A Description of the Dawn Prayer

Reviewing by : A.J. Kassem

The time that Muslims pray their first prayer of the day, called alfajr, is from true dawn until sunrise.


Outside of the masjid (mosque), the moadhin (caller for prayer) should call people to come to pray in congregation, raising his voice with these words:


Allahu Akbar, Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest, God is the Greatest).


Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah, Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah).


Ashhad anna Mohammadan rasulu Allah, Ashhadu anna Mohammadan rasulu Allah (I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger. I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger.)


Hayya ala Assalah, Hayya ala assalah (Come to the prayer, Come to the prayer.)


Hayya ‘ala alfalah, Hayya ‘ala alfalah (Come to success, Come to success.)


Assalatu khairun mina annaum, assalatu khairun mina annaum (Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep.)


Allahu Akbar, Allahu akbar (God is Greatest. God is Greatest).


La ilaha illa Allah (There is no deity [worthy of worship] but Allah.)


When Muslim men hear the adhan (the call for prayer), they should prepare to go to the masjid.


Allah says in the Quran (translated):


''There are houses which Allah has ordered to be raised and that His name be mentioned therein; exalting Him within them in the morning and the evenings - men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah and performance of prayer and giving of zakah (yearly charity). They fear a Day in which the hearts and eyes will turn about (in fear). That Allah may reward them based on the best of what they did and increase them from His bounty - and Allah gives provision to whom He wills without account '' (24:36-38).


When a Muslim goes for prayer, he should wear suitable and clean clothes. If he could brush his teeth beforehand and use some cologne, it would be better. When a Muslim arrives at the mosque and the congregational prayer hasn't yet started, he shouldn't sit down until he prays two units of prayer, called ''the greeting of the masjid''.


While waiting for the beginning of the congregational prayer, people recite some of the Qur'an, make supplications to Allah, engage in contemplation and remembrance, or wait silently. The angels pray for those who are in the masjid in a state of ritual purity.


When it is time for the congregational prayer to begin, the muadhin makes another call similar to the first call of prayer, but shorter.


Muslims stand up for prayer and form straight rows, shoulder-to-shoulder and foot-to-foot, facing the Kaaba in Makkah. This direction of prayer is called the qiblah. No one should be in front or behind the others in each row of prayer.


The imam, or prayer leader, stands alone in front of the first row facing the qibla with a wall or a barrier, known as a sutra, to demarcate the prayer zone. Nothing should come in between him and this barrier while he is in a state of prayer.  Muslim men, then women and children line up behind him. The worshipers behind the imam should always follow his movements and never precede him or move with him to the kneeling, prostration, standing or sitting positions.


The imam begins the prayer by raising his hands and saying, Allahu Akbar. This is called Takbiratu Alihram, because after it, all non-prayer related acts and speech become haram, or prohibited for the person praying until he or she finishes the prayer. The Muslims follow him in his movements and pray with him. He puts his right hand over his left and begins to recite some invocations silently, such as, Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, wa tabaraka ismuka, wa taala jadduka , wa la Ilaha ghayruk which means, ''O God , Glory and praise be to you. Blessed be Your Name, high be Your power. There's no god worthy of worship except You'', Allahu Akbar Kabira, wa alhamdu lillahi kathiran, wa subhana Allahi bukratan wa Asila, which means, God is great, much praise be to God, glory be to God in the mornings and evenings, Alhamdu lillahi hamdan kathiran, tayyiban, mubarakan fih, which means, praise be to Allah, a praise which is abundant, good and blessed.


It is recommended that the worshiper says different invocations in different prayers so that he applies more prophetic traditions as the prophet, peace be upon him said different invocations during different prayers.


The worshipers listen carefully to the imam’s recitation.


The imam starts his recitation by saying, either in a low or loud voice, A'udthu billahi min ashaytani ar rajim (I take refuge in Allah from the cursed Satan). Then, he says, Bismi Allahi Ar Rahmani Ar Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent and the Most Merciful). Then he raises his voice and recites the Fatiha, or opening chapter of the Quran: Alhamdu lillahi rabbi al'alamin, arrahmani arrahim, maliki yawmi addin, Iyyaka naabudu wa Iyyaka nasta'in, Ihdina assirata almustqim, sirata aladhina an'amta 'alayhim, ghayri almaghdubi alaihim wala daallin. (All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, The Most Merciful, the Most Beneficient, Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path - The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.  After the imam reads this chapter, the people behind him say with a loud voice, Amin, which means, “accept our prayer.”


After the imam finishes reciting the Fatiha, he will recite from any other part of the Qur'an, but he shouldn't make it so long to such extent that people experience hardship or are discouraged from attending the congregational prayers in the mosque, nor should he make it so short as to miss the essence of the prayer experience, which is humble concentration on our relationships with Allah. When leading the prayer, the imam’s recitation should be of a moderate length according to the prevailing practice in the community.


