Why Was Doing The Daily Prayer Prescribed Five Times A Day?
“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”
Glory be to God whenever you reach evening and whenever you rise in the morning, and all praise is for Him in the heavens and on earth, and in the late afternoon and whenever you reach the noon. (The Quran 30:17)
You ask me the reasons for the apportioning of the daily prayers into five definite durations. I’ll take up just one of very many reasons.
Each occasion of prayer is not only the opening of a significant turning point but also is a mirror to Divine disposal of power and to the universal Divine bounties within that disposal. We are enjoined to perform the prescribed prayers at these defined times so as to give more adoration and glory to the All-Powerful One of Majesty and to give more thanks to Him for all the bounties that have been accumulated between any two occasions. That is the meaning of the prescribed prayers. To comprehend a little this subtle and profound meaning, consider the following points:
Each particular prayer stands for praising and glorifying God and feeling grateful to Him. That is, it is to glorify Him by uttering subhan-Allah (Glory be to God) by word and action in the awareness of His Majesty. It is to exalt and magnify Him, by uttering Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest), through word and act in the awareness of His Perfection. Thirdly it is, by uttering al-hamdu li-llah (All praise be to God) with the heart, tongue, and body, to offer thanks to Him in the awareness of His Grace. From this we conclude that glorification, exaltation, and praise and thanksgiving are the heart of prayer. It is for this reason that these three things are present in all parts of the prayer, in all its actions and words. Further, following each prayer, these three holy phrases are repeated thirty-three times each, in order to confirm and complete the objectives of prayer. The meaning of prayer is pronounced consecutively with these concise utterances.
The meaning of worship is this: Man, a servant of God, being aware of his defects, weakness and poverty in the Divine presence, prostrates himself in love and wonderment before the perfection of His Lordship, His Divine Might, on which every creature relies, and His Divine Compassion. In other words, the Sovereignty of His Lordship demands devotion and obedience. His Holiness also requires us human beings to see our defects and ask for His pardon, to proclaim that He is free from any defect and from the false judgments of unaware people and beyond all the failings of His creatures.
The Perfection of His Might requires that the servant, in the realization of his weakness and the helplessness of all other creatures, proclaims God is the Greatest in admiration and amazement before the majesty of His works. Bowing in deep humility, he seeks refuge in Him and places his trust in Him.
And the boundless treasury of the Lord’s Compassion demands that the servant declares his own needs and those of all creatures by praying and asking for His help, and that he proclaims His blessings through praise and gratitude, uttering al-hamdu li-llah. In short, the words and actions of the prescribed prayers comprise all these meanings, and were therefore ordered and arranged by God.
Mankind is a miniature of the whole universe. In the same way, the first sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, is an illuminated miniature of the whole Book. The prayer is a bright index, involving all ways of worship, and a sacred map, hinting at the diverse kinds of worship of all species of living things.
The consecutive divisions of day and night, the years and phases of each individual’s life in the world, are, as it were, an immense time-piece whose parts function like the wheels and levers of a clock which, as they move, calculate seconds, minutes and hours. For example:
- The time of Fajr (the early morning) was appointed for the morning prayer until sunrise. It may be likened to the birth of spring, or the moment when sperm takes refuge in the protective womb, or to the first of the six consecutive days during which the earth and the sky were created. It recalls how God disposes His Power and acts in such times and events.
- The time of Zuhr (just past midday) may be likened to the completion of adolescence, or the middle of summer, or the period of man’s creation in the lifetime of the world. It too points to God’s compassionate manifestations and abundant blessings in those events and periods of time.
- The time of ‘Asr (afternoon) resembles autumn, and old age, and the time of the Last Prophet, known as the Time of Happiness. It calls to mind the Divine acts and the favors of the All-Compassionate in them.
- The time of Maghrib (sunset) reminds of the decline of very many creatures at the end of autumn, and man’s death. It thus forewarns us of the destruction of the world at the beginning of the Resurrection and also teaches us how to understand the manifestation of God’s Majesty and in this way wakes us from a deep sleep of neglect.
- The time of ‘Isha (nightfall), calls to mind the world of darkness veiling all the objects of the daytime with its black shroud, and winter covering the surface of the dead earth with its white cerement. It brings to mind, also, the remaining works of the dead being wholly forgotten, and points out to us the inevitable, complete decline of this world which is a place of testing. Thus ‘Isha time proclaims the awesome acts of the Over-powering One of Majesty.
- As for the nighttime, by putting in his mind the winter, the grave, and the Intermediate World, it reminds man how much his spirit really needs the Mercy of the All-Merciful One.
- The tahajjud prayer, in the later, deeper part of the night, reminds and warns us how necessary a light this prayer will be in the darkness of the grave. In this way, by recalling the infinite bounties of the True Bestower granted to man within the sequence of all these extraordinary events, it proclaims how worthy He is of praise and thanks.
- The next morning is a time that points to the morning following the Resurrection. As reasonable, necessary and certain it is that morning follows night, and spring comes after winter, so the morning of the Resurrection or a spring following the Intermediate Life is equally certain to come.
We now understand that each appointed occasion for the five daily prayers is itself the beginning of a vital turning-point and a reminder of greater revolutions or turning-points in the life of the universe. Through the awesome daily disposals of the Eternally Besought One’s Power, the times of the prayers call to mind the miracles of Divine Power and the gifts of Divine Mercy in every year, every age and every epoch. So, the prescribed prayers, which are an innate duty and the basis of worship and an unquestionable obligation of man, are most appropriate and fitted for these times.
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi