A Shocking Verse About Salat in the Qur'an
Let me share what I think is the most shocking verse in the Holy Quran about Salah.
It comes in a short chapter—one with which you're probably familiar.
The chapter [Surah Al-Ma'un (The Small Kindnesses)] begins:
« أعوذُ بِٱللَّهِ »
I take refuge in God
« مِنَ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ »
from Satan, the rejected one
« بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ »
In the name of God, the Lord of mercy, the Giver of mercy
(107:1) << اَرَءَيۡتَ الَّذِىۡ يُكَذِّبُ بِالدِّيۡنِؕ >>
Araayta allathee yukaththibu bideen
Do you see the one, do you notice the one who denies the Deen, who denies the religion, the faith?
(107:2) << فَذٰلِكَ الَّذِىۡ يَدُعُّ الۡيَتِيۡمَۙ >>
Fathalika Allathee yaduAualyateem
That's the one who repels the orphan.
(107:3) << وَ لَا يَحُضُّ عَلٰى طَعَامِ الۡمِسۡكِيۡنِؕ >>
Wala yahuddu AalataAami almiskeen
And they don't encourage the feeding of the orphan?
Now here comes a shocking verse:
(107:4) << فَوَيۡلٌ لِّلۡمُصَلِّيۡنَۙ >>
So woe to those who pray. Pity on those who pray. What a bad situation of the people who pray.
Pity On Those Who Pray?
You're probably thinking, "What? What do you mean? That doesn't make any sense. All over the Quran, our Lord is telling us to pray, engage in prayer, establish prayer, be regular, be humble, and be consistent in our prayers. Here, ‘Fawaylun lilmusalleen?’ Pity on those people who pray?”
Now, of course, you may know that this statement is qualified in the following verse:
(107:5) << الَّذِيۡنَ هُمۡ عَنۡ صَلَاتِهِمۡ سَاهُوۡنَۙ >>
Allatheena hum Aan Salatihimsahoon
[But] who are heedless of their prayer
So we get some relief because what God is saying is not pity on those who pray but those who are heedless regarding their prayers.
So our attention might go to the second half and think, "Oh, okay, well, maybe we're all right then."
But really, reflect for a moment.
How Allah Grabs Our Attention
You can gain from the wordings of the Quran, sometimes, an idea or a sense of the tone of the Quran.
Allah ﷻ could easily have just said, "Woe to those who are heedless of their prayers." That would have been a complete sentence, which would have gotten across the verses' meaning as they are. But the verses are split, and there is a standalone verse that says, "Woe to those who pray."
To me, this indicates very strongly the idea that Allah ﷻ is looking to get our attention here. Because this is an unusual statement, it's a statement you have to read on to understand what is going on. It almost feels designed to capture our attention, shock us, worry us before it qualifies, or emphasise why.
Are We Heedless In Our Prayers?
One of the other pearls of wisdom behind the wording in the way that it is is that it indicates the possibility that people who do pray are described as musalleen—those who pray—who are the very ones who are regularly heedless of their prayers.
In a way, they're even heedless about their heedlessness. They don't even realise that there's a problem. They keep going from one prayer to the next without realising that there's an actual issue.
The Danger Of Heedlessly Delaying Prayers
This word heedless—Allatheena hum Aan Salatihimsahoon—There are many aspects of that heedlessness.
Most commonly, it is understood to be—and this is a worrying or shocking aspect of understanding these verses— that it's not even necessarily talking about people who don't pray on time. It's most commonly understood as this issue of what's known in Arabic as Takhir, which means simply "delaying." Unnecessarily, consistently, delaying the prayers towards the end of the window in which it is acceptable to pray.
The fact that a person—and this can happen to many of us, and I'm sure we've experienced it (I know I've experienced it. I'll confess that much)—that you find yourself within the time that you're supposed to pray.
You know that you're going to pray your Duhr prayer, for example, but we say, “Just let me get the next task done. Then my mind will be clear. Then I'll do it. Oh no, no, let me get the next thing, then the next thing, and then the next thing.”
Eventually, you realise—let’s say Duhr ends at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon—you knew, and you were aware, from quarter to one, perhaps, or 1:00, that I need to be praying Duhr. When do you end up standing in front of Allah? 2:25.
