Salat is the ritual worship of the Muslim community; as worship through prayer, and it is distinguished from¬†du’a, personal prayer or supplication by an individual or group. The words of salat are always in Arabic. It is derived from Syriac, or from Aramaic, where the root¬†si’¬†means to bow or bend, the Arabic verb¬†salla, to perform the salat, is derived from the noun.

The salat, one of the five pillars of the faith, is mentioned in the Qur’an as a duty performed by believers who give the¬†Zakat, or alms. The times and regulations for the salat are given in detail in the hadith, and were eventually fixed at five times: Dawn, Noon, Afternoon, Sunset, and Night. According to tradition,¬†Muhammad¬†was given these instructions by Allah on the occasion of his¬†Isra, Night Journey, to heaven.

The salat should be said in common in a mosque, especially the Noon prayer on Friday, jum’a. However, the Muslims may pray individually or in small groups, when one member is chosen as the Imam; and this may be in any ritually clean area, marked off by¬†sutra. A prayer mat, sajjada, is commonly used. The salat must be performed facing the¬†qibla, the direction of Mecca, which in a mosque is indicated by the mihrab.

Ritual ablution (wudu’,¬†ghusl¬†or¬†tayammum) precedes the salat as appropriate. Ablution is divided into distinct movements, followed by formula. First, in a standing position facing the¬†qibla, is the pronouncement of the¬†my(y)a, intention, to perform the salat; then the¬†takbir¬†followed by the¬†Fatiha¬†and a verse or two from the Qur’an.

The movements then are¬†ruku’, bending till the palms are level with the knees; kneeling; a prostration, supid, back again into a¬†julus, between sitting and standing, another sujud, At most movements, the¬†takbir¬†is repeated.

This set of movements, from the standing position to the end of the second¬†sujud, constitutes one¬†rak’a, the number is fixed for each prayer time. After the final¬†rak’a, in a sitting position, the worshipper pronounces the tashahhud (profession of faith,¬†shahada); the prayer upon the Prophet Muhammad; finally the¬†taslima, greeting, Al-Salam “alaykum” (Peace be upon you), even when the person is alone. Extra¬†rak’as¬†may be added by the individual. The ritual may vary slightly according to the madhhab, direction as to thought or teaching.

The salat, as an obligation upon all Muslims and a sign of submission and humility, and adherence to the Islamic community, is held to be a sign of the true believer, who thus, for his devout and conscientious regular worship, will gain admittance to paradise. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 843