By Mahmood Islahi, New Age Islam
May 30, 2013
Surah Alaq was the first Surah revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which announced his prophethood at the age of forty years. The Surah mentions the words ‘Salah’ (Islamic form of prayers) and ‘Sajda’ (prostration) which forms part of Salat.
“Abdan iza salla “(the slave who performs Salah or Namaz) (10th verse), and
“Wasjud waqtarib (fall down in prostration and draw closer) (19th verse)
But it is common knowledge that Salah (Namaz), the Islamic form of prayer, was made obligatory only in the 11th year of prophethood. According to Islamic religious text, Namaz (Salat) was gifted to the Prophet (pbuh) by God on his meeting with God on the night journey. After that, five times of Salah (Namaz) were made obligatory for Muslims.
Jewish Way of Prayer
But now the questions is: when the Salah (Namaz) was made obligatory to Muslims in the 11th year of the advent of Islam, why does the Quran mentions the word Salah and Sajda (prayer and prostration) in the first Surah that was revealed to the prophet.
According to the Hadiths, out of the 19 verses of Surah Alaq, the initial five verses were revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) on the first occasion. The first five verses do not mention either the word Salah or Sajda.
After the revelation of the first five verses of the Surah, the Prophet (pbuh) went to offer prayers in the holy mosque of Makkah (Kaaba) which was still a centre for worship and pilgrimage for the people of pagan Arab where the pagan leader Abu Jahl tortured and threatened the Prophet ( pbuh) and even tried to prevent him from offering Salah and prostrating.
After the incident, the later part of the Surah, from verse 6 to 19 was revealed to him. This part has references to mistreatment and threats of Abu Jahl. It is where the words Salah and Sajda are mentioned.
“What thinkest thou? He who forbids a servant when he prays “–(Alaq: 9-10)
And the last verse says:
“No, indeed; do not obey him! Prostrate and come nearer” (to Allah).
The accounts of the life history of the prophet (pbuh) show that the holy prophet (pbuh) was of a righteous, kind and honest nature and he was averse to the idol worship or the worship of false gods from his childhood. And when the time to attain prophethood drew nearer, he became more and more reserved and solitudinous. He would often retire to the cave of Hira which was located on a very high altitude and spend days there meditating and worshipping God. What meditations, prayers or form of worship he adopted there is not known but the first Surah gives the hint of the way he worshipped God there. Since, Judaism and Christianity were the dominant religions in the region at that time that advocated the worship of one God, the Prophet might be aware of their teachings and their form of worship. All the divine religions or the Abrahamic religions followed the same form of worship which the Muslims follow today. Their Salah comprises standing straight, bending forward, kneeling down and then prostrating with the face or forehead placed on the ground. This is mentioned in the Quran on a number of occasions which shows that all the prophets of God followed the same form of worship:
"We appointed Abraham to establish the Shrine: "You shall not idolize any other god beside Me, and purify My shrine for those who visit it, those who live near it, and those who bow and prostrate." “[22:26]
"They are not all the same; among the followers of the scripture there are those who are righteous. They recite God's revelations through the night while prostrating." [3:113]
“And mention in the Book (the Quran) Isma'il (Ishmael). Verily! He was true to what he promised, and he was a Messenger, (and) a Prophet. And he used to enjoin on his family and his people As-Salat (the prayers) and the Zakat, and his Lord was pleased with him.” (Maryam: 54-55)
“Indeed Allah took the covenant from the Children of Israel (Jews), and We appointed twelve leaders among them. And Allah said: "I am with you if you perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) and give Zakat and believe in My Messengers; honour and assist them, and lend to Allah a good loan.”(Al Maidah:12)
“Allah said, "O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham."
And they intended for him harm, but We made them the greatest losers.
And We delivered him and Lot to the land which We had blessed for the worlds.
And We gave him Isaac and Jacob in addition, and all [of them] We made righteous.
