While the Arabic term salah is often translated simply as “prayer,” it usually refers to Islam’s mandatory forms of ritual worship, consisting of prescribed recitations (in Arabic) along with specified bodily positions (standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting). Before praying, a Muslim must perform ablution (ceremonial washing). Muslims are required to pray facing the Ka’ba in Mecca, and women must position themselves behind men (although it is recommended that women stay at home during prayer).
The Qur’an mentions only three daily prayers:
Qur’an 11:114—And keep up prayer in the two parts of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deeds take away evil deeds; this is a reminder to the mindful.
Qur’an 17:78-79—Establish regular prayers—at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning carry their testimony. And pray in the small watches of the morning: (it would be) an additional prayer (or spiritual profit) for thee: soon will thy Lord raise thee to a Station of Praise and Glory!
Qur’an 24:58—O you who believe! let those whom your right hands possess and those of you who have not attained to puberty ask permission of you three times; before the morning prayer, and when you put off your clothes at midday in summer, and after the prayer of the nightfall; these are three times of privacy for you.
However, in the Hadith, Muhammad requires his followers to perform five daily prayers (suggesting, perhaps, that Muslim prayer practices were modified sometime between the compilation of the Qur’an and the compilation of various Hadith collections more than a century later):
Sahih al-Bukhari 528—Narrated Abu Hurairah: I heard Allah’s Messenger saying, “If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day, would you notice any dirt on him?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet added, “That is the example of the five (daily compulsory) Salat (prayers) with which Allah blots out (annuls) evil deeds.”
The prescribed times of the five daily prayers are:
Zuhr—just after midday.
Maghrib—just after sunset.
According to Muhammad, prayer is disrupted or annulled by the passing of a dog, a woman, or a donkey:
Jami At-Tirmidhi 338—Abu Dharr said that Allah’s Messenger said: “When a man performs Salat, and there is nothing in front of him like the post of a saddle, or a camel saddle, then his Salat is severed by (passing of) a black dog, a woman, and a donkey.” It was said to Abu Dharr: “What is the problem with the black dog rather than the red or white one?” He said: “O my nephew! I asked Allah’s Messenger just as you have asked me. He said: ‘The black dog is a Shaitan (devil).’”
Interestingly, the Qur’an declares that Allah prays and worships:
Qur’an 33:43—He [i.e., Allah] it is who prays for you and His angels too, to bring you forth out of the darkness into the light, for He is merciful to the believers.
Qur’an 33:56—Verily, God and His angels pray for the prophet. O ye who believe! pray for him and salute him with a salutation!
(Note: Muslim translators often mistranslate these verses in order to conceal the fact that Allah prays. However, both verses say that Allah performs salah. For more on Allah’s prayers, see Sam Shamoun’s “Islam and the Prayers of Allah.”)
The following video is a step by step guide to salah, produced by Muslims: