Batool al-Toma's A Simple Guide to Prayer for Beginners
1. Errors - in all Four Schools
2. Errors - in one or more School of Law
3. Errors - committing h.arâm
4. Misleading generalities
5. Errors of phrasing and/or perception
Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 2002

London: Islamia Media/Mountain of Light.
Ppr. 74 p.

Review by GF Haddad

A man was injured in the head during travel. One night he awoke in need of ghusl and asked if he could use tayammum instead. His companions said no, and that he had to wash normally. He did, and died as a consequence. When news of this reached the Prophet - Allâh bless and greet him - he said: "They killed him, may Allâh kill them! Could they not ask if they knew not? The only cure to ignorance is to ask! He could have made tayammum, wiped on top of his bandage, and washed the rest of his body." (Narrated from Jâbir by Abû Dâwûd, Ibn Mâjah, al-Dârimî, and Ah.mad.)

A Simple Guide to Prayer for Beginners by Batool al-Toma is a slim, superbly packaged recipe for ruining the foremost Pillar of Islam after faith for new Muslims. It contains mistakes of five types which are detailed below in decreasing order of gravity. I have mentioned only what is surely inexcusable in a book purporting to teach S.alât. And from Allâh comes all success.

1. Errors that invalidate worship in all Four Schools of Law

1. "Then [after wud.û'] simply follow the movement procedure of the Prayer... and complete the movement sequence to the end. You may feel the need to hold a guide to Prayer in your hand" (p. 15). Holding the Qur'ân in hand, let alone another book, invalidates one's S.alât in all four Schools of Law unless it is a supererogatory prayer.

2. "You can also Pray inside a moving vehicle in the sitting position if you cannot get out of the vehicle within the allowed time for the Prayer" (p. 18). Praying sitting inside moving vehicles is valid for non-obligatory prayers only; obligatory prayers prayed thus are invalid unless there were physical danger to one's person from animals, enemies, or foul weather, in stopping to pray in the normal fashion.

3. "Similarly in the event of illness, pregnancy, disability, exhaustion or merely tiredness, you can Pray sitting or lying down" (p. 18). Other than the disabled, one that prays thus has prayed an invalid prayer unless he or she were reasonably certain that praying normally would increase their illness, cause vertigo or vomiting, or cause harm. Further, one may pray parts of the prayer standing and parts sitting etc., all to the extent of one's ability. But fatigue by itself is no excuse not to pray normally and the above sentence is irresponsible.

4. "To prepare your body, you are required to wash certain parts like the face, hands and feet. This is called Wudû'." (p. 21) This is an invalid Wud.û'. Wud.û' consists in washing the face, arms (not just hands), and feet, as well as wiping the head. Further, the Wud.û' is a preparation for the soul even more than the body since the body may be perfectly clean in the first place.

5. "Things that require you to renew your ablution are..." (p. 23). The list omitted mention of the discharge of pre-seminal fluid (madhî).

6. "If you have performed Wud.û' and then put on your socks, it is not necessary to remove them every time you repeat your ablution for one day (or for three days if you are on a journey). You may wipe your wet hands over the socks to complete your Wud.û' instead of washing your feet" (p. 23). This wrong ruling should be denounced again and again. Such wiping is invalid. The Prophet - Allâh bless and greet him - and his Companions never wiped on the thin tight-fitting socks in use today but on hard-soled, ample socks that were in use in Islamic countries until a half-century ago.

2. Errors that invalidate worship in one or more School of Law

7. "With a sincere intention to perform the Prayer, the basic essentials of Wud.û' are..." (p. 21). The best intention for Wud.û' is to intend Wud.û'. Specifying that it is for S.alât - or for holding the, or making t.awâf, or the prostration of tilâwa - is a Sunna but in the Shâfi`î School a specific intention makes Wud.û' exclusive of and invalid for other acts. E.g. intending it for Prayer makes it invalid for t.awâf and vice-versa. And Allâh knows best.

8. "Things that require you to renew your ablution are..." (p. 23). The list omitted mention of skin contact with the other sex other than unmarriageable kin. In the Shâfi`î School such contact, whether intentional or not, arousing or not, brief or not, cancels Wud.û'.

