There was a time in the history of Islam when there used to be several congregational prayers (salat with jamaat) organised in the Haram at the time of the annual Hajj. Ibn Jubair, a nobleman from Muslim Andalusia, wrote in his memoirs that he saw the Hanafi praying their slalat on one side of the Kaaba while the Shafei congregated on another side of the Kaaba and Maliki on another side and so on. Pilgrims were always figuring out if it was their prayer or that of another school of jurisprudence. Thankfully this does not happen anymore and in Makkah there is only one congregational prayer held five times a day. However, this is not the case in the everyday life of Muslims in countries where they live and practice their faith. The sect-divide is as strong in the global Islamic community as are their ties of tribalism and ethnicity, which Islam undercuts to create one community of believers, diverse in culture but uniform in their beliefs and religious practices.
The congregational prayers offered in the mosques of Turkey present a universal model for all Muslim denominations. These not only meet the minimum requirement of every Islamic sect but also show how unifying the act of worship can be for all Muslims. You might say what I am talking about. All mosques are Houses of Allah and there is no difference between them. All prayers have the same basic elements such as qiyam, qaida, ruku, sujud and takbeerat. Everyone follows the Hadith and Sunnah of prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him. And since our prophet prayed in many different ways, as reported by his companions, what is the point of the argument?
The point is that there are small variations in the way salat is performed by the followers of the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence. To that extent there is no issue. But it becomes an issue when certain mosques and their mosque committees follow these protocols so strictly that eventually they become the exclusive mosques of their followers. Anyone not following their tradition becomes an outsider, who is although not prevented from offering salat but who is never welcomed by them wholeheartedly. This is why we come across the mosques of Deobandi brothers, Ahl-e-Hadith brothers, Barelvi brothers, Shia brothers and followers of Hazir Imam brothers, each with a different style of head covering, their own banner colour and salat timings.
Constitutionally, Turkey is a secular country and not an Islamic republic. However, it remains the citadel of Islam both in religious practices, arts and culture. Mosques in Turkey are beautifully constructed keeping the magic of the famous Turkish builder Memar Senan alive. Every mosque has a separate chamber and washing facilities for women worshippers. Washing rotundas, special wooden slippers and benches facilitate preparation for salat without any inconvenience.
Modern-day Turkey, being the successor state of the great Ottoman Empire that once ruled over thousands of miles of Muslim lands of different sects and schools of Islamic jurisprudence across continents, and itself being a global hub of Sufi Islam, practices the middle path in establishing congregational prayer which appeals to the diversity of Muslims. If the Turkish model of salat is adopted in other mosques, irrespective of where they are located in Islamic countries or in Muslim minority communities, it will not be impossible to realise the dream of only one type of congregational prayer and one kind of mosque for all Muslims. This will obviate the need to erect ‘one and a half brick’ mosques in every township and province to practice Islam, which espouses belief in one Allah, one prophet, one sharia, one holy book and one qibla.
The Turkish Model
There is one fixed time for call to prayers in each province in Turkey. The Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey, Diyanet, is responsible for working out the timing of Azan in each time zone. It appoints Imams, deputy Imams, organises their training through approved institutions and supervises the publication of Islamic materials for the guidance of the general public. It supervises Quran schools, funeral services, Hajj arrangements and charity collection and distribution. It also supervises the writing and distribution of Friday and Eid sermons to mosques.
The Imam is assisted by a deputy Imam to carry out the congregational prayer. Both are provided family accommodation within the mosque premises, where possible, and are collectively responsible for the upkeep and management of the mosque. A local committee of persons appointed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs regularly visits mosques in their areas and recommends funding for building repairs, paintwork and supplies. The prayer timetable, including Azan time, is prepared by the Directorate of Religious Affairs in each province and is also published on its website.
Before Azan is called, the deputy Imam (he is also the Moazzin) recites a short Durood.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ وَمَلَـٰۤىِٕكَتَهُۥ یُصَلُّونَ عَلَى ٱلنَّبِیِّۚ یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ صَلُّوا۟ عَلَیۡهِ وَسَلِّمُوا۟ تَسۡلِیمًا
After a pause, he calls the traditional Azan on the loud speaker to call people for prayer. In most mosques, a pre-recorded Azan in the classical style of Istanbul or Makkah or Madinah is aired. Only the Azan is audible to the outside public through the loud speakers fixed at the mosque minarets. All other recitations done by the deputy Imam are audible only to the worshippers inside the mosque.
After Azan, the deputy Imam recites the post Azan prayer. The worshippers also recite the post Azan prayer and then stand up to read sunnah salat individually. The only time a pre-congregation sunnah salat is not read is at the evening prayer (maghreb salat).
There is a gap of ten minutes between the Azan and the congregational prayer. Thereafter the deputy Imam reads aloud the Aqamat. Rows are formed. Lines are straightened. The deputy Imam stands on a designated platform at the rear of the rows. He is provided with a second set of microphone.
