The Prayers

1. What Is The Philosophy Behind Wudu And Ghusl?

1. What is the philosophy behind Wudu1 and Ghusl2?

Undoubtedly, Wudu possesses two manifest benefits - the medical benefit and the ethical and spiritual one. From the medical point of view, washing of the face and hands five times a day or at the very least, three times a day, has an appreciable influence as far as the cleanliness of the body is concerned. Wiping the head and the exterior portion of the feet - the condition here being that the water reaches the hair and the skin - means that we keep these portions clean too. We shall allude later when discussing the philosophy of ghusl, that the contact of water with skin has a special effect in achieving the equilibrium of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves of the body.

As for the ethical and spiritual aspect, since it is performed for Allah and with the intention of pleasing Him, it possesses an educative influence; especially since its implicit meaning - from head to toe I strive to obey You - serves to corroborate this ethical and spiritual philosophy.

In a tradition, Imam 'Ali Ibn Musa al-Ridha (a.s) says: “The reason why the order for (the performance of) Wudu has been issued, and (the reason) why the acts of worship should commence by it is that when the servants stand before Allah and converse with Him, they should be clean, away from uncleanness and pollution, and act in accordance with His orders. Apart from this, Wudu eliminates drowsiness and lethargy from man so that the heart can acquire the purity and luminosity for standing in the presence of Allah.”3

When we explain the philosophy of ghusl, the philosophy of Wudu should become more clear.

Philosophy Of Ghusl

Some people question: Why does Islam order a person in the state of 'janabat’4 to wash his entire body whereas it is only a particular organ that becomes unclean? Is there a difference between urinal emission and seminal discharge so as to necessitate the washing of only the organ, in the former, but the entire body, in the latter?

There are two answers to this question - one brief and the other comprehensive.

The brief answer is that the discharge of semen from the human body is not an act that is restricted to just one part of the body (unlike urine and other body wastes), a claim which is substantiated by the fact that the effect of the discharge becomes manifest on the entire body. Subsequent to a discharge, all the cells of the body slip into a characteristic lethargy; which is an indication of its effect on all the parts of the body.


Studies conducted by scientists reveal that within the human body there exist two vegetative nervous networks which control and regulate all the activities of the body. These two nervous networks - the sympathetic nerves and the parasympathetic nerves - are spread out throughout the body and around all the internal and external systems and tracts.

The function of the sympathetic nerves is to accelerate and stimulate the activities of the various tracts of the body, whereas the parasympathetic nerves function to decelerate and diminish them. In effect, one plays the role of the accelerator of an automobile while the other plays the role of the brakes; with a balanced functioning of these two sets of nerves, the systems of the body work in a balanced and normal manner.

At times certain occurrences in the body disrupt this balance and equilibrium - one of these being the issue of 'orgasm', which is usually contemporaneous with a seminal discharge.

In such cases, the parasympathetic nerves (the decelerating nerves) tend to take a lead over the sympathetic nerves and consequently disrupt the equilibrium, negatively.

It has also been established that amongst the things that could force the sympathetic nerves into activity and re-establish the lost equilibrium is contact of water with the body, and since the effect of orgasm is noticeably felt on all parts of the body and the equilibrium existing between these two sets of nerves is disrupted all over the body, hence it has been ordered that after sexual intercourse or seminal discharge the entire body should be washed with water so that as a result of its regenerative effect, equilibrium is once again established between these two sets of nerves all over the body.5

Of course, the benefits of ghusl are not just confined to the above for, in addition to this, it is also a form of worship whose ethical influence cannot be denied. It is for this reason that if the body is washed without the intention of seeking His pleasure and in compliance with His orders, the ghusl would be deemed to be incorrect. In reality, seminal discharge or sexual intercourse tends to affect the soul as well as the body - the soul gets drawn towards material pleasures, while the body is overcome by listlessness and stagnation.

The ghusl of janabat,6 which is a washing of the body and also of the soul (due to its being performed in compliance with Allah's orders and with the intention of seeking His pleasure), exercises a two-fold effect upon the soul and the body - leading the soul towards Allah and spirituality while at the same time leading the body towards cleanliness, liveliness and activity.