9. "You should perform dry ablution [tayammum] as follows: Strike both hands lightly on any dry, clean surface of earth. Wipe the face once followed by both hands to the wrists" (p. 25). This is invalid according to most Schools, who stipulate that the entire arms should be wiped and not just the hands. This is the more precautionary ruling.

10. "This [tashahhud] is followed by the Prayer known as S.alât `alâ al-Nabî, Prayer on the Prophet [Allâh bless and greet him]. This supplication is recommended although the obligatory Prayer would not be defective without it" (p. 36 cf. p. 38), "it is not required to complete your prayer" (p. 64). The obligatory and non-obligatory Prayer are both invalid without it in the Shâfi`î madhhab and therefore it is more precautionary to treat it as indispensible. Its bare minimum is the phrase Allahumma S.alli `alâ Muh.ammad which requires minimum effort. Furthermore, the full supplication is known as al-S.alât al-Ibrâhimiyya rather than S.alât `alâ al-Nabî [Allâh bless and greet him].

11. "`Ishâ', Night Prayer, 2 optional Rak`as before the compulsory Prayer and 2 after, followed by 1 highly recommended Rak`a known as Witr or `odd number'" (p. 49). This phrase misrepresents the 2 rak`as before and after the fard. as equal in emphasis when the latter are emphasized but not the former. Further, it confuses the two post-fard. rak`as with the witr when they are two categorically distinct prayers, the witr being necessarily preceded by any number of even rak`as - between two and eight - OTHER than the two "emphasized" post-fard. rak`as. Lastly, in the H.anafî School the absolute minimum of any Prayer is two rak`as, and a one-rak`a Prayer is invalid.

3. Errors that do not invalidate worship but entail committing h.arâm

12. "It is not desirable to delay the Prayer deliberately through neglect and apathy... Try never to miss the Prayer altogether" (p. 17). It is forbidden to delay the prayer deliberately through neglect and apathy, and it is even worse and a graver sin to miss it altogether.

13. The neglect of the book for the emphasis on Witr prayer is particularly grievous as it is better than all non-obligatory prayers put together and, according to one School at least, it is h.arâm not to pray it.

4. Misleading generalities that misrepresent what is unnecessary as necessary or vice-versa or what is detestable as recommended/permissible or vice-versa

14. "All Prayers are preferred to be performed at the beginning of their time except the night Prayer - `Ishâ, which is preferred to be prayed at its later time or before retiring to bed" (p. 17). It is a long-standing disagreement since the earliest Scholars that `Ishâ is preferred to be prayed at its earliest time just like the other prayers while others said the time of preference is the end of the first half of the night. Furthermore, the preferred time for the Fajr and `As.r prayers in the H.anafî School is to delay them. As for the prayer one preferably prays before retiring to sleep it is Witr unless one habitually gets up early enough before Fajr to pray it then.

15. "You have just recited your Shahâda... It is now necessary that you perform Ghusl - take a full shower" (p. 14)... "You are required to perform Ghusl... on entering Islam" (p. 24). The majority of the Scholarly authorities said ghusl is not necessary for the new Muslim but desirable (ûb). A vast number of people entered Islâm whom the Prophet - Allâh bless and greet him - did not order to make ghusl, except two: Qays ibn and Thumâma ibn Uthâl whom he told to wash with water and lotus leaves. And Allâh knows best.

16. "When praying inside a moving vehicle in the sitting position [this is invalid for fard. prayers, see above]... it is best... to partially turn your body or at least your head in the direction of the Qibla, if it is kown to you, for part or all of the Prayer" (p. 19). This is "best" in the non-obligatory prayer in ships. As for riding beasts - and by extension moving vehicles - then the best is what the Prophet - Allâh bless and greet him - did, and he faced the direction of movement.

17. "Your clothing does not have to be any different from that which you normally wear" (p. 20). For Jumu`a prayer a man should wear his best and not what he normally wears at work.

18. "Male headgear, which was worn by the Prophet Muh.ammad [Allâh bless and greet him] from time to time, may be worn but is not an essential requirement for Prayer" (p. 20). The correct teaching in all four Schools is not that male headgear may be worn but that it should be worn in Prayer.

19. "[In wud.û'] Pass your wet hands over your hair" (p. 22). In the two most widespread of the Four Schools - H.anafî and Shâfi`î one hand is enough.

20. "Things that require you to renew your ablution are: defecating, urinating... etc." (p. 23). These things do not in themselves require one to renew ablution. It is the entering of the time of S.alât combined with the fact one is ritually impure, that requires one to renew ablution. One does not have to renew ablution merely for losing ablution even if it is meritorious to do so.

21. "Every obligatory Prayer should be performed in Jamâ`a - congregation, if possible. According to the Prophet Muh.ammad [Allâh bless and greet him], Prayer in congregation brings 27 times the reward of Prayer performed individually and this recommendation applies to all Muslims" (p. 39). This is a grave mistake as women are excluded from the requirement and/or recommendation of congregational prayer. The book goes on to say, "Women also Pray in congregation.... The Prophet Muh.ammad [Allâh bless and greet him] said that the female servants of Allâh should not be prevented from going to the Mosque to Pray" (p. 40). Would that the more important h.adîths were quoted that the prayer of a woman in the privacy of her house is superior for her - even to praying in Congregation behind the Prophet - Allâh bless and greet him - himself in his Mosque in Madîna! These h.adîths are numerous (as opposed to that of the maidservants of Allâh) and omitting them altogether is unacceptable.

22. The book is also mum on proper S.alât postures for women. The separating factor between the laws of Prayer for males and females is that of concealment. A woman is commanded to do all those actions which are more concealing for her and "draw herself closely together." For example: raise her hands breast-high when beginning - not higher up; place her hands on her bosom, not lower; descend less than men in rukû`; in prostration, keep the arms, chest, and posterior close to the ground and the (closed) thighs close to the belly, exactly the opposite of what is required for men; sit on her left buttock and position her legs out to the right side, etc.

23. Further, there is no mention of the qunût of fajr [for Shâfi`îs] nor of that of witr [for H.anafîs], yet there is a whole chapter of "Greetings and other recommended expressions" that is irrelevant to the topic of S.alât.

5. Errors of phrasing and/or perception

24. "Many items, such as Prayer mats, beads and specific garments have come to be looked upon as essential requirements for Prayer" (p. 20). Such a statement is inaccurate (no-one looks upon them as essential requirements) in addition to being out of place in a manual on the bare essentials.

25. "As soon as you are able, you should recite here [after the Fâtih.a] one other short Sûrah from the Qur'ân.... This applies only in the first two Rak`as of every Prayer" (p. 33). The last clause should read: This applies only in the first two Rak`as of every obligatory (fard.) Prayer.

26. "With your arms and elbows slightly off the floor you are now in the prostration position" (p. 34). This should read: With your arms and elbows well off the floor.

27. The photograph (p. 59) of the opening of Prayer (takbirat al-ih.râm) is incorrect, the palms should face the qibla as should the toes. The photograph of the hand-grasp during recitation (p. 60) is also inaccurate in relation to the text as the hands should be placed lower - as the text says: "to the centre of your body" - although the higher position is correct according to the Shâfi`î School, but not the arm-grasp. Allâh knows best.

May Allâh forgive us and save this Umma! The Pillar of zakât has all but disappeared from practice; the Pillars of s.iyâm and h.ajj are the playthings of conflicting moon-sighting authorities; now the Pillar of S.alât is under attack. The post-Albânî Islamic book market's divorce from Islamic knowledge is nothing new, only the sophistication. Nevertheless it is hoped that the creators of this booklet will correct these mistakes in a second edition as soon as possible. Until then I suggest to booksellers that they print out this review and insert it into al-Toma's book for the reader's advisement. Books on S.alât, whatever the size, should either teach a single madhhab or represent all four accurately. The sine qua non is accuracy. To Allâh we belong and to Him we return, and there is no change nor might except in Allâh.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad ©

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