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Times for Prayer

There exists some differences of opinion among those who have read and studied the Koran concerning set times for prayer. Some say that the Koran does not prescribe any set times for prayer at all. Others, like the Sunnis for instance, say the number of set times for prayer in the Koran are five. Others say that there are only three times appointed for prayer in the Islamic holy book. Some Koranists hold to that view. I think that the number of times appointed for prayer during a day are eight. I have an Orthodox Christian bias toward that number because that is the number of the offices for prayer in our Church. Actually, if one were to count one’s personal prayers along with those offices of prayers, the number would be eleven. I am going to present my view based on my understanding of the Koran and the Bible.

According to Orthodox Church tradition, the liturgical day begins at sunset and goes to the next sunset. The basis for initiating the liturgical day at sunset is found in the Bible in the Book of Genesis.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night, and there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5, LXX)

The evening is mentioned first and the morning is mentioned next indicating that the day begins at sunset and not at sunrise. The Koran, which of course confirms the Bible, teaches the same thing. In Surah 25, it says:

And He it is Who hath appointed night and day in succession, for him who desireth to remember, or desireth thankfulness. (Koran 25:62, Pickthall)

The night precedes the day. Sunset to sunset is the daily cycle, not sunrise to sunrise. In the 17th Surah, it says:

Perform the prayer at the sinking of the sun to the darkening of the night and the recital of dawn; surely the recital of dawn is witnessed. (Koran 17:78, Arberry)

I am aware that some interpret this verse to mean from the decline of the sun from its meridian, that is, from noon, to the darkening of the night and the recitation of the Koran at dawn. That is how the translators of the Sahih International version interpreted it.

Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed. (Koran 17:78, Sahih International)

The 17th Surah and the 25th Surah are Meccan surahs. The 25th Surah chronologically preceded the 17th Surah. If Koran 17:78 were abrogating Koran 25:62 and teaching that the liturgical day begins at noon, it would not be similar to Koran 25:62 which teaches that the day goes from night to night, or rather from sunset to sunset. Abrogations are either better than or similar to the abrogated verses. (Koran 2:106) Also, if Koran 17:78 were teaching that the liturgical day begins at noon, then the Koran would no longer be confirming the Bible. (Koran 5:48) So, I disagree with Sahih International’s interpretation.

Muhammad accepted the Scriptures of Orthodox Christians. (Koran 29:46) He told His followers to believe them. (Koran 4:136) The Psalms are part of those Scriptures that Jews and Christians have accepted as divinely inspired revelations from God. In the 118th Psalm in the Septuagint (Psalm 119 in the Hebrew), it says:

Seven times in a day have I praised Thee because of the judgments of Thy righteousness. (Psalm 118:164, LXX; Psalm 119:164, Hebrew)

From this verse, the Orthodox Church has established the existence of seven of the eight canonical hours of the Church. According to tradition, an eighth hour was established during the times of the apostles. It was based on Christ’s commandment to watch and pray at night. (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 13:32-42; Luke 22:39-46) Christ prayed His high priestly prayer at this time. (John 17) This additional canonical hour is called the Midnight Office or Nocturnes.

The practice of having eight appointed times for prayer is supported by these verses in the Koran.

Allah desires to explain to you, and to guide you into the ways of those before you, and to turn to you (mercifully), and Allah is Knowing, Wise. (Koran 4:26, Shakir)

And verily We have sent down for you revelations that make plain, and the example of those who passed away before you. An admonition unto those who ward off (evil). (Koran 24:34, Pickthall)

The Koran does not teach that three of these offices of prayer have been discarded. It teaches just the opposite. By affirming the importance of believing in and accepting the Bible (Koran 4:136,137; 150-152; 29:46), it states by implication that there are eight offices of prayer and not merely three or five. The Jews had seven (Psalm 118:164, LXX) and the Christians had eight. God guided the first generation followers of Muhammad “into the ways of those before” them. (Koran 4:26)

The first hour of prayer is at sunset. It is called Vespers by Christians and Maghrib by the Muslims. The evening prayer is mentioned in the Psalms and in the Koran.

