God has ordered Muslims to pray at five set times of day:
Dawn, before sunrise: Fajr.
Midday, after the sun passes its highest point: Dhuhr.
The late part of the afternoon: Asr.
Just after sunset: Maghrib.
This prayer timetable gives Muslims a pattern for their day.
In Islamic countries, the public call to prayer, or Adhan, from the mosques sets the rhythm of the day for the entire population, including non-Muslims
Prayer: A Universal Muslim Ritual
The prayer ritual, which is over 1400 years old, is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all round the world.
Praying is not only highly spiritual, it connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history.
The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken. Prayer for a Muslim involves uniting the mind, soul, and body in worship; so a Muslim carrying out these prayers will perform a whole series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer. (Read more: Spiritual Benefits of Prayer)
Muslims make sure that they are in the right frame of mind before they pray; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on God.
If a Muslim prays without the right attitude and internal focus, it is as if they didn’t bother to pray at all.
“Woe to those who pray, but are unmindful of their prayer, or who pray only to be seen by people.” [Quran, 107:4-6]
Muslims don’t pray for God’s benefit.
God does not need human prayers because he has no needs at all. Muslims pray because God has told them that they are to do this, and because they believe that they themselves obtain great benefit in doing so.
Muslims pray directly to God.
A Muslim prays as if standing in the presence of God.
In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with God. There is no need of a priest as an intermediary. (While there is a prayer leader in the mosque – the imam – he is not a priest, simply a person who knows a great deal about Islam.)
Muslims can pray anywhere, but it is especially good to pray with others in a mosque. Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realize that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of God.
Prayer in congregation is considered to have more social and spiritual benefit than praying by oneself. The congregation is led by a person called an imam, who is usually chosen as the person with the best knowledge of the Quran, preferably someone who has memorized the entire Quran (a hafiz). The remaining people stand behind the imam in straight parallel rows, all facing the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca. In the first row behind the imam, if available, would be another hafiz to correct the imam in case a mistake is made during the performance of the salah. Congregation prayer in a mosque, or masjid, is particularly encouraged for men and is optional for women. Muslim men are encouraged to offer as many of the five daily prayers in the mosque as possible, as the reward for doing so is at least 25 times greater than offering the prayer alone at home. (Find out about the Call to Prayer.)
Friday Prayers in the Mosque
Friday is the holy day of the week for Muslims and it is mandatory for men to offer the early afternoon prayer, known as Jumma, in congregation. During Friday lunchtime, Muslims are required to take a break from their work, or other worldly activities they are involved in, and head to the mosques or prayer halls to offer the noon prayer.
This special prayer is composed of a sermon followed by 2 units of congregational prayer.
The sermons can be on a variety of topics but tend to focus on spiritual reminders to help motivate the community to do good deeds and strengthen their relationship with God. After the Friday prayer, people are free to return to their workplaces.
Mosques and the Community
In addition to being a place of prayer, mosques have also become a focal point in the community. People meet and greet one another, receive news about the community (e.g. those who are sick), and children come to learn.
The mosque is therefore the central point for growth and development of the community.