[This post is part of the Solutions series.]

Someone once defined insanity as “doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” By this definition, the entire ‘muslim world’ is basically insane. In fact, it has been insane for many centuries now.  It has been insane for so long, that the rest of the world is wondering if a recovery is even possible… I’m not a fan of psychiatry, so let’s take a look at this empirically. In order to do this I’ll examine the ritual of salaat/’prayer,’ as it is currently practiced. This is the most common ritual that the ‘muslim world’ performs. But is it supposed to have any observable effects on society according to the Quran? The answer to that, is yes. Do we see the predicted effect? The answer to that, is no. So what’s the problem? Is the Quran wrong, or have we failed in its application? (Spoiler Alert: it’s the latter.)

Now before you freak out, I’m NOT against ‘praying’ salaat. I pray salaat myself, and I’ll pray behind anyone, Sunni/Shia whatever, as long as we’re all facing the same direction. But the difference is that I know that I’m not really doing anything meaningful. Because the real purpose of salaat is not being fulfilled in society at all. For all our efforts, we’re just going through the motions without really achieving anything.

Let’s take a closer look at the source. The words in mainstream translations are translated as: “…and establish prayer.” The root here for “prayer” is: ṣād lām wāw (ص ل و). It occurs 99 times in the Quran. Yet, people seem to think that nothing about prayer is specified in the Quran, and all the details are given by the hadith… Why? Well, because we’re told, since childhood, that prayer is just a bunch of actions your supposed to do, in a specific sequence, and none of those actions are detailed in the Quran. That’s why, as a society, we think we need the hadith to implement the Quran. The mainstream thinks salaat causes God to bail us out of crises situations and to give us stuff we ask for, sometimes, if we’re good… Well, God is not Santa Claus, and ‘praying’ 5 times a day does not give anyone a ticket to heaven, sorry.

There are three major problems with the mainstream conception of salaat.

  1. We can’t measure the effect of anything in the afterlife right now, so that isn’t a valid metric to measure the effect of salaat.
  2. Good things happen to people who don’t ‘pray’ as well (so you can’t claim that it was your ‘prayer’ which resulted in any good for you.)
  3. This overly simplistic and superstitious view of prayer is simply non-Quranic. It has nothing to do with what the Quran is saying about establishing salaat.

The mainstream idea of salaat, makes it into a pointless gesture that you keep repeating over and over again, for no provable gain whatsoever.

How is this term is actually used in the Quran, and how is it supposed to be understood and applied? What are we supposed to be “establishing,” exactly? And to what end? Well, these are the questions I’ll be tackling, and I’ll make judicious use of G. A. Parwez’s Lughat-ul-Quran for this. Firstly, the word itself is multi-dimensional. One of those meanings is “to follow a winner or leader in such a fashion that he/she is almost touching the leader in front.” The obvious part here is that the leader is supposed to be God, and the followers are supposed to be His creation:

Have you not noticed that Allah is the one Who is being followed by whatever there is in (& on) the earth and the heavens, and birds with wings spread out, each one knows its salaat and tasbeeh. [24:41 Quran’s Exposition, Parwez] (Quick note: the verse above is referring to the automatic following of God by everything besides humanity. This isn’t a contradiction, it’s just context. Since in many places the Quran affirms man’s free will e.g. 74:3778:39 etc.)

So how we are supposed to be following God? Is this really just about those sequence of actions that people perform while praying? Nope, there’s a lot more to it than that. This is made clear in chapter 11 of the Quran, where the example of the prophet Shoaib is given. When this prophet actually began “establishing salaat” in his local community, this is what they said:

“Does your salah tell you that we abandon what our forefathers had been doing, or we cannot even spend our wealth as we wish to?”  11:87

Now take a few seconds, and think about this: Does this description of salaat/”prayer” sound anything like what the mainstream concept is? Keep in mind, that the congressional prayer is also part of the picture. There are verses in the Quran which make it clear that an organized physical aspect of salaat is to be performed by Muslims, together, in unison [e.g. 5:6, 4:43,4:101-102, 5:58, 62:9-10 etc.] Which is why I said, I’m not against praying. That’s definitely part of it. But it’s not the complete picture. It’s a very incomplete picture of what the totality of salaat is supposed to be. What we’re actually supposed to be doing is clearly stated right at the beginning of the Quran: “establish and follow Allah’s laws” [2:3.]

