The Prayer’s Accessor, Initiator and Absolver

From Sunan al-Tirmidhi: Book 1 (Purification); Topic 3; Hadeeths 3-4

al-Tirmidhi finished opening with the obligation and virtues of purification, with a narration that captures and emphasizes once again, the obligation of purification, and something of its virtue. After this, he will go into the details of how exactly one becomes pure.

بَابُ مَا جَاءَ أَنَّ مِفْتَاحَ الصَّلاَةِ الطُّهُورُ

Chapter: What has come regarding the key to prayer being purification

حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، وَهَنَّادٌ، وَمَحْمُودُ بْنُ غَيْلاَنَ، قَالُوا: حَدَّثَنَا وَكِيعٌ، عَنْ سُفْيَانَ (ح) وحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ بَشَّارٍ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ مَهْدِيٍّ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَقِيلٍ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ ابْنِ الْحَنَفِيَّةِ،

On the authority of `Ali:

The Prophet ﷺ said: the key to prayer is purification, and its sanctifier is the takbeer and its absolver is the tasleem.

عَنْ عَلِيٍّ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ﷺ، قَالَ: مِفْتَاحُ الصَّلاَةِ الطُّهُورُ، وَتَحْرِيمُهَا التَّكْبِيرُ، وَتَحْلِيلُهَا التَّسْلِيمُ.

هَذَا الْحَدِيثُ أَصَحُّ شَيْءٍ فِي هَذَا الْبَابِ وَأَحْسَنُ.

وَعَبْدُ اللهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَقِيلٍ هُوَ صَدُوقٌ، وَقَدْ تَكَلَّمَ فِيهِ بَعْضُ أَهْلِ الْعِلْمِ مِنْ قِبَلِ حِفْظِهِ.

وسَمِعْت مُحَمَّدَ بْنَ إِسْمَاعِيلَ، يَقُولُ: كَانَ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ حَنْبَلٍ، وَإِسْحَاقُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، وَالْحُمَيْدِيُّ، يَحْتَجُّونَ بِحَدِيثِ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَقِيلٍ، قَالَ مُحَمَّدٌ: وَهُوَ مُقَارِبُ الْحَدِيثِ.

وَفِي الْبَابِ عَنْ جَابِرٍ، وَأَبِي سَعِيدٍ.

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بَكْرٍ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ زَنْجَوَيْهِ الْبَغْدَادِيُّ، وَغَيْرُ وَاحِدٍ قَالُوا: حَدَّثَنَا الْحُسَيْنُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، قَالَ: حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ بْنُ قَرْمٍ، عَنْ أَبِي يَحْيَى الْقَتَّاتِ، عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ،

Jabir ibn Abdillah said: the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: the key to Paradise is salah, and the key to salah is ablution.

عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللهِ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ ﷺ: مِفْتَاحُ الْجَنَّةِ الصَّلاَةُ، وَمِفْتَاحُ الصَّلاَةِ الْوُضُوءُ.

 

The first narration was also recorded by Abu Dawud in the chapter of “obligation of ablution”. As for the narration of Jaabir, all collectors (Ahmad, al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi) traced it to Sulaiman ibn Qarm (underlined) of Kufah and Basrah who is considered da`eef and strongly shee’ee.

Hadeeth Benefit

Abdullah ibn Aqeel, who al-Tirmidhi spoke of concerning his mediocre memorization is Abdullah ibn Aqeel ibn Abi Talib. And he narrated this hadeeth from his cousin, Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib aka “al-Hanafiyyah”, who narrated it from his father Ali. So there are several members of Ahl-Bayt in this chain.

Variant Wordings

Both narrations from Ali and Jaabir hardly have any variant wordings collected by other compilers.

 

From these narrations…

“The key to prayer is purification”

In the English language we overuse the word key so that it doesn’t mean much. I could say, “the key to success is hard work” or I could say “the key to success is making lots of du’aa” or I could say “the key is learning from others”. Take any subject matter and you’ll find a dozen opinions on what the “key” to succeed is. But those are opinions. And when someone says “the key to this is something else” we tend to glaze over it or take it with a grain of salt, that’s your opinion and it may or may not apply to my situation.