In addition to the above, the obligation of the ghusl of janabat is an Islamic compulsion for maintaining cleanliness of the body and observance of hygiene throughout the life. There are numerous individuals, who are neglectful of their cleanliness and hygiene, but this Islamic ruling forces them to wash themselves at regular intervals and keep themselves clean. This is not specific to the people of the past eras, for even in our times there are numerous such individuals, who, for various reasons, tend to be neglectful of their cleanliness and hygiene (however, this is a general and universal rule which includes even one who has recently washed his body).

The abovementioned three aspects clearly illustrate why the ghusl ought to be performed and the entire body washed after a seminal discharge (sleeping or awake) and similarly, after sexual intercourse (even if not accompanied by a seminal discharge.

2. What Is The Philosophy Behind Tayammum?

2. What is the Philosophy behind Tayammum?7

Numerous people question as to what benefit could the hitting of hands upon the earth and then wiping them over the forehead and the back of the hands possibly possess, especially in the light of our knowledge that very many kinds of soil are dirty, polluted and a medium for the transfer of microbes?

In answering such objections, attention ought to be paid to two points:

1. The Ethical Benefit

Tayammum is one of the acts of worship in which the 'soul' of worship - in the true meaning of the word - becomes manifest. This is because man wipes his forehead, which is the most honourable portion of his body, by means of his hands that have been struck upon the earth in order to exhibit his humbleness and humility towards his Lord as if to say:

My forehead and my hands are totally humble and subservient in Your presence - after which, he proceeds to engage himself in prayers or other acts of worship that require Wudu or ghusl. This, in itself, has a great effect in developing within the people a spirit of humility, subservience and thanksgiving.

2. The Sanitary Benefit

Today, it has been established that soil, due to its containing numerous bacteria, is able to do away with contamination and pollution. These bacteria, whose work is to decompose organic substances and eliminate various kinds of infections, are generally located, in numerous numbers, on the surface of the earth or at less depths, where they are better able to benefit from the air and sunlight.

It is for this reason that an animal carcass or a human body - when buried after death, and similarly polluted matter that is on the surface of the earth - get decomposed in a comparatively short period, and in the face of bacterial attack, the infection gets destroyed. Surely, if the soil were not to have possessed such a characteristic, the entire planet, in a short period, would have transformed into a centre of infection. Essentially, soil possesses a property that is similar to an antibiotic and is extraordinarily effective in eliminating microbes.

Thus, pure soil is not only uncontaminated but instead, serves to eliminate contamination and in this respect it can, to a certain extent, be a substitute for water - the difference being that water is the dissolver, meaning that it dissolves the bacteria and carries it with itself whereas soil eliminates the microbes.

But it ought to be noted that the earth for tayammum should always be pure (Tahir), just as the Qur’an employing an interesting expression8 says: طَيِّبا 9

Interestingly, the use of the word صَعِيْد 10, which has been derived from the root صُعُوْد 11, is an allusion to the fact that it is better to use the soil lying on the surface of the ground for this purpose - the same soil, which receives the air and the sunshine, and contains the microbe-killing bacteria. If such a soil also happens to be pure, then tayammum by means of it shall possess the above benefits without carrying the slightest of detriment.12

3. What Is The Manner Of Washing The Face, And Wiping The Head And The Feet In Wudu?

Verse number 6 of Surah al-Maidah makes a mention of all those things that bring about the purification of man's soul and hence, a considerable portion of the rulings associated with Wudu, ghusl and tayammum, which bring about purification of the soul, have been explained therein. Initially the believers are addressed and the rulings related to Wudu, are mentioned as follows:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْـتُمْ إِلـى الصَّلاَةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَ أَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلـى الْمَرافِقِ وَ امْسَحُوا بِرُؤُسِكُمْ وَ أَرْجُــلَكُمْ إِلـى الْكَعْـبَيْنِ‏

“O you who believe! When you rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles.” (5:6).

