By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
November 20, 2013
The holy Quran gives references to the existence of the Salah (prayer) in the pre-Islamic Mecca. Allah, the Almighty says: “وَمَا كَانَ صَلَاتُهُمْ عِندَ الْبَيْتِ إِلَّا مُكَاءً وَتَصْدِيَةً” (And their prayer at the House was not except whistling and handclapping) (al-Anfal: 35)
Many Quran exegetes have mentioned that the Arab pagans of Quraysh were accustomed to be nude while worshipping and circumambulating the Kaaba. Their worship consisted of meaningless noise and clamour. The above-mentioned verse contains the word “Salatu-hum” (صَلَاتُهُمْ) which means: “their prayer”. It implies that they used to engage in whistling and clamoring in place of prayer and supplication. It is also said that their acts of worship seemed closer to play and jest than acts of religious devotion (1). The Quraysh pagans were generally inclined to assume that since they were the guardians of the Ka'bah and were also engaged in worship by whistling and clamoring, they were the recipients of God's special favours. But since their worship was devoid of religious devotion and was nothing short of noise, play and jest, it could not win God's favour for them neither it was enjoined upon them (2). It is also said that “why shouldn’t those pagans deserve God’s wrath and punishment when they used to hinder people from offering the Salah in the holy mosque of Mecca. God never chose them as His friends, but those who were hindered from the way of Allah were surely His friends. These people were not able to pray in the holy mosque of Mecca due to hindrances and roadblocks from the pagans whose worship around the House of God (the Ka’aba) was nothing short of whistling and clamoring” (3).
According to some narrators, the background of this revelation (Shan-e-Nuzul) is that when the Quraysh pagans began to sneer at the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) hindering him from circumambulating the Ka’aba or offering Salah in his house, God revealed this verse. It is reported that “When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed in the holy mosque of Mecca, two men from the tribe of Bani Abd al-Dar would start whistling and clamouring, standing beside him, in a mischievous effort to interrupt his prayers (Salah). These men were fated to be killed in the battle of Badr at God’s will (4).
Other narrations say that “the pagans were accustomed to circumambulating the Ka’aba while they were nude and indulged in handclapping, whistling and making noise. Thus, whistling and clamouring were part of their worship. That is why they had chosen a certain place of worship according to their own dogmas. Obviously, a worship containing whistling and clamouring cannot be considered Salah (5).
Atiyah narrated that Ibn Umar (r.a) said: “the pagans would circumambulate the Ka’aba, clap their hands (he described the way clapped), and whistle (he describe the way they whistled) and used to put their cheeks down to the earth. Thereupon, this verse was revealed (6).” So, their prayer consisted of certain movements including Sajdah (prostration), as reported by Hazrat Ibn Umar (r.a).
The aforementioned background of the revelation does not corroborate the Quranic verse, because it talks about the prayer of the pagans, not about the Prophet Muhammad’s prayer (peace be upon him). The clear proof is the use of the Arabic word “صلاتہم” which refers to the people Qurysh. And those indulged in ridiculing the Prophet PBUH were not engaged in any prayer. Furthermore, this explanation of the verse did not appear in many of the commentaries and books of the Quran exegesis. Most of them, rather, indicate that the people of Quryash were accustomed to whistling and clamouring while in prayer, thus, making their worship a meaningless form of play and jest. Therefore, the above-mentioned tafseer (Quranic exegesis) does not stand up to the scrutiny.
It has been, thus, proven that the people of Qurysh would engage in worship and prayer before the advent of Islam, but their prayers were devoid of true devotion and sincerity, as whistling and clamouring is nothing short of playing and jesting that are beneath the dignity of God. Such acts of worship cannot even be called “prayer”.
No wonder, if the people of Quraish indulged in such playful acts of worship. There are, of course, many such religious communities that dance, play music, sing a song when they perform their prayers. For they believe they could earn God’s pleasure by doing all this and thus they have included them in their prayers as obligatory practices. Even today religious dancing is seen in some of the faiths much in the same way as it was done in the era of Quraysh.
The biographers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) have reported that “At the beginning of the day, the Prophet would go to the Ka’aba and offer Salat al-Duha (the afternoon prayer), a prayer that had no objection from the people of Quraysh. The Prophet would engage in this prayer all day long, while two of his companions, Hazrat Ali (r.a) and Hazrt Zaid (r.a) were sitting beside him, continuously gazing at him” (8). Although this report does not show whether the people of the Quraysh practiced the Salat al-Duha or not, one thing could be said for sure; they were well-acquainted with it. That’s, perhaps, why they let the Prophet perform this prayer and did not express anguish or denial to it. However, I would say that the Quraysh were just familiar with this prayer, but they did not perform it.
The notion of Dua in Islam is meant for expressing gratitude and devotion to God and asking for the good. Its synonym in Hebrew language is “Tahnuneem” meaning prayer and invocation, while the words synonymous with “Ruku” (bowing) and “Sujud” (prostration) are “Tephillah” and “Tephloot” in the ancient Hebrew language. Both the words convey the meaning of Salah (prayer). However, they were taken in this specific sense in the latter days the Torah before the word Salah was converted into “Salautha” (9).
Scholars of theology have noted that ancient peoples including Barbarians used to perform such religious acts that could be aptly termed as “Salah” (10). Of late, some of the ancient writings have been discovered that were recited by the Assyrians and Babylonians (11). Primitive religions believed that when worshippers perform the prayer in the best possible way, recite the memorized or written texts and remember and invoke God with His correct names and attributes, He surely comes to their rescue and feels impelled to fulfill their wishes (12).
The adherents of the primitive religions aimed at obtaining their goals and realizing their dreams when in prayer. They did not offer prayers only to express devotion and gratitude to God’s grace and attributes, they, rather, focused on achieving their selfish desires. For they strongly believed that their prayers would earn them benefit or cause harm to them, therefore, they would pray abundantly whenever any catastrophic or miserable situation fell upon them, hoping that doing that would please God and earn His favour.
Most of the faiths have divided their prayers into obligatory and non-obligatory. Obligatory prayers have to be performed for God, as He has enjoined them upon His servants. As for non-obligatory prayers, they are virtuous and commendable but not compulsory. Therefore, a person who leaves them does not deserve God’s punishment. Such prayers are performed by those who wish to attain close personal relationship with God.
Jews and Christians are reported to have given up some of the prayers that their forefathers used to offer. That’s precisely why the number of their prayers has been considerably reduced as compared to the past. Moreover, they have also declined to cling to the fixed times of their prayers (14).
Similarly, there are two kinds of prayer in Islam: (1) obligatory, the prayers to be performed regularly five times a day, within their scheduled times. (2) Non-obligatory, the voluntary prayers that have been categorized into Sunnat, Mustahab and Nafil (15).
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