How can we learn to pray if we don’t have the hadith to teach us?
Some Muslims argue that since the Quran doesn’t explain how to pray and that the hadith does, then the hadith are therefore necessary to supplement the Quran. However, upon careful analysis of the Quran, it becomes clear that the hadith is not what teaches people how to pray.
Consider the following:
Aspects of prayer
The Quran does explain most aspects of prayer, e.g.
- when to pray (10:87; 11:114; 14:31; 14:37; 14:40; 17:78; 2:110; 2:277; 2:3; 2:43: 2:83; 20:14; 22:35; 22:41; 24:56; 27:3; 29:45; 30:31; 31:17; 31:4; 35:29; 4:77; 42:38; 5:12; 5:55; 58:13; 6:72; 7:170; 73:20; 8:3; 9:11; 9:5; 9:71; 98:5)
- ablution (wudhu) (4:43; 5:6)
- prayer direction (qiblah) (2.143–44)
- prayer times (4:103; 11:114; 17:78; 24:58; 30:18; 2:238: 20:58)
- there is a general form to prayer (2:238–39)
- standing position (qiyam)(3:39; 4:102)
- bowing down (ruku) and prostrating (sujud) (4:102; 22:26; 38:24; 48:29)
- prayer form is not required during times of emergencies, fear, and unusual circumstances (2:239)
- the call to prayer (adhan) and congregation prayer (62:9)
- don’t abandon prayer (19:58–59)
- prayer purpose (for God and to remember God alone) (6:162; 20:14)
- prayer involves utterance (4:43)
- prayer tone (17:110)
- prayer leader (4:101)
- prayer purpose (to protect from sins) (29:45)
- shortening of prayer during times of fear and danger (4:101)
- prayer clothing and place of prayer (masjid) (7:31)
Praying began with Prophet Abraham, not Prophet Muhammad
Praying was not originally established by Prophet Muhammad. It began with Prophet Abraham (2:128, 14:40, 21:73) and practiced by all monotheistic communities (including Christians) after him. People already knew how to pray before the revelation of the Quran.
رَبَّنَا وَاجْعَلْنَا مُسْلِمَيْنِ لَكَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِنَا أُمَّةً مُّسْلِمَةً لَّكَ وَأَرِنَا مَنَاسِكَنَا وَتُبْ عَلَيْنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُOur Lord, and make us Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. (2:128)رَبِّ اجْعَلْنِي مُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةِ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي ۚ رَبَّنَا وَتَقَبَّلْ دُعَاءِMy Lord, make me an establisher of prayer, and [many] from my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication. (14:40)وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَAnd We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds, establishment of prayer, and giving of zakah; and they were worshippers of Us. (21:73)
Contrary to popular belief, many Muslims are in denial of the fact that Abraham founded Islam, not Muhammad, and Muhammad was actually told to follow the religion of Abraham, as proven in verse 16:123.
ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَThen We revealed to you, [O Muhammad], to follow the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth; and he was not of those who associate with Allah. (16:123)
Prayer continued with people after Abraham
After Abraham, people continued to pray, as indicated in Quran verses 2:43 and 3:43. In a dialog with the Children of Israel (Jews), God instructed them to bow down with those who bow down in worship.
وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَارْكَعُوا مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَAnd establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience]. (2:43)
In the case of Mary, mother of Jesus (Isa), God instructs Mary to prostrate and bow down with others.
يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ“O Mary! Be obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow down with those who bow down” (3:43)
To bow down with those that bow down means that the Jews and Mary, Mother of Jesus (Isa), prayed in congregation like Muslims currently do on Fridays. Therefore, it is clear that people already knew how to pray from long before Muhammad’s time.
Jesus also prayed, as proven in verse 19:31.
وَجَعَلَنِي مُبَارَكًا أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُ وَأَوْصَانِي بِالصَّلَاةِ وَالزَّكَاةِ مَا دُمْتُ حَيًّاAnd He has made me (Jesus) blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayerand zakah as long as I remain alive. (3:43)
Additional proof that people prayed before Muhammad’s time
In verses 19:58–59, we are told that God blessed many prophets before Muhammad and that after them, some generations stopped praying. This indicates that they did know how to pray.
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ مِن ذُرِّيَّةِ آدَمَ وَمِمَّنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْرَائِيلَ وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا ۚ إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّاThose were the ones upon whom Allah bestowed favor from among the prophets of the descendants of Adam and of those We carried [in the ship] with Noah, and of the descendants of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom We guided and chose. When the verses of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping. (19:58) But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet evil. (19:59)
Example prayer form before Muhammad’s time
Since the Jews before Muhammad’s time were instructed to pray and bow down with those that bow down (2:43), one might be curious to know what their form of prayer was. According to Hayim H. Donin in his book titled “To Pray As A Jew”, we see diagrams as shown below describing the ancient way Jews prayed. Unsurprisingly, the way they prayed is very similar to how Muslims today pray, even though Jews today no longer pray the way ancient Jews prayed.
It is interesting to learn from this book that Jews also wash before praying (like ablution / wudhu for Muslims) and have a call for prayers (like the adhan for Muslims).
The following YouTube video also shows how Jews originally prayed.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aHWASyMjwg
Prayer purpose overrides prayer form
The Quran doesn’t explain specific prayer form. Since the Quran is complete (6:115, 6:38) and detailed (6:114, 12:111, 41:3), it is reasonable to believe that God did not specify a particular form because He did not want people to feel restricted and obsessed with a specific form, e.g.
- placing your hands over your chest instead of your stomach
- tapping your index finger over you right knee
- ensuring your feet are a specific distance apart
- bending your right toes at an uncomfortable angle
As stated in the Quran, the purpose of prayer is to remember God alone (20:14).
إِنَّنِي أَنَا اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدْنِي وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِذِكْرِيIndeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. (20:14)
Being obsessed with prayer form could possibly distract people from being able to focus on God because they may be concerned that God may not accept their prayer if they, for example, didn’t raise their hands to their ears while saying “Allahu Akbar” (God is the Greatest).
God went into great detail to describe certain things in the Quran such as divorce details, transaction details, inheritance details, ablution (wudhu) details, punishments for various acts such as murder, etc. However, God chose not to go into detail with regards other things such as the form of prayer and the number of rakaats (units) for each of the five daily prayers. Therefore, the fact that God chose not to go into great detail to describe how to pray must have been intentional rather than because God forgot or for some other reason.
Prayer specifics in the hadith
The hadith actually doesn’t provide all details of prayer. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a single hadith that clearly describes an entire prayer from start to finish. Considering how important prayer is and how frequent people did it (at least 5 times a day), it’s hard to believe that there aren’t many hadith that clearly explain how we pray today. An astute and unbiased reader would reasonably find this to be very suspicious and cannot dismiss this observation.
Prayer before the hadith existed
The hadith were compiled 214 years after the prophet’s death. If the hadith explains how to pray, then how did everyone pray during the 214 years since the prophet died? An astute reader would reasonably find this to be very suspicious.
How people learn to pray
If you think about it, people just like yourself don’t learn to pray from searching through the hadith. Rather, they learn to pray from their parents or society, just like people did before the hadith were compiled. Congregational prayers every Friday would have, no doubt, assisted in maintaining the consistency of prayer form.
People knew how to pray from long before Muhammad’s time. People don’t learn to pray from the hadith but rather from society and congregational prayers.