In Islam, performing the Prayer is the most important, mandatory act after the testimony of faith. The Prophet said: “The head of the matter is Islam, its pillar is the Prayer...”[At-Tirmithi]
It is the last thing, the Prophet recommended to his nation before he died, saying: “The Prayer, the Prayer and what your right hands possessed.” [Abu Dawood] An act of this weight and status is really worthy of getting all attention and care of Muslims. Because the prayer which Allah accepts and rewards plentifully is the prayer whose conditions, and basic elements are perfected.
But how could one carry out the prayer in the correct manner? One could attain that goal by learning the way the Prophet practiced it. By knowing its prerequisites, essentials and Sunnah acts. Because botching the prayer is a harmful act that results in the forfeiture of the reward, either completely or partially, the Prophet warned us: “Truly, a man leaves, and none of his prayer has been recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, eighth of it, seventh of it, sixth of it, fifth of it, fourth of it, third of it, a half of it.”[Abu Dawood]
In the following paragraphs, a detailed description of the prerequisites (Shuroot) and essentials (Arkan) of the Prayer is presented.
Prerequisites and essentials of the prayer
There is a difference between the terms “prerequisite” and “essential”. The former is an object, quality, or condition that is required in order for something else to happen—and if it is missing, the thing is invalid and unfulfilled. For instance, Wudhoo’ (ablution) is a prerequisite for the Prayer, as per the Prophetic narration: “The prayer of one without purification is void...” [Abu Dawood and At-Tirmithi] While “essential” is the property or characteristic of something that makes it what it is—and if it is missing the thing is null and void. For instance, the chapter of Al-Fatihah (the Opening of the Quran) is an essential for the Prayer because the Prophet said: "Anyone who does not recite the Opening of the Book in one's prayer is not credited with observing it." [Al-Bukhari]
The scholars concur that a willful violation of any essential or prerequisite in Prayer invalidates it. However when an essential act is unintentionally omitted, two things are required: 1. performing the missing act and; 2. making Sujood As-Sahw (prostration of mistake) before Tasleem (concluding the prayer with salaam) if it is on account of an omission or due to both an omission and an addition; or after Tasleem if the cause is only an addition. However, if the mistake is one of involuntary addition—such as an extra bowing—it is atonable by Sujood As-Sahw.
The prerequisites of the Prayer
It is obligatory on the one who wishes to perform the prayer to make sure that he/she satisfies the following conditions before he enters into it:
(1) Islam: One must be a Muslim in order for him/her to obtain the rewards of Islamic acts of worship.
(2) Intention (Niyyah): The Prophet said: “Verily all actions are only by intentions.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Scholars of all of the four schools of jurisprudence are unanimous that intention takes place in the heart and that it should not be uttered by the tongue. The Prophet never instructed us to audibly or inaudibly state intentions for any act of worship, and the Companions did not do this either. According to a few of the late scholars, one is only permitted to utter one's intention in prayer if one is in a severe case of forgetfulness or always doubting what he wants to do—the term they coined to describe the state of such a person is Al-Mustankah.
