We have often heard the importance of proper posture, and refraining from slouching to keep our backs straight, as it will affect us in our old age. Orthopaedic mattresses, sofas and other furniture have all been designed to care for our posture, and many of us will invest in these pieces to keep us healthy.
Similarly, we have all been advised against ballistic stretching at the gym or any other fitness class. Why? Because it damages our body, and may result in pulled muscles.
We eagerly hear out all these advices, hoping to keep our bodies in-shape. However, when it comes to our prayer, we rush through the routine, hurrying to complete our prayers. More often than not, we are careless about our posture throughout prayer, even though it is essential to our Khushu’, and our spiritual health.
Let us analyse step by step the recommended posture for the various acts of the prayer.
- Qiyaam: One should stand up to pray unless he has a legal excuse which prevents him from doing so, such as illness, or injury or if he fears his injury will worsen by standing.
One should stand, with his feet approximately shoulder-width apart. His feet should face forwards, he should neither stretch them far apart nor bring them exceedingly close together. If he stands besides others he should be considerate of them, without treading on their toes or stretching his legs wide so that the one next to him is squashed.
It was narrated that ‘Imran bin Husain said: “I asked the Prophet (ﷺ) about one who prays sitting down. He said: ‘Whoever prays standing up is better, and one who prays sitting down will have half the reward of one who prays standing up. And whoever prays lying down will have half the reward of one who prays sitting down.'” (An-Nisa’i, Saheeh)
- Ruku: The Prophet would place the palm of his hands on his knees, spreading his fingers, and bend his back until it was straight, such that if water were poured on it, it would remain settled. He would hold the position until his bones settled in place, and he was able to recite the necessary athkaar.
A’ishah said, “…when he bowed he would not raise or lower his head, rather it was somewhere between the two.” (Muslim)
Sh Ibn Uthaymeen said, “With his back straight means that his back should be kept straight throughout, when going down and when coming up; he should not arch his back, or bend it in such a way that the middle comes down. Rather his back should be straight. This is what has been narrated from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). A’ishah said: “When he bowed, he did not either raise or lower his head,” – i.e., it was somewhere in between the two.” (Taken from https://islamqa.info/en/25848)
Once he (peace and blessings be upon him) saw a man praying but not completing his ruku’ properly and pecking in his sujud, so he said, “If this man dies upon this state, he will die upon a faith other than that of Muhammad; he pecks his prayer just like how a crow pecks at blood. The example of him who does not complete his bowing and pecks his sujud is like a hungry person eating one or two dates.; it does not do him any good at all.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 101 Abu Ya’la in his Musnad, with a hasan isnad)
Abu Hurayrah said, “my close friend forbade me from pecking in my prayer like a rooster, from looking around like a fox and from squatting like a monkey.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 102, At-Tayalisi, Ahmad and Ibn Abi Shaybah, Hasan by Sh Al-Albaani)
He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “the worst thief is he who steals from his prayer.” The companions asked, “O messenger of Allah, how does a person steal from his prayer?” He replied, “He does not complete its ruku and sujud.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 102, Ibn Abi Shaybah, At-Tabarani and Hakim, who declared in Saheeh)
Once he (peace and blessings be upon him was praying, when he glanced out of the corner of his eye at a man not settling his backbone in ruku’ and sujud. After the man finished his prayer, he said, “O assembly of muslims! There is no prayer for the one who does not straighten his back in ruku’ and sujud.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 102, ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Majah and Ahmad with Saheeh isnad)
Thus, it is essential to the correctness of one’s prayer that one performs his ruku’ correctly.
- Standing after ruku: One should rise with calmness and tranquillity, as the Prophet said, “when you rise, make your spine upright and raise your head until the bone return to their joints.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 111, Darimi, Hakim, Shafi’i and Ahmad)
And he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah, Exalted be He, does not look at the prayer of a servant who does not make his backbone upright in between his bowings and prostrations.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 112, Ahmad and At-Tabarani, with Sahih isnad)
- Sujud: The prostration is done upon seven bones, as per the hadith, “I was ordered to prostrate on seven bones; on the forehead-and he pointed to his nose-the hands (in another narration: the palms), the feet and the ends of the toes…” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg116, Bukhari and Muslim)
He said in the famous hadith of the man who prayed badly, “Then he should say Takbir and prostrate until he has placed his face firmly on the ground or his forehead, until his joints settle and he is relaxed.” (An-Nisa’i, Saheeh. You can read the full hadith here)
He also said, “There is no prayer for the one whose nose does not touch the ground that his forehead touches.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 115, Darqutni and At-Tabarani)
The one prostrating should neither spread himself on the ground nor crouch into a ball. The Prophet said, “be moderate in prostration and none of you should spread his forearms along the ground like a dog.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 117, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Ahmad)
He also instructed us saying, “when you prostrate place your palms and raise your elbows.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 117, Muslim and Abu Awanah) And when he himself prostrated, his elbows would be lifted such that “the whiteness of his armpits could be seen from behind.” (Taken from Sifatu-salatin-Nabi, pg 117, Bukhari and Muslim)
- Between the two sujud, he (peace be upon him) would rise with calmness, and sit until all his bones rested in their place. He would recite the relevant supplications before proceeding to the next action. He ordered the man who prayed badly to do likewise saying, “Then he should say the Takbir and sit up until his backbone is straight (and at ease).” (An-Nisa’i, Saheeh)
He (peace and blessings be upon him) also said, “When you raise your head after prostration, do not squat as a dog squats.” (Ibn Majah)
- The Tashahud: It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar that he saw a man moving pebbles with his hand while praying. When he finished, ‘Abdullah said to him: “Do not move the pebbles while you are praying, for that is from Shaitan. Rather do what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to do.” He said: “What did he used to do?” He said: “He would put his right hand on his right thigh, and point with the finger that is next to the thumb toward the Qiblah, and he would look at it, or thereabouts.” Then he said: “This is what I saw the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) doing.” (An-Nisa’i, Saheeh)
- Men and women’s prayer: Men and women’s prayer are the same, there are no differences between them, our instructor was one; i.e the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him.
Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Everything that we have said above about the way in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) prayed applies equally to men and women. There is nothing narrated in the Sunnah which implies that women are exempted from any of that. Rather the general meaning of the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Pray as you have seen me praying,” include women too.” (Taken from https://islamqa.info/en/9276)
- It is impermissible to imitate animals in our prayers: If one does not adapt the proper postures for prayer one may end up imitating the postures of animals, which is a disgrace, and disrespectful of the prayer. Hence the Prophet forbade it,
Abdur-Rahman ibn Shibl said the Prophet prohibited three things in Salah, “to peck like a crow, to spread the forearms (like a wild beast), and to fix a place in the mosque like a camel fixing its place.” In another narration, “to peck like a cock, to sit like a dog and to turn back like a fox.” (Ahmad, taken from 33 Ways to concentrate in your prayer, pg 63)
In summary, it is of utmost importance that one follows the Prophet manner of prayer, firstly to achieve the correctness of his prayer and secondly to attain khushu’ and tranquility. One should perfect the manner in which he stands, bows, prostrates and sits to ensure he follows the Sunnah through and through.