Three Salat (Prayers) Authorised in the Quran
The prayers mentioned by name in the Quran are:
1- Salat Al-Fajr (Dawn Prayer) 24.58
2- Salat Al-Isha (Night Prayer) 24.58
3- Al-Salat Al-Wusta (The Middle Prayer) 2.238
However, 99% of all Muslims in the world claim that God decreed 5 daily prayers.
Their 5 salat are: Fajr – Zhohr – Asr – Maghrib – Isha.
They changed the name of the Salat Al-Wusta (The Middle Prayer) to Salat Al-Zhohr, and they added 2 salat which are the Asr and Maghrib.
The question is: If the prescribed prayers are indeed five per day, why does the Quran have only three named salat? To research this issue we present the following points:
First: Why are there only three named salat in the Quran?
If it is true that God authorized 5 obligatory salat per day, then we must inquire as to why there are only 3 names of salat given in the Quran?
(6.114) Shall I seek other than God as a source of law when He has brought down to you this book fully detailed?(6.38) We did not leave anything out of the book
(20.52) He said: “The knowledge thereof is with my Lord in a record. My Lord never errs, nor does He forget.”
(12.1) A.L.R. These are the signs of the clear book(44.58) We have made it (the Quran) easy to understand and in your own tongue (language) may you take heed.
(45.6) These are God’s revelations which we recite to you truthfully. In which Hadith other than God and His revelations do they believe?
(2.170) And when they are told: “Follow what God has revealed (Quran),” they say: “We follow only what we found our parents doing.” What if their parents did not understand, and were not guided?
The genuine believers who believe that the Quran contains all the details, with no ifs or buts, will not accept any option other than option 7.
Second: Does the Quran give the exact times for each salat?
God tells us that the time of each prayer is precisely given in the Quran “kitaban mawqootan” 4.103. The word “kitaban” which means ‘book‘ refers to the Quran, or to ‘that which is written‘, and the word “mawqootan” means specifically timed. The deliberate use of these two words by God confirms that the precise appointed time for each of the prayers is given in the Quran. Once again this conforms to the fact that the Quran contains all the details.
The exact times of the three salat are given in the Quran and they are as follows:
The Fajr (Dawn) Prayer (mentioned by name in 24.58)
This prayer starts when fajr (dawn) starts. The start of fajr is given in 2.187. It starts when the first thin ray of light is observed in the sky. The words in 2.187 are: “until the white thread becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread at dawn.” The prayer ends at sunrise as will be explained in more details below.
The Isha (Night) Prayer (mentioned by name in 24.58)
The night prayer corresponds to the other end of the day. It is the mirror image of the fajr salat. This prayer starts at sunset and ends when all light has disappeared from the night sky.
The Wusta (Middle) Prayer (mentioned by name in 2.238)
The middle or ‘Wusta’ prayer starts when the sun starts to decline from its highest point in the sky (dulook al-shams), which is at noon, and ends at sunset as detailed below.
Third: The detailed times for each salat
The exact times of the Dawn (fajr) prayer and Evening (Isha) prayers are given in the following verse:
(11.114) You shall observe the Salat at the two ends of the day; and during the near parts of the night.
Traditionally, this verse has been interpreted to be speaking of three prayers: two Salat at the ends of the day plus an additional salat during the night, a total of 3 salat.
However, this is a clear mis-understanding. This verse in fact speaks of only two prayers. This will be apparent once we establish the true meaning of key words in 11.114.
1- The “ends of the day” are sunrise and sunset. A command to observe the salat at the two ends of the day is insufficient in giving us the time range for the salat in question. This is because sunrise and sunset (the two ends of the day) are events that take less than 2 minutes to be completed. Surely God does not expect all believers to observe the salat during this very brief time! It is only with the addition of the words “wa zulufan min al-layl” in the same verse that we are given a time range as to when these two salat are to be observed.
2- Some interpreters, have claimed that we can observe the Salat around the two points and not only during the actual sunrise/sunset, but this is equally unacceptable. This interpretation gives rise to a new valid question: When exactly would the ‘around the two points’ be? Would it be before sunrise (and sunset) or after sunrise (sunset)? It is obvious that we would be left without any clues as to when exactly to observe these two Salat. However, the phrase ‘zulufann min al-layl‘ gives us the exact timing of these two salat.
3- There has been a number of interpretations for the words ‘zulufann min al-layl‘. The most commonly used are (parts of the night) or (during the night) or (some parts of the night). However, none of these interpretations are accurate nor in line with the Quranic use of the word “zulufann” as will be shown.
The root of the word “zulufann” is “Zulfa“. The word “Zulfa” is used in the Quran to mean near or close as in:
(39.3) “….. those who set up allies beside him, “We only idolize them so that they may bring us ‘zulfa’ (close) to God!”
