religion of justice and peace and organization. They like most could see it's faults as well (like all religions), so there was SEPARATION of religion and state so NO religion would rule a country, but that a people who share the prosperity of a country could come together and solve problems with multiple points of view rather than just one.
      Also, become more educated. It's Quran or Koran.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • AmericanPiex

      Delirious must be theme of the day.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  14. shagadalic

    Most of the post by ignorant bigots are hilarious. They seem to talk without stating facts or sounds like they never had a conversation with any muslims.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  15. Has anyone met God?

    Words are cheap! God has better things to do then listen to billions of prayers all day long. Prove your love and faith by your actions other wise you are fake and your prayers are useless.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  16. Has anyone met God?

    Words are cheap! God has better things to do then listen to billions of prayers all day long. Prove your love and faith by your actions other wise you are fake and your prayers are useless.

    March 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • D

      Uh well, just so you know, prayer IS an action. It's an act of devotion in itself otherwise people who are religious wouldn't do it. One can still do these acts of devotion and be hypocritical still, this is true. However, most religions emphasize prayer/meditation as a form of religious practice that their god(s) want/need. So I suppose if you're not following your religion in other aspects of your life, prayer/meditation would be considered pointless(if not a guilt trip for a person to do better), but if you're doing your best to follow your religious creed, then prayer comes with the deal in most cases.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  17. Tim

    How can anyone seriously believe this crap or support a religion that embraces a law that puts women down, approves of stoning them to death if they are "accused" of adultry etc...........I mean come on people....you DEMS are soooo stupid

    March 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Tim

    Who wants to buy some Mahommad cartoons.............CARTOONS!!!!

    March 27, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Tim

    Who the hell cares?????? I don't care if they pray 10 times a day or 6 times an hour....I think I saw Mahommad in a teddy bear suit at the MALL LOL

    March 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  20. Mike...

    um... does anyone have any proof that a god actually exists? I mean faith? For Real??? Religious Faith is for people who don't want to believe that life is teeming within the universe. And I don't they think are celebrating Easter and having Easter Egg Hunts or praying to the four corners in some far off galaxy. And so; if they are not, then there can be no god of the bible or any other book "Written by Men"... Or am I really supposed to believe that GOD Loves all the creatures in the universe but only we are truly divine??? Time to get a grip people... You are wasting your time praying. It is yours to waste and I commend you for your Faith!!! I really do... But I really don't think anyone is listening...

    March 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • tiff

      The biggest problem I have with religion is that people all around the world are fighting supposedly "in the name of god"

      March 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Ann

      Who do you think Jesus is? Have you EVER seen another man raise someoe from the dead?? Have you EVER seen a man walk on water??? Have you ever seen a man who touches THOUSANDS of people and cures them?! THEN he let himself be NAILED on his hands and his feet to a cross after being TORTURED and it took 3 HOURS for him to die this way. He did it so WE would not turn to ashes when we die. As far as muslim, islam, they are worshipping some guy from the 7th century that had 13 wives. allah is a false god.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • David

      Ann, i haven't seen anyone raise or rise from the dead, nor have i seen anyone walk on water. i haven't seen anyone cure anyone by touch either. and, i'm guessing, neither have you.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Jeff S

      How much proof do you have that God does not exist? And even if it turns out there is no God, does it really matter if people's belief in God affects their lives? Many a quantum physicist would laugh more heartily at your comment than any religious person would. Comments like yours are emblematic of the small-minded among us. Even most athiests can acknowledge that people's beliefs are real, whether the "God" they pray to is or not. Further, even the average 3rd-grader knows not to demand proof of something they cannot disprove themselves.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Jeff S

      Ann, well-known to most of the world, Allah is the same God as Yahweh (the Old Testament "God".) Muslims believe that Jesus and Mohammad were both prophets of God. Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, and don't acknowledge Mohammad at all.
      You are claiming that "Allah is a false God", meaning you believe the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim God is a false God. You are also making up lies about Muslims, saying that they worship Mohammad, which they don't. I'm a Christian who knew these things by the time I was 12.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Imani

      I just want you to know that God is attentively listening all the time to all of your questions about Him and this universe that He had created for all of us to enjoy.

      I was once like you until I honestly ask God to reveal himself to me. It is that simple. Please try talking to God and as He answers your questions continue to ask for more and He will take you to people and places beyond your wildest imagination. Be Blessed! and my Prayers.....Imani (Faith)

      April 11, 2011 at 10:56 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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.