By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
14 February, 2014
After we have had a brief account of the meaning, number and timings of Namaz (Islamic prayer), we should now come back to the main theme of the article, that is; the history of Namaz in Islam. I would rather say that the decree of Namaz (Salah) in Islam did not come at once, but it was revealed gradually, first in Mecca and then in Medina. Thus, It was completed after the Prophet (peace be upon him) migrated to Medina. We also get to know that the Prophet’s prayers consisted of only two Rak’ats when he was in Mecca, but they increased in number when he migrated to Medina. Moreover, prayers were categorized into Salat ul Muqeem (non-traveler’s prayer) and Salat ul Musafir (traveler’s prayer). In addition, some more prayers were introduced in Medina whereas they were never offered in Mecca. All this happened because of the nature of the Prophethood that attained its perfection after the Prophet’s migration to Medina. Since Namaz is one of the main pillars of Islam, its edicts progressed with the evolution of Islam.
A Muslim is supposed to offer prayers five times a day, as it has been enjoined upon them in the holy Quran. Some biographers of the Seerah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) have narrated that the origin of Namaz goes back to the very day when the angel Gabriel (a.s) was sent down to the Prophet to tell him that he was chosen by God to convey His message to humankind. The compilers of the Seerah report that the angel Gabriel (a.s) taught the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) how to perform Wuzoo (ablution) and offer Salat (Islamic prayer). The angel Gabriel (a.s) himself performed Wuzoo to demonstrate it to the Prophet, so he followed him. Similarly, Gabriel (a.s) also offered the Salat so that the Prophet could learn it properly. When the time of revelation ended, the Prophet (peace be upon him) hurried to his wife Hazrat Khadija (r.a) to teach her Wuzoo and Salat the way he was taught by the angel (1).
There are some more Seerah reports that fully corroborate the aforementioned traditions except for the matter of determining the day when the angel Gabriel (a.s) was sent down to the Prophet PBUH and taught him Wuzoo and Namaz. These reports do not point to any particular day (2). Therefore, we cannot infer from these narrations and Seerah reports whether what was the particular day when the Islamic prayer was made obligatory.
Nafi' bin Jubair bin Mut'im narrates that after the Salat was enjoined upon the Messenger of God (peace be upon him), Gabriel came and offered the prayer (Fajr prayer) and Allah's Apostle prayed too, then he prayed again (Zuhar prayer) and so did Allah's Apostle and again he prayed (`Asr prayers and Allah's Apostle did the same; again he prayed (Maghrib-prayer) and so did Allah's Apostle and again he prayed (`Isha prayer) and so did Allah's Apostle and then Gabriel said, 'I was ordered to do so to demonstrate the prayers prescribed to you.” (3)
Nowhere in the above-mentioned narration (by Nafi’ bin Jubair bin Mut'im) have we got any clue about the exact day of the commencing of the obligatory Islamic prayer. What is popular among the Ulema (Islamic scholars) is that Islamic prayer (namaz) was made obligatory on the night of the al-Isra (a Night Journey that, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Muhammad PBUH took during a single night). They hold that during this night four obligatory prayers were prescribed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) (4). However, they disagree over the determination of the night of al-Isra. Some opine that the night occurred three years before the Prophet’s migration to Medina, while others hold that it happened just a year before that. According to some of Seerah reports, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was 51 years and nine months old when he took the night journey of al-Isra. It is also reported that the al-Isra took place at Aqabah where the allegiance was taken from people of al-Ansar. There are some other reports pointing out that it happened 15 months after the Prophet Muhammad’s declaration of his prophethood. (5)
All this implies that the daily five prayers were made obligatory at some point of the disputed time (6). From the above-mentioned reports about the night journey of al-Isra, some scholars inferred that there was not a single obligatory prayer before the al-Isra, neither on the Prophet (peace be upon him) nor on his Ummah, except for the Tahajjud prayer that the Prophet (peace be upon him) regularly offered. With the daily five obligatory prayers enjoined upon Muslims on the night journey of al-Isra, the obligation of the Tahajjud prayer was abrogated. (7)
Ibn Hajar al-Haitami says: “Initially, people were only commanded to profess faith in Tawheed (the oneness of God). Later on, they were obliged to offer the obligatory prayers mentioned in Surah al-Muzammil. Then, they all were abrogated with the commencing of the five daily prayers. Afterwards, obligatory practices gradually increased in Medina where Islam gained momentum and won over the hearts of larger number of people.” (8)
1- Ibn-e- Hisham 155/1, al-Seerah al-Halbiyah252/1 and the following pages, Ibn al-Atheer 22/2, al-Tabri 304/2 Darul Ma’arif, al-Raudul Anf 162/1 and the following pages.
2- al-Tabri 307/2
3- Seerat Ibn-e-Hisham 156/1
4- Ibn-e-Hisham 246/1 and the following pages, al-Tajreed al-Sareeh 34/1 and the following pages, al-Seerah al-Halbiyah 301/1 and the following pages, Tafseer al-Tabri 4/15 and the following pages, Tafsee Ibn-e-Kathir 2/3 and the following pages.
5- al-Maqreezi, Imtaul Ism’a 29/1, Ibn Syedun Naas, Ayunul Athar Fi Fununil Maghazi wal-Shamail wal-Siyar 140/1 and the following pages, Tafseer Ibn-e-Kathir 2/3 and the following pages.
6- al-Rauzul Anf 162/1 and the following pages, 251 and the following pages.
7- al-Seerah al-Halbiyah 302/1
8- al-Seerah al-Halbiyah 302/1