*Notes to Al Bayyinah’s Meaningful Prayer in Atlanta/GA Lecturer: Abdulnasir Jangda. This part discusses in detail page 3 of the handout.
We started with the explanation of basic words used in the lecture, since they are central and will come up often. So unless we understand what they mean, we will be missing out. The first word is “Salaah” obviously. The whole class rotates around it, so we ought to pause here and take our time in explain what it means.
So, what is the linguistic meaning of the word “salaah”? The word comes from four possible roots [so there is a difference among grammarians about the origins of the word]; 4 possible cores to the word Salaah.
1) The majority of Mufasereen, whose linguistic discussions of the meaning of the word pull meanings through the interpretation of the Qur’an, say it comes from “Du’a li-rahmah” which means to ask of or to request mercy.
2) The second opinion is that it comes from the word “Silah” which means ‘connection’. We understand how that develops into the word “salaah” because we see in it the connection between us and Allah [SWT]. The Divine link between us and Allah [SWT].
3) The third opinion is that it comes from the word “Salawaan” which means “hips” in classical Arabic. The hips are the connection between the top and bottom part of the body. The classical Arabs had a figure of speech, they would say “Aslat al farasu” which means the horse came in a close second. So the head of the horse is at the hip of the one in front of it.
4) The fourth opinion is that the word Salaah comes from the word “Tasliyyah” that comes from the word “Saliy” which means to burn or roast something in fire. In order to make sense of how this connects to the word Salaah, we have to go back to how the classical Arabs would use the core word. When a person is arrogant it takes extreme measures to break through that arrogance and humble him—so as the classical Arabs would say, “ Salyat Al Uodh bi-naar” literally translates to “ I burnt the wood in the fire.”
5) The fifth opinion is that the word Salaah is a foreign word that made its way into Arabic. That even if in it’s foreign origins it means “prayer” since we are not the first Ummah [nation] to pray to Allah, but other nations before us did so as well. In Islam, we have certain values and teaching that are universal—because we believe that all prophets came to teach Tawheed [monotheism, the belief in One God Alone]. Among those universal teachings of all the prophets is salaah, so it is not specific to us.
Surat Maryam, tells us about Ismail (as) who used to command his family to pray. Musa [as] in Surat Taha is commanded to believe in Allah and establish prayer, and so is Essa [Jesus] peace be upon him in Surat Maryam [as]. Even parts of the prayer are the same, Maryam [as] did Ruk’u and Sujood. True that some elements of our prayer are unique, but Salaah as a form of worship to Allah [SWT] is consistent, all prophets called for it, and established it. It’s a legacy of the prophets since the beginning of time. So, as Muslims we are part of a universal tradition.
Now the big question, which of all of the above opinions is the strongest? Which is right and which is wrong? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer in this case, but rather there is an element of truth to all of these opinions. They all add depth and breadth to the word salaah. It makes you realize how deep and profound the word actually is.
As for the technical definition of “salaah” it is to worship Allah by means of certain known and prescribed sayings and actions at specified times.
It is also important when dealing with the word Salaah in the Qur’an to consider context. For at times it appears in the Qur’an in such a way that Allah is the doer. If Allah is the doer of the act of salaah, it does not make sense for us to say that he performs Salaah as we do. Instead what it means is that Allah grants mercy and blessings:
هُوَ الَّذِي يُصَلِّي عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَلَائِكَتُهُ لِيُخْرِجَكُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ ۚ وَكَانَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَحِيمًا
“He it is who Sends blessings on you, As do His angels” [33:43]
أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ صَلَوَاتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُهْتَدُونَ