The claim that the Quranic Salat is not a physical ritual
By: A. Muhammad

There have been a number of youtube videos and sites promoting the idea that the Quranic Salat is not a physical ritual, but is merely maintaining our commitment and duty to God. From that premise, they add that the Salat does not require the physical acts of standing, bowing and prostrating.
It can be said that those who advocate these claims belong to the same category as those who claim that the Zakat is not a payment given out of our income to the poor and needy, and that the Hajj is not a pilgrimage to the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca, and that fasting is not during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
The proponents of such claims about the Salat may sound convincing to gullible readers who may not be too knowledgeable when it comes to the Quranic input and Quranic verses about this subject. However, it can easily be shown that all such claims are in total violation of numerous Quranic verses.
This article deals with the claims about the Salat. The following are nine Quranic pieces of evidence that debunk such interpretations of the Salat.
FIRST

The first piece of Quranic evidence that points to the Salat being an act of worship comprising specific physical acts is found in the following words:

O you who believe, when you get up to observe the Salat, wash your faces and your arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles. 5:6

The act of ablution decreed in 5:6, which is an integral part of the Salat, requires the physical washing and wiping of various parts of the body.
Why would any believer need to wash his face and arms, then wipe his head and feet before being committed to God and doing his duty to God?

Does the act of being committed to God an act that is to be observed at specific times, or is it a perpetual state of the believer? The instructions in 5:6 for washing should be observed before the Salat, and thus, are for specific times of the day. The outcome of this interpretation is that it makes commitment to God an act that takes place only at specific times of the day.

SECOND

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 has not yet observed the Salat, observe the Salat with you while remaining cautious and while holding on to their weapons. Those who disbelieved would dearly like you to be neglectful of your weapons and goods in order to come down on you with one blow. There is no blame upon you, should you be impeded by rain or you are ill, for putting down your weapons, but remain cautious. God has prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment.
4:102

The above Quranic words confirm a number of matters:
1- The words "you lead the Salat for them" would make no sense if the Salat meant our duty or commitment to God. The words speak of an Imam (leader) leading the Salat. How can the leader who leads the Salat be leading a duty or commitment to God?

2- The words
"let them hold on to their weapons" while observing the Salat. Do the believers need to be armed to be committed to God? Or does it make better sense to acknowledge that when believers observe the physical ritual of Salat during wartime, it makes them vulnerable to attack from the enemy, and thus they would indeed need to be on guard by holding on to their weapons.

3- The words
"let them be positioned behind you" deem it necessary that while every group is observing the Salat, another group is standing behind them to provide protection. If we substitute the word Salat here with "duty/commitment to God", then not only would the believers need to hold their arms while being committed to God, but they would also need another group to guard them while they are observing their duty to God!

4- The words
"then once they have prostrated let them be positioned behind you and let another group, who has 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 duty to God, this would mean that the second group, who have not yet observed their Salat, have in fact not committed to God yet nor have done their duty to God yet. Is the second group waiting their turn to observe their duty/committed to God!

5- The words in 4:102 also speaks of the Salat observed in groups. Does the act of being committed to God need to be done in groups? Equally do such acts need a leader? The answer is no. All the indications in 4:102 confirm that the subject is a physical ritual and not any of the other meanings. The words in 4:102 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
"Those who disbelieved would dearly like you to be neglectful of your weapons and goods in order to come down on you with one blow" are also of great significance. It would make no sense whatsoever to say that the disbelievers would love to ambush the believers while they are trying to be committed to God. Rather, it makes better sense that the enemy would try to ambush the believers while they are in a vulnerable state, like during bowing and prostrating. Hence, the need of guards behind those observing the Salat.

THIRD

The Quran authorises three Salat by name. They are Salat Al-Fajr, the Dawn prayer (24:58), Salat Al-Wusta, Middle prayer (2:238) and Salat Al-Isha, Night prayer (24:58). If Salat meant the duty/commitment to God, why would we have three different names for our duty/commitment to God?

FOURTH

The Salat has been appointed specific times for the believers. 4:103

Besides the fact that the Quran decrees three Salat by name, we also read in 4:103 that God appointed for the believers specific times of the day for the Salat.
To claim that Salat means to be dutiful or committed to God, would that mean that God is instructing us to be committed to Him at specific times of the day? What about the rest of the day? Does this make any sense? Surely commitment to God and doing our duty to God are independent of the time of the day.

FIFTH

If you travel the land, there is no blame upon you for shortening your Salat if you fear that the disbelievers may harm you. Surely, the disbelievers are your clear enemy. 4:101

How is it possible to shorten our commitment to God? The proponents of the "not a physical ritual" claim state that the Salat is an abstract noun. Can an abstract noun be shortened? Or does the act of shortening speaks of a physical act that can be shortened?

SIXTH

O you who believe, when the call for the Salat is announced on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of God, and drop all business. That is better for you, if you only knew. 62:9

We read in 62:9 about a
"call for the Salat" on Friday.

1- Do our duties and commitment to God require a
"call" or announcement?
2- The words in 62:9 speak of a congregational Salat. Should the believers commit to God as a group, and always every Friday?

SEVENTH

So the angels called out to him (Zachariah) while he was standing 'ussali' (observing the Salat) in the sanctuary.
3:39

The sanctuary being a place of worship, what was Zachariah standing doing when the angels called on him? Does the state of being committed to God require a person to simply stand inside a place of worship?
The words in 3:39 state that Zachariah was observing his Salat. What duty was Zachariah observing inside a sanctuary? Was he not observing his worship practice of Salat, which requires standing to commence?

Naturally, prophet Zachariah lived long before the revelation of the Quran, and so, some may ask as to how was prophet Zachariah observing a Quranic Salat? The answer is given in the Quran. The Salat was not initiated in the Quran, nor is the Salat an act that is unique to the receivers of the Quran. Salat was decreed by God ever since the time of Abraham and his sons:
We made them (Abraham and his sons) leaders, guiding by Our command, and We inspired them to do good deeds, the observance of the Salat and the giving of the Zakat. They were worshippers of Us. 21:73

It follows that all the believers, since the time of Abraham, were observing the act of Salat.

EIGTH


Do not shout your Salat nor whisper it; but seek a path in between.17:110

Once again if Salat means duty/commitment to God, why would such acts require us not to use a loud voice nor whisper? The instruction to use a moderate voice clearly indicates that the Salat is a ritual that is spoken. Being committed to God does not need spoken words. The words in 17:110 once again confirm that the Salat is a physical ritual.
NINTH

Those who deny the fact that the Salat is a physical practice also deny that the act of
'sujood', mentioned frequently in the Quran, means physical prostration. Once again, God Almighty is always a step ahead of the promoters of such falsehood. God always gives us Quranic evidence to confirm the correct meaning.

Never will they come to you with an argument without Us providing you with the truth and a better explanation.
25:33

The confirmation that the act of
'sujood' means prostration is found in the following glorious words:

They will be called to 'sujood' (prostration), but they will be unable to. With their eyesight subdued, humiliation will overwhelm them, for they used to be called to prostration when they were sound and able. 68:42-43

We read in Sura 68, starting from verse 33, about the punishment on the Day of Judgment. In the verses above, it is told how those who disbelieved will be told to do
'sujood' to God on the Day of Judgment. This is followed by two statements of great significance:

1-
"they will be unable to (do sujood)".
2- "they used to be called to 'sujood' (during their worldly life) when they were sound and able."

The act of
'sujood', which the condemned will not be able to do on the Day they face God, cannot means a duty or commitment to God as some claim.

If prostration meant commitement to God, the words
"they will be unable to" would simply not apply on that Day. This is because all humans, willingly or unwillingly, will have no choice but to submit to God on that Day. No human being will not be able to be committed or in submission to God on that Day.

However, when we incorporate the correct meaning of
'sujood' into these verses, which is the physical act of prostration, the meaning would be harmonious with Quranic truth. Such people would not be able to physically prostrate on that Day.
The reason for that is given in the following verse which describes what will happen to the condemned ones on the Day of Judgment:

"shackles will be around their necks, and in chains, they will be dragged "
40:71

Such confinement, which the disbelievers will find themselves in on that Day, will restrict all their movements. Consequently, when they will be
"called to prostration" on that Day "they will be unable to".
In contrast, when they were sound and able to move freely (on earth) and were "called to prostration" they did not prostrate.

These two glorious verses in Sura 68 present a stark warning to all who are too haughty to get down in prostration to the Almighty.

TENTH

Finally, we have a number of Quranic verses that define the exact aim of the Salat. These verses state that that the principle aim of the Salat is the remembrance/commemoration of God:

Recite what is revealed to you of the Book and observe the Salat, for the Salat forbids immorality and evil, and the remembrance of God is of greater importance. Indeed, God knows what you do. 29:45

I am God, there is no god except Me. So worship Me, and observe the Salat to commemorate Me. 20:14

O you who believe, when the call for the Salat is announced on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of God, and drop all business. That is better for you, if you only knew. 62:9

We do not find any verses that state that the aim of the Salat is maintaining our duty/commitment to God.
Besides, maintaining our duty/commitment to God is a very general term. Maintaining our duty/commitment to God compels us to submit to God. Our duty/commitment to God compels us to believe in and follow the Quran. Our duty to God compels us to obey His law, etc etc. In other words, to maintain our duty/commitment to God is to be a believer and a submitter and a righteous person and to comply with everything and every word in the Quran.
Needless to say, this undefined general duty, and is markedly different from the very specific aim which God ascribes to the Salat, which is the remembrance of God.

On the other hand, we also learn that it is the devil's aim to make people specifically desert the Salat, and thus forget the remembrance of God:

The devil has secured a firm grip on them, and so has caused them to forget the remembrance of God. Those are the party of the devil. Without a doubt, it is the devil's party who are the losers. 58:19

The devil will also use distractions, mainly those prohibited by God, in order to achieve the same aim, which is to make people desert their Salat, thereby refraining from the remembrance of God:

The devil only wants to provoke animosity and hatred between you through intoxicants and gambling, and to repel you from the remembrance of God and from the Salat. So will you thus refrain? 5:91

Those who succumb to the deception of the devil by deserting their Salat, they automatically allow him to have a firm grip on them. Whether they realise it or not, they are called the
"devil's party", and they shall be the losers (58:19).

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When faced with the huge volume of Quranic evidence, as shown above, some of the deniers of the physical ritual of Salat have come up with yet another interpretation of the Salat. In effect, they state that Salat has two meanings in the Quran:

1- The first meaning is as above, to be committed and in submission to God, or to work righteous deeds.
2- The second meaning they devised for the Salat is that at times the Salat means sermons and lectures that were given by the prophet or other leaders for the benefit of the believers.

The hastily implemented second allegation (lecture/sermon) was clearly in response to the failure in responding to the Quranic evidence above. However, it can also be shown that the allegation of the Salat being a lecture or sermon would also fall flat on its face:

1- Why should the believers wash their faces and arms before they are to listen to a lecture or sermon?

2- How can the "lecture" interpretation of the Salat explain the words:

" ......... then once they have done 'sujood' (prostrated) let them be positioned behind you and let another group, who has not yet observed the Salat, observe the Salat with you
" 4:102

What exactly would the words "once they have done 'sujood' during a lecture mean?

3- The Salat decreed in the Quran are the Fajr, Wusta and Isha. All the verses that instruct the believers to observe the Salat confirm that the Salat is a mandatory act, and that it should be observed at the specific times decreed in the Quran. The question therefore is:
Is it rational to claim that God ordained that the believers should have 3 lectures per day, every day of their lives?

4- When the angels called out to prophet Zakariah (3:39), he was standing on his own in the sanctuary observing the Salat. What exactly was he doing? Was he giving a lecture to himself?

Just like the first allegation of the Salat meaning duty/commitment to God, the second allegation of the Salat, to mean lecture or sermon, is in sharp violation of the Quranic evidence of the Salat in the Quran.

To conclude, the above evidence go a long way to confirm that the Salat is a physical ritual, with physical bowing and prostrating, and that is decreed for specific times of the day.