Why was doing the daily prayer prescribed five times a day?
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Glory be to God whenever you reach evening and whenever you
rise in the morning, and all praise is for Him in the heavens and on earth,
and in the late afternoon and whenever you reach the noon. (30:17)
You ask me the reasons for the apportioning of the daily prayers into
five definite durations. I’ll take up just one of very many reasons.
Each occasion of prayer is not only the opening of a significant turning
point but also is a mirror to Divine disposal of power and to the universal
Divine bounties within that disposal. We are enjoined to perform the
prescribed prayers at these defined times so as to give more adoration and
glory to the All-Powerful One of Majesty and to give more thanks to Him for
all the bounties that have been accumulated between any two occasions. That
is the meaning of the prescribed prayers. To comprehend a little this subtle
and profound meaning, consider the following points:
Each particular prayer stands for praising and glorifying God and feeling
grateful to Him. That is, it is to glorify Him by uttering subhan-Allah
(Glory be to God) by word and action in the awareness of His Majesty. It is
to exalt and magnify Him, by uttering Allahu akbar (God is the
Greatest), through word and act in the awareness of His Perfection. Thirdly
it is, by uttering al-hamdu li-llah (All praise be to God) with the
heart, tongue, and body, to offer thanks to Him in the awareness of His
Grace. From this we conclude that glorification, exaltation, and praise and
thanksgiving are the heart of prayer. It is for this reason that these three
things are present in all parts of the prayer, in all its actions and words.
Further, following each prayer, these three holy phrases are repeated
thirty-three times each, in order to confirm and complete the objectives of
prayer. The meaning of prayer is pronounced consecutively with these concise
The meaning of worship is this: Man, a servant of God, being aware of his
defects, weakness and poverty in the Divine presence, prostrates himself in
love and wonderment before the perfection of His Lordship, His Divine Might,
on which every creature relies, and His Divine Compassion. In other words,
the Sovereignty of His Lordship demands devotion and obedience. His Holiness
also requires us human beings to see our defects and ask for His pardon, to
proclaim that He is free from any defect and from the false judgments of
unaware people and beyond all the failings of His creatures.
The Perfection of His Might requires that the servant, in the realization
of his weakness and the helplessness of all other creatures, proclaims God
is the Greatest in admiration and amazement before the majesty of His works.
Bowing in deep humility, he seeks refuge in Him and places his trust in Him.
And the boundless treasury of the Lord’s Compassion demands that the
servant declares his own needs and those of all creatures by praying and
asking for His help, and that he proclaims His blessings through praise and
gratitude, uttering al-hamdu li-llah. In short, the words and actions
of the prescribed prayers comprise all these meanings, and were therefore
ordered and arranged by God.
Mankind is a miniature of the whole universe. In the same way, the first
sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, is an illuminated
miniature of the whole Book. The prayer is a bright index, involving all
ways of worship, and a sacred map, hinting at the diverse kinds of worship
of all species of living things.
The consecutive divisions of day and night, the years and phases of each
individual’s life in the world, are, as it were, an immense time-piece whose
parts function like the wheels and levers of a clock which, as they move,
calculate seconds, minutes and hours. For example:
- The time of Fajr (the early morning) was appointed for the
morning prayer until sunrise. It may be likened to the birth of spring, or
the moment when sperm takes refuge in the protective womb, or to the first
of the six consecutive days during which the earth and the sky were
created. It recalls how God disposes His Power and acts in such times and
- The time of Zuhr (just past midday) may be likened to the
completion of adolescence, or the middle of summer, or the period of man’s
creation in the lifetime of the world. It too points to God’s
compassionate manifestations and abundant blessings in those events and
periods of time.
- The time of ‘Asr (afternoon) resembles autumn, and old age, and
the time of the Last Prophet, known as the Time of Happiness. It calls to
mind the Divine acts and the favors of the All-Compassionate in them.
- The time of Maghrib (sunset) reminds of the decline of very
many creatures at the end of autumn, and man’s death. It thus forewarns us
of the destruction of the world at the beginning of the Resurrection and
also teaches us how to understand the manifestation of God’s Majesty and
in this way wakes us from a deep sleep of neglect.
- The time of ‘Isha (nightfall), calls to mind the world of
darkness veiling all the objects of the daytime with its black shroud, and
winter covering the surface of the dead earth with its white cerement. It
brings to mind, also, the remaining works of the dead being wholly
forgotten, and points out to us the inevitable, complete decline of this
world which is a place of testing. Thus ‘Isha time proclaims the awesome
acts of the Over-powering One of Majesty.
- As for the nighttime, by putting in his mind the winter, the grave,
and the Intermediate World, it reminds man how much his spirit really
needs the Mercy of the All-Merciful One.
- The tahajjud prayer, in the later, deeper part of the night,
reminds and warns us how necessary a light this prayer will be in the
darkness of the grave. In this way, by recalling the infinite bounties of
the True Bestower granted to man within the sequence of all these
extraordinary events, it proclaims how worthy He is of praise and thanks.
- The next morning is a time that points to the morning following the
Resurrection. As reasonable, necessary and certain it is that morning
follows night, and spring comes after winter, so the morning of the
Resurrection or a spring following the Intermediate Life is equally
certain to come.
We now understand that each appointed occasion for the five daily prayers
is itself the beginning of a vital turning-point and a reminder of greater
revolutions or turning-points in the life of the universe. Through the
awesome daily disposals of the Eternally Besought One’s Power, the times of
the prayers call to mind the miracles of Divine Power and the gifts of
Divine Mercy in every year, every age and every epoch. So, the prescribed
prayers, which are an innate duty and the basis of worship and an
unquestionable obligation of man, are most appropriate and fitted for these