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. Budaweep

    Even if God were real, there's no way I'd spend 5 prayers a day every day of my life 'wallowing in his greatness'. No one is worth that much of one's time, not even God.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Broderick

      OH, but there is a GOD!!! And he has already revealed this to each and everyone of us.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Testorshia

      Assuming God exists and He has done all these magnificent and awesome things for seemingly nothing but love, why would you not praise someone like that? What if there were a doctor who cured cancer? Would he not receive praise for doing a good thing for not just himself and "his people" but for everyone? If someone doing something great for other people without expecting anything in return isn't worthy of praise, I'm not exactly sure what is.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • derp

      "What if there were a doctor who cured cancer? Would he not receive praise for doing a good thing for not just himself and "his people" but for everyone?"

      Well, everyone who has cancer got it from god. When he gets off his lazy butt and finds a cure, I'll praise him.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  2. jay

    If the Praying muslim brain is imaged with Functional MRI, we might come closer to what makes these people the dumb zombies they are- imagine 1.5 billion muslims acting as one at a command in an instant – Scary, but made possible by htis ritual.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Colin

      I would love to MRI any religion praying. Anyone who thinks that there is an invisible, infinitely-old, all-powerful sky-being reading their mind (or "hearing their prayers" to the extent you see a difference) has got to be pretty weird.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  3. Colin

    Islam – Christianity with Down's Syndrome.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  4. Jake

    To all- Islam is a cult and a dangerous one at that. Mohammad a false prophet. Either all religions are wrong or one is right and the others are wrong, no other possibility. So what to do? Well, atheism certainly isnt the answer, it believes in nothing and offers nothing. So you must use reason and logic, you must search for proof and truth because it is attainable. I would recommend reading The Creator Beyond Space and Time for starters. Or don't.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Well, atheism certainly isnt the answer, it believes in nothing and offers nothing."
      First of all atheism isn't a religion or a belief, it's a lack of belief. Second, your casual dismissal of the lack of belief in the supernatural shows that you are not interested in seeing what is real, but instead in finding the best "offer". If (a) god exists, I'm not sure s/he will be pleased about you negotiating the best deal.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • RichP, easton, pa

      All organized religions are wrong in one fashion or another. To kill over religion is wrong, to kill others over religion is wrong. Religions that organize and do good are not the problem, religions that organize and tell their members that everyone else is wrong and should be subjugated or punished is a wrong religion. The basic ten commandments are a good set of basic rules to live by as is the golden rule. I know of no other religions that have those. I know many times during my 27 years in the service prayer has worked for me in times of terror, fear and strife. As far as I am concerned you can be any religion you want as long as it has no damaging effect on me, others or my country, Once you strap on a bomb, pick up a gun, plant an IED and kill innocent men, women and children I will hunt you down and do my best to make sure you never do it again. I'll also feel sorry for you that your religion and your religious leaders who, by the way, never put themselves in harms way, convinced you of the rightness of what you did.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Tanya

    "All faiths have become intellectual: creeds, dogmas, systems. Faith is a dead trust. In fact, you don't trust but you still believe, that's what faith is. But trust is something alive. It is just like love. In the temples we are just doing fake things. The real temple is created by blissfulness – and all these things start happening on their own. This is true worship. There are many scriptures, and much great philosophy, but they are all rubbish! They exist to let foolish people get occupied; they are not for the real seeker. Scriptures that were written three thousand years ago were meant for the people for whom it was written. Those scriptures were not written for you. They are utterly irrelevant. Relying on them would be as absurd as somebody who studies physics at Newton and never getting to Albert Einstein. Once you write a book it becomes fixed; it becomes frozen. Never take anything for granted. Worship means that life is so mysterious that there is really no way to understand it. It surpasses understanding; all our efforts fail. Pray inside, your prayer should not go through the mind, it should be spontanious, and if something happens in the body, allow it, whatever it is. If any movement comes to the body, any energy starts waving in the body or if you become like a small leaf in a strong wind, just pray and allow it."

    March 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Jeff

    They do it becasue they are taught to believe any hocus pocus they are told by the Mullahs. They don't think for themselves.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Godless

      Change Mullahs to priests and you've just described Christianity.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  7. RangerDOS

    I'm the worlds worst Lutheran. I believe that the god of Abraham is the god of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims. My faith doesn't have a licence on God. God bless this man for his faith to God and his dedication. Evil and people who do evil are not religated to a religious faith. Each country and choose a side, fight in defense of what they feel is right, but God will judge each one of us on our merits in life, and whether we bowed humbled ourselfs before him, but not on which day we did it.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  8. Jordan Moore

    Did anyone notice how the women are situated in the back of the room just like at a mosque lol. They don't even get freedom in their own house.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Amina

      OR maybe we do it so that we arent a distraction to the men. How focused on prayer could YOU be if a woman was bent over right in front of you? That's what I thought.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Jane

      Amina, so if allah cannot compete with women in attracting men's attention, does it even deserve any attention?

      March 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  9. Putz

    According to Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neurology at Stanford University most religious rituals are because of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Here's a small quote:

    To get a real insight into this, we have to come back to that question, "Why is there this similarity between religious ritualism and OCD rituals?"

    You could say, "It's just by chance."

    Or you could say, "There's a biological convergence going on there." It's not random that we're most concerned with rituals about keeping our bodies healthy, our food clean, that sort of stuff.

    But another answer in there has got to be, "People with OCD invented a lot of these religious rituals."

