We can support the fact that the Reading does not mean ritual prayer by the word Sol-laa and its derivatives by examining the different usage of this word in the Reading in its various contexts. What transpires is that Sol-laa has to be observed by everyone – even by the non-believers and the idol-worshippers.
One very clear example regards the witnessing of a will by strangers:
O you who believe, you shall have witnesses when death is near to any one of you: to dictate your will in the presence of two equitable persons among you, or strangers in case there is a sudden danger to your life when travelling on the earth. If you are not certain of them, retain them after they have committed themselves (Sol-laa-ti) to make them both swear by God, “We will not take advantage to favour anyone even the closest relatives. We will not conceal any evidence before God. If we do, the sin will be upon us.”1 (5:106)
The verse says: ‘After the two strangers [note: who can be Jews or Christians] commit themselves (Sol-laa-ti), make them both swear by God’. This does not call for the performance of a ritual prayer in the presence of a dying person. Instead they are taking on the responsibility of being witnesses to a will by making a solemn pledge to the person before God. This is an example of Sol-laa-ti (the commitment) between people.
The commitment between people is to fulfil such obligations before the one God. It is that simple.B
Besides upholding the Sol-laa with strangers, believers may also do so with non-believers, and idol-worshippers. Surely, the following passages in the Reading are not meant to suggest that polytheists perform the ritual prayers:
Except those among the idol-worshippers with whom you have a treaty and then do not breach anything with you and do not aid anyone against you, therefore complete your agreement with them until its term. Surely, God loves those who fear (Him). (9:4)
Once the restricted months are over, you may confront the idol worshipers wherever you encounter them, agitate them, provoke them and keep after them. However if they repent and observe their commitment and keep them pure (aqimus-Sol-laa-ta-waa-tuz-zakaa), then you shall pardon them. God is forgiver and merciful. (9:5)
And if one of the idol-worshippers seeks help from you, protect him then let him hear God’s words then convey him to a place of safety. This is because they are a people who do not know. (9:6)
At 9:4–6 we are directed to treat the idol-worshippers well and even convey them to a place of safety. Those that we shelter may remain idol-worshippers. We are charged not with discriminating upon the basis of this prejudice. Rather, we are commanded to be a beacon of light and understanding. Understanding and carrying out the commandment in this verse alone would change the entire Islamic landscape as we know it.
We see that if and when the polytheists repent and agree to peace, it is the people who are at peace or Muslims’ duty to uphold that peace and grant them their freedom. Again, the Reading enjoins civility and kindness in the face of hostilities. Islam does not condone the mistreatment of those who are under our power or control (9:5). Ultimately, Sol-laa-ta in this instance refers to the idol-worshippers agreeing to keep to their end of the bargain.
The prophet Shuaib provides another example of Sol-laa clearly signifying commitments. He committed himself to reform his people. Those who rejected his commitments challenged him.
“O my people! Gives full measure and full weight equitably. Do not cheat people out of their things, and do not corrupt the earth. A smaller provision from God would be better for you, if you are really believers. I am not a guardian over you.” They said, “O Shuaib, does your Sol-laa (commitment) prevent us from idolising what our parents have idolised, and from doing whatever we want with our money? Surely you are too clement and too wise.” (11:85–87)
The commitment that Shuaib was trying to bind upon his people was that they should not cheat or corrupt the earth. It was a simple precept that was not accepted by his peers. Hence, they said to Shuaib:
“O Shuaib, does your commitment (Sol-laa-tu-ka) prevent us from idolising what our parents have idolised, and from doing whatever we want with our money?”2
Sol-laa here clearly refers to committing to good deeds and upholding a good moral order. The commitment called for his people not to cheat, not to corrupt the earth, and to be fair. There is no other reading without abusing the sense in the text beyond belief.
What we can better understand, however, is why the Arab priests themselves emphatically declare that the Reading has no information at all about the five daily prayers (thus contradicting themselves on what they proclaim to be the first absolute pillar of the religion of Islam) – because they are right! Their own lips condemn them. There is no such thing as the five daily prayers. How woefully correct and wrong they are at the same time.
1 The two men are strangers to the dying man, yet the verse says they qualify to make an oath before God. Their willingness to write the will and to become witness is their commitment ‘Sol-laa-ti’. Like the Jews, the Arab religionists conceal this verse from their followers.
2 Clearly the word Sol-laa here does not refer to ritual prayer.