During the Aqamat, the Imam walks in from his chamber to the front of the mosque to start the congregational prayer. Sometimes he comes early to offer sunnah prayers with the other worshippers if he is not praying the sunnah inside his chamber. He wears a special long white robe called Abaya and a headgear in the classical Qadi style to lead the prayer. Sometimes the Imam also makes a brief announcement reminding worshippers to straighten their lines and close their mobile phones.
The Imam chooses short surahs to make congregational salat easy for everyone.
When the Imam exits the salat after saying the two salams, the deputy Imam takes over the floor and loudly recites:
الهم انت السلام و منك السلام حينا ربنا با لسلام اليك يرجع السلام و ادخلنا الجنه دار السلام تباركت ربنا تعاليت يا ذو الجلال و الاكرام
The congregational prayer ends with the saying of the two Salams. Worshippers can leave the mosque at this point if they are pressed for time. Students or people reporting to work leave at this time.
Except at Fajr and Asr prayer, the congregation is given about five minutes to perform the remaining sunnah salat after the Imam has finished the congregational salat.
Thereafter, the deputy imam loudly recites:
على رسولنا صلواه
The congregation quietly recites blessings on the prophet (Durood):
After a brief pause, the deputy Imam loudly recites:
اشهد ان لا اله الا الله وحده لا شريك له، له الملك و له الحمد يحيى و يميت فعال لما يريد هو الحي القيوم لا يموت ابدا و هوا على كل شيى قدير
The congregation quietly recites Ayat al Kursi:
Then the deputy Imam takes the congregation through the recitation of the Tasbeeh after reciting:.
سبحان الله و الحمد الله و لا اله الا الله و الله اكبر و لا حول ولا قوه الا بالله العلى العظيم
The deputy Imam says:
سبحان الله كثيرا ) ذو الجلال سبحان الله)
The congregation recites Subhan Allah 33 times on fingers or rosary. Until 2019 worshippers in Turkish mosques used to recite blessings on rosaries placed in the mosques, but after Covid-19, for hygiene, this recitation is now done on fingers personal rosaries.
The deputy Imam then says:
الحمد الله كبيرا ) ذو الكمال الحمد الله)
The congregation recites Alhamdu Lillah 33 times.
The deputy Imam says:
الله اكبر كبيرا ) ذو القوه الله اكبر)
The congregation recites Allaho Akbar 34 times.
The deputy Imam then says:
الهم احشرنا فى الزمرة الصالحين
The Imam then raises his hands for Dua. It is done quietly. On special occasions including Friday prayers, the Imam makes Dua loudly. The Imam concludes the Dua with:
Worshippers recite Surah Al Fatiha quietly and disperse.
After Fajar and Asr prayers when there are no further sunnah salat, the deputy imam concludes the prayer with the recitation:
هُوَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِی لَاۤ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَۖ عَـٰلِمُ ٱلۡغَیۡبِ وَٱلشَّهَـٰدَةِۖ هُوَ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنُ الرحيم٠
هُوَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِی لَاۤ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ٱلۡمَلِكُ ٱلۡقُدُّوسُ ٱلسَّلَـٰمُ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُ ٱلۡمُهَیۡمِنُ ٱلۡعَزِیزُ ٱلۡجَبَّارُ ٱلۡمُتَكَبِّرُۚ سُبۡحَـٰنَ ٱللَّهِ عَمَّا یُشۡرِكُونَ ٠
هُوَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡخَـٰلِقُ ٱلۡبَارِئُ ٱلۡمُصَوِّرُۖ لَهُ ٱلۡأَسۡمَاۤءُ ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰۚ یُسَبِّحُ لَهُۥ مَا فِی ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِۖ وَهُوَ ٱلۡعَزِیزُ ٱلۡحَكِیمُ
The Prayer session comes to an end.
The Turkish model of salat offers many things. It combines prayer with zikr and involves the worshippers in both activities actively; it also embeds reading of durood at the start and end of the prayer session. It is deliberately kept short to allow people who are busy at work or study to take time out for reading the prayer. It ensures that the Azan is attractive to the listeners. It also ensures that the use of loudspeaker is helpful to the worshippers inside the mosque so but not outside it so that people can continue work uninterrupted. It gives the State a say in the programming and publication of Islamic activities and guidance material. It gives Imams and deputy Imams a respectable place in society as religious leaders and men of knowledge. It ensures that the mosque does not become a platform for propaganda by anyone who thinks he is qualified enough to share his thoughts with the public using the pulpit without going through the approved channels. It gives people a sense of worship, discipline, time keeping and uniformity of purpose.
I hope one day all Muslims will be able to come together shedding their differences aside and will be united in the glorification of the Almighty as one reinforced foundation (Bunyan Al-marsoos).
*The author is a former Pakistani diplomat. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org