The linguistic definition of salaah, prayer, is generally one or a combination of the following:
- to pray for mercy
- hips – the Arabic word for hips gives the meaning of a connection or close following; the hips connect the upper and lower halves of the body, and the person praying closely follows the imaam (MAJORITY OPINION)
- to burn – this word was used in Arabic with reference to burn wood using fire, and this is interpreted as humbling oneself extremely
- a foreign word that means ‘prayer’
Allah is Greater
‘Allah is the Greatest’ is the most common translation of the takbeer. However, when studying the Arabic, we see that the form of the word Akbar is in the comparative form, not the superlative form; this means that Akbar is comparative, meaning ‘greater’, rather than ‘greatest’. So why has ‘greater’ been used? Why is it open-ended? Because Allah is greater than anything and everything… therefore He is the Greatest…? Yes. But ‘greater’ is used in the salaah as a means of increasing khushoo’, when one is about to begin praying and is thinking of other things, he/she says ‘Allah is Greater!’ Greater than whatever they were previously distracted by. So whenever the takbeer is made in salaah, it is a reminder that Allah is greater than whatever may be distracting you from focusing on your salaah at that time.
Narrated Abu Hurayrah (RA) and recorded in Sahih Muslim: I have heard the Prophet (SAW) say:
Allah (SWT) had said: I have divided prayer between Myself and My slave into two halves, and My slave shall have what he has asked for.
Here, the prayer being referred to is Surah al-Fatihah, proven by the rest of the hadith that follows. It is because of this Hadith Qudsi that many scholars have said it is necessary to recite Surah al-Fatihah in every prayer, to oneself, even if praying behind an Imaam who is reciting it.
Having finished reciting Surah al-Fatihah and any further Qur’an as necessary, once again the takbeer is made, stating that ‘Allah is Greater’ than everything else, and then comes the ruku’ (bowing). In this position, once settled with straight knees and a straight back, the phrase ‘Subhaana Rabbi al-’Adheem’ is stated 3/5/7 and so on times…. This means “How perfect is my Lord, The Supreme/Strong/Firm/Stable [One]” This is said when a person is bowing down, in a vulnerable position, when we are at our least balanced position in the prayer, saying how strong and Supreme our Lord Allah (SWT) is.
The sitting after the two sujood that occurs in the second rakaah and/or the final rakaah is not a ‘wind-down’ period that many take it as, after the toil and labour of standing for a few minutes; it is the grand finale.
There are many narrations regarding the tashahhud, with minor variations, each taught to a Companion by the Prophet (SAW). The most common is perhaps that of ibn Mas’ud (RA):