The Salah Series
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII
Takbeerat al-ihram is one of the obligatory and first acts of the prayer; it is the declaration of Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest) at the beginning of the salah.
Why Allahu Akbar? Why not Alhamdulilah (all praise and thanks is to God), or la ilaha ila Allah (there is no deity but Allah)? Because Allahu Akbar means that Allah is bigger and greater and more important than whatever you are thinking of in terms of dunya (worldy) matters. “Allahu akbar” is in all the important declarations; when we pray, for the adhan, when we throw the stones during Hajj (rami al-jamarat), during `Eid al-Adha and `Eid al-Fitr. Allah says in the Qur’an at the end of the verse about Ramadan:
“…to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.” (Qur’an, 2:185)
When you say Allahu akbar, you are beginning your meeting with your Lord. You are saying, “God is greater” than your work worries, or the food you are planning on cooking or the outing you’re going on with your friends. God is greater than anything in your heart except Him. That is why, between every change of position, you say Allahu akbar – reminding you in case your mind starts to wander that that Allah is greater than any other matter on your mind . There is only one part where you do not say “Allahu akbar,” which is when you rise from rukoo’ (the bowing position in prayer). This will be discussed later insha’Allah.
Raising the hands
When we say the takbeerat al-ihram, we raise our hands. There are three reported ways that the Prophet ﷺ did so:
- Raising the hands before saying Allahu Akbar: you raise your hands up, bring them down in the position for prayer (right hand over the left on your chest), and then say Allahu Akbar.
- Raising the hands while saying Allahu Akbar: you raise your hands in conjunction with saying Allahu Akbar.
- Raising the hands after saying Allahu Akbar: you say Allahu Akbar, then raise your hands, then put them down in the position to start reciting.
All these are valid ways of raising the hands. And where should the hands be raised? Either level with the shoulders or with the ears – both are equally valid.
Mishary Al-Kharaz, the da’iya (caller to Islam), recommended alternating between these ways, so that our prayer doesn’t become mechanical, and so that we do everything with deliberation. You are also ensuring that the different sunnahs (examples of the Prophet ﷺ) are not left. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“Whoever revives an aspect of my Sunnah [that is forgotten after my death], he will have a reward equivalent to that of the people who follow him, without it detracting in the least from their reward.” (Ibn Majah)
What does Allahu Akbar really mean?
Some people start their prayer by lying. Some say Allahu Akbar and they mean it; others lie because they say Allahu Akbar but in their hearts dunya is greater. They do not feel the essence of the words that are being uttered.
‘Allah’ is our Lord’s unique name; no one is or can be called Allah, and it means the One who is worshiped and prostrated to. Others of His majestic names were used to describe people, for example, in Surat Hud it was said by the people to the Prophet Shuaib (may Allah be pleased with him):
“Indeed you are al-Haleem al-Rasheed [forbearing, right-directing one].” (Qur’an, 11:87)
But the two names that cannot be used to describe people are “Allah” and “Ar-Rahman” (The Most Merciful) – they are unique to Him.
“Akbar” is from takbeer, which means to glorify. Allah says:
“… proclaim His limitless greatness” (Qur’an, 17:111)
Allah is so great that we cannot fully comprehend all His attributes and greatness, yet we can understand a little of it by seeing His creation. From the mountains to the sea to the trees to animals to humans, all of this is proclaiming Allahu Akbar! How can we then not?
Yes, but why do we raise our hands?
You raise your hands in submission to Allah, throwing the dunya behind you. If you want to surrender to someone, you put your hands up saying, “I give up,” submitting to that person. Here, we are submitting willingly and with love, hope and awe, before our Creator.
When you raise your hands beginning with Allahu Akbar, your sins slowly start to rise to your head and shoulders. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“When a slave stands and prays, all his sins are brought and placed on his head and shoulders. Every time he bows or prostrates, some of them fall from him.” (Bayhaqi, Saheeh al-Jami’)
Amazing! What else happens when we begin the prayer? Allah faces you. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“Allah faces the servant during prayer as long as he does not turn away.” (Abu Dawud)
So many things happen with the simple step of initiating the prayer with the takbeer. A specific shaytan whose sole job is to distract you from prayer comes. You cease to talk, you cease to fidget. Even your sight – you do not look up towards the sky. You are now in a sacred space, in intimate conversation with Allah. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“The key to prayer is purification, its opening is to say Allahu akbar and its closing is to say assalamu `alaykum.” (Abu Dawud)
Another thing comes with saying Allahu akbar. You should start to think about yourself, and your place in this world, your size. Please take the time to watch this one minute video:
Did you see how tiny the earth is compared to the sun? And how tiny the sun is compared to other stars? Imagine the Red Supergiant were to come before you right now. What awe we would have for it. And now remember: Allahu Akbar, Allah is greater.
May we all take heed of these words when we pray, and truly start to feel the meaning of them. Ameen.