Prayer is central to life as a practising Muslim. In a general sense, it is part and parcel of normal life, often intertwined into everyday expressions and culture. So, just like “Bless you” for sneezes and “Oh my God” for a surprise, there are expressions that are commonly heard in Muslim culture. In Muslim-majority countries, expressions such as “Inshallah” (if God Wills), “Bismillah” (in the name of God) or “Alhamdullilah” (praise be to God) are so customary that people of other religions can be heard using them.
When we think of Muslims and “prayer”, it is often the more ritual offering of prayer (“Salah”) we think of. Muslims use two Arabic words, du’a and salah, to speak of prayer. Whereas salah involves rituals and movements, du’a is that personal conversation a believer has with God. This is personal, reflective, usually silent and private, and is said in any language. Du’a is more akin to our idea of ‘say a little prayer’ or ‘a silent prayer’, whereas salah is more like a ritual or service (even though it is also a form of prayer).
Prayer provides a direct connection with God, and provides hope and strength to believers, both before and after events occur. There is a traditional Arabic phrase, “Trust in God but tie your camel,” which illustrates this well. It comes from a reply from Prophet Muhammad gave to a Bedouin Arab who said he didn’t need to tie his camel because he had put his trust in God. After praying to God, a believer will hopefully work with greater belief towards a result, like an athlete with newfound motivation in the middle of a race. And yet if after doing what one can, if something else happens, then Muslims can find strength in God’s Will or greater plan.
Prayers can be heard for everything from the mundane matters of life, like starting a car journey, to the very serious, such as major surgery. Prayers can be offered silently alone, or communally and aloud. They can be offered for times of bigger picture issues, such as a drought or plague, or for individuals in need. There is an internal, theological debate as to whether one can pray for loved ones who have passed away and who were “non-Muslim” in life – it is a source of genuine distress for many who “convert” and there are many Islamic scholars would not stop an individual from asking God on behalf of their loved ones. After all, Muslims believe that no one truly knows whose prayers God will hear, how God will judge, and how God accepts what is being prayed for. One should never assume self-importance in this regard and Muslims will often ask friends to “pray for them” and their loved ones as a mark of humility.