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. John

    The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, but there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there is little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look at death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.. . . . . . Carl Sagan

    March 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  2. jay

    Jesus Christ say's to pray without ceasing all day all the time! Ho about an article on the thousands that have converted from Islam to Christianity!

    March 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  3. Lou

    What I want to know is why they only bathe 5 times a year.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Muslim American

      This is a very racial comment and you should be ashamed of yourself. I thought of many examples I should use to respond but I will not let myself be driven into your level of ignorance.

      March 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  4. Alfredo

    Islam like all religions was created by man not a higher being. The Koran is fiction. All these religions were created a thousand plus years ago by clueless men trying to comprehend many things of life which today can be explained by science and reason. It's nice to see religious dedication but in the end it's not real......

    March 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  5. John

    The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.. . . . . (Adolf Hitler, Berlin, 1933, Fisrt radio address after coming to power).

    March 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  6. Pastor Evans

    Because it is a religious duty without personally knowing the only true and living God!!!

    March 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  7. chuck58

    Islam still wants to rule the world. There is no tolerance for any other religion pure and simple. Convert or die. Kill the infidels. It is all in the Quran. Unless Muslims rewrite the book to be tolerant of other religions we will continue to have the issues we are faced with today for hundreds of years.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  8. Craig

    I'm reading the Koran. So far I find nothing but pure repression and evil based on persecution, and the premise that some men are more equal than others in their ability to know the word of God. It is a book that is living up to the horrible things I've heard about it. Given the absurdity of it makes it hardly worth a match for burning.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Chris

    I think praying five times a day is simply not enough to really show devotion to god.
    It must be done eight times within 24 hour period. Additional three times must be at night within specific time and intervals: at 1AM, 3AM and 5AM and the pray should be at least fifteen minutes long (no shortcuts please…). This additional requirement would really confirm the true devotion to god. On the negative side, due to this requirement, we would have 1.5 billion disoriented, confused, fatigued, and grouchy Muslims 🙂

    March 27, 2011 at 7:21 pm |

    Genesis 16:11-12 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.


    YUSUFALI: The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;

    YUSUFALI: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

    YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm |

    If there is one thing the Muslim people would truly be blessed to know is that God is Love. They do not know a God of love. Their God is encouraging of murder and violence. They do know God is one. However, they need to know that True Christianity teaches God is one. And Jesus is His name. Jesus is God manifest in flesh. God is absolutely one. But His name is not Allah - it is Jesus. If they could only receive the revelation that Christ is God incarnate and He died on the cross as us, offering us freedom from sin through Him, and that we cannot save ourselves by good works, they would truly praise God the rest of their days like they presently do not know how!

    Read these quotes from the Qur'an and see for yourself the violent nature of this religion, thus betraying its error. Please understand that not all factions of the Islamic religion condone violence. Some do and some do not. I just wish to point out to you the Qur'an statements that seem to encourage violence.

    The Qur’an encourages murder:

    "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
    Qur’an 9:5

    "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
    Qur’an 9:29

    The Qur’an promotes hate of Christians:

    "O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust." Qur’an 5:51

    "O ye who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport,- whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but fear ye Allah, if ye have faith (indeed)."
    Qur’an 5:57

    "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
    Qur’an 9:29

    "Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures."
    Qur’an 98:6

    The Qur’an promotes beating of wives:
    "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)."
    Qur’an 4:34

    "If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way."
    Qur’an 4:15

    March 27, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  12. piepie

    I'm sorry, if you want to pray, go home and wash your stinky feet. I find it shameful to do so in public.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Morrissey

      He washed his feet 5 times a day. You wash your face twice a day. His 'stinky' feet are cleaner than your face.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  13. mike

    Before jumping to conclusions and thinking Islam is a man made religion, isn't it that one should at least read the Book – the QURAN, read it thouroughly and without being biased?.
    After doing so and only after, if one doesn't think those are the words of God then at least he or she would have come to a conclusion using the intellect not just saying something without having a real self conclusive idea.

    Then if you are still in doubt, you can then chose to read something else and compare it by any mean.

    The truth is that there should be no compulsion in the Real religion that God has for his creation. We have however our intellect, our hearts and souls and after that our freedom to choose.

    if you are sincere in seeking the true Guidance from God , stay assured that He will show you.
    But He wants sincerity

    March 27, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  14. Upperhand

    Wesley Clark, makes a shocking confession confirming the imperialist designs of the corporate-financier oligarchy. Before Bush was even put into office in 2000, the plan to seize the Middle East was already well underway, with 9/11 the opening act. It has more to do with global domination than simply “oil.”

    Youtube: Wes Clark – America's Foreign Policy "Coup"

    March 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  15. Upperhand

    Let's pretend the Islamofacists are not at war with us!

    March 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  16. Upperhand

    "Islamophobia": The fear of speaking out against the rapidly growing religion/ideology that is out to repress all who do not follow its doctrine.

    March 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  17. Upperhand

    "Those who know nothing about Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those people are witless. Islam says: 'Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all!' Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by the infidel? Islam says: 'Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter them.' Islam says: 'Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword.' The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim." – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

    March 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Muslim American

      Quran also said, fight with all your power if they fought you, and if they elected peace, then accept it. It is a very balanced religion asking you to be strong and fight if you were attacked and never surrender, but if you can avoid war then you must avoid it. In return the old testament stated that if they surrender then kill all the men and if they didn't surrender then kill all the men, women and children. All religions talk about specific incidents and how to react to it, if you pick and chose verses to serve your conversational need, you will be deceiving.

      March 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  18. Upperhand

    “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    March 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  19. Upperhand

    “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…” ~ Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    March 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  20. Upperhand

    The Five Deceptions of Islam:

    1.) "Islam is a religion of love."

    2.) "Islam is a religion of peace."

    3.) "Allah is just another name for God."

    4.) "We worship Jesus Christ like you do."

    5.) "Koran is the Divine Word of Allah."

    March 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Muslim American

      Correction: We don't worship Jesus Christ.... We believe in Jesus Christ as a great prophet, but not as another God... There is only one God, who is the God of Abraham, Jesus and Mohamed and all man kind.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:56 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.