And We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds, establishment of prayer (Salah), and giving of Zakah; and they were worshippers of Us. (Al Anbiyâ: 69-73)”
“And remember We said: "Enter this town, and eat of the plenty therein as ye wish; but enter the gate with humility, in posture and in words, and We shall forgive you your faults and increase (the portion of) those who do good."(2:58)
“And remember We took a covenant from the Children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but Allah; treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practice regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now).”(2:83)
“Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer (Salah); and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves “(therein in prayer).(2:125)
“While he was standing in prayer (Salah) in the chamber, the angels called unto him: "Allah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and (be besides) noble, chaste, and a prophet,- of the (goodly) company of the righteous."(3: 39)
“Allah did a foretime take a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we appointed twelve captains among them. And Allah said: "I am with you: if ye (but) establish regular prayers (Salah), practice regular charity, believe in my messengers, honour and assist them, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, verily I will wipe out from you your evils, and admit you to gardens with rivers flowing beneath; but if any of you, after this, resisteth faith, he hath truly wandered from the path or rectitude."(5:12)
“We inspired Moses and his brother with this Message: "Provide dwellings for your people in Egypt, make your dwellings into places of worship, and establish regular prayers (Salah): and give glad tidings to those who believe!"(10: 87)
“O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord, that they may establish regular Prayer (Salah): so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks.”(14:37)
“O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord, that they may establish regular Prayer (Salah): so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks.” (14: 40)
“O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!
But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"
He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;
And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer (Salah) and Charity as long as I live;
(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;” (19: 28-31)
“Also mention in the Book (the story of) Isma'il: He was (strictly) true to what he promised, and he was a messenger (and) a prophet. “He used to enjoin on his people Prayer (Salat) and Charity, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord.” (19:55-56)
“Those were some of the prophets on whom Allah did bestow His Grace, - of the posterity of Adam, and of those who We carried (in the Ark) with Noah, and of the posterity of Abraham and Israel of those whom We guided and chose. Whenever the Signs of (Allah) Most Gracious were rehearsed to them, they would fall down in prostrate adoration and in tears.(19: 58) (Surah Maryam)”
“And We bestowed on him Isaac and, as an additional gift, (a grandson), Jacob, and We made righteous men of every one (of them).
“And We made them leaders, guiding (men) by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers (Salah), and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us (and Us only)”. (21:72—73)
In all the verses, the Arabic word for prayers is Salah. From these verses, it is evident that all the prophets of God had received the same form of offering prayers which is specifically called Salat and constitutes bowing, kneeling down and lying prostrate.
However, on one occasion, the word Salah is used to denote the way of worship of the idol worshippers of Makkah in Kaaba. The idol worshippers of Makkah used to circumambulate round the Kaaba while clapping their hands and whistling.
“Their prayer (Salah) at the House (of Allah) is nothing but whistling and clapping of hands."(8: 35)
But generally, the word Salah means the same form of prayers followed from Abraham to the final prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
This form of prayer (Salah) is not mentioned in the Quran alone but also in the Bible and has been attributed to a number of prophets. For example,
“And Abram fell on his face.”(Genesis 17:3)
“And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.”( Exodus 34:8)
“And Moses and Aaron (Harun) went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them. “ (Numbers 20:6)
“And Joshua (Yehoshua) fell on his face to the earth, and did worship.”(Joshua 5:14)
“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.”(Psalm 95:6)
“And Elijah (Ilyas) went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.”(King 18:42)
“He(Jesus) went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.”(Matthew 26:39)
This it is clear that the all the prophets and their nation offered Salat, may be with a slight variation in method and times. For example, Muslims pray five times a day while the Jews pray three times.
However, the question remains how before the prophethood, Prophet Muhammad offered prayers. The Surah Alaq mentions that after attaining prophethood and receiving the first verses, the prophet went to Kaaba to offer Salah, that is, he bowed down and lay prostrate while Abu Lahab tried to prevent him from offering sajdah by holding his neck but an invisible force stopped him from doing so.
