What is the English word that we can use for the word “Salah” ? Is it true that the word “Prayer” is not even close to the meaning of the word “Salah”?
Salah (صلاة) literally means one’s calling upon one’s God (in a respectful and humble way). It is very much the same as the word Du’a (دعا).
In the Oxford dictionary we read:
Prayer: a request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.
I think the above can be seen as a reasonable and literal translation of the word Salah. One might argue that the content of Salah is not excluded to requesting for help or expression of thanks and that other things like uttering God’s attributes, glorifying God, etc…can also be included in the meaning of the word Salah. I am, however, sure that this is also true in the case of the word “prayer.”
The only thing is that in most places in the Qur’an and in the Hadith literature, the word Salah is used to convey a very specific (conventional) form of prayer that is the prayer that we Muslims do as part of the Sunnah of the Prophet that itself was derived from the Sunnah of Ibrahim. To convey this specific meaning of Salah, some times the expression “ritual prayer” is used.
As a final note, it is not important what English word has the closest literal or conventional meaning for an Islamic word. What is important is that which English word is used by the Muslim community as the equivalent of an Islamic word. Certainly the word that is used by Muslim community (even if not literarily accurate) is the best choice for referring to Islamic words. In this case, the word Prayer seems to be the most appropriate one.
Please also have a look at: The Meaning of the Word “Sala’h”
May 18, 2005