Islamic and Jewish formal prayers

By Ben Abrahamson

ركعة‎ rakaʿah (pl. ركعات rakaʿāt) refers to one unit of Islamic prayer, or Salah. Each daily prayer is made up of a different number of raka’at:

* Fajr — The dawn prayer: 2 raka’at
* Shuhar — The noon prayer: 4 raka’at
* Asr — The afternoon prayer: 4 raka’at
* Maghrib — The sunset prayer: 3 raka’at
* Isha’a — The night prayer: 4 raka’at

The source of five prayers (as opposed to three) goes back to a disagreement in the Talmud. Rabbinic Jews connect “geulah” with “tefillah”, meaning that the Shema prayer is said immediately preceding the Shemonah Esreh prayer. Arabian Jews under Sadducean (literalist) influences felt otherwise. The Shema prayer was commanded to be said when a person is actually rising and going to sleep. This instead of three prayers, they had five.

* Netz — The rising shema prayer
* Shacharit — The morning prayer
* Ashrei — The afternoon prayer
* Maariv — The evening prayer
* Shema — The bedtime shema prayer

Abu Isa following mystical custom included two more prayers. Chatzot HaLailah and Chatzot HaYom, midnight and midday prayers for a total of seven prayers. Even today there are Jews who follow this custom during the three weeks.

The Conclusion Of Prayer Is Tasleem

In a Haddith by Ah (r.’a.), the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The key to the prayer is cleanliness and its consecrated state is Takbeer, and its conclusion is Tasleem.” As-Salaam is to announce the end of Salaah by saying “As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum warahmatullaah,” turning the face to the right shoulder, and As-Salaamu ‘Alaikum warahmatullaah,” turning the face to the left shoulder.

The Gemara (Yoma 53b) teaches that upon concluding Shemoneh Esrei, one should retreat in a respectful manner. “Rabbi Alexanderi said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: “After praying one must take three steps back, and then bid shalom [peace, i.e., farewell]…” and “We learned this also [in a beraita]: “After praying, one must take three steps back and then bid shalom; if he fails to do so, it would have been better had he not prayed at all…””

The Gemara concludes that after taking three steps backwards, one should “bid shalom,” first to the left, and then to the right. However the there were differing customs.

“In the name of Shemaya, they said that one should give shalom to the right and then to the left, as it is said (Devarim 33:2) “From His right [hand] a fiery law for them;” and it is said (Tehillim 91:7) “A thousand will fall at your side and a myriad at your right…”

Rava saw Abbayei giving shalom to his own right first. He said, “Do you think it means YOUR right side? I meant your LEFT side, which is the right of the Holy One, Blessed be He.”

Rav Chiyya son of Rav Huna said: “I saw that Abbayei and Rava would step three steps in a single bow.” At the end of the Shemonah Esreh prayer Jews look to the left and to the right saying “Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu yaseh shalom, alenu ve’al kol Yisrael”

In general the Pharisaic Jews said “Shalom” to the LEFT first, and Sadducean custom was to say “Shalom” to the RIGHT first. Islamic practice universally says “As-Salaamu” to the RIGHT first.

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