Salah (ritual prayer) is one of the most distinctive and recognisable images of Muslims. It literally means “connection” and this word explains a lot. Muslims feel they are connecting directly with God when they pray to God, in a ritualised manner that involves familiar postures such as bowing down onto the ground. Indeed, whilst no one can see God, the Prophet Muhammad taught that excellence (“Ihsan”) in ritual prayer was to perform it as if ‘standing before’ God. It is this psychology of standing before God that explains why Muslims remain so still and calm when in prayer.
The Prophet Muhammad taught that Salah is one the 5 pillars of Islam, which means it acts like much like a concrete pillar does in upholding a building. He also showed Muslims how to perform this prayer, and Muslims have faithfully followed his tradition ever since. Typically, the ritual lasts about 5 to 10 minutes, during which a believer recites portions of the Qur’an and various prayers (normally in Arabic) whilst carrying out various postures. Muslims will quickly wash ritually beforehand, will wear clean clothes and pray on a clean or natural surface (sometimes using a prayer mat for this purpose). Muslims face in the direction of the Kaaba in Makka, and pray for the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad together with their families, and seek God’s forgiveness, guidance and peace. Together, the bodily movements, recitations and prayers symbolise a commitment to God and a readiness to do good as God commands.
More observant Muslims will perform Salah dutifully at 5 times within a single day, though a greater number do not. Salah can be offered at home, in a mosque or outdoors, alone and in a congregation where believers stand shoulder to shoulder in lines and are led by a person in front. On Friday afternoons, Muslims (usually male) will normally visit a larger community mosque to pray in a larger congregation.