So when I first read this hadeeth, I thought of its meaning in our colloquial English terms. Okay, the key to prayer is purification, but maybe I could say the same thing about facing the Qiblah or having the proper intention, or this or that. But no, that’s not what was really intended from someone with jawaami’ al-kalim. And it’s only our fault that we’ve abused the word key.

But the word miftāḥ in Arabic, while it can be translated as “key” should probably be thought of by us in a more literal manner. Linguistically miftah means a tool or instrument for opening something or gaining access.

Therefore, without that miftah, you have no access to it. In this case, the key to accessing prayer is purification—which is ablution most importantly, but also purification of the body, clothing and prayer space. And becoming tainted by losing our ablution makes the prayer completely closed off to us. There is no secret entrance. This is a spiritual door that exist and Allah created it and Knows it and the angels that record our deeds know it.

Ibnul-Qayyim said that linguistically, this is a restrictive statement, because both the subject (المبتدأ) and predicate (الخَبَر) are definite, and also because ascription (الإضافة) of the subject to salaah provides restriction (الحَصْر) like saying “the entire key to prayer is purification”.  He further said this is more rhetorical than “Allah does not accept the prayer of anyone who has become tainted until they perform ablution” because acceptance could have multiple meanings, whereas trying to enter something without access to it shows that the individual is closed off entirely.

This statement also suggests that purification is the most important prerequisite for prayer.

Ibnul-Qayyim then discussed an issue we briefly spoke of earlier: what if you need to pray, but are unable to perform ablution and unable to perform tayammum?

As mentioned previously, scholars differed, because there is nothing from the clear unambiguous Quran that says what to do even without tayammum specifically, nor the Prophet’s Sunnah, so if a Muslim finds themselves in that situation and if they wait or if they pray as they are, in either case, they’ll be doing something that some scholars agree to, alhamdulillah.

However, which is most proper? Ibnul-Qayyim chose praying in the situation that a person is in, and he sought to refute the other position, that one should not pray, or that one should wait until the means to any kind of purification becomes available. To compare the issue to similar excuses, the helpless unable one (العاجز) is like the sick person (المريض) who is commanded according to their ability and sickness (بقدر الاستطاعة); unlike the woman in her cycle who is not asked to pray at all, like a young child.

He further cited an example from the Prophet’s time, recorded by Muslim:

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ، ح وَحَدَّثَنَا أَبُو كُرَيْبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ، وَابْنُ، بِشْرٍ عَنْ هِشَامٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، أَنَّهَا اسْتَعَارَتْ مِنْ أَسْمَاءَ قِلاَدَةً فَهَلَكَتْ فَأَرْسَلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ نَاسًا مِنْ أَصْحَابِهِ فِي طَلَبِهَا فَأَدْرَكَتْهُمُ الصَّلاَةُ فَصَلَّوْا بِغَيْرِ وُضُوءٍ فَلَمَّا أَتَوُا النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم شَكَوْا ذَلِكَ إِلَيْهِ فَنَزَلَتْ آيَةُ التَّيَمُّمِ ‏.‏ فَقَالَ أُسَيْدُ بْنُ حُضَيْرٍ جَزَاكِ اللَّهُ خَيْرًا فَوَاللَّهِ مَا نَزَلَ بِكِ أَمْرٌ قَطُّ إِلاَّ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكِ مِنْهُ مَخْرَجًا وَجَعَلَ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ فِيهِ بَرَكَةً ‏.‏

‘A‘isha said she borrowed a necklace from Asma’ (her sister) and it was lost. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) sent men to search for it. As it was the time for prayer, they offered prayer without ablution (as water was not available there). When they came to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), they made a complaint about it, and the verses pertaining to tayammum were revealed. Upon this Usaid b. Hadair said (to ‘A‘isha):  May Allah grant you a good reward! Never has been there an occasion when you were beset with difficulty and Allah did not make you come out of that and made it an occasion of blessing for the Muslims.

The point here is that the men who prayed without purification due to inability, were not told to repeat their prayer. After this incident, Allah gave all the Muslims forever after, another option.

