As we all know, the daily salah (prayers) is one of the most important rituals in the religion of Islam, and a pillar of our faith. It has been described by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as “the face of the religion,” and “the levitation of the believer.” It is such that, according to hadith widely accepted by Muslims of all sects, “if accepted, all else will be accepted and if rejected, all else will be rejected.” This alone gives us a simple idea of its great significance, and reminds us that we have to be very attentive to everything we do, think or say during prayer.
Many of us believe that, because you have been doing something for such a long time, you must be doing it correctly. However, it is vital to understand that our responsibility is to ensure we don’t err whilst in such a spiritual state. Unfortunately for a while, I was making a few mistakes that I was ignorant of until I decided to look into every action and word spoken. Here, I aim to outline some of the common errors we may make while performing salah.
1. When to say what
Naturally, some of us are not aware of small details such as when you are meant to say certain phrases, and often we may speak whilst changing between standing and bowing or bowing and prostration – which is completely wrong. The main jurisprudential judgement based on this is that the only time we are allowed to talk while moving is between sitting and standing, the recommended ‘bihawlillah wa quwwatih aqoomu wa aq’ud.’
– ‘Allahu Akbar’
You must only say ‘Allahu Akbar’ while in a both upright and stationary position, i.e. strictly standing or sitting.
– ‘Sami’ Allahu liman hamidah’
Although saying this is optional (but recommended), it is important to note that it is to be said only when one fully stands up after ruku’.
If you are guilty of any of these, as I was once upon a time, it’s time to focus more on your salah and make sure you try to perfect it each time by avoiding speech while moving.
2. Angle of Ruku’
Again, this is something I was doing until my father once watched me pray and corrected my mistake: not bowing low enough. And till this day, many people still do it, so I thought it would be my duty to share this advice.
According to our doctrine, ruku’ must be performed at the angle where the person’s hands are able to firmly hold their knees. Their backs should be straight, and not slanted (i.e parallel to the floor).
Even if this means exercising your hamstrings, you’ll eventually get used to the minor changes you’ve made.
Editor’s note: This rule may not apply to women.
3. Moving around too much
We have all, at some point, been quite fidgety during salah, for whatever reason. But one thing which I find helps me to focus is Imam Sajjad (as)’s beautiful depiction of the right of salah in his famous Treatise of Rights (Risalatul Huqooq):
“The right of your ritual prayer (salah) is that you know that it is an arrival before God and that through it you are standing before Him. When you know that, then you will stand in the station of him who is lowly, vile, beseeching, trembling, hopeful, fearful, and abased, and you will magnify Him who is before you through stillness and dignity. You will approach the prayer with your heart and you will perform it according to its bounds and its rights.”
Notice how it is only possible to magnify Allah truly through stillness. Think of how a child stands in front of a teacher knowing that he has done a mistake. His head down in shame, his body stagnant and timid.
4. Speaking or acting too early
By this, I mean when people begin the Thikr allocated for each action too early, or move onto the next action without having fully completed their current one. Examples:
– Starting to say ‘Subhana rabbial A’la wa bihamdih’ before the head touches the ground.
– Lifting the head off of the ground before fully completing the given Thikr.
Remember, the key to performing a successful salah is to focus properly. And you won’t be able to focus properly if you rush everything.
Prostrating for half a second doesn’t give you enough time to say even the bare minimum of what you have to say during your prostration. When your head touches the ground, begin speaking, and make sure you finish before you lift your head up.
Imam Ja’far alSadiq (as) says,
“Prostration is the highest degree of worship that man can perform.”
While this is a problem often faced by those who don’t know or understand Arabic, they aren’t the only ones who can stumble in speaking it. Just because Arabic is my mother tongue, it doesn’t mean you are perfectly fluent in it, especially as the Quranic script is written in extremely specific and formal language.
Some of the errors induced from not being a native speaker are as follows:
– Saying the letter ‘thaal’ as ‘zaal’. Example: Thikr becomes Zikr.
– Saying the letter ‘tha’ as ‘sa’. Example: Kawther becomes Kawser (yes, I suffer from this.)
– Saying the letter ‘waw’ as ‘vav’. Example: Tawakkul becomes Tavakkul.
In general, I would highly recommend non-Arabs to listen to the correct pronunciations of each letter to avoid inaccurate remembrance of Allah. As difficult as the Arabic language may seem, we must all try our best to pronounce everything correctly, for the sake of purifying your prayer from any mistakes.
As for those whose mother tongue is Arabic, it is also our duty to go back and double check that everything you are saying isn’t wrong. Sometimes we may say the wrong accent on a letter, or fail to understand the basics of reading Quran.
I will end with a small reminder, but to myself first and foremost. Prayer, with its specificity, requires a great deal of attention. It is the springboard from which your soul reaches Allah (swt). But we all have one goal – to reach higher – and we’re here to do it together.