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A Historical Account of the Islamic Prayer (Namaz) (Part 15): Mehrab, Reciting Surah Fatiha (Opening of the Qur’an) and Talking in the Prayer

 

By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam

17 July, 2014

Mehrab

In every mosque, there is a Mehrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque) that indicates the direction of the Qibla; that is, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca. When Imam leads the prayer of the worshippers, he faces the same direction that Muslims should face when praying. All the Mehrabs in mosques are directed towards the Kaaba. The holy Qur’an contains the word Mehrab in this verse: “So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, "Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of John, confirming a word from Allah and [who will be] honourable, abstaining [from women], and a prophet from among the righteous." (1). This word has been employed for the same meaning in the lexicon of the Jahilis (people of the Pre-Islamic Arabia).

 The word “Mehrab” does not always denote the direction of the Makkah, but rather it is specifically used for a special place in mosques that distinguishes it from the walls indicating the direction of the Kaaba of the Makkah. Later on, artists began to bring out the best of their skills in building the Mehrabs. However, both “Quiblah” and “Mehrab” indicate the direction that should be faced during the Islamic prayers (3).

As far the etymology of the word “Mehrab”, some orientalists hold that its origin has not yet been traced back. Other orientalists, however, are of the view that the word is possibly derived from “Hariba” or “Hareeb”. Some scholars have suggested that the word came from the Ethiopian root “Mekwrab” meaning place of worship. Nevertheless, none of the above views could have been scrutinized (4).

Reciting Surah Fatiha (Opening of the Qur’an) during the Prayer:

Reciting Surah Fatiha (Opening of the Qur’an) during the Salah or Namaz is one of the essential obligations placed on the Muslim worshippers. It has been narrated by Hazrat Ubadah bin Saamit (r.a): “Whosoever does not recite the Surah Fatiha (the opening of the book), his/her prayer is not accurate”. Similarly, it has been narrated by Hazrat Abu Hurairah (r.a): “If a person performed the Islamic prayer without reciting the Surah Fatiha, it will be counted incomplete”.

Since the recitation of the Surah Fatiha is one of the basic tenets of the Salah, it appears as if it was revealed along with the Salah, in the same time and place. But the reality is that Surah Fatiha was revealed a year after the beginning of the divine revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Some scholars have also suggested that it was revealed in Madinah, while some others declared it a “Makkan Surah”. A Hadith report says that the Angel Gabriel (pbuh) came to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and told him that Surah Fatiha was the basic element of the Islamic prayer. It is a common knowledge that the change of the Quiblah occurred in the second Hijrah in Madinah, according to the multitude of views. Therefore, it is probable that the divine commandment for reciting the Surah Fatiha as an obligation must have been revealed in the same time and era. Given this, there should be no importance attached to the statements such as: “Islamic prayer has never been performed without reciting the Surah Fatiha” (5).    

Talking During the Prayer

The prayer is invalidated if the worshipper engages in talk. Since the Islamic prayer or Salah is meant for devotion to Allah, the Almighty and seeking nearness to Him, it is unlawful to talk to anyone or respond to anyone during the prayer. When it is not proper to speak to anyone else when talking to a man of great position, how could it be legitimate to talk to man while supplicating to God? This is the reason why Islam enjoined maintaining silence during the prayer. It was made obligatory upon Muslims a few years after the obligation of the Salah. However, Ulema are not unanimously sure whether the commandment was ordained in Makkah or Madinah.

Before the forbiddance of talking in the prayer, Muslim worshippers used to greet and respond to the people outside the prayer. They would even talk to anyone who communicated to them during the prayer in order to fulfil their daily necessities. They continued to communicate and speak during the prayer until it was forbidden.

It has been narrated by Hazrat Zayd ibn Al-Arqam (r.a), he said: During the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we would speak in our Salah, one of us would speak to his companion when some need arose until God, the Almighty revealed: “Maintain with care the [obligatory] prayers and [in particular] the middle prayer and stand before God, devoutly obedient.” (2:238) And so we were commanded to keep silent (6).  

In the same way, greeting was paid and answered during the Islamic prayers. Hazrat Abdullah Bin Masud (r.a) narrates: “Before we migrated to Abyssinia, we used to greet the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) while he was standing in Salah and he would respond to us. But when we came back from being with the King An-Najashi (in Abyssinia), we would greet him and he would not respond to us. So we said, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah! We conveyed Salaam (greetings) to you while you were in Salah, but you did not respond to us. The Prophet (pbuh) replied: I did not respond to you because I was in the prayer. Allah gives new commands as and when He wishes. So, he has given the new commandment that you must not speak during the prayer (7).

As I have pointed out earlier, Ulema are not unanimously sure whether when was the talking in prayer forbidden. Some scholars are of the view that the forbiddance was revealed in Madina, because the verse containing the forbiddance was sent down in Madina. So, it was revealed after the Hijrah. But a number of scholars hold that the forbiddance was revealed in Makkah. In support of their view, they present the Hadith narrated by Hazrat Abdullah bin Masud in which he says that “Before we migrated to Abyssinia, we used to greet the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) while he was standing in Salah and he would respond to us. But when we came back from being with the King An-Najashi (in Abyssinia), we greeted him but he would not respond to us. So we said, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah! We conveyed Salaam (greetings) to you while you were in Salah, but you did not respond to us. The Prophet (pbuh) then replied: I did not respond to you because I was in the prayer. And Allah has given the new commandment that you must not speak during the prayer”.

It is clear from the above Hadith report that the forbiddance of talking in the prayer was revealed in Makkah a few years before the Hijrah. However, Ulema have not specifically determined any point of time (8).

References:

1 - Al-Imran verse 39.

2 – al-Mufradat, al-Asfahani 110.

3 - al-Mufradat, al-Asfahani, 400.

4 - al-Mufradat, al-Asfahani, 110, Shorter, P., 343.

5 – al-Asbab al-Nuzul, 11

6 - Tafsir al-Tabari 354/2, Tafsir Ibn Kathir 294/1.

7 - Tafsir Ibn Kathir 294/1, Tafsir al-Tabari 354/2.

8 - Tafsir Ibn Kathir 294/1, Tafsir al-Tabari 354/2.

URL for Urdu article:

http://www.newageislam.com/urdu-section/nastik-durrani,-new-age-islam/history-of-namaz-in-islam--the-arch,-reciting-surah-e-fatiha-and-speaking-during-namaz-(15)-(اسلام-میں-نماز-کی-تاریخ---محراب،-نماز-میں-فاتحہ-پڑھنا-اور-بولنا-(15/d/352

URL of Part 14: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-spiritualism/nastik-durrani,-new-age-islam/a-historical-account-of-the-islamic-prayer-or-namaz--quiblah-(part-14)/d/98134

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-spiritualism/nastik-durrani,-new-age-islam/a-historical-account-of-the-islamic-prayer-(namaz)-(part-15)--mehrab,-reciting-surah-fatiha-(opening-of-the-qur’an)-and-talking-in-the-prayer/d/98143

 

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