Evening, and morning, and at noon I will declare and make known my wants: and He shall hear my voice. (Psalm 54:17, LXX; Psalm 55:17, Hebrew)

Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. (Psalm 140:2, LXX; Psalm 141:2, Hebrew)

And perform the prayer at the two ends of the day and nigh of the night; surely the good deeds will drive away the evil deeds. That is a remembrance unto the mindful. (Koran 11:114, Arberry)

Perform the prayer at the sinking of the sun to the darkening of the night and the recital of dawn; surely the recital of dawn is witnessed. (Koran 17:78, Arberry)

The two ends of the day  in Koran 11:114 are dusk and dawn. “Nigh of the night” refers to the Ninth Hour or Asr.

The next appointed time of prayer is at bedtime. Support for the existence of this office of prayer is found in the Psalms and in the Koran.

Be ye angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds for what ye say in your hearts. Pause. (Psalm 4:4, LXX)

The saints shall rejoice in glory; and shall exult on their beds. The high praises of God shall be in their throat, and two-edged swords in their hands. (Psalm 149:5,6, LXX)

So be thou patient under what they say, and proclaim thy Lord’s praise before the rising of the sun, and before its setting, and proclaim thy Lord’s praise in the watches of the night, and at the ends of the day; haply thou wilt be well-pleasing. (Koran 20:130, Arberry)

O ye who believe! Let your slaves, and those of you who have not come to puberty, ask leave of you at three times (before they come into your presence): Before the prayer of dawn, and when ye lay aside your raiment for the heat of noon, and after the prayer of night. Three times of privacy for you. It is no sin for them or for you at other times, when some of you go round attendant upon others (if they come into your presence without leave). Thus Allah maketh clear the revelations for you. Allah is Knower, Wise. (Koran 24:58, Pickthall)

Koran 20:130 says to “proclaim” our Lord’s “praise in the watches of the night.” Since Compline is the bedtime prayer in the Psalms (Psalm 4:4; 149:5,6), one of the prayers prayed in the watches of the night is Compline. It is called Isha by the Muslims. “The prayer of the night” in Koran 24:58 is probably a reference to Compline or Isha.

In the 39th Surah, it says:

Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding. (Koran 39:9, Sahih International)

Here, we see that the devoutly obedient pray during periods of the night. There are at least three periods since the word is plural and not dual in the Arabic. Vespers (Maghrib), Compline (Isha), and Nocturnes (Tahajjud) are the three periods of prayer in this verse. There is no fourth period of prayer because Muhammad received no new revelations and was not an innovator among the messengers. (Koran 41:43; 46:9)

In the 50th Surah, it says:

Therefor (O Muhammad) bear with what they say, and hymn the praise of thy Lord before the rising and before the setting of the sun. And in the night-time hymn His praise, and after the (prescribed) prostrations. (Koran 50:39,40, Pickthall)

“In the night-time hymn His praise,” says this verse. So, there is prayer at night-time — Isha or Compline. The words, “after the (prescribed) prostrations,” is a mistranslation. Literally, it says, “after the prostration.” The word translated “prostrations” in this verse is singular in the Arabic. Since Muhammad is a good example (Koran 33:21), glorifying God at night is something we should do, too. The commandment given to Muhammad also applies to those who seek to follow his example.

In the 76th Surah, it says:

And remember the Name of thy Lord at dawn and in the evening and part of the night; bow down before Him and magnify Him through the long night. (Koran 76:25,26, Arberry)

Remembering God “part of the night” is referring to Compline (Isha).

The Midnight Office, also called Nocturnes, is derived from Christ’s commandment to His disciples to watch and pray. (See Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40.) This time of prayer is kept in remembrance of Christ who prayed in the middle of the night before being captured by the Jews. In the Koran, it says:

The patient, the true, the obedient, those who spend [in the way of Allah], and those who seek forgiveness before dawn. (Koran 3:17, Sahih International)

This verse is describing some of the characteristics of someone who will inhabit Paradise in the afterlife. (See Koran 3:15,16.) Since the first generation Muslims obeyed the messengers of God and Jesus is one of the messengers, they most likely prayed the “Our Father” during their prayers. (See Matthew 6:9-13; Koran 2:285; 4:171.)

Praying before dawn is one of the characteristics of someone who will inhabit Paradise. Nocturnes or Tahajjud occurs before dawn.

In the 17th Surah, it says:

And some part of the night awake for it, a largess for thee. It may be that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate. (Koran 17:79, Pickthall)

Praying in the middle of the night after “awaking for it” is another reference to Nocturnes or Tahajjud.