Some might say, “the Sharia always allows for substitutes, but when there is no substitute for purification, there can be no salaah”. Ibnul-Qayyim said that indeed the substitute for ablution is tayammum, and helplessness for the substitute has the same ruling as helplessness for the original. The first and main command is to pray. The command to make purification is a separate command that does not cause prayer, but is caused by the prayed. When one cannot do one but can do the other, they act according to their ability and still perform prayer in completion.

Ibnul-Qayyim finally said that this hadeeth further proves that intention is required with ablution, and that one should intend the accessibility of salah. Otherwise, it would be like reading or quoting la ilaha illaLLaah without intending it in conviction, or wrapping white towels around you without intending the ihram of pilgrimage.

 

“Its sanctifier is the takbeer”

 

It’s called taḥrīm or iḥrām because eating, drinking and chatting suddenly become off limits, as one enters a sacred sanctified state, in their approach to Allah ﷺ.

Scholars differed over whether the takbir is a condition or a pillar, as with al-Shafi’i. In either case, it is obligatory. The difference is, does it precede the prayer or is it part of the prayer?

Of note, Sa`eed and al-Zuhri believed that mere intention was sufficient to enter prayer, without saying a word.

What are the acceptable phrases for entering prayer?

The well-known and agreed upon takbeer is “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater) but could another phrase be said in its stead? Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad, and many of the Salaf believed no, this was the only permitted phrase.

Abu Haneefah believed any phrasing that magnifies Allah is sufficient, like “Allahu is the most magnificent (الله أَعْظَمُ). Abu Yusuf allowed “Allahu al-Kabeer” with a derivation of the same root ka-ba-ra. Al-Shafi`I only allowed definitive addition, “Allahu al-Akbar” (Allah is the Greater/est), since making the phrase definite did not change the meaning of preference (التفضيل) and exclusiveness (الاختصاص).

Ibnul-Qayyim, arguing on behalf of majority position, said here that the linguistic restriction (الحصر) of the previous phrase of the hadeeth was also applicable here too. And the definitive article of this hadeeth, “tahreemuhaa altakbeer, is for familiarity (العهد). Like saying, “the takbeer that we all know, that’s the thing that sanctifies yourself for prayer”, otherwise would have been indefinite, i.e. “the prayer’s sanctifier is a takbeer” not “the” takbeer. Furthermore, there is no synonymous meaning between Allahu Akbar and even Allahu al-Akbar. The latter means Allah is the greater—as if comparing Allah to something specific. The former and well-known indefinite version is open, as if to say that no matter what you compare to Allah, Allah will always be greater. No matter what comes in your mind during prayer, no matter what other business you want to take care of, one after the other, Allah is greater than this one, Allah is greater than that one, etc. Whenever the thing being compared to along with the definitive particle are both removed, only then does the phrase imply generality—that Allah is greater than everything. But removing only the thing being compared, while keeping the definite article as in “Allahu al-akbar” then the meaning becomes restricted, as if in response to a question, who is greater, Allah or…? 1)Being indefinite has its meaningful advantages, similarly to how eloquent, rhetorical and meaningful Ibrahim’s indefinite Salaam was when greeting the strangers with glad tidings on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah. Lastly, the Prophet ﷺ never, not once, used a word or phrase other than Allahu Akbar, so if it was allowed, he would have clarified or demonstrated it for the ummah, if only one time.

 

“…its absolver is the taslīm.”

 

The prayer is ended by giving the salaam in the known manner. Ibnul-Qayyim reminds us that the grammar here once again is restrictive. But is the tasleem really the only thing that stops prayer, especially if some pressing need and urgency befall someone? Should they make salaam wherever they are during the prayer—whether standing, bowing, sitting or prostrating—and then leave? This hadeeth implies that.

Abu Haneefah differed, saying that anything that nullifies the salah suffices to be used for leaving the prayer. Other scholars said, intention alone is enough to break the salaah. All that is true, and those things break the salaah and nullify it. But when the Prophet ﷺ said that the tahleel of salaah is tasleem, he gave us a formal way of exiting this sacred state, and as Sh. Muhammad al-Shanqiti said concerning this issue, “it is better to follow the hadeeth than to follow ijtihad”.

