This word has occurred in the Quran 108 times in various forms and as Sal'at 67 times. Sal'at is the principle and one of the most important elements of Islam, and has special significance. Also in view of its extensive and repeated use in the Quran, it is necessary to discuss it somewhat in detail with reference to various verses. First its literal meaning:
1. As-Sal'a is the central portion of the backside, the portion from where tail of the animal comes out. Both sides are called Salwan and its plural is Salawatun (Taj).
2. Mosalli is the horse which comes at second place in a race, and is so close to the first-placed that its ears are touching the other's back portion. (The first one is called S'abiq.) It, therefore, means to follow the first one very closely. There is a saying of Ali the fourth caliph, "Sabaqa Rasool-Allah, wa salla Abu-Bakr wa sallasa Omar wa khabatatna fitnatun." Rasool-Allah went away first, followed by Abu-Bakr and then Omar and thereafter chaos overtook us (Taj).
3. According to Taj, Salea Wastala means attachment, to remain stuck. From this reference Raghib says that verse (74/43), "We were not Musalleen," means that they did not follow the Rusul. Accordingly Qurtabi also writes that Sal'at would mean to remain within the bounds of the Laws of Allah, and Tasleah means to walk behind a person so closely that there remains no distance; not to surpass him but remain closely behind.
4. It is very important to understand the relationship of man and Allah. Allah is the One Who is Supreme, Most Perfect and Most Beautiful. He has various Attributes called Asma-ul-Husna and each Attribute is perfect and complete. Allah has also given a personality to man and referred to it as "Roohona" - the Divine Energy (see Rooh). The object or the purpose of man's life is to develop his personality according to the Laws of Allah and inculcate in himself as much of Allah's Attributes as may be humanly possible.
In the first Surah (Al-F'atiha) of the Quran, a Momin is taught to ask of Allah to guide him to Sira't-Al-Mustaqeem (and that, in fact, should be a Momin's purpose of life - to tread the Sira't-Al-Mustaqeem all along - the straight and the balanced path) and in the eleventh Surah (Hud) it is stated that Allah continuously stays at Sira't-Al-Mustaqeem. It transpires from the above that the only straight path a Momin is required to adopt during the course of his life, is the same at which Allah Almighty Himself is going and running this universe. This path can easily be adopted by closely and steadfastly following the dictates of Allah's Book, i.e., the Holy Quran. Hence the basic meaning of Sal'at is complete concordance with the Book of Allah and thereby incorporating in one's own self Allah's most balanced Attributes, of course, as far as is humanly possible.
In verse (24/41) a question is asked: "Have you not pondered over the fact that whatever there is in the universe including the birds with wings spread out, is continuously carrying out their assignments with fullest play of their capabilities and each one of them knows its sphere of duties (Tasbeeh) and the way those are to be carried out (Sal'at)." This obviously means that everything in the universe knows by instinct, what are its duties and how to perform them and what is its destiny. As far as animal world is concerned, they do it by instinct. But if a human being wants to know, what is his Tasbeeh and Sal'at, it is a must for him to have faith in Wahi, through which all these directions containing do's and don'ts are explained. This is Iqamat-As-Sal'at, a special term used in the Quran.
To follow the Laws of the Quran is Iqamat-As-Sal'at. This is not possible individually and can only be done collectively; that is why the Quran has used the plural tense for this. It is the responsibility of an Islamic State is to establish this order (22/41), and they do it by mutual consultations (42/38). This system covers all the aspects of life, particularly the economic system. Verse (11/87) is very significant in this regard. It says: "O Shu'aib! does your Sal'at not permit us even to spend our wealth as we desire?" They did not understand as to what type of Sal'at is one which gives directions even in economic matters; they thought Sal'at is just a prayer or some sort of ritual.