In Koran 20:130, it says to “proclaim thy Lord’s praise in the watches of the night.” The word translated “watches” in this verse is plural and not dual in the Arabic. Therefore, at least three watches are indicated here: Vespers (Maghrib), Compline (Isha), and Nocturnes (Tahajjud). Muhammad received no new revelations and was not an innovator among God’s messengers. (Koran 41:43; 46:9) Therefore, only three times of prayer are indicated here.

In the 25th Surah, the servants of God are described as those “who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing.” (Koran 25:63,64)

In the 50th Surah, it says:

Therefor (O Muhammad) bear with what they say, and hymn the praise of thy Lord before the rising and before the setting of the sun. And in the night-time hymn His praise, and after the (prescribed) prostrations. (Koran 50:39,40, Pickthall)

Hymning the praise of God “before the rising of the sun” is a reference to Nocturnes (Tahajjud).

I have already mentioned Koran 39:9 as indicating the existence of three times of prayer at night: Vespers (Maghrib), Compline (Isha), and Nocturnes (Tahajjud). Further evidence for the existence of the Midnight Office in the Koran can be found in the 51st Surah.

And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness. (Koran 51:18, Sahih International)

Also in the 52nd Surah, there is evidence for this practice.

And proclaim the praise of thy Lord in the night, and at the declining of the stars. (Koran 52:49, Arberry)

In the 73rd Surah, it says:

Lo! thy Lord knoweth how thou keepest vigil sometimes nearly two-thirds of the night, or (sometimes) half or a third thereof, as do a party of those with thee.

Later, in this same verse, it says:

And seek forgiveness of Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 73:20, Pickthall)

The “Our Father” was most likely prayed in obedience to Jesus’ commandment in the Gospels. This was one of the prayers prayed during the Midnight Office (Tahajjud) by the first generation followers of Muhammad. Vigils are a practice of Orthodox Christians, too. Nocturnes and Matins are prayed together before the Divine Liturgy at Pascha.

In Koran 76:26 it says, “Bow down before Him and magnify Him through the long night.” (Arberry)

In the 118th Psalm of the Septuagint, it says:

At midnight I arose, to give thanks to Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness. (Psalm 118:62, LXX; Psalm 119:62, Hebrew)

So then, one of the Old Testament Messengers of God, King David, prayed at midnight, too.

The practice of praying Matins (Fajr) is found in the Psalms. (Psalm 54:17, LXX; Psalm 55:17, Hebrew; Psalm 62:1, LXX; Psalm 63:1, Hebrew; Psalm 87:13, LXX; Psalm 88:13, Hebrew)

Evening, and morning, and at noon I will declare and make known my wants: and He shall hear my voice. (Psalm 54:17, LXX; Psalm 55:17, Hebrew)

O God, my God, I cry to Thee early; my soul has thirsted for Thee: how often has my flesh longed after Thee, in a barren and trackless and dry land! (Psalm 62:1, LXX; Psalm 63:1, Hebrew)

But I cried to Thee, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent Thee. (Psalm 87:13, LXX; Psalm 88:13, Hebrew)

Psalms 62 and 87 of the Septuagint are two of the Psalms prayed during Matins by Orthodox Christians.

King David, who was one of God’s messengers, prayed in the morning. The Koran says that God guided the followers of Muhammad into the ways of those before them. (Koran 4:26) Therefore, first generation Muslims prayed the prayers of Matins (Fajr).

In Koran 11:114, it says “perform the prayer at the two ends of the day.” The two ends of the day are dusk and dawn. Matins is prayed at dawn. In Koran 20:130, it says to “proclaim thy Lord’s praise in the watches of the night, and at the ends of the day.” The word, translated “ends” is plural and not dual in number. Therefore, three ends or more are implied. The three ends are dawn, noon, and dusk. Notice the night prayers are mentioned before the day prayers. The liturgical day according to the Koran begins at sunset, not at dawn. In Koran 24:58, the prayer of dawn is mentioned — another reference to Fajr or Matins. In Koran 30, it says:

So glory be to Allah when ye enter the night and when ye enter the morning. (Koran 30:17, Pickthall)

Entering the night is referring to Vespers (Maghrib). Entering the morning is referring to Matins (Fajr).

In Koran 48, it says:

That ye (mankind) may believe in Allah and His messenger, and may honour Him, and may revere Him, and may glorify Him at early dawn and at the close of day. (Koran 48:9, Pickthall)

Glorifying God at early dawn is the office of Matins (Fajr). Glorifying Him at the close of the day is Vespers (Maghrib).

