Seerah
Pre-islamic Arabia
 

Was there Ritual Prayer before Islam?

The Prayer of the Monotheists before Islam (Hanif)

We learn from information in the sources that some members of the Hanif religion – the small group of believers who refused to join in the general idol worship and remained attached to the worship of the One God in the period before Islam – performed ritual prayer (salat). According to Ibn Habib and Muslim, Abu Zar and Qus Saida were among those who prayed during the Age of Ignorance.(1)   

Various verses of the Quran state that Abraham and Ishmael performed ritual prayers and that they ordered their followers to do the same. (2)

Again, the Quran informs that Abraham prayed, "My Lord, make me and some of my progeny among those who make salat! My Lord, accept my prayer!" (3) The following verse shows that Abraham's prayer included the qiyam, ruqu and sajda positions of prayer: "At one time I described the Kaaba to Abraham (and I commanded him): ‘clean my house for those who do not take other gods and who circumambulate, stand in an upright position, bend over, and bow down."  (4)

We also know from verbal Jewish narrations that there was prescribed prayer in Abraham's religion. In the Talmud it is recorded that the prophet Abraham rose early in the morning and prayed to Allah at dawn and that the "Shararit" worship is from Abraham. (5)

Some reports in Islamic sources illuminate this subject. According to a report made by Azraqi, Abraham used the Maqam-i Abraham as qibla, he made prayer from the direction of the door towards it, and Ishmael continued the same practice. (6) Also, Abraham and Ishmael, together with believers coming from every direction, came to Mina on the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah (Tarwiya Day) and made the noon, afternoon, evening and night prayers together. After spending the night there, they made the morning prayer and went early to Arafat. There they made the noon and afternoon prayers together and went to Muzdalif after the sun set. They prayed the evening and night prayers together and spent the night there. After making the morning prayer at Muzdalif, they stoned jamarat. According to the record, this practice was taught to Abraham by Gabriel. (7) Later, Allah commanded Muhammad (pbuh) to conform to Abraham's practice.  (8)

It is recorded that the Prophet Muhammad's father Abdulmuttalib knew (9) that the Kaaba was established as a qibla by Abraham, and that Zayd ibn Amr turned towards the qibla during the Time of Ignorance and saying, "My God is the God of Abraham, my religion is the religion of Abraham, " he made sajda. (10) This and similar reports show that some traces of prayer were passed on from the time of Abraham to the Age of Ignorance. (11)

The Arab Idolators' Prayer:

The verse in the Quran, "Their prayer next to the House of God is nothing more than whistling and clapping hands...,"  (12)  shows that the idol-worshipping Arabs were familiar with prayer. As a matter of fact, idolaters of this period - men and women - openly held hands and circumambulated the Kaaba, whistling and clapping hands. Thus, as a form of worship they whistled, danced and applauded what they did. When the Prophet Muhammad wanted to come to the Kaaba to pray and read the Quran, they usually made this kind of demonstration, and making a noisy show as if they were making salat and praying, they counted this as worship. (13)

It is narrated that Arabs in the Time of Ignorance knew about prayer and that they made prayers for their dead. They would stand at the head of the dead person's grave, mention his good traits and good deeds, and show their grief. This was called "as-Salat." Islam called this prayer and similar religious traditions dava'l-jahiliyyah (prayer of ignorance). (14) This prayer, although different from the funeral prayer in Islam, is still prayer.

Again during the Age of Ignorance, Qa'b ibn Luey would gather the Quraish together on Friday and make a form of weekly worship that included a sermon. This day was called the Friday statement or Yawmu'l-Aruba (Arabism Day). (15)

In conclusion, we can say that there was a form of worship called salat during the Age of Ignorance before Islam. However, the prayer made by the idolaters was without a spirit, removed from peace and good manners, and a disorderly form of worship. They made this worship not only for Allah, but for His partners, girls whom they accepted as angels, as well. Islam directed worship only to Allah, and removed everything from worship that was contrary to Unity.

Prayer in the Quran:

Referring to ritual prayer, "Salat" is mentioned in more than 80 verses in the Quran. The word is used mostly in the Quran in this way:

"When you finish salat, remember Allah while you are standing, sitting and lying down on your side; when you are safe, make salat. For salat within certain times was made mandatory for believers." (16)

"Make salat, give the poor tax, and bend over  with those who make ruk'u." (17)

"...Say good things to people, perform salat, give the poor tax..." (18)

"My child, perform salat, command the good, forego evil and have patience in face of trials. For these are things Allah has commanded you to do." (19)

As seen from the above verses, the Quran emphasizes prayer a great deal. For when prayer is established, it protects a person from every kind of evil and makes them pious. One who follows prayer will be saved from the fire of hell.