As a result, the phrase “zulufann min al-layl” means the near parts of the night. The obvious question is: near to what? Nothing can be described as ‘near’ in absolute terms. The word ‘near’ can only have a meaning when we have a reference point to which this thing is near to. For example, we cannot say “my house is near” nor “the chair is near”! These phrase on their own do not have any meaning, but we can say “my house is near the school” and “the chair is near the table”. So now we have to read 11.114 again and see what does God mean by ‘near parts of the night‘, or in other words, near to what? The only other reference points given in 11.114 are the “ends of the day“, which are sunrise and sunset. As a result, the words “zulufann min al-layl” can only mean the parts of the night which are near to sunrise and sunset.
With the knowledge that anytime between sunset and sunrise is defined as night in the Quran (details at: Definition of Night in the Quran) it becomes clear that the part of the night which is near sunrise is the time of Fajr (dawn), this is the hour or so before sunrise when there is some light in the sky. Similarly the part of the night which is near to sunset is Isha (night), this is the hour or so after sunset when there is light in the sky.
As a result, 11.114 speaks of two salat only, and God is giving us in 11.114 the range of two salat. The range for the two salat are the parts of the night which are just before sunrise and immediately after sunset.
Perhaps the word “wa”, which means ‘and’, which is placed before the phrase ‘zulufann min al-layl’ is the word that was the main subject of misinterpretation. Many have understood the word ‘wa’ to mean (and an additional Salat), however, the word ‘wa’ simply links the two ends of the day, with the adjacent parts of the night, to give the time range of the two salat.
The two Salat at the ends of the day that are spoken of in 11.114 are given specific names in the Quran. They are Salat Al-Fajr (Dawn Prayer) and Salat Al-Isha (Night Prayer).
Not surprisingly, the times of “fajr” and “esha” are defined in Arabic dictionaries as the times before sunrise and after sunset respectively.
Now we come to the third Salat mentioned in the Quran, which is Al-Salat Al-Wusta (2.238). The timing of this salat is given in the following verse:
(17.78) You shall observe the Salat from the ‘duluk’ of the sun (when the sun declines from its highest point) up until the ‘ghasaq al-layl’ (the darkness of the night)
The word “Wusta” (2.238) is a derivative of the word ‘Wasat’ which means middle. Therefore the words “Al-Salat Al-Wusta” mean ‘The Middle Prayer’. The word middle (wusta) in 2.238 cannot have a meaning in an absolute sense. To be described as ‘middle’ must be in reference to two other points. The only other reference points given in the Quran in connection to salat are sunrise and sunset (the ends of the day in 11.114). Thus the middle salat starts when the sun has travelled exactly half way between sunrise and sunset. This is at midday.
The exact time for the Middle prayer (Salat Al-Wusta), which is given in 17.78, is from the moment the sun begins its descent from its highest point at midday (duluk al shams) until the darkness of the night starts (ghasaq al-layl).
The darkness itself starts about an hour or so before sunset, but the time before sunset is still part of the day, but since God said: “the darkness of the night” it must be the beginning of the darkness but also part of the night. This would be as soon as the sun sets, for then the darkness is setting in and it is also part of the night. Had God only said “until the darkness” this would have meant a time before sunset when the sun is still up but darkness is starting to creep in.
It must also be mentioned that some scholars have interpreted the words “until the darkness of the night” to mean when it is totally dark! But this is not correct, to demonstrate the correct meaning, consider the following example which outlines some basic logic:
If a man is told: Walk till you get to the sea then start swimming.
Does this mean that the man should swim when he gets to the beginning of the sea, when he gets to the middle of the sea or when he gets to the end of the sea? Naturally it means when he gets to the very beginning of the sea.
In the same way, if God says: “until the darkness of the night” it means until the very beginning of the darkness and as mentioned, when it is also night time.
As we have seen, not only do we only have three names of prayers in the Quran, we also have three defined times for prayer in the Quran. Those who follow five prayers a day cannot find names of more than three salat in the book, nor can they find defined times for their five prayers in the Quran. All their information comes from sources outside the Quran. They do that because they claim that the Quran does not have all the details. And by doing so, they demonstrate their disbelief in God’s assurances that the Quran is fully detailed (6.114) and that nothing has been left out of the book (6.38)!