In this verse the portion of the hand that ought to be washed during Wudu has been mentioned, since مَراَفِق is the plural of مِرْفَق - meaning elbow. Since it is possible that when it is said “wash your hands”, it could be thought that they should be washed till the wrists - as this is the measure that is generally washed - the verse, in order to do away with this misconception, specifies 'as far as the elbows' (إِلَى الْمَرافِقِ).

From the above explanation it becomes clear that the word إِلـىَ in the verse is only for mentioning the limits of washing and not the manner of washing as some have imagined - having taken the verse to mean: Wash the hands from the tips of the fingers towards the elbows (as is prevalent amongst a group from amongst the Ahlus Sunnah).

The above issue is similar to the case when a person instructs a worker to paint the walls of a room from the floor up to a height of one meter. It is plainly evident that it is not intended that the wall should be painted from the bottom towards the top - rather, it means that this is the portion that has to be painted - neither more nor less.

Hence, only the extent that needs to be necessarily washed has been mentioned in the verse; however, as far as the manner of washing is concerned, it has been mentioned in the traditions of the Noble Prophet (S) that have reached us by means of the Ahlul Bayt G, and it is to wash the hands from the elbows towards the fingertips.

The letter (ب), which is found in the word (بِرُؤُسِكُمْ) - according to the explicit statements of some of the traditions and clear opinions of some of the lexicographers - is used to denote 'a part' (or portion) - as such the meaning conveyed by the verse is: 'Wipe a portion of your heads' which, in our traditions, has been delineated as the anterior one-fourth region of the head and this one-fourth portion ought to be wiped with the hand, however small be the measure of wiping.

It follows that the practice which is prevalent amongst some of the Sunni groups, who wipe their entire heads and even their ears, is inconsistent with the meaning conveyed by the verse.

The word أَرْجُلَكُمْ being located next to بِرُؤُسِكُمْ is a testimony to the fact that the legs should also be wiped and not washed. (And if we observe that during recitation, أَرْجُلَكُمْ is recited such that (ل) possesses the fathah (the vowel point for 'a'), this is due to it being superimposed upon the place of بِرُؤُسِكُمْ and not on the word وُجُوهَكُمْ13 and 14

4. What Is The Need To Face The Qiblah In Prayers?

Verse number 115 of Surah al-Baqarah states:

وَ لِلٌّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَ الْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللٌّهِ‏

“To Allah belong the east and the West: Whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of Allah.” (2:115).

In consideration of the above verse the question that comes to mind is: If Allah is present wherever we face, what then is the need to face the Qiblah (during the prayers)?

(The order for) facing the Qiblah is not at all intended to confine the presence of the Holy Allah in a particular direction. However, since man is a material entity and thus, must necessarily face a direction while offering his prayers, it has been ruled that all should face one particular direction during their prayers. This is with the objective of realizing unity and harmony amongst the Muslims, and preventing confusion, disorder and scattering amongst them. Just reflect how scathing and disorderly it would be if each person were to offer his prayers in a different direction and the people were to establish scattered rows (for the prayers)?

Incidentally, the direction that has been stipulated as the Qiblah (the direction towards the Ka'bah) is a region that is not only holy but also one of the most ancient bases of monotheism and so, directing oneself towards it serves to awaken the monotheistic reminiscences (within oneself).15

5. What Secrets Lay Behind The Changing Of The Qiblah?

The change of Qiblah from Bayt al-Maqdas to the holy Ka'bah was a puzzle for everyone; those who were of the opinion that every rule ought to be permanent and unchanging, mused: If we had to necessarily pray in the direction of the Ka'bah, why was it not ordered from the very onset? If Bayt al-Maqdas, which had been regarded as the Qiblah for the previous prophets was superior, why then was it changed?

The enemies too found the issue a fertile ground to poison the minds of the people. They probably might have said: At the start he (S) turned towards the Qiblah of the previous prophets but after tasting victories he was overcome by racial and nationalistic tendencies and therefore substituted it with the Qiblah of his own people!

Or they might have said: He initially accepted Bayt al-Maqdas to be his Qiblah in order to attract the Jews and the Christians towards his religion, but later, when he observed that it did not prove effective, he changed it to the Ka'bah.

