formal prayer (salah)

Table of contents for the topic formal prayer (salah)
  1. Who does “Woe to those who pray” refer to?
  2. What is the one right way to pray (perform salah)?
  3. Is the fajr prayer valid if the sun rises while performing it?
  4. Praying on a car, bus or airplane (salah)
  5. How to focus better when praying (performing salah)
  6. Is it sunna to raise the index finger in tashahhud?
  7. Rolling sleeves and pants in prayer
  8. Repeating prayers due to uncertainty about having performed them correctly
  9. What to do if you cannot pray on time at school or work
  10. Can you start praying before all the athans are finished?
  11. Can a woman lead male family members in prayer if necessary?
  12. The difference between sunna and nafl
  13. Can a Muslim enter Paradise if they do not pray?
  14. Can you perform the prayer (salah) according to the Quran alone?
  15. Can you take breaks between prayers in Islam?
  16. Is not praying worse than adultery?
  17. How to achieve khushoo in salah
  18. The ruling on the prayer of an alcohol-drinker
  19. A woman’s prayer is still valid if part of her hair is unintentionally uncovered
  20. Is it permissible to write down prayer words when learning how to pray (salah)?
  21. The sunna prayer of dhuhr (ẓuhr) can be prayed in units of two or four
  22. On raising the hands during salah as a Hanafi
  23. On praying (making dua) during salah and whether one can do it in English
  24. Do Muslims need to make up prayers intentionally missed for years?
  25. How to pray on an airplane when you do not know the qibla
  26. What are the manners and rules of performing wudu and prayer?
  27. On intentionally delaying the isha prayer
  28. What to recite next after finishing salah
  29. When to stand up during the iqamah, at the beginning, a specific point or at the end?
  30. What to do if you make a mistake during salah (formal prayer)?
  31. Will one’s prayers be valid if they unknowingly make an error in them for a long period of time?
  32. How long can you delay the isha prayer?
  33. Raising and lowering the finger during salah (formal prayer)
  34. How soon are the sunnah prayers performed after the fard prayers?
  35. Why do different Muslims (such as Hanafis) follow different prayer timings?
  36. How to make up multiple missed prayers (salah)
  37. What to do if you have intentionally missed many days of prayers

Who does “Woe to those who pray” refer to?

Assalamualaikum brother. In this verse "So woe to those who pray. [But] are heedless of their prayer – Those who make show [of their deeds]. And withhold [simple] assistance." [Quran 107: 1-7] is it only referring to those who pray just for 'show' or also those who struggle to concentrate during prayer? / sometimes I become overwhelmed with emotion during prayer and I'm not sure why and It affects it do you have any advice for this? May Allah bless you.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is referring to those who pray for show without their heart being in it. The context makes it clear that all the verses together refer to the same type of person.

As for having difficulty paying attention when you sincerely want to, that is a different matter. Please see this previous answer on how to focus better when praying: How to focus better when praying (performing salah)

Best wishes.

What is the one right way to pray (perform salah)?

Asalam Walikum, I was still wondering what would be the right way to pray? Ik different scholars have different opinions but in a ONE answer, what would be the right way to pray?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is sufficient to learn to pray from a source you like and respect, which is how most Muslims learn to pray. After that as your knowledge increases, you may choose to make small changes.

You may want to check out Being Muslim: A Practical Guide. It teaches how to pray in the Maliki way. The Maliki pratice of Islam is often the easiest for beginners, and since the Maliki school relies on three sources (the Quran, hadith and Medinan amal), it is often more reliable than the other schools which often only rely on the Quran and hadith.

I am not actually a Maliki so please do not consider this propaganda for that school. For my views on the different schools please see: On deciding which madhhab to follow and the multi-madhhab approach

Is the fajr prayer valid if the sun rises while performing it?

