Salah: Daily Prayer

Salah: Daily Prayer

by Rose Aslan

Chapter Summary

Salah, or daily prayer, is the most popular and perhaps best-known Islamic religious practice in the world. Rose Aslan’s chapter on salah, also called namaz, begins with Hajj Ahmad in Durham, North Carolina, then takes us to Irving, Texas, where Nicole Fauster, a native of the greater Atlanta area, readies herself to pray maghrib, or the sunset prayer. Aslan also depicts the prayers of artist Nsenga Knight in New York, New York, as she explains step-by-step the meaning and function of the ablutions, bodily movements, words, and feelings that are part of daily prayer. We learn about differences and similarities between Sunni and Shi‘a traditions of salah, and about the existence of other forms of prayer in Islam, including du‘a, or supplicatory prayers, and dhikr, meditative and sometimes joyous religious litanies.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the basic elements of salah? When is it performed? How? Where?
  • What are some of the differences among various Muslim groups regarding prayer traditions?
  • Why is prayer meaningful to the Muslim Americans whom Rose Aslan interviews for the chapter?

Group Exercises

  • Visit the Friday prayers of a local mosque. Discuss or writer about the ritual elements of the prayer, describe the physical setting, and identify the themes of the sermon.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives opens its sessions with prayers from religious leaders representing various U.S. religious communities. In these moments, Muslims do not perform salah; they perform du‘a, or supplicatory prayers. View two different supplicatory prayers offered by two imams: Imam Talib Shareef’s 2013 opening prayer and Imam Ahmad Chebli’s 2014 opening prayer. Discuss how these prayers intertwine political and religious messages?
Rose Aslan (Ph.D., North Carolina), a scholar of Muslim sacred spaces and material culture, is assistant professor at California Lutheran University. She has published articles and book chapters on topics such as the Hajj pilgrimage, the holy Shi’a cities in Iraq, and the secularization of sacred spaces in Turkey.