Objectives: Identify aids to worship and understand their use.
The compass and prayer mat: Muslims can turn any suitable place into a musallā (place of prayer) by deciphering the direction of Makkah (Qiblah) and making sure that the location is free from impurities. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The whole of the world has been made for me a place of purification and prayer.” Additionally, Muslims are not permitted to pray the daily prayers in a graveyard, nor bury anyone in a Mosque, as that leads to grave worship. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “God cursed the Jews and Christians because they turned the graves of their prophets and their righteous into places of worship.” (Bukhaaree). Muslims are not permitted to pray in toilet areas either as that is unbefitting.
To find the direction of the Qiblah, Muslims can use their knowledge of stars and their relative locations, or the rising and setting of the Sun, or quite simply, a compass. Nowadays, most smartphones will have a Prayer Time application that gives the user the approximate prayer times and the direction of the Qiblah. Many Muslims also use a prayer mat to pray upon when they are out and about. There is no harm in this (as the Prophet himself would use a mat) so long as one does not believe that the mat is a necessary requirement for the prayer or that by leaving its use, the prayer is somehow deficient. Prayer mats are usually one meter long by half a meter wide. Prayer mats can be very decorative and elaborate, even have pictures of the Ka’bah or the Prophet’s mosque upon them. However, that should be avoided because it leads to thinking that the prayer is somehow better with these pictures upon them, and one relies upon having these “sacred” images on the prayer mats. Some manufacturers put a deliberate design into the patterns on prayer mats to “remind the worshipper that only Allaah is perfect.” This is a burden not needed in the religion and is unnecessary, and regarded as a bid’ah (forbidden innovation).
Case study: “The meeting had been full of lively discussion for a few hours and we were all more than ready to eat. As we broke up for lunch, most people moved off quickly to the restaurant but one man stayed behind. He picked up his briefcase, opened it, and took out a rolled-up mat and a smartphone into which he typed in his location. He checked the display and went over to the corner of the room carrying the mat. He checked the smartphone again and carefully placed the mat down. A moment later he began to pray.”
The Qur’an stand: The Qur’an or “Mus-hafs” (written copies of the Qur’an) must always be treated with great respect because they contain the words of Allah as given directly to the Prophet (ﷺ). Muslims should make sure they are purified (with ablution/wudhu) before touching a Mus-haf. Also stands are used to make sure that the Qur’an never touches an unclean surface or the ground. Muslims reciting or studying the Qur’an will sit on the floor and put the Qur’an on its stand in front of them so that they can read it. Others simply use a cushion or hold it in their hands – all of this is acceptable.
Prayer beads (tasbeeh or dhikr beads): Prayer beads are used by some Muslims in private prayer to help them count when they glorify Allah or when “counting His names”. They move one bead along the string each time they say a name. Many strings have 99 beads, one for each of Allah’s names. Some have 33 beads in which case Muslims go around the string three times. They believe, this aids them to focus and concentrate in worship. However, the use of “prayer beads (dhikr beads)” is an innovation (bid’ah) not practiced by the Prophet (ﷺ) nor his rightly guided Caliphs, and is therefore forbidden to use them in worship. Additionally, the mere repeating of Allah’s names on their own was not a practice of the Prophet and his companions. Rather, the dhikr (remembrance of Allah) should be done in accordance to the Sunnah (i.e. authentic hadeeth).
The Five Authentic Modes of Dhikr After the Salaah
Allah’s Messenger (salallaahu alaihi wassallam) would make tasbeeh (glorify Allaah),tahmeed (praise Him) and takbeer (extol His greatness) after the obligatory prayers. The following is what is authentically reported from him:
- Subhaanallaah: 33 times, al-hamdulillaah: 33 times, Allaahu-akbar: 33 times and finishing with a single Laa ilaaha illallaah wahdahu laa shareekalahu, lahul mulk walahul hamd wa huwa ‘alaa kulli shayin qadeer. (Muslim, 597).
- Subhaanallaah: 33 times, al-hamdulillaah: 33 times, Allaahu-akbar: 34 (Muslim, 596).
- Subhaanallaah: 33 times, al-hamdulillaah: 33 times, and Allaahu-akbar: 33 (Bukhaaree, 843, Muslim, 595).
- Subhaanallaah: 10 times, al-hamdulillaah: 10 times, and Allaahu-akbar: 10 (Bukhaaree, 6329).
- Subhaanallaah: 25 times, al-hamdulillaah: 25 times, Allaahu-akbar: 25 times, and Laa ilaaha illallaah: 25 (An-Nasaa’ee 1351 authenticated by al-Albaanee)
Abdullaah bin ‘Amr said: I saw Allaah’s Messenger (ﷺ) counting them on [the fingers of] his right hand. (Abu Dawood, 5065, at-Tirmidhee, 3410). One should alternate between the various modes. It is not allowed to use threaded beads, counters or stones to count dhikr as they all are innovations – and the best guidance is that of the Prophet.
An important question: Why is a compass allowed and dhikr beads are disallowed in Islam since the Prophet (ﷺ) used neither? Aren’t they both, therefore forbidden innovations?
Answer: This a good question. The fact is that “Dhikr beads”, pebbles, seeds, etc, were available in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) and his Companions, yet they never used them to count the glorifications (dhikr) of Allah, rather they shunned such methods even though they had access to them. As for the use of a compass, then the compass was not a tool available to the Prophet and his Companions, so instead they would use whatever was available to them to determine the direction of the Qiblah as occurs in the hadeeth of Jaabir (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: “We were with Allaah’s Messenger on a campaign, and it became cloudy. We tried to determine the qiblah and differed concerning it, so each man prayed on his own, and each of us marked the direction he faced so that he could check it later. The following morning we looked and found that we had prayed facing a direction other than the qiblah. We told the Prophet (ﷺ) and he did not instruct us to repeat it and he said: “Your prayer is valid.” (Reported by Al-Haakim and others; and authenticated by Al-Abaanee in Al-Irwaa, no. 291) This hadeeth indicates that a Muslim should try his best with the means he has to seek the Qiblah direction, and that could include, looking to the stars, the Sun, or in these times a compass or a phone app.
- Why would a Muslim use a compass and a prayer mat?
- Read again the case study and answer in detail the following: A. Do you think the Muslim found it easy to pray in that situation? B. How do you think the people who saw him felt about what he was doing? C. If you were in his situation, what would you say to them to explain what you are doing?
- Is it possible for a Muslim to be good and never attend a Mosque? Explain your view and give different situations that may affect different people.
- “Aids to worship like these are not necessary” – do you agree and why?
I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who were working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school could also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.