 

General

 

This narration tells us that every type of prayer, since it is definite, is only accessible with purification, and is opened with the takbeer, and formally closed with the tasleem.

What about parts of the prayer? The main physical action associated with prayer but sometimes performed outside is the prostration. As for making du’a or reciting Quran, then there is no difference of opinion that one does not need ablution for that.

What’s interesting is that the majority of jurists obligated purification for the prostration of recitation—even for listeners—and for the prostration of gratitude. They said, the prostration of recitation is initiated with a takbeer during your prayer, and so it should be the same way for other prostrations, in and out of salaah, and whatever is necessary as an obligation and prerequisite, such as facing the qiblah, being properly covered, performing tashahhud at the end, and then making tasleem.

Ibnul-Qayyim fought that opinion, citing that most of the salaf believed otherwise, and that a prostration was just a prostration and not a prayer until combined with the other actions and words of the prayer with that specific intention.

The takbir of the prostration of recitation and forgetfulness is an alert to those in earshot who are following along in the prayer. As for this hadeeth, and obligating purification, tashahhud and tasleem, then ibnul-Qayyim says no such conditions for independent prostrations were ever transmitted from the Prophet ﷺ nor any of his companions. It is only an opinion of some who came later at the end of the first century.

Al-Bukhari specifically recorded that ibn Umar would prostrate without ablution. Ibn Abbaas also said that the Prophet ﷺ recited al-Najm and everyone listening prostrated, the Muslims, the pagans, humans and jinn. The Prophet ﷺ did not command anyone nor ask them afterwards if they had full purification or not. And the narration of Umar’s entrance to Islam further proves that ablution and ritual purification was known for prayer and handling scripture even in the early days of Islam.

In the sahihain, ibn Umar mentions that

حَدَّثَنِي زُهَيْرُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، وَعُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْمُثَنَّى، كُلُّهُمْ عَنْ يَحْيَى الْقَطَّانِ، – قَالَ زُهَيْرٌ حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، – عَنْ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي نَافِعٌ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ ﷺ كَانَ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ فَيَقْرَأُ سُورَةً فِيهَا سَجْدَةٌ فَيَسْجُدُ وَنَسْجُدُ مَعَهُ حَتَّى مَا يَجِدُ بَعْضُنَا مَوْضِعًا لِمَكَانِ جَبْهَتِهِ ‏.‏

Sometimes the Prophet ﷺ would recite Quran to everyone and recite a chapter with a prostration, and then he would prostrate, and we would all prostrate with him, to the point that some could not find a place to put their forehead.

So this was not during prayer or else they would have enough room because they would have been in prayer formation.

Likewise, Allah praised the prostration of Pharaoh’s magicians, and they definitely did not have purification, and the legislation of those before us is accepted by the Four imams.

As for the prostration of gratitude, ibnul-Qayyim mentions that this was observed from the Prophet ﷺ and many of his companions immediately after receiving a great blessing, without delay or break to make ablution or even tayammum in spite of how accessible tayammum was for them.

Ibnul-Qayyim further said that the athar of ibn Umar recorded by al-Baihaqi, “no man prostrates except while pure” [لا يسجد الرجل إلا وهو طاهر] then it is narrated by Layth who is weak. Some copier of al-Bukhari may have further accidentally removed the word “without” from ibn Umar’s narrations—in some manuscripts—thinking it was a mistake, based on his own fiqh preference and conscience remembering of the narration of Layth.

So the chosen opinion, and Allah knows best, is that the prostrations of gratitude and recitation are not known to be accompanied with a takbeer outside of the formal salaah, nor any tasleem. As for purification, it is only recommended in the sense that it is recommended for every Muslim at all plausible times.

And Allah knows best.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Being indefinite has its meaningful advantages, similarly to how eloquent, rhetorical and meaningful Ibrahim’s indefinite Salaam was when greeting the strangers with glad tidings on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah.
About Chris
Chris, aka AbdulHaqq, is from central Illinois and accepted Islam in 2001 at age 17. He studied Arabic and Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia from 2007-13 and most recently earned a master's in Islamic Law from Malaysia. He is married with children.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*