In a nutshell it would pose one simple question. Would a person like to decide his affairs according to his desires, wishes or would he surrender before the Laws of Allah? This later position is called Sal'at. Verse (19/59) further clarifies: "they were followed by people who abandoned or negated the Sal'at." Therefore, following the Divine Laws is called Sal'at. As such Ibn-e-Qutaiba says, Sal'at actually means Ad-Deen and Iqamat-As-Sal'at means Iqamat-ud-Deen.
5. As-Salla means fire and firewood. Salla Asaho-Alan-Nar means he straightened and softened his stick by heating it with fire. As such Sal'at would also mean to remove one's defects. Author of Al-Minar says that Sal'at, in fact, is the recognition that one's personality needs guidance of a superior authority. In this way Qurtabi says that Sal'at means obedience to Allah.
6. Another meaning of Sal'at is to subdue and arrest and attract someone's attention (Moheet). This view would explain another meaning of Sal'at which is taming and harnessing the forces operative in the Universe.
7. One meaning of Sal'at is reverence and respect (Taj), i.e., to work for and establish a socio-economic system that proves the greatness of the Sustainer of this universe.
8. In Hebrew dictionary Salawat (plural of Sal'at) is the praying place of Jews. In verse (22/40) this word is used in that context.
9. Sal'at has also been used for a particular ritual. On the whole, whatever a Momin is doing by following the Laws of Allah, without any restrictions of time or formation, is Sal'at. But where ever in the Quran it refers to a particular action, its form and timing has to be fixed. In this regard there are various verses in the Quran, e.g.,
a. Verse (5/6) mentions ablution, which is to be performed before offering Sal'at.
b. Verse (4/43) prohibits the Momineen to perform Sal'at when they are under the influence of intoxication (the Momineen are, however, admonished to refrain from the use of intoxicants 5/90-91).
c. In Surah Al-Jum'aa (62/9-10) it is commanded: "when you are called for the congregation on the day of Jum'aa, you should rush towards Zikr-Allah, putting aside your business - and after Sal'at spread out in the land in search of bounty of Allah and do His Zikr a great deal, so that you may prosper."
d. Some specific timings are also mentioned in the Quran. Verse (17/78) directs the Momineen to establish Sal'at from early morning till late night. In this verse the word "Dalook" has been used which means from morning till evening, thereby denying the earlier superstition that certain times of the day are good or bad. It is further explained in verse (11/114) that Sal'at be established on the two ends of the day and early hours of night. Verses (20/130) and (50/39) mention about Hamd before sunrise and sunset and also late night when stars start fading (52/49).
e. Verse (24/58) mentions about Sal'at-ul-Fajr and Sal'at-ul-'Ishaa when domestic servants are forbidden from entering private apartments without permission.
f. About recitation during Sal'at, the Quran says that you should understand as to what you are reciting (4/43) and do not recite loudly or in silence but adopt a course in between.
The above verses explain that the meaning of Sal'at encompasses the congregational prayers as well. Wherever Aqeem-us-Sal'at is referred to, it means the establishment of the whole system, the obedience to the Laws of Allah, and the observance of all the duties expected of a Momin. At other places, it also refers to the offering of prayers as well other duties which are a part of the whole system. For this distinction one has to see the whole verse and the context in which it is brought. Similarly the word Musalleen is referred to those persons who are at the height of dignity ( 70/22-35).
g. Salla Alaihe, according to Raghib, means to respect, to give blessings, to encourage, to grow, to nourish, to stop getting decayed. So in those verses of the Quran where this root occurs with 'Ala, it means that Allah and all the heavenly forces encourage you, provide you with necessary means of growth and nourishment and make your efforts bear fruit (33/43). In verse (2/157) it is stated that when the Momineen face difficulties in the enforcement and establishment of Deen, they do not get disheartened, but remain steadfast and they deserve all the appreciation and encouragement from Allah. This is also mentioned in particular about Rasool-Allah (peace be upon him) himself saying, "Allah and all the heavenly forces help and encourage him in the fulfilment of the Divine program. So, O Jama'at-ul-Momineen, you should also help your Rasool (peace be upon him), by following him and submitting before him." (33/56)
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