In the 52nd Surah, it says:

And proclaim the praise of thy Lord in the night, and at the declining of the stars. (Koran 52:49, Arberry)

Proclaiming God’s praise “at the declining of the stars” is a reference to Matins (Fajr).

In the 76th Surah, it says:

And remember the Name of thy Lord at dawn and in the evening. (Koran 76:25, Arberry)

Remembering the Name of God at dawn refers to praying Matins (Fajr). Remembering the Name of God in the evening refers to Vespers (Maghrib).

The First Hour of Prayer is in the Psalms.

In the morning Thou shalt hear my voice: in the morning will I wait upon Thee, and will look up. (Psalm 5:3, LXX)

This is a very short series of prayers which come immediately after Matins. Psalm 5 is one of the three Psalms prayed during the First Hour in the Orthodox Church. The other two are Psalms 89 and 100 of the Septuagint. (Psalms 90 and 101 in the Hebrew)

One of the seven appointed times of prayer kept by the Jews and also by Christians is the Third Hour. In the Book of Acts, one can see that Jesus’ apostles and disciples kept this time of prayer.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers… When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place… For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1,15, NKJV)

The first generation followers of Muhammad most probably kept this time of prayer, too. (Koran 4:26; 24:34)

The Sixth Hour (Dhuhr) is mentioned in Psalm 54:17 in the Septuagint. (Psalm 55:17, Hebrew) King David prayed at this time.

It was the practice of St. Peter to pray at this time, too.

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. (Acts 10:9, NKJV)

In the Koran, it says:

Be guardians of your prayers, and of the midmost prayer, and stand up with devotion to Allah. (Koran 2:238, Pickthall)

The “midmost prayer” is probably a reference to the Sixth Hour (Dhuhr). However, many Islamic scholars think that this is a reference to the Ninth Hour (Asr).

I have already mentioned Koran 20:130 as teaching to pray at Matins, the Sixth Hour, and Vespers. It says:

Proclaim thy Lord’s praise in the watches of the night, and at the ends of the day. (Koran 20:130, Arberry)

The “ends of the day” is plural, not dual in the Arabic. The three ends of the day are dawn, noon, and dusk. King David prayed at those three ends of the day. (Psalm 54:17, LXX; 55:17, Hebrew)

The apostles and the Jews kept the Ninth Hour of prayer. The Muslims call it Asr.

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. (Acts 3:1, NKJV)

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”… So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing. (Acts 10:1-3,30, NKJV)

The Koran says that we should follow the example of Jesus’ apostles. (Koran 4:26; 24:34)

In Koran 11:114, it says to “perform the prayer at the two ends of the day and nigh of the night.” “Nigh of the night” is referring to the Ninth Hour or Asr.

In Koran 20:130, we are commanded to proclaim God’s praise before the setting of the sun. This is a reference to the Ninth Hour or Asr.

In the 30th Surah, it says:

Unto Him be praise in the heavens and the earth! — and at the sun’s decline and in the noonday. (Koran 30:18, Pickthall)

Praising God at the sun’s decline is a reference to the Ninth Hour (Asr). Praising God in the noonday is, of course, the Sixth Hour (Dhuhr).

So, this is my view on the subject of the times for prayer in the Koran. I believe that the Koran confirms the Bible. It does not contradict it.

And that We have revealed to thee of the Book is the truth, confirming what is before it; God is aware of and sees His servants. (Koran 35:31, Arberry)

It, therefore, teaches us to observe the eight canonical hours of prayer. Doing this can be difficult for most people. Among us Orthodox, monks are usually the only ones who do all the prayers. We should not lose heart and fall into despair if we are unable to pray eight times a day. Jesus said:

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32, NKJV)

Despite all of our efforts to do well and try to obey God, we must always remember that we will never be good enough.

If Allah were to take mankind to task for their wrong-doing, he would not leave hereon a living creature, but He reprieveth them to an appointed term, and when their term cometh they cannot put (it) off an hour nor (yet) advance (it). (Koran 16:61, Pickthall)

It is in the end only by God’s mercy that we will ever obtain Paradise (Jannah). God is the most merciful of those who show mercy.

He said: Have no fear this day! May Allah forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy. (Koran 12:92, Pickthall)

So, we should do our best and hope for God’s mercy. Anyone who gets to Paradise is there, not because he earned his way there. He is there because of God’s mercy. Salvation is a paradox. We cannot earn it, but we must still work for it!

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