When the imam finishes reciting, he says Allahu Akbar and then bows, placing the palms of his hands on his knees with his back straight, while praising the Creator, saying, Subhana Rabbi Al Atheem (Glory be to my God, the Great) or Subhanaka allahumma rabbana wa bihamdika (Glory be to You, O Our Lord), or Allahummaghfirli (O lord, forgive me).


The imam raises his head from bowing until he stands completely at rest, then says, Sami'a allahu liman hamidah (God hears those who praise Him). All the worshipers raise their heads and say, Rabbana laka alhamd (O God - Glory be to You).


The imam then says, Allahu Akbar, and prostrates with his feet, knees, hands, forehead and nose touching the ground. He shouldn't put his forearms on the floor while prostrating. He should place his hands on the ground near next to his shoulders and keep his feet together while prostrating.


He says in his prostration, Subhana rabbiy al'aala (Glory be to My God, the Most High), then he supplicates for whatever he may want. The best invocations are those said by the prophet, peace be upon him, such as, "O God, forgive all my sins, the smallest and the biggest, the first and the last''. The worshippers follow the imam while accommodating each other’s positions and movements.


The imam raises his head from prostration, saying, Allahu Akbar. He sits on his left foot and places his right foot next to him, heel up, toes down facing towards the Qibla. He puts his hands on his knees near his thighs. Then he says, Rabbighfirli (Forgive me, My Lord). The imam prostrates another time, saying, Allahu Akbar. He does in his second prostration what he did in the first one, as do the worshippers behind him.


The imam raises his head from the second prostration saying, Allahu Akbar, and stands on his feet for the second rak'aa (unit of prayer) in which he does exactly the same as what he did in the first, except that he will read a different passage from the Quran after the Fatiha, usually shorter than the passage that he read in the first unit. The worshippers behind him continue to follow him.


After the imam finishes the two prostrations of the second unit of prayer, he continues to sit to recite some final invocations and prayers. He silently says, Attahiyyatu lillah wassalawatu attayyibat (Greetings to God, and good prayers), Assalamu Alayka Ayyuha annabiy wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh (Greetings to you, O prophet, and God's mercy and blessings), Assalamu ‘alayna wa ala ibadi allahi assaliheen (Peace be on us and God's good servants). Then, he points up with his right forefinger saying, Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa Allah, wa Ash-hadu anna Mohammadan abduhu wa rasulu (I testify that there is no god except Allah, and I testify that Mohammad is His servant and messenger). Then, he recites Ibrahim's (the Prophet Abraham’s) prayer saying, Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala aali Mohammad kama sallaita ‘ala Ibrahim wa ‘ala aali Ibrahim, innaka hammidun majid (O God, send prayers upon Mohammad and upon Mohammad's family as You sent prayers upon Ibrahim and Ibrahim's family, indeed, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious). Allahumma barik ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala aali Mohammad kama barakta ala Ibrahim wa ‘ala aali Ibrahim, innaka hamidun majid (O God, bless Mohammad and Mohammad's family as You blessed Ibrahim and Ibrahim's family, indeed, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious). Then he makes as many supplications as he likes. The best ones are those said by the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, such as the following (translated from Arabic):


1 - O Allah, I seek refuge in You from the torment of the grave, the torment of the Hellfire, from the trials of life and death and from the trial of the antichrist.


2 – O Allah, help me to remember You, thank You, and worship you well.


3 – O Allah, I have oppressed myself, and no one forgives sins but You – give me your mercy and forgive me - You are the Forgiving, the Merciful.


4 - Our Lord, give us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.


To conclude the prayer, the imam turns his face completely to the right and says: Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah (May Allah’s Peace and Mercy be upon you), then he turns with his face completely to the left and says the same. The worshippers follow him to conclude their prayers.  The meaning of this action is that the worshipper gives greetings and salutations to the angel always on his right shoulder that records his good deeds and the angel always on his left shoulder that records his bad deeds. 


After the prayer is finished, people may remain in the mosque to remember Allah by reading Quran and reciting invocations and supplications to themselves.


Note: Women’s prayers should be exactly the same as the men’s prayers described in this article except that they should not raise their voices to say Amin after the Fatiha is recited. Women are free to join the congregational prayers as long as they are not in a state of menstruation nor wearing any perfume.


Women should stand in rows at the back of the mosque. The farther they are from the rows of the men, the better. The best rows of women are the back ones, and the worst ones are those in the front. This means that their back rows should be completed before forming lines in front of them. As for men, their worst rows are in the back and the best rows are in the front, meaning that their first rows should be filled before forming new ones behind them.

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