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Salat al-Ayat (Prayer for the Signs)

By: Hojjat al-Islam Muhsin Qara’ati
Some phenomena occurring in nature have uncommon characteristics which create fear among people, and at times, bring about superstitious and polytheistic ideas in the minds of the ignorant and heedless.
It is the duty of religions with heavenly origins to draw minds toward the original factors of these phenomena and prevent mental deviation.
In Islam a particular prayer has been made obligatory for such phenomena, so that the people turn their attention toward God, the Creator of the universe, and regard His power as the source of these changes and occurrences. This prayer is called Salat al-Ayat {Prayer for the Signs} because it is offered at the emergence of natural events which are divine signs and symbols in the world.
We read in the books on practical laws that salat al-ayat is obligatory upon the occurrence of the following phenomena:
(1) solar eclipse {kusuf};
(2) lunar eclipse {khusuf};
(3) earthquakes, and
(4) thunder and lightning, and black and red winds that frighten most people.[1][613]

Salat al-Ayat as a lesson on monotheism {tawhid}
The occurrence of such events was considered by the narrow-minded ones as a sign of nature’s wrath and gods’ anger. Since they were unaware of the nature and causes of these events, they used to be heedless of God and focus their attention to lifeless nature. In particular, the sun- and moon-worshippers had their own superstitious ideas.
Offering salat al-ayat is meant to draw the attention toward the Primary Source of creation and natural changes, viz. God the Exalted. It also gives a lesson on monotheism {tawhid}.
It is narrated that there was a solar eclipse when Ibrahim, a son of the Prophet (S) died in childhood. The people started saying that the loss of the Prophet’s (S) male offspring was the reason behind the solar eclipse. In a bid to correct the wrong notions and assumptions, the Apostle of Allah (S) mounted the pulpit {minbar} and after praising and extolling God, he said: “O people! The sun and moon are among the signs of Allah.
They run on their respective courses by His command and they are subservient to Him. Eclipses take place not on account of the death or life of anyone. So, if there is a solar or lunar eclipse, you offer a prayer.” After this speech, he went down from the pulpit and along with the people he offered a prayer for the eclipse.[1][614]
We can learn two lessons from this behavior of the Prophet (S): One lesson is that the Prophet (S) first enlightened minds about natural phenomenon and then performed a prayer for the natural signs. It implies that proper understanding and correct thinking are more important than worship and prayer.
The other lesson is that since he was a man of God and a true messenger, he spoke the truth and drew the people’s attention toward God. On the contrary, the deceivers and demagogues would perhaps take advantage of such an event to draw attention toward themselves. They would analyze and interpret even the natural happenings for their selfish desires.
Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) narrated that his father said: “Earthquakes, solar and lunar eclipses, strong and dreadful winds, are among the signs of the Day of Resurrection. Whenever you happen to witness them, think of the Day of Resurrection, seek refuge in mosques, and stand in prayer.”[1][615]
This narration also draws people’s attention from nature to the Lord of nature, and in the end, this ‘God-centeredness’ is completed through prayer.

Manner of performing Salat al-Ayat
We shall point to only a few issues regarding the Salat al-Ayat. For details, one may refer to books on practical laws.
1. The Salat al-Ayat consists of two rak‘ahs and every rak‘ah has four ruku‘s. In every rak‘ah, after reciting Surah al-Hamd and another surah, one may perform ruku‘ and then rise up, and then recite Surah al-Hamd and another surah, and then perform ruku‘, and continue doing so five times. In every rak‘ah, after the recital of Surah al-Hamd one may also divide a surah into five parts and recite a part of it before ruku‘, and continue doing so five times.
2. Whatever is obligatory in the five daily obligatory prayers such as ritual purification {taharah}, qiblah, etc. is also obligatory in the case of Salat al-Ayat.
3. Offering Salat al-Ayat is an urgent obligation and it must not be delayed. In case of solar and lunar eclipses, one may offer the prayer from the beginning of the eclipse. If a person fails to perform the said prayer, he commits a sin, and it is obligatory upon him as long as he is alive, and it is valid whenever he offers it.
4. If natural phenomenon for which Salat al-Ayat is obligatory (such as an earthquake, etc.) happens in a certain city, it is obligatory upon the inhabitants of that place to offer the said prayer but those in the other places are not obliged.
5. It does not make any difference whether a total or partial eclipse takes place. In both cases, Salat al-Ayat is obligatory.

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