The claim that "Salat" is not a physical ritual

Question:

Some online sites claim that the word “Salat” as used in the Quran does not mean the physical ritual which Muslims all over the world observe, but it simply means commitment to God. Others claim that Salat is simply working righteous deeds Others still claim that the Salat is the act of supporting the oppressed. Basically, they are claiming that Salat is everything except the physical ritual in which we stand, bow then prostrate to God! Could you please advise on the truth of this matter in the light of the Quran as we are quite confused by the arguments these sites provide, thank you for all the good work.

Reply:

I am aware of these claims! The ones who instigate these claims are the same ones who claim that Zakat is not a payment which we should pay to the poor whenever we recieve income, nor is Hajj a pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca, nor is fasting connected to the Islamic month of Ramadan. In short, if they had their way, they would have us totally dismantle all the worship rituals decreed by God in the Quran!

Whether these people have personal agenda's in making such claims, or they simply have poor understanding of the Quran, is an issue they have to deal with, and an issue they will have to answer to God about.
When it comes to the Salat, as you mentioned, some of them say that it means a commitment/submission to God, and others say that to do Salat is simply to work righteous deeds.
Those who advocate such claims may sound convincing to innocent readers who may not be familiar with the Quran, but it can easily be shown that all such claims are in total violation of clear Quranic words.

FIRST

Let us read the following Quranic verse, it will give us proof that Salat is a physical ritual and not just a commitment (to God).

"And if you are among them and you lead the Salat for them, let a group of them stand with you and let them hold on to their weapons. Then once they have prostrated let them be positioned behind you and let another group, who have not yet observed the Salat, observe the Salat with you while remaining cautious and while holding on to their weapons. Those who have disbelieved would dearly like you to be heedless of your weapons and goods in order to come down on you with one blow.You commit no error, if you are impeded by rain or you are ill, in putting down your weapons, so long as you remain cautious. God has prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment." 4:102

The above Quranic words confirm a number of matters:

1- The word Salat in 4:102 cannot simply mean a commitment or working righteous deeds since the words in this verse speak of an Imam (leader) leading the Salat. How can the leader who leads the Salat be leading a commitment to God? Do we need someone to lead us in order to work righteous deeds?

2- The command in 4:102 is for various groups of believers to stand with their arms while observing the Salat. Do we need to be armed to be committed to God to do work righteous deeds? Obviously not, but because the believers are observing a physical ritual which makes them vulnerable to attack from the enemy they would indeed need to hold on to their weapons.

3- The words in 4:102 also say that while each group is observing the Salat with the Imam, another group should stand behind them in order to provide protection. So if we substitute the word Salat here with commitment to God, or righteous deeds, then not only would the believers need to hold their arms while being committed to God, or working righteous deeds, but they would also need another group to guard them while they are doing so!

4- The words
" .... then once they have prostrated let them be positioned behind you and let another group, who have not yet observed the Salat, observe the Salat with you" would raise further questions. If we use the interpretation of Salat to mean commitment or righteous deeds, this would mean that the second group, who have not yet observed their Salat, have infact not committed to God yet and are waiting their turn to do so! Or they have not done righteous deeds and waiting their turn!

5- Does the act of being committed to God, or working righteous deeds need to be done in groups? Or does it need a leader? Obviously not, all the indications in 4:102 confirm that the subject os a physical ritual and not an abstract commitment to God. The words confirm that the Salat is a physical ritual which can be observed in congregation and under a leader who leads the Salat.

6- The words in 4:102 go on to say that the disbelievers would dearly love to ambush the believers when they are not standing armed observing their Salat. Once again this would make absolutely no sense whatsoever to say that disbelievers would love to ambush the believers while they are trying to be commited to God. Or do the disbelievers wait to catch believers in an act of doing a righteous deed to ambush them?

The above Quranic words make it very clear that the Salat is a very specific physical ritual and not merely a state of commitment to God nor working righteous deeds. But because it is a physical ritual, which involves bowing and prostrating, it makes the believers vulnerable to attack from the enemy at times of war, thus they need to hold on to their weapons and also need a second group to guard them while they are praying.

SECOND

The Quran authorises three Salat and they are given three specific names, they are Salat Al-Fajr (Dawn prayer), Salat Al-Wusta (Middle prayer) and Salat Al-Isha (Night prayer). If Salat meant submission or commitment to God or working righteous deeds, why would we have three different names for commitment to God? And why would the names of these Salat be related to specific times of the day?

THIRD

"Salat is decreed for the believers at specific times” 4:103

Besides the fact that the Quran decrees three Salat by name, we also read in 4:103 that God decreed the Salat for the believers for specific times of the day.
Now to claim that Salat means to be committed to God or to work righteous deeds, then once again this would mean that God allows us to be in submission to Him, or to be righteous, only at specific times of the day! Does this make any sense? Surely commitment to God and righteousness are independent of the time of the day!

FOURTH

"If you travel the land you commit no error by shortening your Salat if you fear that the disbelievers will try you. Surely, the disbelievers are your clear enemy." 4:101

Once again if we assume that the Salat means submission to God or working righteous deeds, then this would mean that at times of fear from the enemy we should shorten our submission to God and our righteous deeds! Does this make any sense?

FIFTH

The words in 5:6 instruct us to wash our faces and arms and wipe our heads and feet before observing the Salat. If we follow the interpretations they give for Salat we would have to say that we are not allowed to submit to God nor work righteous deeds unless we wash first! It would also mean that if we wish to be in continuous submission to God that we should wash non stop all day long! In reality, because Salat is a physical ritual which is designed for us to glorify God, then it makes sense to observe a form of physical purification before worshipping our Maker.
SIXTH

"O you who believe, when the call for the Salat has been announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of God, and drop all business. This is better for you, if you only knew." 62:9

Here we read about a call made for Salat on Friday, the following questions arise:
- Does commitment, submission or working righteou deeds need a “call” or announcement?
- Once again, should we submit to God as a group and always on Friday?
- The words in 62:9 state that the believers are to hasten to commemorate God when they hear the call, but the fact that they are believers would indicate that they are already submitters to God, so why would they need the call?


SEVENTH

"Do not utter your Salat too loudly, nor whisper it; but seek a path in between." 17:110

Once again if Salat means submission to God, or working righteous deeds, then the question of using a loud voice or whispering would not be relevant. However the words advising the use of a moderate voice indicates that God is speaking about a ritual that is spoken and this confirms once again that the Salat is a physical ritual.

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To conclude, all the above evidence confirm without any doubt that the Salat is a physical ritual with specific physical acts and not a mere state of submission to God or working righteous deeds.