Assalamualaikum, if someone intends to pray Fajr but they wake up 5minutes before sunrise and then whilst they are praying it goes past sunrise, is their prayer invalid? Because when I first searched this online all the answers says just to wake up and pray immediately even if you're late. So I assumed you didn't have to make intention of qaza? Jzk

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The Prophet PBUH says:

"Whoever could get one rak`a (of the Fajr prayer) before sunrise, he has accomplished the (morning) prayer and whoever could get one rak`a of the `Asr prayer before sunset, he has accomplished the (`Asr) prayer."

Sahih al-Bukhari 579; a version is also in Sahih Muslim 608 a

So if you start the prayer, finish one rakʿa, then if the sun rises, then you have performed it correctly and there is no need to redo it. But if the sun rises during the first rakʿa, there are different opinions on whether the prayer is valid or not. According to some scholars, if the sun rises during the first rakʿa, then the prayer becomes a qaḍāʾ prayer, meaning the person has missed fajr (but they should still continue the prayer, considering it a qaḍāʾ prayer for fajr). According to others, if a person performs the takbirat al-iḥrām (the first “Allahu akbar” at the beginning of the prayer) before sunrise, then they have accomplished fajr and it is not qaḍāʾ.


Praying on a car, bus or airplane (salah)

Can I pray while sitting? For example if prayer comes while I’m sitting in the bus.

There are different opinions on that, but the general opinion is that performing the sunna (non-obligatory) prayers is permitted while riding on a horse or camel or riding in a car, bus or airplane.

As for the obligatory prayers, the general opinion is that it is not permissible to perform them like that unless one has an excuse. The person should delay the prayer until they are able to perform it normally. The exception is when a person fears that they will not have the opportunity to perform the prayer normally, in such a case it is permitted to perform the obligatory prayers in that way while sitting (if they cannot stand).

According to Imam al-Nawawi if the obligatory prayer is performed while riding, the person should redo the prayer once they are able. However other scholars believe that it is not necessary to make these prayers up.


How to focus better when praying (performing salah)

Assalamualaikum. I'm a PhD student & often my research leads to complicated problems which keep coming into mind during my non-working activities & even in my salah. When I catch my mind drifting into my research problem I quickly say istighfar & focus on salah again, but then it keeps happening. Sometimes I can't even keep my focus between 2 takbir. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? Is it alright to be distracted in salah as long as I'm trying to focus again? Thank you very much

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I too sometimes struggle to disengage my mind from my work when I’ve been busy. It is just a struggle that we have to accept and try to overcome during the prayer, whether we can overcome it or not is not entirely in our control. When the brain is tired it is not easy to force it to concentrate on the thing you want.

The best thing for focus during the prayer that I have found is to say the words loudly enough that you can hear it with your ears clearly. The act of pronouncing the words clearly and carefully makes it quite difficult for the mind to wander.

I also make up for my occasional lack of concentration by making sure to perform the sunna prayers, and by performing dhikr after every prayer (saying subhanallah, alhamdulillah, allahu akbar and astaghfirallah 34 times each). Different numbers of repetitions are mentioned in hadith, I do 34 of each to keep it simple.

I also listen to the Quran an hour a day, which I hope is another way of making up for my failings in my prayers.

Asalamu alaykum, Regarding the recent Q you answered. Is it permissible to say the prayers our loud in Shari'ah as it is supposed to be the movement of the tongue and lips only? Also, advice for the questioner, what one focuses on outside of his/her prayer will be his/her focus in prayer. Therefore, it may be worth mentioning to be conscious of God even outside of prayer.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The correct way is to pray loudly enough for yourself to hear it, but not so loudly as others praying beside you would be bothered by it. God tells us:

Say, “Call Him God, or call Him the Most Merciful. Whichever name you use, to Him belong the Best Names.” And be neither loud in your prayer, nor silent in it, but follow a course in between. (The Quran, verse 17:110)

Moving your tongue and lips is not sufficient, your voice should be audible to yourself in a quiet room (which is what I recommended).

Women are not meant to recite out loud during prayer though, correct?

That only applies in the presence of strangers. At home or in the presence of other women the rule is the same as for men.


However, what I mentioned regarding the prayer being audible to yourself is a different matter and applies to all of the prayers. I was not referring to being loud during the fajr, maghrib and isha prayers.