The agitation and commotion that these whisperings must have generated - especially in a society in which the sediments of the eras of idolatry and polytheism still existed, and one that had yet to be completely illuminated by the light of knowledge, science, and faith - is all too evident.

As a result, the Qur’an explicitly states in verse 143 of Surah al-Baqarah16 that this was a great trial to discern the stance adopted by the believers and the polytheists.

It is not improbable that one of the important reasons for the change in Qiblah could be the following issue:

In that period, since the Ka'bah had been the hub for the idols of the polytheists it was ordered that the Muslims should temporarily offer their prayers in the direction of Bayt al-Maqdas and in this way separate their ranks and disassociate themselves from the polytheists. But when they emigrated to Madinah and established their own community and rule, and when their ranks were completely demarcated from that of the others, it was not necessary to continue with the existing posture and hence they returned towards the holy Ka'bah, the most ancient focal point of the prophets and the centre of monotheism.

It is plainly evident that offering prayers in the direction of Bayt al-Maqdas was very difficult for those, who regarded the Ka'bah to be the spiritual edifice of their own tribe, and equally difficult was the return towards the Ka'bah, after having become habituated to the first Qiblah.

In this manner the believers were placed in a crucible of examination in order that the traces of polytheism, which still existed within themselves, get burnt away in the hot furnace of this test, they sever their association with their polytheistic past, and there develops within them the spirit of absolute submission before the orders of Allah.

Basically, just as we have previously mentioned, Allah does not possess any place or location; the Qiblah is just a code for establishing unity within the ranks of the believers and reviving the reminiscences of monotheism and so, changing it would not transform anything. The important thing is to submit to His commands and shatter the idols of fanaticism, stubbornness and egotism.17

6. What Is The Philosophy Of Prayers?

In Surah al-'Ankabut, verse number 45, mentions an important philosophy with respect to the prayers when it says:

إِنَّ الصَّلاةَ تَنْهى‏ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ

“Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil.” (29:45).

Since prayers remind man of two of the most powerful deterrents - the Origin and the Resurrection - it thus possesses a deterring influence with regards to indecency and evil.

A person, who stands up for prayers, recites Allahu Akbar and regards Allah to be superior to and greater than everything else. Recollecting His bounties, he praises Him and offers his thanksgiving. He eulogizes Him for His Compassion and Mercy, and brings to mind the Day of Judgment; professing his servitude, he yearns for His help, seeks the Straight Path from Him and implores Him to protect him from treading the path of the deviated ones and those, who earn His anger (the theme of Surah al-Hamd).

Undoubtedly, the heart and the soul of such a person shall experience an impulse towards truth, purity and piety.

He goes into ruku' for Allah and places his forehead on the ground in His august presence. Drowned in His grandeur, he shoves his egoism and superiority complex into oblivion.

He testifies to His Unity and the prophethood of the Noble Prophet (S).

He sends salutations upon the Noble Prophet (S) and beseeches Allah to place him amongst His righteous servants (tashahhud and salam).

All these acts create within him a tidal wave of spirituality, which is reckoned to be a strong barrier against sins.

This act is repeated several times in a day; when he rises up in the morning he gets immersed in His remembrance; in the middle of the day when he is totally engrossed in the material life he suddenly hears the muezzin calling the people to prayers. Interrupting his schedule he hastens to present himself before Him. Even at the end of the day and before sliding into the relaxing comforts of his bed he engages himself in a communion with his Lord, illuminating his heart with His Light.

In addition to the above, as he engages himself in the preliminaries of the prayers, he washes and cleans himself and keeps away usurped and forbidden things from himself after which he proceeds to present himself before his Friend. All these things effectively serve as a deterrent, preventing him from treading the path of indecency and evil.

But ultimately, every prayer shall only keep one away from evil and indecency in the same measure as the conditions of perfection and the spirit of worship, which it happens to possess. At times it keeps one away from evil, completely and wholly, whereas at other times it does so partially and incompletely.

