In the past one week, I had reason to pray in different mosques and behind different Imams (prayer leaders) in different locations. In the course of those prayers, some not-good-enough acts of the prayers were noted. Like every other act of ibadah (worship), the observance of the five daily obligatory prayers is guided by some laid down principles as specified in books of Islamic jurisprudence. While some acts of the prayer are obligatory, others are either Sunnah (prophetic traditions) or recommended by scholars of jurisprudence. Each of these three categories of acts of prayer has fundamental implications for the daily prayers we observe.
While it is our duty as Muslims to observe prayers according to laid down principles, it is Allah’s prerogative to accept or reject our prayers. Amazingly though, no worshiper knows whether the prayers he observed have been accepted or not. We are therefore left in suspense as to the status of our prayers. It thus becomes more imperative for us to strive to observe the daily obligatory prayers in the best of forms stipulated. If we could resolve to spare no efforts in making our houses free from leaking roofs; our cars perfectly maintained and secured from mechanical faults; and our farms protected from weeds; why shouldn’t we insist to observe our prayers in the most flawless manner?
Allah rewards every act of worship including salat (prayer) according to the measure of excellence that characterized its observance. This means the more and better a worshiper adhered to the guiding principles that govern the observance of acts of worship, the greater the rewards that accrue from the ibadah. If one of the objects of worship is the desire to reap rewards and in full measure, the need to strictly adhere to the principles of each act of worship becomes crucial. More important than observing salat is observing it in the most acceptable and rewarding manner.
In one of the instances, the prayer leader`s recitation of verses of the holy Qur`an was poor. His pronunciation of the verses was phonologically incorrect because vowels were grammatically and sentimentally misplaced. Arabic, which is the medium through which the holy Qur`an was revealed, is a language in which meanings are largely determined by the kind of vowel on the last letter of a word. For example, the Arabic word “Muhmmadu” is not the same as “Muhammada”. While it is a subject in the first, it is an object in the second; implying that the slightest misplacement of vowel at the end of word would alter its contextual meaning. While the Arabic word “Hubbu” means “love”, the Arabic word “Habba” means “grain”. This is how vowels alter the meaning of word.
More disastrous than misplacement of vowels at end of a word is wrong vocalization. The meaning of a verse can completely be altered by wrong pronunciation of words or phrase; sometimes changing the meaning into something funny or amusing. Like many other languages including English, Arabic is a language with a set of sounds that are characteristically peculiar to it. This set of sounds (as consonants) constitutes the alphabet of the language. It is natural for non-speakers of a particular language (i.e. those who do not speak it as a mother tongue) to wrongly pronounce some of the consonants especially when such sounds are missing in their own indigenous language. For instance, since the Arabic sound “gh” is missing in Hausa and Nupe languages, the tendency is high for Hausa and Nupe speakers of Arabic or reciters of the Qur`an to pronounce the Arabic sound “gh” as if it were the English “g” because the latter is the sound available in their mother tongues.
Although the vocalization of the two sounds namely Arabic “gh” and English “g” sounds very similar, they are phonologically not the same. While the Arabic “gh is a fricative sound with uvula as its place of articulation, the English “g” is a plosive sound produced from the soft palate. Misunderstandings arising from mispronunciation is worse if a particular sound is misplaced (through wrong vocalization) with another that exists in the same language because while each may semantically be correct, they will each give a meaning different from the one intended. The Arabic or Qur`anic phrase “Alhamdu lillah” isn’t the same in meaning when recited or pronounced as “Alkhamdu lillah”. While the first implies “Gratitude is due to Allah”, the later means “Extinction is due to Allah”. This is the kind of semantic disaster that occurs when sounds are vocalized wrongly.
In the second incidence, I noticed that the prayer leader was not sequential in his recitation of Surahs (chapters). One of the recommended (Mustahabb) acts of prayer requires that the Surah to be recited in the first raka`at should come first before the one to be recited in the second raka`at in the order in which the 104 Surahs of the Qur’an have been arranged. For example, if a worshiper recites Suratul-Kauthar (chapter 108 of the Qur’an) in the first raka`at of a prayer, it is recommended that the Surah to be recited in the second raka`at should be from Surahs that come after Suratul-Kauthar which are between chapter 107 and 114. It is also recommended that the surah to be recited in the first raka’t should be longer than the one recited in the second. Although non-compliance with these recommended acts does not void a worshipper’s prayer, it affects the quality of the payer.
In the third instance, I observed that some worshipers were more distracted from the prayer than they paid attention. Some struggled to switch off or reject calls from their handsets. Others could not remain as motionless as possibly required. Acts of distractions weaken the excellence that is expected to underscore the observance of prayers.
Imam Ahmad Abu Dawud and An-Nasai all narrate that the Prophet (SAW) said, “The first thing a believer would be made to account for on the Day of Judgment is prayer. If it is found to be correct, all his (other) deeds shall be seen to be correct. But if it is found to be deficient, all (other) deeds shall be considered deficient”. If the daily obligatory prayer is worth doing (or observing) because it is obligatory upon Muslims, it is worth doing well because of its being a “first line charge” on the Day of Judgment”. May Allah (SWT) guide us to remain diligent in our observance of prayers, amin.