Is it sunna to raise the index finger in tashahhud?

Isn't it the sunnah of prophet to lower your index finger and raise it?

The clearly established sunna is to point with the index finger during the tashahhud. As for raising the index finger or moving it, there are conflicting narrations about it which has led to the different schools having different stances about it. One narration says the Prophet PBUH did not move his index finger while another mentions that he moved it. Because of this the different schools have different opinions on whether to do it or not. But keeping the finger still or moving it are both acceptable according to the Mālikī scholar Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr.

The Ḥanafī opinion is to point during the tashahhud and lift the finger when you say lā ilāha illā allāh then lower it again.

The Mālikī opinion is to continuously move the finger from the beginning to the end of the tashahhud.

The Ḥanbalī opinion is to lift the finger each time the name of God is mentioned in the tashahhud.

The Shafiʿi opinion is to lift the finger when you say illā allāh and to keep it lifted until the end of the tashahhud.

There is no conclusive evidence for any of these options.


Rolling sleeves and pants in prayer

Salamu alaikum. Brother, I want to ask that I read somewhere a very long time ago that we are not suppose to roll our shirt's sleeves or our pants to pray. Is it true and what does that mean? Shukran.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is a hadith mentioned in Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim that says it should not be done:

Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:

I have been commanded to prostrate myself on seven bones:" forehead," and then pointed with his hand towards his nose, hands, feet, and the extremities of the feet; and we were forbidden to fold back clothing and hair.

Sahih al-Bukhari Book 10, Hadith 207; Sahih Muslim 490 d

The meaning of the hadith is somewhat vague regarding folding clothes. The word it uses is kaff, which means “to gather together”, “to fold together” according to Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. It is not entirely clear if this applies to sleeves and pants as it may have been a reference to folding together one’s robes and holding it with one’s hand in prayer. But just to be safe, it is best to avoid all kinds of folding and rolling.

However, it does not nullify the prayer if someone prays in such a state as it is considered makruh (“disliked”) rather than forbidden.


Repeating prayers due to uncertainty about having performed them correctly

Assalamu alaikum I keep forgetting things in my prayer or more likely doubt it. Like I would say the Basmalah before reciting and I would start doubting or say the dua in rukoo and maybe when am in sajdah I will start feeling like I didn't say it. sometimes I tried to continue praying but I my heart will be tight and I feel scare like am doing something wrong. If I say I'll pray sujood sahw then I'll be praying it my every salah. I feel like I have a mental problem because sometimes I found myself praying a particular prayer more than five times like I would be starting over and over please help.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Sorry to read about your condition. It sounds like OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and there are drugs that help with it, so I recommend seeing a doctor. The Prophet PBUH says:

When any one of you is in doubt about his prayer and he does Dot know how much he has prayed, three or four (rak'ahs). he should cast aside his doubt and base his prayer on what he is sure of. then perform two prostrations before giving salutations. If he has prayed five rak'ahs, they will make his prayer an even number for him, and if he has prayed exactly four, they will be humiliation for the devil. (Sahih Muslim 571 a)

If you are not sure whether you made a mistake or not, then try to continue the prayer and cast away your doubts. At the end perform the sujud al-sahu just to be sure. You can do this with every prayer if you have to, there is no issue with doing it every time.

Best wishes.

What to do if you cannot pray on time at school or work

Salam. I live in a non Muslim country where prayer space is not provided in buildings and stuff. I have a job that makes me skip two prayers. Is there some other way I can pray my prayers?

According to a fatwa on IslamOnline (which is overseen by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi), a person may combine the ẓuhr and ʿaṣr prayers and the maghrib and ʿishāʾ prayers if they have no other choice. You could perform the first two prayers at noon and the other two prayers at night. The prayers should be performed in full rather than shortened as is done when traveling.

Fatwas by the Qatari Fatwa Authority and the UAE Fatwa Authority also permit combining the prayers if a person has no choice.

Can you start praying before all the athans are finished?

