Proponents of ritual prayer are fond of saying that certain verses where this root verb appears prove the existence of ritual prayer. Their arguments tend to be like the following:
- What about 5:6 where you are supposed to do the ritual ablution (which they call wudu) before Sol-laa?
Surely, that proves that ritual prayer is needed. Surah 5 is to be read from 1 through to 7. Verse 6 is about being hygienic. The first two verses talk about food. People should observe the harmony sanctioned by God in the system. Verse 3 has more details on food, and then it says, ‘Today the way of life (or the deen) is perfected’ after detailing unhygienic food. The fourth and the fifth verses also talk about food with additional decrees that Muslims can marry the people of the previous Scripture. That in itself should be an eye-opener.The subsequent verse says that we are upholding our commitments when we make ourselves clean. In verse 7 we are told to be appreciative of God’s blessing upon us and we should uphold the covenants He made with us from the time we say, ‘We hear and we obey’.Hygiene is part of our commitments. And if there is no water to wash ourselves, God has prescribed an alternative i.e. to use clean dry soil to clean our hands. The point is, we are obliged to be as clean as we can – and here the limits are described with provision for extreme circumstances.
There is no such thing as the word ritual cleansing or wudu (this common term used by the majority of the Muslims is not to be found anywhere in the Reading). There is no ritual ablution. In 5:6 we are told it is good to wash ourselves up to the elbows, wash the face, and wipe our heads and feet. We must keep ourselves clean. This verse does not say that Sol-laa is a ritual prayer. The verse does not say after we ‘ritually’ clean up ourselves we must start praying ritually.
- What about 11:114 where we are told to uphold the Sol-laa at the ends of the day and parts of the night? It is a mistake to quote verses out of context. Here, 11:114 should be read from surah 11 verse 112 through to 115. The verse does not say the Sol-laa should be done at two ends of the day and parts of the night. The verse actually says through both ends of the day and parts of the night. The verse is rendered here in its full context:You shall uphold what was prescribed, and also those who repented with you, and not transgress. Indeed, He knows whatever your deeds are, watching. Do not be inclined to those who are wicked. That will make you suffer the Fire, and there is none for you except God as a protector, then you will not be helped. And uphold your commitments (aqimi-Sol-laa-ta) through the ends of the day and the parts of the night. Indeed the good deeds nullify the bad. That is the remembrance for those who want to remember. You shall be steadfast. God never fails to reward the righteous. (11:112-115)The verse clearly says the commitments are ongoing throughout the day and parts of the night. Verses 11:112-115 emphasise the importance of doing good deeds throughout the day and parts of the night by focusing oneself in routines according to what is taught from God’s prescribed decrees. It is a simple instruction.
- What about 24:58 where the Solatil fajri and Solatil ‘isha are mentioned?1 This verse refers to the periods of undress when children must seek permission before entering their parents’ room – from the time the parents retreat to their rooms (Solatil ‘isha) until the next morning (Solatil-fajri). We continue to observe our commitments during our private time. The same verse requires the seeking of permission to enter the room when parents are resting at noon.The Solatil ‘isha and the Solatil-fajri are not the names attributed to any ritual prayers but they are the parents’ private time. Similarly, it is not right for parents to simply walk into their children’s room once they retreat to their rooms. The verse teaches family etiquette, and as part of the obligations we are to teach children to respect their parent’s privacy. There is no ritual prayer mentioned in the verse.
- What about 4:103 where God says the Sol-laa-ta are done at specified times? It is our duty to do certain deeds at specific times through the day from morning to dusk and also parts of the night, from the sinking of the sun at noon till the darkness of the night. That means 24/7. The verse says we are committed to do certain things at the specified times. We must do what we have to do when it is time and do it diligently.If we are traders we must maintain our commitments not cheat or earn by excessive profiteering. If a beggar or a poor man comes to us at nine in the morning, we should not tell him to come back at 1 o’clock. If our workers have worked for us we should not delay or postpone their wages. If we promise to see somebody at 3.00 p.m. then we should uphold that commitment to the man by meeting him at 3.00 p.m. sharp because God says, ‘They fulfil their promises when they make their promise’. Fulfilling our promises is part of the commitment.
- What about 17:110 when you are told to use a moderate tone in your Sol-laa-teka? First of all we must read from 17:105-111. In the context we see that 17:110 is about the manner in which we should publicly avow our commitments and call people to God. We are not to go around either with a loud speaker or by being so quiet no one hears us.In 17:110 specifically, the Prophet is asked to use a moderate tone when calling people to God.Say, Call upon God, or call upon the Most Compassionate. Whatever you call, to Him belong the most beautiful names. Neither avows your commitment publicly loudly or quietly, but seek a middle course. (17:110)
1 That is, they say the Morning Prayer and the night prayer. Strangely, the Qur’an mentions the word ‘Salatil-fajri‘ but the Muslims say ‘Salatil-Subhi‘.