Q. In my search for the true essence of Islam, I came across some information which really took me by surprise. According to some scholars, the Qur’an only has evidence of three salat (prayers) and not five. I have read the arguments which are very compelling and have left me completely confused. I have taken it for granted that we are commanded to do five prayers with the required number of rakat, now I find evidence stating that the Qur’an only mentions three salat, and we are only required to do two rakat in each prayer.  Can you shed some light into this matter?

Also there is an implication using Qur’anic evidence that mentioning Muhammad’s name (pbuh) in the shahadah (Muslim declaration of faith) is shirk since we are partnering him with Allah (swt), and it clearly states in the Qur’an that we must pray exclusively to Allah whilst performing salat. Can you advise me further on this?

A. This is where we have to be careful not to be entrapped by what is known as scripturalism, and realize that like the antecedent Abrahamic religions, Islam comes with a strong emphasis upon PRACTICE, over and above the text. This is what causes the confusion for many Muslims, for it is what we call the sunnah (Prophetic tradition). It is true, as pointed out by many, that the mentioned prayers are three, in terms of TIMING. One goes further to point out that this is very similar to the Jewish pattern in the desert, that there were five prayers and in the desert, they were reduced to THREE. As such, we see the fajr (subh), dhuhr and 'asr, and maghrib and isha combined at times. Many Shias do this as a norm, while for Sunnis, depending on travel, weather, or work conditions, the prayers are combined and reduced to THREE, however, the number of prayers still remains as five based on the sunnah. The fard numbers for these prayers are two, four, four, three, and four respectively. Aside from the fard prayers, what we refer to as the optional sunnah and nafil prayers are done in twos according to tradition. Some Muslims pray the optional sunnah prayers for dhuhr, 'asr, and isha in fours, however, we are unaware of any evidence supporting this. I hope this makes sense without getting into boring academic materials of proof.

As for the shahadah, that is NOT shirk for the issue is not that Muhammad is being partnered with God. If that were so, then the construction of the sentence would be completely different. In fact, language purists point out that it is in fact TWO shahadahs, and so call them the shahadataan. One is that there is no deity but God. The second is that Muhammad is God's messenger. This clearly shows a line of demarcation, with Muhammad being defined as a prophet and NOT as a being to be worshipped along with God. It is good that you asked these questions for as long as our religion is based on inquiry, we continue to learn and expand our knowledge and intellect. Once religion becomes blind ritual, then we stagnate and become automatons. May God help us to be among those who constantly reflect, ameen.

Posted August 30, 2013