The concept of salaat is intimately connected with economics. In verse 22:41, it is stated that “these are the people who when get established in the earth work to establish salaat and provide zakat and through this promote good and prevent evil.” I’ll deal with the “zakat” issue in the next post, which will be an essay, but for now, I’ll just say that zakat is much more than just “private charity.” Private charity isn’t effective at solving any of society’s fundamental problems. But I digress, getting back on point, here’s another verse: “These are the people who obey their Lord and establish the salaat: their affairs are decided by mutual consultation: and whatever We give them, they keep it available for mankind” [42:38.] So we also have a somewhat democratic model here, where mutual consultation is a facet of this community which establishes salaat. This isn’t “majority rule” in a “republic”though. Because here, consultation signifies a rational discussion, with an aim to understand and agree on how to best implement God’s laws (not man’s.)

If and only if, the Muslim community establishes salaat based on these requirements, are we supposed to see the empirical results of salaat: “Allah and the malaikah (forces of the universe) encourage you and provide the means for your sustenance to develop your efforts” [33:43, Parwez’s Exposition.]  This relates to another of salaat’s multi-dimensional meanings: “According to {Muheet} One meaning of salaat is to subjugate and make someone lean towards itself. This way salaat would mean to conquer the universe (dominate it) and make it ‘submit’ i.e. serve one’s purpose or make use of its potentials for the benefit of mankind.” [Lughat-ul-Quran, Parwez, Vol II, pg 56.] If that sounds a little too imperialistic, let me clarify that the context here is purely scientific. It means conquering the forces of nature, through the sciences and their derivative technologies, which is an ability (that on this solar system at least) is exclusively given to humanity. The aim of all of this is to “develop our efforts” and provide “means of sustenance” for our species (not wreck havoc on the planet.) Another empirical result of properly establishing salaat is that  “salaat prohibits immorality and wrongdoing” [29:45.]  Parwez explains this verse as: “Salaat restrains [humans] from self-deceiving [munkar] and unjust [fahsha] deeds.

Now compare these results above with your own observations of the ‘muslim world.’ Are we the leaders in science and technology? Are we the leaders in human development? Are we free of self-deception? Do we have justice in our societies? Nope… In fact, the results we see, are pretty much the exact opposite of all of the above. The results we see in our societies are actually described for those who reject establishing salaat: “Indeed, We have prepared for the disbelievers chains and shackles and a blaze” [76:4.] “‘What led you into Hell-Fire?’ They will say, ‘We were not of those who prayed (musalleen); ‘Nor were we of those who fed the indigent.” [74:42-4]

You can deny this all you want, but facts are facts. We’re not seeing any of the empirical results of praying in our societies. We’re actually seeing the results of rejecting salaat. Now you have two options: You can either blame God, or you can accept that we’re not actually performing salaat the way we’re supposed to be. There is no other option. Either the Quran is simply wrong, or we’re not following it. This is just simple deductive logic, and there is no escape from it. Pick one conclusion, or the other. The correct answer, should be obvious. Because it’s obviously clear that we’re not following the Quranic definition of establishing salaat, as a society. We’re instead seeing the consequences of rejecting salaat that God said we would. All we do is stand/kneel/bow and recite a few words, but the Quranic concept of “establishing salaat” is so much more then that. It is comprised of establishing a just, egalitarian and dynamic socio-economic system of human development, whose axiomatic principles have been laid out in the Quran. Salaat is supposed to be the collective gatherings (i.e. project meetings) led by the “imam” (project leaders) whose function is to bring Muslims together to do their part in implementing and sustaining this God-given system. This now leads us to the connected principle of “Zakaat,” which I’ll cover in the next piece which will be an essay.