By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
November 22, 2013
Every religion has its own way of worshipping, in conformity with its specific doctrines and notions of showing reverence to God or gods. Some religions have shaped their prayers in a way that makes them look just like silence and meditation, while some others have ordained particular movements and certain words to be recited during the prayer.
However, standing before the God or gods during the prayer has been considered as the pillar of majority of the world religions. Then comes the status of bowing (Ruku) and prostrating (Sujud) in the prayer. In olden days, prostrating was performed just after standing before the idols as a sign of showing respect and reverence to them. In Judaism, the only correct way to perform Sujud is prostrating before the God (1), whereas prostrating before man is treated as idol worship in it (2).
Arabs demonstrated great disdain for Ruku (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating), as they felt humiliation and disgrace for themselves in adopting the two ways of worshipping God. They were particularly ashamed of prostrating as they had to raise their hips during the Sujud, which was an act of humiliation for them. That’s why it was hard for Arabs to accept the Salah as their formal way of worship.
When a delegation of the Arabian tribe Bani Saqeef came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the ninth Hijri, they asked him for relaxation in two things: (1) destroying their hand-made idols with their own hands (2) performing Salah (Namaz). Whereupon the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “You are given exemption from destroying your own idols with your own hands. But as for the prayer (Salah), no religion can benefit from giving it up. They said: O Muhammad (peace be upon him), we could offer Salah, if you say, though we feel humiliation in it” (3).
We only find the mention of Ruku (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating) in the holy Quran, but we don’t find any verse telling us about how many times they should be performed. The first mention of Ruku in the holy Quran is in the Surah Saad where it says: “And David became certain that We had tried him, and he asked forgiveness of his Lord and fell down bowing [in prostration] and turned in repentance [to Allah]” (4). Surah Saad was revealed in Mecca. This is the only Meccan Surah that mentions the word of Ruku (bowing). All other Surahs which mention this word were revealed in Medina.
However, the words “Sujud” (prostration) and “Sajidun” (those who prostrate) have been mentioned several times in both Meccan and Medinite Surahs. The word Sujud has been mentioned In Meccan Surahs even long before the Surah Saad was revealed.
The daily five prayers put together all elements of humility and devoutness towards God, such as standing, sitting, bowing and prostrating. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions. A sick person, for instance, is allowed to offer Namaz the way he/she is comfortable with, depending on his/her physical capacity.
Prayer in Congregation
Although religions have not enjoined upon their followers worshipping God in congregation, they did declare it a virtuous deed and, hence, encouraged them to go in groups to their places of worship and pray together. For praying in congregation is a means to establish unity, integrity and brotherhood.
When praying in congregation, a group of people stands in a straight parallel row. Islamic schools of thought have determined a particular number of people for a prayer congregation to be held. Some Muslim jurists stated that at least two persons must be there to hold a prayer congregation, while some others hold that congregational prayer can only be performed when three are three persons, at least, to pray together (5).
If we trace back the historical origin of congregational prayer, depending on the accounts of Islamic jurists, we will find that it started right from the day the Salah was revealed as an obligation on Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) offered his Salah with his wife Hazrat Khadija (r.a) Thus, he performed his first prayer in congregation. Then, he prayed with Hazrat Khadija (r.a) and Hazrat Ali (r.a). Afterwards, more people joined him as they embraced Islam. The Prophet led their prayers in congregation, although they were very small in number. In Median, their congregations greatly increased in number as the entire people of Medina came into fold of Islam. Even before the arrival of the Prophet PBUH, some believers of Medina would pray in congregation. Those were the people of Ansar (Helpers) who accepted Islam and pledged allegiance (gave their Bay'a) to the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) while he was still in Mecca. The Prophet PBUH had particularly emphasized the performance of Salah to them. Therefore, their knowledgeable people used to lead their prayers in congregation. When the Prophet PBUH arrived in Median, he himself began to lead their prayers.
Leading prayer congregations is not a profession or hereditary status in Islam. It is rather left to the discretion of the worshippers. They can select whosoever they want to be their Imam. But just after an Imam finishes the prayer, his Imamat (leadership) too ends with it. It is not allowed for an Imam to demand any sum of remuneration for his religious services, because being an Imam is completely voluntary and temporary in Islam. This is the reason that any sane and religiously knowledgeable person can lead the prayer in congregation.
As per need, the Prophet (peace be upon him) chose some knowledgeable persons among Muslims to play the role of Islamic jurists and teach the matters of religion to the new comers to Islam. They were also assigned with leading their congregational prayers. Following in the Prophet’s footsteps, his companions too chose some people to lead the prayer congregations and teach the religious injunctions to the common Muslim masses. In order to provide their livelihood and ensure complete freedom from financial strains, the Muslim Caliphs had earmarked some amount of money for them in Bait al-mal (House of Wealth, it was an Islamic financial institution responsible for the administration of taxes in the early Islamic Caliphate).This paved the way for them to be actively and fully engaged in conducting religious services, resulting into a new trend of Imamat prevalent today as a profession in common Muslim societies.
Despite the differences in schools of thought, there are unanimous theological edicts on the conditions and pre-requisites of leading prayer in congregation.
In Judaism, a character namely “Shelih has-Sibbur” has been mentioned as a leader of congregational prayers. He is reported to have been officially assigned with this service (6).
1- Book of Genesis, chapter 24, verse 26 and 48, thesaurus Jerusalem Book 549/1.
2 - Daniel, chapter 3, verse 4, thesaurus Jerusalem Book 549/1.
3 - al-Tabari, 99/3, Dar al-Maarif.
4 - Surah Sad, Verse 24.
5 - Ibn Ishaq al-Serazi al-Tanbeeh 31, Ibn Majah, Iqamah, fifth chapter, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Masajid, Hadith 269.
6- Becker, Der Islam III, 386, Mittwoch, S., 22, Shorter Ency., P. 496.