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Salah (other terms and spellings exist) (Arabic: صلاة, Qur'anic Arabic: صلوة) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It refers to the five daily ritual prayers that Muslims offer to Allah (God). Being a Pillar of Islam, it is compulsory (fard) upon every Muslim.
The salah must be performed in Arabic language even if the person neither speaks nor understands Arabic (although the dua afterwards need not be in Arabic.) The prayers are to be recited by heart, although beginners may use written aids.
All salah should be conducted at the appropriate times and with the appropriate numbers of rakaat. While they may be prayed at any point within their defined periods, it is considered best to pray them exactly at the beginning of their periods, when the call to prayer (adhan) announces the time of prayer. When far from a mosque, the time can be inferred from the position of the sun in the sky.
Five daily prayers
The five prescribed daily prayers and the proper times for performing them are:
- Fajr - from daybreak (the time at which the faintest hint of the new day starts) to sunrise.
- Zuhr - from to the time for the Asr prayer.
- Asr - the exact start time varies between the different schools of jurisprudence but is roughly midway between noon and sunset. The period for prayer ends just before sunset.
- Maghrib - starts at sunset and ends when the reddish glow in the western sky disappears. The period for this prayer is the shortest of all.
- Isha'a - starts at the end of twilight (when the last bit of daylight has disappeared and the sky is completely black) and ends at the time for the Fajr prayer.
However, prayers can be performed later (salat qada) if missed due to unavoidable reason - for instance, accidentally falling asleep or simply forgetting.
When travelling over long distances, one may shorten some prayers, a practise known as kasr. Furthermore, several prayer times may be concatenated, which is referred to as jama. Kasr involves shortening the obligatory components of the Zuhr, Asr and Isha prayers. Jama is when the Zuhr and Asr prayers are both performed either at the Zuhr or Asr time, and Maghrib and Isha'a are both performed at either of their respective times.
Prayer in a congregation
Muslim are suggested to perform the compulsory Salah in congregation (jama'ah), behind an Imam. Jama'ah prayer is considered better and has more (social and spiritual) benefit than individual prayer. When the performers consist of men and women, one man is chosen as imam. In this situation, women are forbidden from being an imam. This point, though unanimously agreed on by the major schools of Islam, is disputed by some groups, based partly on a hadith whose interpretation is controversial; see Women as imams. When the performers are only women, one woman is chosen as imam. When men, women, and children are performing, the children's rows are between men's and women's rows. There is also another configuration where man's rows and woman's rows are side by side, separated by big curtain / hijab which main idea is that there is no direct line-of-sight between man and woman as told in the Quran 24:30-31.
The person chosen to be an Imam may be the eldest, or the one who has the best knowledge of the Quran.
Outside of the daily salat there are special prayers offered on Fridays (Al-Jumu'ah الجمعه), Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha. Friday or Jumu'ah prayer replaces Zuhr, and is by definition prayed in congregration.
When no water is available, sand may be used. (If the cleansing was done using water, the Muslim is considered to have cleansed him or herself from the physical manifestations of sin in a lasting fashion that extends between prayers; unless the Muslim does something to remove this cleanliness, the cleansing would not need to be repeated before the next prayer. When sand is used, the cleansing is only temporary and regardless of whether or not the Muslim commits any physical acts of uncleanliness he or she will need to undergo the ceremonial cleansing immediately before the next prayer.)
The prayer service
The prayer starts by stating the intention to pray (Niyyah), and by reciting the first surah of the Qur'an (Al-Fatiha - The Opening), followed by a few short verses. Then, the Muslim kneels and says something and stands upright again, only to reach the prayer mat and sit on his legs. He places his hands and face on the mat and sits up, repeating this once more before standing up and repeating the entire sequence. Each such action is called a raka'ah; there are two in Fajr, four for Zuhr and Asr, three for Maghrib, and again four for 'Isha'a. In each position, something is being said.
The session ends with looking right and left to say "Peace be unto you, and on you be peace" in Arabic to the believers sitting with you. (If alone, the Muslim greets his right angel and then his left angel. Muslims believe there is one angel on each shoulder, the one on the left noting every sin you commit, and the one on the right noting every good deed. Prayer removes a sin.)
Apart from the five daily obligatory prayers, there are also several Sunnah prayers, which are between the other prayers' times and an early prayer (between midnight and Fajr) where two or more raka'ahs may be performed.
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