On the next revelation, God asks him not to obey and fear any one including Abu Lahab and offer Sajda to Him and this way draw closer to Him.
As the prophet (pbuh) was an Ummy, he might not be aware of how the earlier prophets and their Ummah offered Salah, but he might be aware of the way the Jews offered Salah as they were followers of one God and were the people of the book. So, naturally, the prophet (pbuh) might have followed the Jewish way of bowing, kneeling down and prostrating before God. That the first five verses do not mention Salah after which the Prophet (pbuh) went to Kaaba to offer Salah also corroborates this view. Its only when the prophet (pbuh) offered Salah and prostrated in Kaaba that the Surah mentions the word Salah and Sajdah. It means the prophet’s act of prostrating in Kaabah was not influenced by the first five verses.
The Salah which was made obligatory to the Muslims was gifted to the prophet (pbuh) on the occasion of Meraj in the eleventh year of his prophethood. That does not mean that Salat was specifically a new way of prayer ordained for the followers of Islam. It only means that Salah which was made obligatory to the earlier prophets and Ummah were also made obligatory to the followers of Islam as Islam is the extension and culmination of all the earlier divine religions and the Quran is called the reminder of the messages carried by earlier Holy Scriptures. Therefore, Salah is also the continued form of worship of the followers of one God that is the followers of all the Abrahamic religions. It was the Salah through which the prophet (pbuh) came closer to God in the cave of Hira as all the prophets worshipped God and drew closer to God through Salah. But it cannot be construed that the Prophet (pbuh) imitated the Jewish way of worshipping as Salah is the way of worshipping of all the Abrahamic religions, and not of the Jews alone.
The way of offering Salah which is followed by the Muslims is also the same with the orthodox Jews even today. Though they have abandoned the original way of offering Salah which is the Islamic way, some Jewish communities, particularly in Israel follow this process. That they have drifted from the original way of offering Salah is also indicated in the Quran:
“These are whom Allah has blessed among the Prophets from among the seed of Adam and of those whom We bore with Noah; the descendants of Abraham, of Israel, and of those whom We have guided and chose. For when the verses of the Merciful were recited to them, they fell down prostrate, weeping. But the generation that succeeded them wasted their prayers and followed their desires, so they shall encounter error,-(19: 58-59)
This is also corroborated by a Jew rabbi who says that the Jews in ancient times offered Salah in the same way as the Muslims do today. In his book, ‘How to pray as a Jew’, published in 1980, rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin says that many congregations have abandoned this but the process was followed in the time of Jesus. He writes:
“In most contemporary congregations very few people keep to the tradition of falling prostrate. Sometimes it is only the Prayer leader and the rabbi who does so. In more traditional congregations, however, some worshipers, men and women, will join the Prayer Leader and rabbi in the act of prostrating themselves. In Israeli synagogues, the practice is more widespread than in synagogues elsewhere. Since this is a position that we are unaccustomed to, one who has never done this before might very well demur. But once accomplished, the experience provides such a spiritual uplift that one looks forward to repeating it. Those willing to try this ancient ritual form on the rare occasions that call for it might welcome the following diagrams of the correct procedure” The rabbi also gave a diagram showing the ancient Jews offered Salah which is very similar to the Salah offered by the Muslims.(see diagram). You can also see this video which shows an orthodox Jew offering Salah like a Muslim - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P8vcHpvcbY
Even the Buddhists who worship one Nirakar God offer the Salah in a way similar to Muslims. Please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBp63YNung0
Therefore, Salah has been the natural way of offering worship to God for all the followers of divine religions and the prophet of Islam also used this process to draw closer to God and attain divine knowledge and guidance even before Salah was made obligatory for Muslims. Since the prophet (pbuh) intuitively averred idol worship, his intuition might have also led him to the belief that the way of offering of Salah by the Jews was the true form of worship to one God as the Jews were the followers of one God.