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Essay No. 4 in a series of essays on Values
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'Salat’ : Understand its purpose

By: Tanveer Hussain, PhD

May 2006

A great many Muslims, particularly those whose native language is not Arabic,
perform ‘salat’ without understanding a word of that which they utter or listen
during ‘salat’ congregations. They perform ‘salat’ just like a ritual. Since they
do not understand the meanings of the Arabic words that they speak or listen,
they find it almost impossible to concentrate during ‘salat’ and their thoughts
often wander from hither and thither.

Allah says in the Quran, Sura An-Nisa 4, verse 43,
“O you who believe! Do not
come (near) to salat with a befogged mind, until you understand what you
. The Arabic word that has been translated here as ‘a befogged mind’, is
‘sukaara’. The word ‘sukaara’ may refer to one or more of the following human

  • A state of intoxication, inebriation or drunkenness
  • A state in which one is not in one’s senses
  • A state when one has lost one’s wits
  • A condition when there is a hindrance between a person and his
    understanding and wits, and when he may take a wrong decision
  • A state in which one is overpowered by any disturbing element which
    may distract one’s attention
  • A state of mental disequilibrium
  • A state of insensibility
  • A state of mental blindness
  • A state of distraction or delirium
  • A state in which one does not understand what he utters
  • A state of ‘unmindfulness’ or ‘the want of requisite knowledge or
    cognizance of a thing’

Allah says in 4:43 that until you have ‘ilm (knowledge) of what you utter, do not
come (near) to ‘salat’.  ‘ilm is defined as “a sound, profound and certain
knowledge about the reality of a subject or an object”. Any information
gathered by the senses (e.g. listening or beholding) is not called ‘ilm until it is
understood by the mind with certainty and soundness. Among Al-'ilm. Ash-
sha'oor, and Al-ma'arfat, Al-'ilm denotes the highest quality of knowledge
because of the fact that one of the attributes of Allah is Al-Aleem and not Ash-
Sha'ir nor Al-Aarif. ‘ilm  signifies إتقان (soundness) as well as تيقن (certainty). A
mere opinion, supposition or conjecture cannot be called علم (‘ilm). Nor any
collection of facts, data, or information merely memorised can be considered
as علم (‘ilm). علم (‘ilm)  involves the use of senses as well as the exercising of
the faculty of mind (reasoning), as is indicated in Sura Al-Isra 15, verse 36.  

وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَئِكَكَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولاوَلا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ

And do not follow (blindly) any information of which you have no (direct)
knowledge. (Using your faculties of perception and conception, you must
verify it for yourself. In the Court of your Lord,) you will be held accountable for
your hearing, sight, and the faculty of reasoning."[17:36]

The Quran has contrasted the word ‘ilm’ with ‘zan’[1], the latter meaning
‘thought, opinion, supposition, or conjecture’, ‘a preponderant belief, with the
admission that the contrary may also be the case’.

The Quran has also contrasted the word ‘ilm’ with ‘ghaflat’[2], the latter
meaning ‘unmindfulness’ or ‘the want of requisite knowledge or cognizance of
a thing’.


Do not perform ‘salat’ merely as a ritual or as a mechanical exercise without
understanding a word of what you utter during ‘salat’. You must obtain a
sound, profound and certain knowledge and understanding of what you have
to say during ‘salat’.