Fourth: The usual manipulations
Since there are only three named salat in the Quran, the advocates of the five salat have tried to manipulate a number of Quranic words to enforce their non Quranic five salat tradition. The following are some of their manipulations:
– Some have claimed that the word ‘zahira’ in 24.58 refers to the salat which they call by the same name. The advocates of the 5 prayers have tried to manipulate this word in 24.58 so as to authorise a salat called ‘zohr’. But If we look at verse 24.58, we note that the word ‘salat’ is related only to 2 Salats (Fajr and Esha), and we also note that God only speaks of the ‘time of day‘ (not salat name) which God calls Zahira (zohr). If there is a Salat called Salat Al-Zohr, wouldn’t we expect to see the words ‘salat Al-Zahira/Zohr’ in 24.58, just like God mentions Salat Al-Fajr and Salat Al-Esha in the same verse by their name? The time of ‘zahira’ spoken of in 24.58 is a time which God reserves for privacy as the words in 24.58 explain, and is not a name for a salat.
– Some have also tried to manipulate various Quranic verses which speak of the time of ‘Asr’ (afternoon) such as 103.1, but once again when we read 103.1 we do not see any mention of the word salat. Asr is merely a time of the day which God refers to. The Quran also speaks of other times of the day such as ‘duha’ (morning) in 93.1, but once again this is not a reference to a salat by that name. The concept of salat is not mentioned directly or indirectly in any of these verses.
– Yet another case of manipulation is by those who have tried to change the meaning of the Quranic word ‘tasbeeh’ (glorification) to indicate salat. The Quran invites us to glorify God at various times of the day (3.41, 20.130, 50.39). The act of ‘tasbeeh’ is different from the act of salat. Tasbeeh (glorifying God) can be done at any time and has no pre-requisites, but salat has specific times of the day and can only be done according to specific rules such as ablution, facing qibla .. etc.
Fifth: The sun given as the timer
Many centuries ago in the old days, people did not have printed lists of times of prayers and astronomical charts, etc. They could not do like we do now, turn on the radio or TV or obtain a Prayer Timetable. However, God must have given a means to determine the times of prayers even for those early communities who did not have the facilities we have today. God must have given them a natural means of determining the times of the prayers.
All the three salat are timed in reference to the movement of the sun in our sky. This is a natural method which can be applied by all people and long before the human devised the sophisticated astronomical charts.
As long as there is any light in the sky (before sunrise and after sunset) we know it is the time for Fajr and Isha respectively.
With the Salat Al-Wusta it is also very easy. When we see no shadow below us when we stand, we know that this is when the sun is highest in the sky. When we start to see the smallest shadow, this is the beginning of the salat al-wusta, it ends when the sun sets. It cannot be easier!
Sixth: The issue of the ‘raka’
Finally we come to the issue of how many raka to be observed in each Salat.
The cycle of standing, bowing and prostrating is traditionally called a ‘raka’. According to Quranic law, God did not specify any specific number of raka to be observed in the Salat. More important, the word raka does not appear anywhere in the Quran, so we must discard it and only think in terms of standing, bowing and prostrating while commemorating God alone.
The advocates of the 5 prayers claim that the number of raka to be observed during each of the 5 prayers is 24434 respectively. In other words, 2 raka’s at fajr, then 4 raka during their ‘zohr’ prayer, and so on.
For a start, and since there are only three Salat decreed by God for the believers, then this 24434 format is false.
A different group who also advocate the 5 prayer format have come up with some calculations based on the number 19 to claim that the 24434 format has been preserved since Abraham.
These calculations have been proven to be coincidental and thus cannot be considered in any way as divine signs. For more details on this matter, please check the following page: The code 19 and the 2-4-4-3-4 format
Some other scholars have claimed that the minimum number of Raka during any prayer must be two. They base their claim on the Quranic concession to shorten the Salat at times of war (4.101). They state that if we are given indication to shorten the Salat, then it must be at least two Raka, that is because it is not feasible to shorten the salat if it were made of just one Raka!
The error in this interpretation is double edged:
1- It is based on a non Quranic concept which is the raka.
2- It is also in error because the Quranic concession to shorten the salat is time related, it is not related to the raka frequency. As mentioned, the concept of ‘raka’ is not a Quranic concept. The Quran speaks of standing, bowing and prostration without any time or frequency restrictions, which allows us to spend the time we wish in any of these positions. In other words, one can spend one minute in the standing position or ten minutes. One could read the Al-Fatiha (The Key) once or ten times. Equally one may praise God during prostration three times or 20 times. One could prostrate once or five times, and so on.
If we add the fact that different people exercise different speeds in uttering their prayers, then we are once again compelled to accept that shortening the salat is related to the overall time we give to the Salat and not to the number of raka’s.
The concession to shorten the Salat given in 4.101 is thus a time related one. God is telling us if you normally spend (as an example) 10 minutes in your Salat, you may spend 2 or 3 minutes when you are at war.
Apart from the fixed one month decreed for fasting, we find that none of the other Islamic practices and rituals have been given a fixed frequency in the Quran, and for a great wisdom too. For more details please see: The Missing Frequencies