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An In-depth meaning of the word “Sala” used in the Quran

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The following is taken from “Exposition of the Quran” by Ghulam Ahmad Pervez pg. 1194-1196:

Sala

This word has occurred in the Quran 108 times in various forms and as salat 67 times. Salat is the principle and one of the most important elements of Islam, and has special significance. Also in view of its extensive and repeated use in the Quran, it is necessary to discuss it somewhat in detail with reference to various verses. First its literal meaning:

As Sala is the central portion of the backside, the portion where the tail of the animal is. Both sides are called salwan and its plural is salawatun (Taj).

Mosalli is the horse which comes at second place in a race, and is so close to the first-placed that its ears are touching the other’s back portion (the first one is called sabiq). It, therefore, means to follow the first one very closely. There is a saying of Ali the fourth caliph, “Sabaqa Rasool-Allah, wa salla Abu-Bakr wa sallasa Omar wa khabatatnafitnatun.” Rasool-Allah went away first, followed by Abu-Bakr and then Omar and thereafter chaos overtook us (Taj). According to Taj, salea wastala means attachment, to remain stuck. From this reference Raghib says that verse (74/43), “We were bit musalleen,” means that they did not follow the rusul. Accordingly, Qurtabi also writes that salat would mean to remain within the bounds of the laws of Allah, and tasleah means to walk behind a person so closely that there remains no distance; not to surpass him but remain closely behind. It is very important to understand the relationship of man and Allah. Allah is the One Who is supreme, most perfect, and most beautiful. He has various attributes called Asma-ul-Husna and each attribute is perfect and complete. Allah has also given a personality to man and referred to it as roohona – the divine energy (see rooh). The object or the purpose of man’s life is to develop his personality according to the laws of Allah and inculcate in himself as much of Allah’s attributes as may be humanly possible. In the first Surah (Al-Fatiha) of the Quran, a momin is taught to ask of Allah to guide him to sirat-al-mustaqeem (and that, in fact, should be a momin’s  purpose in life – to tread the sirat-al-mustaqeem all along- the straight and the balanced path), and in the eleventh Surah (Hud) it is stated that Allah continuously stays at sirat-al-mustaqeem. It transpires from the above that the only straight path a momin is required to adopt during the course of his life, is the same on which Allah Almighty Himself is while running this universe. This path can easily be adopted by closely and steadfastly following the dictates of Allah’s book, ie., the Holy Quran. Hence the basic meaning of sala is complete concordance with the book of Allah and thereby incorporating in one’s own self Allah’s most balanced attributes, of course, as far as is humanly possible.

In verse (24:41) a question is asked: “Have you not pondered over the fact that, whatever there is in the universe, including the birds with wings spread out, is continuously carrying out its assignments with the fullest play of its capabilities, and each one of them knows its sphere of duties (tasbeeh) and the way those are to be carried out (sala)?” This obviously means that everything in the universe knows by instinct, what are its duties and how to perform them and what is its destiny. As far as the animal world is concerned, they do it by instinct. But if a human being wants to know, what is his tasbeeh and salat, it is a must for him to have faith in wahi, through which all these directions containint do’s and don’ts are explained. This is iqamat-as-sala, a special term used in the Quran.

To follow the laws of the Quran is iqama-as-sala. This is not possible individually and can only be done collectively; that is why the Quran has the plural tense for this. It is the responsibility of an Islamic sate to establish this order (22:41), and they do it by mutual consultations (42:38). This system covers all the aspects of life, particularly the economic system. Verse (11:87) is very significant in this regard. It says: “O Shuaib! Does your sala not permit us even to spend our wealth as we desire?” They did not understand as to what type of sala gave directions even in economic matters; they thought sala was just a prayer or some sort of ritual.

In a nutshell it would pose one simple question. Would a person like to decide his affairs according to his desires and wishes, or would he surrender before the laws of Allah? This later position is called sala. Verse (19:59) further clarifies: “They were followed by people who abandoned or negated the salat.” Therefore, following the divine law is called sala. As such Ibn-e-Qutaiba says, salat actually means ad-deen and iqamat-ad-deen.

As-salla means fire and firewood. Salla asaho-alan-nar means he straightened and softened his stick by heating it in fire. As such salat would also mean to remove one’s defects. The author of Al-Minar says that sala, in factm is the recognition that one’s personality needs guidance of a superior authority. In this way Qurtabisays that sala means obedience to Allah.

Another meaning of sala is to subdue and arrest and attract someone’s attention (Moheet). This view would explain another meaning of sala which is taming and harnessing the forces operative in the universe.

One meaning of sala is reerence and respect (Taj), i.e., to work for and to establish a socio-economic system that proves the greatness of the Sustainer of this universe.

In Hebrew dictionary salawat (plural of sala) is the praying place of Jews. In verse (22:40) this word is used in that context.

Sala has also been used for a particular ritual. On the whole, whatever a momin is doing by following the laws of Allah, without any restrictions of time or formation, is sala. However, wherever in the Quran it refers to a particular action, its form and timing has to be fixed. In this regard, there are various verses in the Quran, e.g.,  Verse (5:6) mentions ablution, which is to be performed before offering salat. Verse (4:43) prohibits the momineen from performing salat when they are under the influence of intoxicants (the momineen are, however, admonished to refrain from the use of intoxicants 5:90-91).

In Surah al Jumu’ah (62:9-10) it is commanded: “When you are called for the congregation on the day of Juma, you should rush towards zikr-Allah, putting aside your  business – and after salat spread out in the land in search of the bounty of Allah and do his zikr a great deal, so that you may prosper.”

Some specific timing is also mentioned in the Quran. Verse (17:78) directs the momineen to establish sala from early morning till evening, thereby denying the earlier superstition that certain ties of the day are good or bad. It is further explained in verse  (11:114) that sala should be established at the two ends of the day and the early hours of the night.  Verses (20:130) and (50:39) mention about hamd before sunrise and sunset and also late at night when the stars start fading (52:49).

Verse (24:58) mentions about salatul fajr and salat ul isha when domestic servants are forbidden to enter private apartments without permission. About recitation during sala, the Quran says that you should understand as to what you are reciting (4:43) and do not recite loudly or in silence but adopt a course in between. The above verses explain that the meaning of salat encompasses congregational prayers as well. Wherever aqeem us sala is refereed to, it means the establishment of the whole system, the obedience to the laws of Allah, and the observance of all the duties expected of a momin. At other places, it also refers to the offering of prayers as well as other duties which are a part of the whole system. For this distinction one has to see the whole verse and the context in which it was brought. Similarly the word musalleen refers to those persons who are at the height of dignity (70:22-35).

Salla alaibe, according to Raghib, means to respect, to give blessings, to encourage, to grow, to nourish and to stop from getting decayed. In those verses of the Quran where this root occurs with ala, it means that Allah and all the heavenly forces encourage you, provide you with necessary means of growth and nourishment and make your eddorts bear fruit (33:43). In verse (2:157) it is stated that when the momineen face difficulties in the enforcement and establishment of deen, they do not get disheartened, but remain steadfast and they deserve all the appreciation and encouragement from Allah. This is also mentioned particularly about Rasool-Allah himself saying, “Allah and all the heavenly forces help and encourage him in the fulfillment of the divine program. So, O jamat-ul-momineen, you should also help your Rasool (peace be upon him) by following him and submitting before him (33:56).”

Alternate Views:

Salat in the Quran – by Quran Centric

References:

(2017, April 1). Salat in the Quran. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4APNPrfRORQ

Pervez, Ahmad (2010). Exposition of the Quran. (p. 1194-1196). http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/ExpositionOfHollyQuran.pdf

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