How to Pray in Islam, According to the Qur'an

The Qur'an is explicit when it comes to prayer in ways that the Christian Bible is not. There are definite reasons to pray: Qur'an 17:79 offers a bribe: pray often, more than is required of you, and Allah might "raise you to a position of great glory". Aside from that, the vast majority of the verses in the Qur'an about prayer are about technicalities - frequency, timings and posture. For example Qur'an 2:238-239 says that the "middle prayer" (presumably, of the 5 daily prayers) is the most important. Qur'an 5:6 reiterates typical superstitions about cleanliness and washing before prayer (more so if you've touched women recently). It seems that when God spoke to the Hebrews it was insistent upon the minute specifics of animal sacrifice, but, it revealed to the writers of the New Testament that such textual literalism was an error, and distracted from the proper relationship with God. But, hundreds of years later, God is again getting involved with the particulars. Despite this attempt, the Qur'an is unclear and ambiguous on how, exactly, Muslims should pray, and there are many different customs.

An example prayer is given in Qur'an 3:191-194:

Our Lord! You have not created this without purpose, glory to You! Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.
Our Lord! Verily, whom You admit to the Fire, indeed, You have disgraced him; and never will the Zalimun [polytheists and wrong-doers] find any helpers.
Our Lord! Verily, we have heard the call of one calling to Faith: 'Believe in your Lord,' and we have believed. Our Lord! Forgive us our sins and expiate from us our evil deeds, and make us die (in the state of righteousness) along with Al-Abrar [the pious believers of Islamic Monotheism].
Our Lord! Grant us what You promised unto us through Your Messengers and disgrace us not on the Day of Resurrection, for You never break your Promise.

An Islamic prayer
In Qur'an 3:191

1. Pray Quietly, With Humility and in Secret, and Weep

Qur'an 17:107,110 says to weep as it adds to the humility, but don't pray loudly (nor be silent). Mumbling is the order of the day.

Call on your Lord humbly and secretly; surely He does not love those who exceed the limits.

Qur'an 7:55

This is the same as the Christian Bible's instructions to pray in private, as Jesus did. It seems that the monotheistic God - being omniscient (all-knowing) - does not require or endorse mass displays of piety, which too easily become bombastic public dramas rather than genuinely-felt acts.

2. Qur'an 3:191-4: Praying Posture

Just before praying, Qur'an 3:191 mentions that those who remember Allah' while 'standing, sitting, and laying down' (some translations say 'laying down on their side') are 'men of sense' - it doesn't here mention women who pray. This gives a lot of options as to posture! 2:238-239 says that prayers can be performed on foot (or on a horse) if required, which therefore implies that prayers are best if not on the move. However 17:107,110 is more limiting and says that to pray, you have to fall down on your face.

3. Qur'an 3:43: Women in Prayer: No Segregation

Some say that Qur'an 3:43 gives instruction to bow down. But this is clearly just part of a sentence being addressed to Mary, "Mary, be obedient to your Lord; bow down and worship with the worshippers", or in most translations "with those who bow down". Although according to Qur'an 3:191 they could be standing, sitting or laying. If Mary represents women in general, Qur'an 3:43 at most instructs women to bow down with worshippers. Yet, against the Qur'an, many Islamic institutions separate women from men rather than have them pray with them.

Just to add to the confusion, don't forget that Qur'an 7:55 instructs believers to pray humbly and in secret/private. So perhaps women - and men - shouldn't bow down with anyone and Qur'an 3:43 does indeed apply only to Mary. What you do depends on which verses you choose to follow.

The Qur'an is a male-dominated book, delivered to men, and written only for men to read. Most the instructions are given to men alone. For example, Qur'an 5:6 explains how and when to wash before prayer. It says you have to wash if you've touched a women recently. This clearly makes no sense if ever read by a women. Such shortcomings result from the Qur'an being written in a male-dominated culture, clearly the male authors of the Qur'an simply encoded their local customs and misogyny into their (man-made) holy writings.

4. Qur'an 52:48-49, 73:1-7: Prayer Timings at Night

Qur'an 52:48-49 makes a few unclear comments, saying to "keep up prayer from the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night and the morning recitation; surely the morning recitation is witnessed. And during a part of the night, pray Tahajjud beyond what is incumbent on you; maybe your Lord will raise you to a position of great glory". Derived from these and other equally ambiguous verses there are various interpretations as to when you should pray:

Qur'an 73 opens with commentary that the recital of the Qur'an is to be a chant. And, at night-time voice impressions are strongest and more eloquent than during the day, when daytime business distracts people (Qur'an 73:1-7). Although, Qur'an 73 may well be addressed solely to Muhammad, as it warns "We are about to address to you words..." (73:5), so it may just be night-time was the best time for the angels to address Muhammad, the Qur'an is nonetheless asserting the general principal that, despite tiredness and the like, night-time is a clearer time to chant the Qur'an. Or perhaps, Muhammad was an epileptic (or he suffered from a form of sleep apnea), and had more frequent visions at night-time, hence, the belief and assertion that the night-time was the best time for receiving and reciting the Qur'an.

For comparison to Christianity and for notes on prayer across all religions, see:

"Prayer to God in Christianity and Islam: It is Useless and Satanic!" by Vexen Crabtree (2005)

Read / Write LJ Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2011 Jun 19
(Last Modified: 2013 Oct 22)
Parent page: Islam: A Critical Look at Contemporary Issues

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References: (What's this?)

The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.

Crabtree, Vexen
(2006) "Islam: A Critical Look at Contemporary Issues" (2006). Accessed 2015 Apr 08.

© 2015 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.