Muslim Prayer: Washing Your Sins Away

Prayer in Islam takes on multiple and distinct forms. The most common form of Muslim prayer is the salat, which occurs five times a day. (See page on Salat.) Explains Ubah:

We have to pray five times a day. In the school, we can pray in the school if we want to. Like, in the morning, you get up before sunrise, you pray. After that, you pray when the sun is like in the middle or something like that. There’s like a time around like 1 you pray, and then around 5 or 4 you pray another one, and then around 7 you pray another one, and then another one around like 10, 9. So it just keeps going on. What is critical to bear in mind, particularly when thinking about prayer in school, is that for Muslims praying five times a day is understood as obligatory.

In other words, all Muslims must perform salat at the designated times of day and in a particular way, which involves facing Mecca and going through the motions of bowing, kneeling, and so forth. The practice of prayer is understood as the second of the five pillars of Islam, or the practices all Muslims must perform.

When Fadumo was describing what was the most important parts of Islam to her, she answered 'A connection with God. Humbleness.'

Fadumo discusses why prayer is such an important aspect in her life and what specifically she says while praying.


Show Transcription

“In my religion praying is literally talking to God. You start by saying Allah Akbar, that means ‘God is greater.’ So like I am not great. A lot of things humanity has problems with is arrogance so when you say ‘God is greater’ that means I am not, that means that your arrogance level comes down which makes you humble and nice to everyone and stuff. And then you start with saying ‘God please make my sins go as far apart as the universe and wash them with water.’ And then you ask God for guidance and forgiveness. And then you site any other sura [chapter of the Quran] you want.”

However, just because prayer is obligatory does not mean students do it because they must.  Rather, many students we talked to emphasized how prayer is their favorite religious practice, and one of their favorite activities in general.  Fadumo, when asked what is her favorite practice immediately responded, without a beat, “prayer. In my religion it’s like literally talking to God.”  The idea that prayer is a way to communicate with God is something both many Christian and Muslim students share. One of the fascinatingly uniting factors of the Muslim prayer is that when many Muslims pray, they begin with the same prayer. Listen to Fadumo talk about prayer on the left.

For Fadumo, prayer is a continual reminder of one’s own humility. When Fadumo was describing what was the most important parts of Islam to her, she answered “A connection with God. Humbleness.” Thus, through praying to God, or in Arabic, Allah, one forms a connection with God while one is also reminded to be humble and avoid arrogance. Having humility and realizing that there is something far greater than one’s self plays an important role in how one interacts with others, and how one grapples with practices and beliefs different than one’s own. For more on this, see Respect, Acceptance, Pluralism.

Prayer often also functions as a way to ask God for forgiveness for one's sins. If we remember the Lord’s Prayer, it says “forgive us our trespasses,” or in other translations, “forgive us our sins.”  For Fadumo and other Muslims students, the idea of forgiving of sins is represented through the removal of sins from oneself through water. When Rachel Foran talked with Maryam, also a resident of Faribault, about prayer, Maryam said:

The prophet Muhammad said, salat is like a river, at the steps of your door. You go to the river to wash your body five times a day. So prayer is just like washing every sin out of your body. You go to that river every day, five times, so you don’t have any sins by the end of the day. Prayer is just a way to wash the sins off, calm ourselves, worship God.

Thus, for many Muslims in Faribault, prayer is a way to cleanse the self from all sins and bad qualities, including the reminder of one’s own limitations. For some students, the lifting of the sins is an enlightening experience. Explains Tofah, “I feel so light, and free, and happy when I pray.” Or, as Abulahe said, “everything gets easier when you pray.” While everything might get easier during prayer, prayer in a school setting can be far from easy and often leads to numerous conflicts.