What is the Social Significance of Prayer within Islam?
Prayer in Islam
For Muslims, prayer known as Salat, is a compulsory duty and must be performed five times a day using set words and actions. A Muslims can perform his prayers anywhere but if possible, praying in congregation with fellow believers is best. You can find out more about the details of prayer within Islam here.
As well as ritual prayer there is also voluntary prayer known as Du'a. A Muslim ca perfrom du'a in private or on top of their ritual prayer. Of course this can be done whenever a Muslim wishes.
Prayer and the Ummah
Within Islam there is a concept known as the Ummah. This is the worldwide Islamic community, it transcends race, gender, social class and nationality and unites all Muslims the world over in their shared beliefs and submission to the One True God. Ummah is a very important concept in Islam, which originated in the setting of warring tribes and feuding clans, it stresses peace, harmony and unity.
Many Muslim practices and rituals reflect this belief that all Muslims form a worldwide community and salah also helps to reinforce the concept of ummah. For instance, during congregational prayers, like those said on a Friday when Muslims attend the Jumu'ah prayers, are performed in lines. The Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder which symbolises their equality before the eyes of God. People stand next to each other regardless of age or status and therefore, a feeling of solidarity and unity is created. The tashahhud section of salah allows Muslims to request peace and blessing for their fellow Muslims.
The social significance of prayer is made more evident by a Hadith from prophet Muhammad claiming:
"The merit of congregational prayer surpasses that of individual prayer by twenty seven degrees" Hadith
The Practical Importance of Ibadah
Ibadah, means worship. The five pillars of Islam form the basis of worship in Islam. Ibadah should not just be a spiritual act but an act of social kindness. The Five Pillars act together as a unit. Prayer on its own means nothing if it is not carried out alongside the other four pillars. As an early scripture records:
"I do not accept the prayers of everyone who prays. I accept the prayers of none but those who are humble before my majesty, who are not arrogant towards my servants, and who feed the poor and hungry for my sake"
Salah provides Muslims with the spiritual strength to act charitably and carry out the final three pillars of zakah, sawm and hajj. Zakah (alms giving) and sawm (fasting) are both socially significant. Fasting allows Muslims to empathize with those who are less wealthy. Zakah provides an opportunity to give to those who are less wealthy. These two pillars have excellent implications for Muslim society yet it is salah that provides the moral training for a Muslim to carry them out. Socially, therefore, salah encourages Muslims to perform the other practical pillars with more involvement, commitment and meaning.
Because Muslims pray five times a day, God and the implications of what they do are never far from their minds. For this reason Muslims tend to be well-behaved and disciplined. Physically prayer is beneficial as it keeps Muslims fit and clean. Islam is keen to ensure that its adherents practise what they preach. the Qur'an says:
"Why say ye that which ye do not? Grievously odious is it in the sight of God that ye say that which ye do not" Suarh 61.2
Salah means that Muslims are constantly involved in practical worship and, therefore, aims to abolish any hypocrisy from the religion of Islam.
Which is the most important pillar?
Prayer and the Lesser Jihad
The lesser jihad is not the struggle of the individual Muslim but rather the struggle of the Muslim community. lesser Jihad involves Muslims trying to remove evil from society. Salah plays a number of roles in the lesser jihad.
Firstly it creates a sense of community and ultimately the lesser jihad is the community's struggle. Secondly, before a Muslim can act to establish a perfect Islam for society he must first establish a perfect Islam within himself. Salah allows for this greater jihad which must first take place. Finally, because Muslims aim to practise what they preach it is easier for them to inspire the rest of society. A religion in which there is less hypocrisy is surely more attractive than one in which there is.