When we speak of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) prayer, we are talking about a very important subject. The Prophet is the teacher who has given us God’s final and unalterable message to mankind. An essential part of this message is that the Prophet provides a practical example for us to follow. This applies to all matters of religion that, by Islamic definition, seeks to set human life on a different course, where all spheres of life are molded in accordance with divine guidance.
Thus religion influences our approach to all matters in life, but does not necessarily provide a strict discipline for every sphere. Only where a particular approach is useful to individual or community Islam adopts it as its preference. This may involve some orders and duties, or may remain a recommended choice.
As for worship, the Qur’an makes our duties clear, and the Prophet gives us ample guidance on the best way to perform our duty.
His guidance in this respect may be in two parts: Obligatory or encouraged. It is important for us to study how the Prophet conducted his worship and prayer in particular, since prayer is the central Islamic duty.
In fact, Islamic worship cannot be offered in any other way. Therefore, early Muslims who did not meet the Prophet were keen to ask his companions about his worship, and all its aspects to ensure that they follow the right guidance.
“Anas was asked about how the Prophet read the Qur’an. He answered: ‘He used to elongate his vowels.’ Anas then read the opening verse of Qur’anic surahs which says, ‘in the name of God, the Most Merciful the Compassionate,’ i.e. Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem, and he elongated the ‘a’ and ‘ee’ in each of the three words.” (Al-Bukhari, Al-Nassaie, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah.)
Reading the Qur’an is an important part of Islamic prayer. We do read passages of it in every raka’ah, in every prayer. Moreover, reciting the Qur’an is an act of worship. Therefore, Muslims are keen to learn its proper reading, and they frequently ask about the way the Prophet read it. Hence, we have many reports on this point. Abdullah ibn Mughaffal reports: “I saw the Prophet on his camel reading surah 48: His recitation was easy and relaxed, as though he was chanting.”
We have two reports by Umm Salamah, the Prophet’s wife, describing his reading of the Qur’an. The first mentions that he stopped at the end of every verse of surah Al-Fatihah, which we read in every raka’ah. The surah consists of seven short verses. The other report mentions that her description shows that his reading was elaborate, realizing every sound in every word.
It is very important to realize that the Qur’an cannot be read the way we read a novel or a newspaper, and it cannot be “skimmed through”. Anyone who wishes to read the Qur’an should pronounce its every word and every sound. The Prophet mentions that we are rewarded for every sound, or letter, we read of the Qur’an.
Therefore, it is important to read it and reflect on its meanings. But this does not mean that we should make our recitation too elaborate, stretching sounds in an unnatural way. When reading the Qur’an, we should maintain its natural Arabic sounds, conforming to the rules of sound realization, assimilation, glide and vowel elongation, as normal Arabic used to be pronounced by the Arabs at the time of its revelation.
Although the Prophet read the Qur’an in such an elaborate way, he read it often and for long periods. A report by Aishah, his wife, mentions that “he read it in full in less than three days.” This report is rather problematic, because another report tells us that “he never read the Qur’an in full in less than three days.”
A proper reading of the Qur’an in full takes at least 15 hours in total, and to devote more than five hours a day to reading it is difficult for anyone. The alternative would be to read too fast, and this is exactly what the Prophet did not want. His guidance suggests that he did not approve of reading at such speed that would tend to make the reader unaware of the meaning of what he is reading.
The Qur’an is God’s final message that embodies a constitution for human life. The Prophet took every care to ensure that he taught it to people accurately. He received it through revelations brought to him by the Angel Gabriel. Every year in Ramadan, Gabriel read the Qur’an to the Prophet in full.
An authentic Hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah mentions that “the Qur’an was read out in full to the Prophet once every year, but in the year of his death, the Qur’an was read out to him twice. He used to spend ten days of Ramadan in full devotion, but in the year of his death, he spent twenty days in such full devotion.” (Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Al-Darimi and Ibn Majah.)
The Hadith speaks about the time the Prophet spent in full devotion in Ramadan. This was when he stayed all the time in the mosque, fasting during the day, sleeping little at night or during the day, and spending all his time in prayer or in reading the Qur’an and other forms of worship. This is known as i’tikaf. It is recommended for us to do in the month of Ramadan. Anyone who cannot do it for ten days may do it for whatever shorter period is suitable for him.
In the case of the Prophet, this was the time when Gabriel came to him to read the Qur’an in full so as it would remain fresh in his mind. God had guaranteed him that he would not forget any part of the Qur’an. But this annual revision was meant to consolidate what is already preserved intact. In the final year of his life, the Prophet listened as Gabriel read out the Qur’an to him twice. This is an additional aspect of God’s grace ensuring that the Qur’an is given to us accurately and in full.
The Prophet did not hesitate to include in his glorification of God any words of praise he heard from anyone. Abdullah ibn Abbas reports: “A man said to the Prophet: ‘Messenger of God! I saw last night in my dream that I was praying behind a tree. When I prostrated myself in sujood, the tree also prostrated itself. I heard the tree saying: My Lord! Please credit me with the reward of this prostration; relieve me of my burden through it, and enter it in Your record as a good deed for me, and accept it from me as you accepted prostration by David, Your servant. On hearing this, the Prophet read a verse of the Qur’an containing an order to prostrate oneself, and then he prostrated himself. I heard him glorifying God in the same words as the man told him the tree said in its prostration.” (Tirmidzi.)
Needless to say, the words quoted fit perfectly with Islamic teachings about God’s glorification. It is clear that the Prophet liked these words and repeated them. He thus shows us that there is no restriction on how we glorify God, as long as we are careful not to use anything that attributes partners or equals to Him.