It is impossible that a person offers his prayers but they do not have any effect on him - however superficial the prayer and however polluted the person. Obviously, the effects of such prayers are less, but had such individuals not been offering these prayers, they might have been in a much more polluted state.

Stating this more clearly, 'refraining from indecency and evil' possesses numerous levels and ranks, and every prayer, depending upon the conditions of the prayers that have been taken into consideration (while offering it), possesses some of these ranks

It has been reported in a tradition that a youth from the Ansar (Helpers) used to offer his prayers with the Noble Prophet (S), but despite this, he was prone to committing sins and evil deeds. When this was brought to the notice of the Noble Prophet (S), he said:

إِنَّ صَلاَتَهُ تَنْهاهُ يَوْماً.

“His prayers deter him for one day (only).”18

This effect of the prayers is so significant that some of the traditions refer to it as a gauge for distinguishing the accepted prayers from those that that are not. As Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) said:

مَنْ أَحَبَّ أَنْ يَعْلَمَ أَ قُبِلَتْ صَلاَتُهُ أَمْ لَمْ تُقْبَلْ فَلْيَنْظُرْ هَلْ مَنَعَتْهُ صَلاَتُهُ عَنِ الْفَحْشَآءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ فَبِقَدْرِ مَا مَنَعَتْهُ قُبِلَتْ مِنْهُ.

“One, who desires to know if his prayer has been accepted or not, should observe if it has kept him away from indecency and evil, or not; the measure in which it has kept him away (is the measure of his prayer that) has been accepted.”19

Continuing with the verse, Allah says:

وَ لَذِكْرُ اللٌّهِ أَكْبَرُ

“The dhikr (remembrance) of Allah is superior and more virtuous.” (29:45).

The apparent meaning of the above sentence appears to mention a more important philosophy for the prayers. It mentions another effect of prayers - an effect that is even more important than 'keeping one away from indecency and evil' - and that is, it causes man to remember Allah - this being the basis of every goodness and the foundation of all felicities. In reality, its superiority and importance is due to the fact that it is the cause for it (keeping one away from indecency and evil).
Basically, remembrance of Allah keeps the hearts alive and sets them at rest, and no other thing can be likened to it in significance and importance.

أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللٌّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“Surely by Allah's remembrance are the hearts set at rest.” (Surah al-Ra'd, 13:28).

Essentially, the soul of every act of worship - whether it is a prayer or something else - is remembrance of Allah. The preliminary acts of the prayer, the recitations and actions in it, the supplications after the prayers - all of these - serve to revive the remembrance of Allah within a man's heart.

Worthy of attention is that an allusion has been made to this fundamental philosophy of prayer in Surah Taha, when Prophet Musa (a.s) is addressed as:

أَقِمِ الصَّلاةَ لِذِكْرِي

“And keep up prayer for My remembrance.” (Surah Taha, 20:14).

In a tradition, Mu'adh Ibn Jabal states: No deed of man, for protecting him from divine chastisement, is greater than 'remembrance of Allah'. When he was asked: Not even Jihad in the way of Allah? He replied: No (not even Jihad), for Allah has said:

وَ لَذِكْرُ اللٌّهِ أَكْبَرُ

“The dhikr (remembrance) of Allah is superior and more virtuous.” (29:45).

Although the philosophy of prayer is not something that is hidden from anyone, a more careful study of the text of the Qur’an and the traditions guide us towards some more subtle points in this regard:

1. The spirit, foundation, objective, result and ultimately the philosophy of prayers is remembrance of Allah - the same ذكر الله, which, in the above verse, has been referred to as the optimum result. However, it should be a remembrance that brings about 'reflection', and a 'reflection' that leads to 'deeds'. In a tradition Imam al-Sadiq (a.s), interpreting the sentence:

وَ لَذِكْرُ اللٌّهِ أَكْبَرُ


ذِكْرُ اللٌّهِ عِنْدَ مَا أَحَلَّ وَ حَرَّمَ‏.

“Remembrance of Allah at the time of performing a lawful or a forbidden act.”20

It means to remember Allah and seek that which is permitted and refrain from that which is forbidden.