Then that's it, "Well, I just prayed Duhr, and I don't want to pray Asr straight away. So okay, we'll wait." Maghrib is, let's say, 05:00. When do you start praying Asr? 4:45, 4:50, 4:55, etc.
When do we pray Fajr? Just before sunrise. We just make it.
So this is an issue.
Making Allah Our Priority
The fact that this may happen on occasion is not necessarily a problem.
Sometimes we may consciously delay a prayer to a specific later time within the window because it makes more sense to pray at that time or because it may be more conducive to our concentration.
But the fact that we are doing it regularly, every single time, regularly, delaying. What does it say to our Lord? What does it communicate? It communicates that He is our lowest priority, not our highest priority.
We'll get everything else done first within that window, and then we'll just squeeze it in at the end. Then the next time again, everything else will get done, and then we'll just squeeze Him in at the end.
The Slippery Slope Towards Missed Prayers
Of course, the person who regularly does this, eventually one or two end up slipping out. Then they missed the prayer altogether. Then, slowly, the devil moves them down a slippery slope in which they end up abandoning prayer altogether.
That's another aspect of this whole heedlessness. It's not just the fact that we are constantly delaying, and it's always the last thing on our minds.
It could also be in the context of the prayer itself within the prayer itself that we stand there, but we are heedless.
Other verses indicate the dangers of that, but we won't go into that. I want to stay with this one here,
Fawaylun lilmusalleen. Allatheena hum Aan Salatihimsahoon. Woe to those who pray, pity on those who pray.
Every time you hear that verse or recite that verse, just really reflect deeply on what is being said here and the way it's being said, remember. Because it didn't have to be expressed in such shocking terms, but it is. In such explicit or counterintuitive terms, initially, before it's explained. Then, no, it's those who are particularly heedless with their prayers. But a person who regularly prays can still be heedless. That's the point.
Keeping a High Standard In Prayer
You see, it's a high quality; it's a high standard that's being asked of us when it comes to our prayer. For that prayer to be the key to paradise—and paradise being something so valuable—it can't just be any prayer. It needs to be something of a high standard.
We all need to really focus day in, day out on maintaining and increasing the quality of our prayers and the consistency of our prayers so that they can really meet the standard.
Do We Pray To Be Seen Of Others?
The final thing to say is the last part here that Allah ﷻ then says,
(107:6) << الَّذِيۡنَ هُمۡ يُرَآءُوۡنَۙ >>
Allatheena hum yuraoon
Those who do good (in order) to be seen
(107:7) << وَيَمۡنَعُوۡنَ الۡمَاعُوۡنَ >>
Wayamna Aoona almaAoon
And refuse to give even the simplest aid.
He says that not only are they heedless with regards to their prayers, but they pray to be seen of people.
Now, this can be interpreted in two ways. The people only pray alongside others because those others are praying. But if those others weren't there, then they wouldn't have got up to pray. Meaning their motivation is coming because others are praying, and so I don't want to look bad, frankly, in front of other people, so that's to be seen by people.
Or the other interpretation is that—and they're both valid and possible ways in which we might manifest these mistakes—we elongate our prayers or beautify our prayers or pray in a different way when other people are present or around.
Who Are You Praying For? Allah Or Others?
If you're a young person and on your own in your room—and you're praying, and you go up and down like a yo-yo very, very, fast throughout the whole prayer—but if you know that your parents are aware. They're watching, or they're looking, and then all of a sudden, it's much slower and much calmer; that's a problem.
Who are you praying for? Is it your parents or is it your Lord?
Even if we're not young, we can all understand the implication of this.
Interestingly, Allah ﷻ closes off with this idea, Wayamna Aoona almaAoon, They withhold small acts of kindness. This is another one of these qualities of such people.
It's almost as if, like the stinginess you show in your prayer—that tightfistedness—almost starts reflecting in other aspects of your life. You're holding back.
Instead, we should give ourselves entirely in our prayer, give ourselves as much as we can and be generous to others in our dealings and interactions with them.
May Allah ﷻ help us and make us people who are people who truly establish the prayer, not people who are heedless of our prayers.
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