    March 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Nonimus

      This seems a bit off to me, but I haven't done any research. Although, I would suggest as a real world counter-example that as far as I know every self organized childhood club that has some exclusivity to involves password, secret handshakes, and some made-up rituals.
      I'd suggest, it's less about OCD than exclusivity, in-group versus out-group, or hierarchical authority.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  10. Nelson

    Because if they dont have them praying, they would figure out that all the Mohamad and 70 Virgins is bunch of CRAP a lot sooner............

    March 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Godless

      Not necessarily... Christians don't pray 5x a day and they haven't figured out that their religious beliefs are crap yet, so why would the Muslims?

      March 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  11. ARH

    I am saddened by the vitriol from some commenters. Someone praying to his god (or gods) is hardly worthy of condemnation, whether the prayer is once a year or once an hour. Remember: your own beliefs are only worthy of the respect you yourself give to others' beliefs.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Jane Smith

      Very well stated – thank yoU!!!! Very compassionate outlook, I might add...

      March 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "One man's theology is another man's belly laugh."
      – Robert Heinlein

      March 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  12. 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 12:22 pm |
    • Bob

      Well you know Reality, you're right as rain. A person should work hard at their 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, but for many people from different back ground, pray is a way of communing with what they feel is behind Nature (even if it is randomness). For those people who believe in a god (even if it is a flying pasta monster 😉 ) they should "pray", but don't act as if what you want will fall out of the sky into to your hands, you need to work for it. The flying spaghetti monster help those who help themselves and "Allah" won't change a condition of a people until they change it themselves.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  13. The Bobinator

    Because it's hard to keep someone brainwashed with such ridiculous concepts without routinely beating it into their brain?

    March 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jane


      March 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  14. Ali

    @seanog. Good on ye mate!

    March 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Bob Bridwell

    You hear a great deal about devout Muslims who pray 5 times a day but I've never heard a story about devout Catholics (including myself) who pray the Litury of the Hours (dawn, morning, evening and night) and believe in the admonition to "pray continuously." There are also many of us who try to attend Mass daily. I guess my point is that it is considered remarkable by the media that Muslims have such belief but anything Christian couldn't compare.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ian

      Maybe if the majority of Catholics still prayed the Angelus and took their faith seriously people would notice. With meat free Fridays being confined to Lent and fasting confined to two whole days a year (man, what a trial) and pre-communion fasting being cut to an hour before communion it's no wonder no one notices what Catholics do.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Juan Velarde

      I was thinking the same thing. Catholicism has its prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours. Devotees are also encouraged to pray the Rosary and attend daily mass.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  16. derp

    "Why do Muslims pray five times daily?"

    Because 4 and 6 were already taken.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  17. LevelHead

    So many Muslims, so many prayers, so many suicide bombers, so many killings of innocent people...stop the madness.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • bam

      so many christian taliban with blood on their hands pointing at others. stop the madness. stop passing on some 2000+ year old tradition created by ignorant man to your lil chistian tliban soldier kids

      March 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  18. seanog

    If it takes Muslims to pray five times a day in order to reach paradise, they must be loaded down with sins.

    In my religion I pray whenever I feel like it and I know I'm going to heaven.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • bam

      grats on judging muslims.
      obviously u have the supreme religion so try not to belittle others.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Jane Smith

      seanog – you might want to say a prayer right now and ask God to forgive you for being so narrow minded and judgemental. Judge ye, lest ye be judged. This is no different than Catholics keeping holy the sabbith day and all the other designated holy days – just a different type of schedule they chose to follow.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Gwen

      True. And all the people who blow themselves and everything around them away think they are going to Paradise. Boy
      are they mistaken. They have a very mistaken religion when they would even think God would want them to kill the human
      beings he made and then still get into Paradise. They don't sound too bright to me and maybe why they are in the 3rd world.
      That is what happens when you stand on your head too long!!!!!!

      March 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Amina

      We can pray whenever we feel like it too. The prayers that are being referred to here are called the Obligatory Prayers. Otherwise, we can pray anytime, anywhere, without the prostrations and even washing. Islam is not hard. I was born and raised a Christian and converted to Islam one year ago. The reason? Besides the obvious that I was led to Islam by Allah(higly praised and glorified is he), my requirement is only one: Worship God alone. It is the same message that every single Prophet, from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Mohmammed (peace and blessings be upon them) taught. One day, give it a try: Set aside five times out of your day to give a heartfelt, meaningful prayer to your God. Not "Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub," but a REAL prayer. Examine what you have done that day, what you have said, how you have treated others. Then, make sure you recite a scripture from whatever holy book you read. Try a couple different ones for each prayer. It is enlightening, it is humbling, it is beautiful. THAT is Islam. THAT is what drew me to this religion, and I pray every day that I never go astray.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  19. Amanda in MO

    i just told some one today i'd rather kill myself than go to church BUT i do not criticize others for their beliefs. to each their own as long as they aren't hurting any one or living thing in the process.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  20. phoenix

    this renegade christian says; it is easier to recite the whole koran than to take up your cross and follow christ.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Gwen

      Boy are you right on. The majority of Muslims are good people but they spend so much time standing on their heads
      they can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to all the killers in their religion. Just the way Hitler charmed the
      rest of the good German people. None so blind as those who won't see!!!!!

      March 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Nick


      March 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • EWGuy

      It's actually much easier to sleep in on Sunday, and keep doing what I'm doing without interruption 5 times a day....and still be a good person for it!

      March 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • JIM

      God is not real.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:30 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.