2. Prayers are a means for washing away the sins and achieving divine forgiveness since they invite man towards repentance and rectification of the past. Hence we read in a tradition that once the Noble Prophet (S) questioned his companions: If there flowed, at the doorstep of one of your houses, a river with pure and clean water and if the owner happened to wash himself in it five times a day, would there be any dirt or uncleanness on his body? The companions replied: No. The Noble Prophet (S) then said: The prayer is similar to this flowing water. Whenever one offers a prayer, the sins committed between two prayers get washed away.21

Thus, by means of the balm of prayers, the wounds that get inflicted upon man's soul as a result of sins get healed and the rust that forms on the heart is eliminated.

3. The prayer is a barrier against future sins. It strengthens the spirit of faith within man and fosters the seedling of Taqwa (piety) within his heart. We know that faith and piety are the strongest barriers against sins and this is exactly what has been referred to in the verse as 'keeping one away from indecency and evil'. Similarly, we read in numerous traditions, that when the state of affairs of some sinning individuals was brought to the notice of the A’immah G, they said: “Don't worry! The prayer shall reform them” and it did!

4. The prayer does away with heedlessness and negligence. The greatest tragedy for those journeying the path of truth is that they tend to forget the purpose of their creation and get drowned in the whirlpool of this material world and its ephemeral pleasures. But the prayer- since it is offered at regular intervals and five times a day - repeatedly warns man and causes him to bring to mind the purpose of his creation and reminds him of his place and position in this world. This, in itself, is a great bounty because man has in his possession a device which alerts him strongly, several times in the course of a day.

5. The prayer serves to shatter pride and egotism. In the course of a day, man offers seventeen rak'at and in each of them he places his forehead on the ground twice before Allah, considering himself to be a tiny entity before His greatness - rather, a zero in the presence of Infinity. He tears apart the curtains of arrogance and egotism, and shatters his pride and superiority complex.

We can understand why 'Ali (a.s), in that popular tradition in which the philosophy behind the various acts of worship of Islam have been explained, immediately after referring to faith, speaks about prayers and explains:

فَرَضَ اللٌّهُ الإِِيْمَانَ تَطْهِيراً مِنَ الشِّرْكِ وَ الصَّلاَةَ تَنْزِيهاً عَنِ الْكِبْرِ.

“Allah made faith obligatory in order to purify (the people) of polytheism, and the prayer, in order to clean (them) of pride.”22

6. The prayer is a tool for the development of moral excellences and attaining spiritual perfection. It hauls man out of the limited confines of this material world, invites him towards the spiritual realms and places him in the company of the angels. Man, without sensing the need for any intermediary, observes himself in the presence of his Lord and engages in communicating with Him.

The repetition of this act several times in a day with special emphasis on the attributes of Allah - His Compassion, Mercy and Greatness - especially by way of reciting the various chapters of the Qur’an after Surah al-Hamd, which itself is one of the best inviters towards good actions and pure deeds, has an appreciable effect in the development of moral excellences within man.

The Commander of the Faithful (a.s), mentioning the philosophy of the prayers, said:

الصَّلاَةُ قُرْبَانُ كُلِّ تَقِيٍّ.

“The prayer is a means for the pious ones to attain nearness to Allah.”23

7. The prayer imparts value and significance to the other deeds of man, since it revives the spirit of sincerity within man. This is because the prayer is a collection of sincere intentions, pure speech and genuine deeds, and a daily repetition of these aspects sows the seeds of other good acts within the soul of man and strengthens the spirit of sincerity within him.

We find that the Commander of the Faithful (a.s), in his testament after being fatally injured on the head by the accursed Ibn Muljim, said:

اللٌّهَ اللٌّهَ فِي الصَّلاَةِ فَإِنَّهَا عَمُودُ دِينِكُمْ‏.