The area that I'm in has many masjids and therefore has many azans. When one is finished I heard a few more being called. Do i have to wait till all masjids finish call to prayer or just listen out for one to be completed?

According to the Qatari Fatwa Authority it is permitted to pray once the athan of one of the mosques has finished if the athan was said at its proper time.


Can a woman lead male family members in prayer if necessary?

Assalamu alaykum. My father started to pray alhamdulillah. He knows nothing but Ikhlas so I'm guiding the prayer since he had struggles even remembering the number of rakaas and the words to say. Is the Salah accepted since I'm guiding and I'm a girl? Jazak Allahu khairan.

May Allah reward you both and increase you in guidance. There is an authentic hadith narrated by Imam Aḥmad, Abū Dawūd and others that mentions a woman named Umm Waraqa who was allowed by the Prophet PBUH to lead her family in prayer. The hadith in Abū Dawūd’s collection (vol 1, no. 218) mentions that there was an old man who gave the adhan and who presumably prayed behind her. Based on this hadith, some scholars permit women to lead men in prayer in times of necessity, for example when there is no man or boy who can do it out of a lack of knowledge.

Based on that hadith some scholars such as the 20th century Ḥanbalī scholar ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qāsim say it is permitted for a woman to lead her family in prayer when it is necessary. Therefore what you are doing is acceptable according to their opinion until your father learns how to perform the prayer correctly.


  • ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qāsim, Ḥashiyat al-Rawḍ al-Murabbaʿ, no publisher listed, 1397 AH (1976-1977 CE), vol. 2, 311.

The difference between sunna and nafl

Asalamalaykum, I was wondering if Tahajjud is permissible without first sleeping. As a student, who usually is busy studying during the night, can I still pray Tahajjud even if I have not slept to wake up? Also, when I make the intention of my Tahajjud namaz, are they followed as sunnat or nafl intention? Please let me know.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Yes, that is permissible. People use “sunnat” to refer to voluntary good deeds and acts of worship. Nafl means voluntary act of worship. So the two in their common usage have generally the same meaning when they refer to acts of worship like prayer or fasting. There is no need to worry about intention; if your intention is to pray tahajjud, then that is sufficient for it.

Technically whether something is obligatory or voluntary, it is sunna because it is part of the Prophet’s tradition PBUH. But in common usage, people only use sunna to refer to voluntary deeds. When they use it like this, a sunna act of worship has the same meaning as a nafl act of worship. All nafl acts of worship are sunna unless they have been invented later, such as the communal tarāwīh prayers on Ramadan nights, which are nafl  prayers but since the Prophet PBUH did not perform such prayers communally, the communal part is not sunna.

For more on tahajjud please see my essay: Mysticism without Sufism: A Guide to Tahajjud, Islam’s Meditation Practice

Can a Muslim enter Paradise if they do not pray?

If a Muslim doesn't pray but they are a good person will they still go to jannah?

There is no simple answer to that question. According to a fatwa from IslamOnline, those who abandon the prayer are two types of people:

  • Those who abandon it because they reject the Quran’s teachings and do not consider its commandments binding. Such people are considered disbelievers/apostates by the majority of scholars and there is little hope that such people will be forgiven by God.
  • Those who abandon the prayer out of weakness of character, laziness, busyness with other things and being overwhelmed by worldly concerns and desires while feeling guilty about it and wishing that they prayed. Such a person is a great sinner but they are not disbelievers according to many scholar. Therefore there is more hope for them.

The first type of person rejects the prayer out of arrogance and pride (they think they know better than the Quran or that the Quran does not deserve to be followed), while the second type of person is not exactly rejecting the prayer but neglecting it.

The Quran says:

On the Day when the Shin will be exposed, and they will be called to bow down, but they will be unable. Their eyes subdued, shame will cover them. They were invited to bow down when they were sound. (The Quran, verses 68:42-43)

The Quran also makes abandoning the prayer a sign of disbelief:

And when it is said to them, “Kneel [in prayer]”, they do not kneel. Woe on that Day to the rejecters. (The Quran, verses 77:48-49)

However, we also have hadith narrations like the following:

A bedouin came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and asked him, "O Messenger of Allah, what are the two imperatives which lead to Paradise or Hell". He (ﷺ) replied, "He who dies without associating anything with Allah will enter Paradise, and he who dies associating partners with Allah will enter the Fire". (Sahih Muslim 92)

So that matter is not simple. A person who abandons the prayer exposes themselves to a great danger, but ultimately their judgment is with God and He will decide what to do about each individual.


