Salam Dear Aamir,
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All People Were Taught to Pray
It is evident from the Quran that all the communities that existed before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were taught by their respective prophets to regularly pray to Allah Almighty alone.
But we have no clear description of the form of their prayer.
Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) asked Allah’s support and blessings for him as well as for his progeny in these words:
O my Lord! Make me an establisher of Prayer, and [many] from descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication. (Quran 14:40)
And we read how Allah commanded Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) to establish Prayer:
Indeed, I am Allah, there is no deity worthy of worship except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. (Quran 20:14)
And Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) said:
And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me the prayer and charity as long as I remain alive. (Quran 9:31)
And to Prophet Muhammad Allah commanded:
Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish Prayer. Indeed, Prayer restrains from immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do. (Quran 29:45)
Prayer Mandatory on All Muslims
From the Islamic point of view, Prayer was the first duty ordered of the Muslim community.
Of the pillars of Islam, ritual Prayer alone was ordered in heaven on the night of al-Miraj (the Prophet’s Ascension).
This is because it is by Prayer that a spiritual connection between the Creator and His servants is established.
Prayer is mandatory for every Muslim and so it is ordered continuously throughout the Quran.
Allah Almighty emphasizes its importance over and over again, so that there can be no doubt on the subject:
…Indeed, Prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times. (Quran 4:103)
And Prophet Muhammad has taught us:
The first act that the servant will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment will be Prayer. If it is good, then the rest of his acts will be good. And if it is evil, then the rest of his acts will be evil. (At-Tabarani)
The high importance Allah has given to Prayer is evident from the foregoing.
This indicates that the previous prophets could not have been exempted from the duty of Prayer.
Examples from the Bible
Indeed both the Old and the New Testament books of the Bible bear ample testimony to the fact that one essential part of the early form of the worship of Almighty God was prostration before Him.
See for instance the Book of Genesis where we are told how Abraham ‘fell on his face’ when he was addressed by God:
[And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him…] (Genesis 17:3)
Here is a description of how Moses worshipped God:
[And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.] (Exodus 34:8)
And see how Jesus prayed to the One True God:
[And he (Jesus) went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed….] (Matthew 26:39)
Thus, the Jews who followed Prophet Moses, and the Christians who followed Prophet Jesus took upon themselves the duty of praying to Almighty Allah in the form they were taught by their prophets.
But the Biblical narrations do not give us any evidence to conclude that the earlier communities were praying five times a day, in the same form Muslims pray today.
Prayer Before Islam
According to scholars, there had been a form of prayer enjoined by Allah before the five Prayers were made obligatory during al-Miraj or the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad.
They say that that Prayer consisted of two units of Prayer (called rakahs) in the evening and another two in the morning.
They base their opinion on the Quranic verse that states:
…and ask forgiveness for thy fault, and celebrate the Praises of thy Lord in the evening and in the morning. (Quran 40:55)
The foregoing means that the Prophet was commanded by Allah to pray to Him regularly from the beginning of Allah’s revelation to him. And he must have been praying — with bowing and prostration — at least twice a day before the command for the five Prayers was given, as mentioned in the above verse.
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)