“Fear Allah so far as the prayers are concerned for they are the pillars of your religion.”24

We know that when the pillars of a tent break down, the ropes and nails that are around it - however strong they may be - are of no use, Similarly, when the connection between the servant and Allah, which is established by means of prayers, were to get severed the other deeds too would lose their effect. In a tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) said:

اَوَّلُ مَا يُحَاسَبُ بِهِ الْعُبدُ الصَّلوٌةَ فَإِِنْ قُبِلَتْ قُبِلَ سَائِرُ عَمَلِهِ وَ إِنْ رُدَّتْ رُدَّ ساَئِرُ عَمَلِهِ.

“The first thing that a servant shall be reckoned for (on the Day of Judgment) shall be his prayers. If they are accepted, all his other deeds shall be accepted too and if they are rejected, the other deeds shall be rejected too!”

Perhaps, the reason for the above could be that the prayer is the key towards establishing a connection between the Creator and the creation, and if offered correctly, would generate within him sincerity and the intention of attaining nearness to Allah - the two factors that are the means for the acceptance of deeds. But if not, then all his other deeds become tainted, and thus drop from reckoning.

8. The prayer, (not taking into account its contents, for the present) in the light of the conditions necessary for its correctness, invites towards purifying one's life. It is evident from the requirement that the place where the prayers are offered, the clothes of the person offering the prayers, the carpet upon which the prayers are offered and the water and the place utilized for performing Wudu or ghusl should not be usurped or obtained as a result of trampling the rights of others.

How can one, who is polluted of transgression, injustice, usury, usurpation, selling short of weight, taking bribes and earning wrongful income, manage to fulfil the preliminary conditions of the prayers? Thus, repetition of prayers, five times a day, is itself an exhortation towards exhibiting consideration with respect to the rights of others.

9. In addition to the 'conditions for correctness', the prayers also have 'conditions for acceptance' which, in other words, are referred to as 'conditions for perfection'; these, if taken into consideration, also act as an effective factor in abandoning many sins.

Books of jurisprudence and traditions mention numerous things that act as impediments towards the acceptance of prayers - one of them being consumption of intoxicants. It has been reported in the traditions that:

لاَ تُقْبَلُ صَلاَةُ شَارِبِ الْخَمْرِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْماً إِلاَّ أَنْ يَتُوبَ‏.

“The prayers of one who consumes intoxicants, shall not be accepted for forty days, except if he repents.”25

In several traditions we read that an unjust and oppressive leader is one of those persons, whose prayers are not accepted.26 Some of the traditions explicitly state that the prayers of one, who does not pay the zakat, are not accepted; other traditions state that unlawful food, vanity and egotism are of the impediments that prevent one's prayers from being accepted. The extent of the constructive effect of endeavouring to fulfil these 'conditions of acceptance' is only too plain and obvious!

10. Prayers strengthen the spirit of discipline within man since they have to be offered at specific times - any advancement or deferment of which would only serve to render them invalid. Similarly, there also exist rulings with respect to intention, qiyam27, qu'ud28, ruku', sujud and the like, which, if taken into consideration, instill within man a sense of discipline, thereby enabling him to include this factor in the other affairs of his life, with absolute and total ease.

All the above are the merits that exist in individual prayers without taking into account the issue of congregation, for if we are to consider the merits of praying in congregation - which is, in reality, the soul of the prayers - there would be innumerable additional benefits, explanation of which falls beyond the scope of this book but which are more or less known to us.

We conclude this discussion on the philosophy and secrets of prayers by presenting a comprehensive tradition, reported from Imam 'Ali Ibn Musa al-Ridha (a.s).

The Imam (a.s), replying to a letter in which he was asked about the philosophy of prayers, stated: “The prayers have been legislated for acknowledging and attesting the Lordship of the Lord, combating polytheism and idolatry, standing in His presence with utmost humility and modesty, confessing to one's sins, seeking forgiveness for the past disobediences and placing the forehead on the ground, everyday, for the purpose of glorifying and venerating Him.

It is also intended that man always remains alert, his heart does not get clouded by the dust of forgetfulness, he does not become arrogant and heedless, but instead humble and submissive, and becomes more desirous of worldly and religious bounties.