Can you perform the prayer (salah) according to the Quran alone?

Assalamualaikum,I want to start namaz,but I want to make my namaz according to the Qur'an,I am not one that fits the sects,only the Qur'an, Allah and the Prophet.I see as my guide,the Quran is not mentioned very clearly from namaz, the number of rakats and prayers to be read is not said.So that's mean that I can do it on my own? Can I read which prayer I want and how many rakats I want to do? According to the sects the namaz confuses my mind and makes me forget that I worship Allah

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no way to perform the prayer (namāz / ṣalāh) according to the Quran alone because God intentionally left out its details in order for us to learn it from the Prophet PBUH. The Quran says:

So obey God, and obey the Messenger. But if you turn away—it is only incumbent on Our Messenger to deliver the clear message. (The Quran, verse 64:12)

Think about why the details of the prayer are not in the Quran. God could have placed them in the Quran but He did not. The lesson from this is that we should rely on the non-Quranic evidence for finding out the details of the prayer. Of course the non-Quranic evidence is not perfect, but it is extremely unwise to just throw it all out because it is not perfect. It is imperfect, but there is sufficient guidance in it to teach you how to pray properly.

God does not ask you to do the impossible. Learn the prayer from a respected source and follow it and that is sufficient. But if you simply abandon the proper way to perform the prayer because the sources are not perfect then God will not accept this excuse of you. On the Day of Judgment He can always point to the hundreds of millions of Muslims who prayed properly because they humbly chose to follow the Prophet’s teachings PBUH rather than rejecting it just because there are differences about it.

You can check out the way the Maliki school performs the prayer (maybe get Asad Tarsin’s Being Muslim which follows the Maliki school). While the other schools are based on the Quran and hadith, the Maliki school follows something additional called ʿamal, which refers to the way the people of Medina practiced Islam during the time of Imam Malik (who lived one generation away from the Companions of Prophet Muhammad PBUH). This ʿamal is information (recorded in Maliki sources like al-Muwaṭṭaʾ) about practicing Islam is taken from thousands of the descendants of the Companions who lived in Medina at that time and continued to practice Islam as it was taught to them by their parents and grandparents. Since this record is based on the actual practice of thousands of early Muslims rather than on transmitted hadiths, it does not suffer from any doubt on its authenticity simply because it is incredibly unlikely that thousands of people all continuously practicing Islam would somehow forget the proper way to do things like performing the prayer.

I do not consider myself a Maliki person exactly but I consider ʿamal a valid and important form of evidence on the proper way to practice Islam.

Can you take breaks between prayers in Islam?

AssalamuAlaikum, is it okay to take breaks between the units of prayer? I tend to get fatigued easily and find I need to wait before continuing. Also sau I have prayed 4 rakats of Isha and I leave to assist a family member in something quick before doing the next 4. Is that okay? I can't find any information online for this.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

You cannot take breaks within the prayers (as you seem to know already), but you can take breaks between them. A prayer that is 4 rakats cannot be broken up, but you can take a break before performing the voluntary prayer after that. And if you are performing tahajjud you can perform 2 rakats, take a break, then go on to perform the next 2 rakats.


Is not praying worse than adultery?

is neglecting to pray salat a worse sin than zina?

Some scholars, such as Ibn al-Qayyim, have said that. But there is no explicit evidence on this from the Quran or hadith. The reason they say that is because intentionally avoiding the prayer is out of arrogance and rebelliousness, while committing adultery is out of desire, and rebelliousness is considered a greater sin due to it being more intentional and cold-blooded.

But personally I recommend not speculating about which sin is greater. It is God’s business, and the judgment may differ with each specific case.

