Bismillah. This is about some of the beautiful symbolism and meaning behind the salat or ritual prayer, one of the five pillars of Islam and to be performed at least five times a day. When the salat is reduced to pure ritual without any understanding of the Arabic words or of the symbolism of the actions, many inward and outward problems arise, God forbid! But the salat is the believer’s daily ascension (mi’raj) and communion with God: it is up to us to deepen this daily experience of ours. It is the Muslim’s daily practice of mindfulness, meditation and remembrance, to develop a deep wellspring of love, faith and humility to equip us for life’s individual, social and political challenges. May God continue to bless our journeys!
All italicised phrases are from the Qur’an and Sunna; references are omitted for ease of reading and clarity: this is not an academic article, but an attempt to elucidate certain indications and symbols, with the hope of helping people on their own journeys.
With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful
INNER AND OUTER ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC RITUAL PRAYER (SALAT)
- Prayer times: Time is sacred (God says, I am Time); we offer each prayer within its time in order to share in the sacredness of every part of the day and night, and to give thanks for that portion of sacred time.
- Washing (ablutions) before prayer: we cleanse our limbs and hearts of wrongdoing.
- Ablutions are nullified by toilet or sexual acts: these represent our basic animal natures, so we wash again to symbolise recovering our angelic natures in order to stand before God.
- Facing Mecca: The Ka’bah, as the House of God, symbolises the heart, which is also the House of God. Whilst facing Mecca outwardly, we turn inwardly to face the home of God at the centre and core of our being. So turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque!
- Standing in straight rows: we are in fellowship, equal before God, and imitating the ranks of the angels. The hearts of the people of Paradise beat as one … By Those Who Stand in Ranks!
- Raising the hands at the beginning of the prayer: symbolises the “lifting of the veil” between us and God. In prayer, we are talking directly to our Lord.
- Standing before God in prayer: facing up to life as a journey to God; a foretaste and preparation for standing before God on Judgment Day.
- Keeping the eyes open, rather than closed, in prayer: do not be veiled by multiplicity from Unity, nor by Unity from multiplicity.
- Lowering the head and looking at the ground (if practised): humility before God.
- Keeping the chin up and looking straight ahead towards Mecca (if practised): facing life, and one’s inward reality, directly.
- Folding the arms across the body (if practised): the servant’s pose before the Master.
- Reciting the Opening Chapter of the Qur’an (Surat al-Fatiha): we are sharing in a communion with God. God says, I have divided the prayer between Me and My servant …
- Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds; All-Merciful, Most Merciful; Master and King of the Day of Judgment: God says, These belong to Me, as our glorification is of God.
- You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help: God says, This is (shared) between Me and My servant; the God-human relationship.
- Guide us to the Straight Path; the path of those whom You have favoured, who neither receive (Your) anger nor stray: God says, These belong to My servant, and My servant shall have whatever he or she requests.
- Reciting further from the Qur’an: the remembrance of God continues; God and the angels bear witness to it. Truly, the recitation at dawn was witnessed.
- Bowing: humility before God; bearing life’s hardships, followed by standing tall again.
- Prostration, with forehead, nose, hands, knees and feet pressed to the ground: ultimate humility before God; one is closest to God in this posture, which is outwardly humiliation, inwardly elevation; our hearts are higher than our brains, whilst the rest of the time, our brains are higher than our hearts; Pray hard, for your prayers are most likely to be accepted in this position; death.
- The second prostration, after a brief sitting: the second death, at the blowing of the Horn. Our Lord! You caused us to die twice, and to live twice …
- In prayer, do not sit like a dog, peck like a cockerel or squat like a monkey: throughout prayer, we must rise above our animal natures and try to inhabit our angelic natures.
- Standing, bowing, prostration: the body forms the Arabic letters Alif (A), Dal (D) and Mim (M) respectively, hence spelling Adam during the prayer; we are seeking our original Paradisal, primordial humanity before the Fall through our communion with God.
[In Hebrew and Arabic, the Aleph/Alif (A) also signifies the number 1, so “Adam” is identical to “1 dam” meaning “one blood”: humanity is united; we have different skin colours, but we bleed the same colour. Red blood cells have no DNA (although white ones do), so in a sense blood represents our common humanity – much of it does not have our unique, genetic fingerprints that are found in every other of the trillions of cells of our body.]
- Standing, bowing, prostration: the body forms a straight line, right angle and (semi-)circle respectively, the bases of all geometry and form; we are signifying that we are at one with Nature and its beautiful forms. God is Beautiful, and loves Beauty.
- Sitting in remembrance of God at the end of the prayer: a foretaste of the eternal rest in Paradise.
- The prayer ends with the greeting of peace (salam): Their greeting on the Day they meet Him is Peace; Their greeting there (in the Garden) is Peace; they hear no vain or sinful talk, only the words, Peace, Peace!
London, Ramadan 1436 / June 2015