In addition to this, the regular remembrance of Allah throughout the day, achieved as a result of prayers, causes man not to become forgetful and heedless of his Lord, Sustainer and Creator, and he is not overcome by the spirit of rebelliousness. It is this attention towards Allah and standing in His presence that restrains man from disobedience and prevents corruption and depravity.”29 and 30

7. Why Should We Offer Prayers At Prescribed Times?

Some people say: “We do not deny the philosophy behind the prayers and nor do we refute its importance or its educative effects, but what is the need for it to be offered at prescribed times? Would it not be better if the people were left free - each one to perform this obligation as per his leisure and opportunity, and his mental and spiritual preparedness?”

Experience shows that if educative issues are not regulated by means of strict discipline and stipulations, many individuals tend to become forgetful of them and their very foundation becomes shaky and unstable. Such issues ought to be governed by means of strict discipline and specific timings so that no one possesses any excuse for abandoning them. It is particularly so in view of the fact that the performance of these acts at prescribed times and more especially, when performed in a congregation, possesses grandeur, magnificence and effect, which cannot be denied. They are actually a huge lesson for human development.31

  • 1. Minor ritual ablution (Tr.).
  • 2. Major ritual ablution (Tr.).
  • 3. Wasa’il ash-Shia, vol. 1, pg. 257.
  • 4. Ceremonial uncleanness (Tr.).
  • 5. The tradition of Imam 'Ali Ibn Musa al-Ridha’ (a.s) probably alludes to this issue when it states:

    لِأَنَّ الْجَنَابَةَ خَارِجَةٌ مِنْ كُلِّ جَسَدِهِ فَلِذٌلِكَ وَجَبَ عَلَيْهِ تَطْهِيرُ جَسَدِهِ كُلِّهِ‏.

  • 6. “The 'janabat' comes out from his entire body and hence it is obligatory for him to wash his entire body.” Wasa’il ash-Shia, vol. 1, pg. 466.
  • 7. Ablution with earth (Tr.).
  • 8. See Surah al-Maidah:
    فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيداً طَيِّباً
    betake yourselves to pure earth(5:6).
  • 9. Pure (Tr.).
  • 10. Earth. (Tr.).
  • 11. Rising or ascending (Tr.).
  • 12. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 3, pg. 400.
  • 13. There is no doubt that there exists a comparatively great separation between وُجُوهَكُمْ and أَرْجُلَكُمْ making the superimposition upon it to appear remote. Apart from this, a great number of Qur'an reciters have also recited the word أَرْجُلَكُمْ with (ل) possessing the kasrah (the vowel point for 'i').
  • 14. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 4, pg. 285.
  • 15. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 1, pg. 415.
  • 16. See the full verse:
    وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا ۗ وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنْتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَنْ يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّنْ يَنْقَلِبُ عَلَىٰ عَقِبَيْهِ ۚ وَإِنْ كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّهُ ۗ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ

    “And thus We have made you a medium (just) nation that you may be the bearers of witness to the people and (that) the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you; and We did not make that which you would have to be the qiblah but that We might distinguish him who follows the Messenger from him who turns back upon his heels, and this was surely hard except for those whom Allah has guided aright; and Allah was not going to make your faith to be fruitless; most surely Allah is Affectionate, Merciful to the people.” (2:143).

  • 17. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 1, pg. 485.
  • 18. Majma' al-Bayan, under the discussion regarding verse 45 of Surah al-'Ankabut.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 82, pg. 200.
  • 21. Wasa’il ash-Shia, vol. 3, pg. 7 (Chapter 2 from The Chapters (regarding) the number of (obligatory) prayers, tradition 3).
  • 22. Nahj al-Balagha, saying 252.
  • 23. Nahj al-Balagha, saying 136.
  • 24. Nahj al-Balagha, letter 47.
  • 25. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 84, pg. 317 & 320.
  • 26. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 84, pg. 318.
  • 27. Standing in Salat. (Tr.).
  • 28. Sitting in Salat. (Tr.).
  • 29. Wasa’il ash-Shia, vol. 3, pg. 4.
  • 30. Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 16, pg. 284.
  • 31. Ibid., vol. 4, pg. 105.