The Quran counts prayer as a necessity of faith and piety: "That book is without doubt; it is a guide for people of piety. They believe in the unseen, perform prayer and spend for Allah the means that We have given them." (20) It praises those believers who pray with inner peace and who are steadfast in prayer: "Believers who make prayer with respect have attained success."  (21) "And believers who protect their prayer have reached success." (22)

Allah commanded the Prophet to treat his grief and anxiety with prayer: "I swear, I know what they say has upset you. Praise your Lord and be among those who perform prayer and serve your Lord until you draw nigh." (23)

Undoubtedly, prayer performed with faith and a peaceful heart will save a person from evil thoughts and torment. That person will not be sad about the world and will not see anyone who gives benefit or harm except Allah. He knows that everything comes from Allah, and he will be ashamed of lying and making discord. He will prepare to be in Allah's presence at every moment. As stated in the 45th verse of the Ankabut Surah, that person will avoid evil and ugly acts. According to verses 19-34 of Maaraj Surah, he will avoid impatience and disagreeableness and take on high virtues. Real prayer gains high virtues and character for its performer. If it does not, it can not be called real prayer. In fact, it is narrated that the Prophet said: "If the prayer a person performs does not prohibit a person from evil and ugly acts, that prayer is of no use except to make him remote from Allah." (24)

Prayer Is Mandatory in Islam

When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was still at the beginning of his apostleship, he spent his nights in worship and dhikir. His ascetic life began before his apostleship. In Buhari's "The Beginning of Apostleship" section, a report related by Aisha indicates that he began to like solitude in the years approaching his apostleship. He would retreat to the Hira Cave and there he made worship and performed servanthood according to the religion of Abraham. (25) After he became a prophet, he continued this life of worship and asceticism, and most of those who believed in him did the same. With the revelation of the Muzzammil Surah, night prayer was made mandatory to the Prophet:

 "O thou folded in garment! Stand (to prayer) by night, but not all night, - half of it, - or a little less, or a little more: And recite the Quran in slow, measured rhythmic tones."  (26) Again it is commanded in the Bani Israil Surah: "And pray in the small watches of the morning: it would be a additional prayer (of spiritual profit) for thee: soon will thy Lord raise thee to a station of praise and glory." (27)

Islamic scholars are in dispute regarding the night prayer commanded in these verses. According to some, night prayer is only mandatory for the Prophet. This continued until his death. According to others, night prayer was made mandatory for both the Prophet and his followers. They got up and prayed until their feet were swollen, and later Allah rescinded this command with the last verse. However, it is also disputed as to how long this command was in effect. According to some, it was one year; according to others, it was eighteen months, and according to still others, it was ten years. A third view is that night prayer was made mandatory for both the Prophet and his ummah and that the command was never rescinded. It is mandatory to pray at night as much as possible. Hasan Basri and Ibn Sirin are of this view. (28)

There is also dispute as to whether or not prayers five times a day were made mandatory during the Miraj. (29) Since Miraj occurred one and one-half years before the Migration, that means that all Muslims were responsible one and one-half years before the Migration for praying five times a day.


1) Ibn Habib, Abu Ja´far Muhammad, Kitab al-Muhabbar, Beirut, trs, pp.171-172; Muslim, IV, 1920.

2) See, Baqara, 2:125; Ibrahim, 14:37; Maryam, 19:54-55.

3) Ibrahim,14:40.

4) Hajj, 22:26.

5) Kuzgun, Şaban, Hz.İbrahim ve Haniflik, Ankara, 1985, s. 176-177.

6) Al-Azraki, Abu 'L-Walid Muhammad ibn Abdillah, Ahbaru Makka wa Ma jae fiha min al-Asar, (Tah: Rusdi as-Salih Malhas Makka,1399; Kabe ve Mekke Tarihi, Trc: Y. Vehbi Yavuz, İst,   1974,11,30.

7) ' Ibn Ishak, Muhammad, as-Siretu al-Nabawiyya, (Tah: M. Hamidullah), Konya, 1401, s.79-80; at-Taberi, Tarihu al-Umam wa´l-Muluk, 1,262.

8) Nahl, 16:123.

9) Wensinck, A.J.,Kıble Maddesi, İslam Ansiklopedisi, M.E.B.Yay., VI,667.

10) İbn Habib, ibid, s. 171; Aynî, Bedrüddin Ebu Muhammed Mahmud b.Ahmed, Umdetu´l-Kârî li Serhi Sahihi Buhârî, Beirut, trs, XVI,285.

11) Ateş, A.Osman, Sünnetin Kabul ve Reddettiği Câhiliye ve Ehl-i Kitab Örf ve Adetleri, (Unpublished doctoral thesis), İzmir,1989, s. 19-32.

12) Anfal, 8:35.

13) Elmalılı, Muhammed Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur´an Dili, Eser Neşriyat, trs, IV.2400.

14) Kastallanî, Irsâdu´s-Sârî li serhi Sahîhi´l-Buhârî, pp.406.

15) Ateş, A.O, ibid., pp.37-38

16) Nisa, 4:103.

17) Baqara, 2:43.

18) Baqara, 2:83.

19) Luqman, 31:17.

20) Baqara, 2:2-3.

21) Mu´minun, 23:1-2.

22) Mu´minun, 23:9.

23) Hijr, 15:97-99.

24) Ibn Kathir, Bukhari, Bad'u al-Wahy, 3, Tafsir, 96, Ta´bir, 1; Muslim, Iman, 252; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI,233.

25) Muzzammil, 73:1-4.

26) Isra, at-Tashil, IV, 156.

27) Tahiru´l-Mawlawi, ibid, pp,25.

28) Hud, 11:114, 17:79 Tafsir, III/415.

29) Hamidullah,  Muhammed, Islam Peygamberi,  Irfan Yayınevi, İst,   1969,   s.55;   Hayrettin   Karaman,  " Asr-ı   Saadette İslam Hukukunun Oluşumu" (Bütün Yönleriyle Asr-ı Saadette İslam´ın Içinde), Beyan Yayınevi, İst, 1994, 111,66.

For the entire text, please see Mehmet Soysaldi,PhD Kur´an ve Sunnet Isiginda Ibadet Tarihi, TDV Yayýnlarý, Ankara 1997
 

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