(3) Sanity and maturity: One must be able to know and appreciate what he/she is doing. Sanity is mentioned in the narration in which the Prophet said: “The pen (which records one's deeds) is raised from the account of a person in the following three situations: a sleeper until he awakes, a child until he matures (reaches age of puberty) and the insane until he regains sanity.” [Abu Dawood]
One must also have a clear mind at the time of making the prayer. Allah Says (what means): “O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying…”[Quran 4: 43] In addition, the Prophet also said: “If one feels drowsy while performing the prayer, one should go to sleep until his slumber is over, because if one perform the prayer while drowsy one would not know whether he is asking for forgiveness or for a bad thing for himself.”[Al-Bukhari]
(4) Knowing the prayer's proper time: Allah Says (what means): “…Indeed, the prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times.” [Quran 4: 103] The Prophet said: “Jibreel led me in prayer at the Ka'bah. He led me in the early afternoon prayer (Thuhr) when the sun had passed the meridian to the extent of the throng of a sandal; he led me in the mid-afternoon prayer (‘Asr) when the shadow of a thing was as long as itself; he led me in the sundown prayer (Maghrib) when the one who fasts breaks the fast; he led me in the night prayer (‘Ishaa’) when the twilight (redness from the horizon at sunset) disappears; he led me in the dawn prayer (Fajr) when food and drink becomes forbidden for the faster. On the following day, he led me in the early afternoon prayer (Thuhr) when the shadow of a thing was as long as itself; he led me in the mid-afternoon prayer (‘Asr) when the shadow of a thing was twice as long as itself; he led me in the sundown prayer (Maghrib) when the one who fasts breaks the fast; he led me in the night prayer (‘Ishaa’) when the first half of the night had passed; he led me in the dawn prayer (Fajr) when there was a fair amount of daylight. Then turning to me Jibreel said, ‘Muhammad, this is the time observed by the prophets before you and the difference in time for each prayer we made on both days is anywhere between the two times.’”[Abu Dawood]
(5) Purification: One must make sure that the following three things are clear from all kinds of impurity before he starts the prayer:
A. Purity of the body from Major and Minor impurities:
A minor impurity is one that may be removed by the performance of ablution (Wudhoo’). A state of minor impurity results after defecation or urination. A major impurity requires the performance of Ghusl or ritual bathing. A state of major impurity results after sexual intercourse or sexual discharge for both men and women.
If one is not in the necessary state of purification then one must attain it for Allah Says (what means): “O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] the prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles And if you are in a state of janaabah (major impurity), then purify yourselves…" [Quran 5: 6] And the Prophet said: “When you stand for prayer, perfect your ablution,” [Al-Bukhari and Abu Dawood] and “the prayer is not accepted from anyone who nullifies one's ablution until she/he regains another one nor is charity from stolen property.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet also said: "Allah does not accept any prayer that was not performed while in a state of purity, nor does he accept charity from what has been stolen from booty." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Post-natal bleeding and menstrual bleeding are also considered forms of major impurity. Both postnatal bleeding and menstrual bleeding waives the prayer from a woman. In those cases, after such conditions come to an end, women are required to make Ghusl before praying.
B. Clothes: If the clothes are contaminated with impurities one should wash them for Allah Says (what means): “And your clothing purify.” [Quran 74: 4] and the Prophet said: “If menstrual blood is on one's clothes she must wash it out and then make Prayer.” [Al-Bukhari]
C. Place: If the ground is filthy, one can pour water over the impurity: A Bedouin entered the Masjid (mosque) and urinated. The people grabbed him and the Prophet ordered his release, told them to pour a tumbler of water over the soiled area, and said: “You have been sent to make things easy and not make them difficult.” [Al-Bukhari] It is prohibited to offer prayer in graveyards [Muslim], camel pens [Abu Daawood], churches and synagogues with images [Al-Bukhari], public baths/bathrooms and dunghills [Abu Dawood], the roof of the Ka'bah, slaughterhouses, and the middle of the road.
(6) Covering the private parts: Allah Says (what means): "O children of Aadam, take your adornment at every Masjid (mosque)…" [Quran 7: 31] The meaning of "adornment" here is the covering of the 'Awrah. The meaning of "mosque" is "prayer." Therefore, it means "Cover your 'Awrah for every prayer."
The ‘Awrah for a man, in general, is from his navel to his knees; however, inside prayer one should be dressed in a proper manner and the shoulders should not be left uncovered since it is greatly disliked. The ‘Awrah of a woman (for prayer purposes) is her entire body except her face and hands.
(7) Facing the Qiblah: Allah Says (what means): “Turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid Al-Haram (Sacred Mosque), and wherever you are turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction.” [Quran 2: 144] The Prophet said: “When you stand for prayer face the qiblah, make takbeer, utter glorification and praise for Allah, recite the Mother of the Book (Al-Faatihah)...”[Al-Bukhari and Abu Dawood]
There are many ways to decide the Qiblah. And when one is ignorant of the right direction, one should inquire and strive to determine its exact or approximate direction, and in case neither of the two is possible one should follow his best judgement.
To be concluded