By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
26 February, 2014
It is narrated by Hazrat Muqatil Bin Sulaiman that “Allah made obligatory two cycles (Rak’ats) of prayer at the dawn and two more in the evening” (1). It is also mentioned that the Prophet (pbuh) would go to the Ka’ba in the beginning of the day and perform the dawn prayer. The people of Quraish would not refuse the Prophet to engage in it. The Prophet’s companions, in person or in groups, would go to different parts of the city to perform the evening prayer (Salat-ul-Asr). They used to perform two prayers: the dawn prayer (Salat al-Duha) and the evening prayer (Asr). Later, the five daily prayers were sent down (2). So, Muslims had two prayers in the initial days: Salat al-Duha (the dawn prayer) and Salat al-Asha (the evening prayer), which is also known as Salat-ul-Asr (3). This opinion is based on the collective consensus (Ijm’a) of the Majority of Ulema.
A well-known Islamic scholar “Al-Muzni” mentions that there was a pre-dawn prayer before the Salat-ul-Isra and another prayer before the sunrise. Those who endorse this opinion turn to this verse from the Quran: “So be patient, [O Muhammad]. Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth. And ask forgiveness for your sin and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.” (4).
Both the aforementioned prayers consisted of two cycles (Rak’ats). Therefore, they were called “Salat al-Raka’tain” meaning prayer of two cycles (5). It was performed as an obligatory prayer in the lifetime of the Prophet’s wife Hazrat Khadija (May God be pleased with her) (6). As long as Muslims remained in Mecca, they kept performing two Rak’ats (cycles) of prayer. But after they migrated to Madina, the prayers were increased in number and the prayer of two Rak’ats was made exclusively specific for the travellers, as we are going to take it further.
What I have mentioned earlier is that the Islamic prayer, initially, consisted of two Raka’ts (cycles) until the Salat-ul-Isra was revealed. This is a unanimous opinion based on the consensus of Ulema. As regards the reports telling that all the daily prayers were ordained on the very first day of divine revelation, they starkly contradict with the unanimous statement of Ulema who hold that the prayers were ordained during the event of Isra. Also, they do not corroborate the report that two prayers i.e. the dawn prayer (Fajr) and the evening prayer (Asr, which is also known as Salat-ul-Asha) were being performed before the event of Isra (7).
Each of the five daily prayers which were ordained in the night of Isr’a consisted of two cycles (Rak’ats) (8). As for the narrations proving that the prayers were made incumbent upon Muslims before the event of Isr’a, they are not agreed upon by the majority of Ulema. On the contrary, most of them have developed collective consensus (Ijm’a) on the obligation of the five daily prayers being decreed during the incident of Isr’a.
As far as Ibn Hajar al-Haitami is concerned, I have mentioned his statement earlier saying that: “Initially, people were held accountable only for the doctrine of Tawheed (belief in oneness of God). This preliminary condition lasted for a long period. Afterwards, they were commanded to perform the prayers mentioned in the Surah al-Muzammil. But, later, they were abrogated by the commandment of the five daily prayers. Thus, religious obligations were gradually increasing in number. Just as Islam won the hearts of people and spread far and wide, so was the gradual increase in the number of religious duties.” (9). Some Ulema maintain that the Surah al-Muzammil is the third chapter of the holy Quran in chronological order with the exception of its last part, which was revealed in Mecca” (10). However, the twentieth verse is what contains: “And establish the prayer and give away charity”.
I don’t think that Ibn Hajar intended to quote this verse; he rather referred to the Meccan part of this Surah which details Quiyam-ul-Lail (standing in the prayer at night) and recitation of the holy verses of the Quran in prayer. This is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions were accustomed to do. They continued it until the divine revelation was sent down in Medina with its twentieth verse which abrogated it, as it was more burdensome. This verse clearly explained to them what they were assigned to do: “Indeed, your Lord knows, [O Muhammad], that you stand [in prayer] almost two thirds of the night or half of it or a third of it, and [so do] a group of those with you. And Allah determines [the extent of] the night and the day. He has known that you [Muslims] will not be able to do it and has turned to you in forgiveness, so recite what is easy [for you] of the Qur'an. He has known that there will be among you those who are ill and others travelling throughout the land seeking [something] of the bounty of Allah and others fighting for the cause of Allah. So recite what is easy from it and establish prayer and give away charity and loan Allah a goodly loan.”
However, we have no idea about what was recited by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions in their prayers of two cycles before or even after the first revelation, as the Surah Fatiha was revealed much later than that (11).