The Salat

Surah 1 (Al-Fatihah/The Opening):

1. In the Name of Allah, the Mercy-Giving, the Merciful,

2. All praise is due to Allah (alone), the Sustainer of all the worlds,

3. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

4. Lord of the Day of Judgement!

5. You alone do we conform to; and unto You alone do we turn for help.

6. Show us the straight way,

7. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

[The Ascendant Qur’an, Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, Al-Asi & Khan, 2008 (Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought)]


This short surah is said to have been called by Muhammad the ‘mother’ or ‘essence’ of the Qur’an. Since surahs in the Qur’an are generally ordered in such a way that they tend to decrease in length, the existence of one of the shortest surahs as the first is good evidence that it was positioned there to act as an introductory prayer. The suggestion has been made that the first and last two surahs of the Qur’an were likely to be later additions to a previously existing body of text as ‘framing texts’ , a communal and two individual prayers. This is a proposition that is strengthened by the reported absence of these three verses from the pre-canonical Qur’an compiled by Abdullah bin Masud 〈7.〉


It has been pointed out that the structure of Surah 1 mirrors that of the Lord’s Prayer of Christianity (Matthew 6.9 , Luke 11.2 ):


In the name of God, the Compassionate, the merciful,

(The Lord’s Prayer: ‘Our Father who art in heaven’)



All praise is due to Allah

(‘Hallowed be Thy name’)


Anticipation of the Last Day:

Lord of the Day of Judgment

(‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven’)


Appeal for practical sustenance:

Unto you alone do we turn for help

(‘Give us this day our daily bread’)


Appeal for moral guidance:

Show us the straight way… the way of … those who do not go astray.

(‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’)


It is recited by Muslims before they perform each rak’a (prostration) of their periodic salat (obligatory prayers). That a prayer involves a sequence of movements including standing upright, bowing and touching one’s head to the ground, reflects {22.26}, which describes the movements of pilgrims: ‘those who circumambulate and those who stand and those who bow and prostrate’ and {48.29}: ‘You see them bowing, prostrating seeking bounty from God and contentment; their mark upon their faces is from the effect of prostration’.


There is no single place in the Qur’an where it is stated that a Muslim should pray five times a day. The standard Muslim regime of daily prayers at: dawn (‘al-fajr’), noon (‘al-ẓuhr’), late afternoon (‘al-‘aṣr’), sunset (‘al-maġrib’) and in the early hours of the night (‘al-ishā’) appears to have been constructed from reading together several verses.

{6.52}, {24.58} and {40.55} anticipate only two formal prayer times: at, or about, sunrise and sunset.

{6.52}: ‘… Those who call upon their Lord, morning and evening…’

{24.58}: [Three periods in a day are specified for a somewhat unclear purpose that does not concern us here, which include]:

before the dawn prayer,
when you doff your garments at noon and after the night prayer.’

{40.55}: ‘… Hymn the praise of thy Lord, at eventide and at dawn.’


Other verses, {11.114}, {17.78-79}, {20.130} and {50.39-40} , also refer to praying ‘at the ends of the day’ but in addition recommend praying during the night. {11.114} specifies ‘the early hours of the night’, but in the other verses the time of the night prayer is not fixed and {17.78-79} is explicit that the nocturnal prayer is merely recommended and not an obligation.

{17.78} Perform the prayer at the declining of the sun till the darkening of the night and the recitation at dawn – truly the recitation at dawn is ever witnessed!

{17.79} And keep vigil in prayer for part of the night, as a supererogatory act for thee [‘an additional prayer (or spiritual profit) for theeper Yusuf Ali, ‘an extra offering of your own’, Haleem, ‘a largesse for thee’, Pickthall].

It may be that thy Lord will resurrect thee in a praiseworthy station.


One passage, {30.17-18}, may be interpreted as instructing believers to give glory to God four times in a day, referring specifically to glorifying God in the noon and late afternoon in addition to dawn and dusk, although the verses are so imprecise that they may mean just that God deserves to be praised throughout the waking day):

{30.17} So glory be to God when you enter upon the evening and when you rise at morn.

{30.18} His is the praise in the heavens and on the earth, when the sun declines and when you reach the noontide.


If one interprets {30.17-18}, as requiring four obligatory sets of prostrations each day, the fifth is provided by {2.238} which refers to a ‘middle prayer’, necessarily anticipating that there should be an odd number of daily prayers. So, it must have been concluded, the recommended night prayer must have become a fifth mandatory prayer time . For the fanciful account of Muhammad negotiating God down on the number of daily prayers, see 〈34.〉, above.


Each formal prayer involves reciting {1.1-7} before bowing and prostrating a number of times (usually twice at dawn, four times each at noon and in the mid-morning, three times in the early evening and four times at night.) {5.6} requires that prior to rising to perform prayer, a person must perform ablutions (‘wuḍū’) by washing their head and face, their hands up to the elbows and feet up to the ankles.
{62.9-11} further instructs believers to ‘leave off trade’ for ‘congregational prayer‘. Traditionally, Islamic congregational prayers take place at a mosque once a week at the Friday ’al-ẓuhr’ salat. It has been suggested that, just as the first Christians had met upon the day following the Jewish Sabbath, the custom of Muslims attending such prayers on a Friday developed from Muhammad publicly preaching and determining disputes at busy markets that were held on the eve of the Sabbath.