Reader question:

Selam aleykum! About the question if neglecting prayer is worse than zina - Praying is one of the five pillars of Islam, so shouldn't it be seen as a worse sin than adultery?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is not a simple comparison because adultery has more serious and long-lasting consequences, while a person may neglect the prayer due to suffering depression. Since human thought and motivation are so complex, we should leave it to God to judge each case according to all the relevant factors.

How to achieve khushoo in salah

How to do we get khushoo in our salah? Sometimes I feel like I'm not completely focused and I start thinking of things that aren't important.

I have found that my feeling of closeness to God outside the prayer is what matters most when it comes to whether I can focus on the prayer or not. And that closeness comes from performing an extra amount of worship every day. Staying close to God requires daily work. If last night I spent an hour reading or listening to the Quran, then today I can focus much better on the prayer and enjoy it more.

For more on performing extra worship see my essay: Mysticism without Sufism: A Guide to Tahajjud, Islam’s Meditation Practice

The ruling on the prayer of an alcohol-drinker

Beginning of summarized translated fatwa from the Jordanian Fatwa Authority

Question: There is a hadith that says the prayer of an alcohol-drinker will not be accepted for forty nights. Should such a person wait for forty days before coming back to the prayer?

Answer: Our advice to this alcohol-drinker is to fear God and to not let the faith he has to die out from his heart. His heart which desires prayer is a believer’s heart which feels the danger [of abandoning the prayer]. As for the hadith on the prayer of an alcohol-drinker not being accepted for forty days, it is narrated by ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ [ra] that the Prophet PBUH said: “A man of my umma does not drink and have his prayer accepted for forty days.” (Narrated by al-Nasāʾī).

In this hadith there is no prohibition on the alcohol-drinker when it comes to praying. It is actually obligatory on him and required of him. The hadith tells us that he gets no reward from the prayer as a punishment for engaging in such a sinful thing. He is still required to pray and commits a tremendous sin by abandoning the prayer.

End of summarized translated fatwa

Source (Arabic PDF)

A woman’s prayer is still valid if part of her hair is unintentionally uncovered

The prayer is still valid and does not have to be redone.

According to Ibn Taymīya the prayer is only nullified if two conditions are true: if a highly inappropriate amount of the ʿawra (the part of the body that must be kept covered during prayer) is shown, and if that goes on for a long time (for the duration of the prayer or for most of it). Since a little hair is not a highly inappropriate amount, the first condition is not satisfied, so the prayer is still valid.

According to the Jordanian fatwa authority (representing the Shāfiʿī school, which is very strict in such matters), if the uncovered area is not immediately covered, the prayer is nullified.

According to the Egyptian fatwa authority (generally representing the opinions of the scholars of Al-Azhar University) the prayer is still valid as long as the area shown is not too much and as long as it is not out of gross negligence.

A fatwa on IslamWeb (managed by Qatar’s fatwa authority) dealing specifically with the issue of a woman unintentionally having some of her hair out during the prayer rules that it does not nullify the prayer even if it goes on for “a long time”, meaning for the duration of the whole prayer.

References (all in Arabic): Ibn Taymīya’s opinion | The Jordanian fatwa | The Egyptian fatwa | The Qatari fatwa

Is it permissible to write down prayer words when learning how to pray (salah)?

hey, I'm struggling with myself. I want to start praying , but i don't know how to pronounce the things. And the other thing is if I can't remember the sayings can I write it down and read it or is it not focusing on Allah and the praying then and when do I have to say sws?

It is universally accepted that a person can read from a book of Quran during the prayer, so I see no issue with reading the other parts of the prayer from a piece of paper until you learn them (but I cannot find official opinions on this). There is no issue with having difficulty pronouncing the words as it takes time to learn them, the Prophet PBUH says in regards to reciting the Quran (but it can be applied to the rest of the prayer as well):

The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Quran will be with the honorable scribes (the Angels) and he who recites the Quran and finds great difficulty in reciting it, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have a double reward. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 65, Hadith 4937)

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