Why did Allah originally command 50 prayers before reducing it to 5 prayers?
Anas ibn Malik reported:
Fifty prayers were obligated upon the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he was taken on his night journey. Then, it was reduced until it was set at five and an announcement was made, “O Muhammad, My word is never changed, so these five prayers will be counted as fifty.” (Tirmidhi)
During the Isra wal Mi’raj, the miraculous journey of the Prophet (peace be on him) to Jerusalem and then his ascension to the heavens about 1-2 years before his migration to Madinah, he was given the obligation to pray 5 times a day by Allah. This became mandatory for all Muslims from that time and a pillar of Islam.
At the huge Sidr tree at the end of the seventh heaven, Allah Almighty told Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) Himself that Muslim believers were to pray 50 times a day. The Prophet (peace be on him) accepted the offer, but when he was going back to the earth, he met Prophet Musa (peace be on him) who advised that 50 prayers were too much for a day. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) returned to Allah and requested this to be reduced as it was too much. Allah reduced 5 prayers and made it 45 prayers a day. But Prophet Musa told Prophet Muhammad that it was still too much. It took nine trips between Musa and Allah Almighty till it was finally reduced to 5 times prayers a day. Musa advised the Prophet (peace be on him) to go back and ask for a further reduction but the Prophet (peace be on him) felt too shy.
Then I went down to Musa (peace be upon him) and he said: What has your Lord enjoined upon your Ummah? I said: Fifty prayers. He said: Return to thy Lord and beg for reduction (in the number of prayers), for your community shall not be able to bear this burden; as I have put to test the children of Isra’il and tried them (and found them too weak to bear such a heavy burden).
He (the Holy Prophet) said: I went back to my Lord and said: My Lord, make things lighter for my Ummah. (The Lord) reduced five prayers for me. I went down to Musa and said. (The Lord) reduced five (prayers) for me, He said: Verily thy Ummah shall not be able to bear this burden; return to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter.
I then kept going back and forth between my Lord Blessed and Exalted and Musa, till He said: There are five prayers every day and night. O Muhammad, each being credited as ten, so that makes fifty prayers. He who intends to do a good deed and does not do it will have a good deed recorded for him; and if he does it, it will be recorded for him as ten; whereas he who intends to do an evil deed and does not do, it will not be recorded for him; and if he does it, only one evil deed will be recorded. I then came down and when I came to Musa and informed him, he said: Go back to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter. Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked: I returned to my Lord until I felt ashamed before Him. (Muslim)
What was the wisdom behind this command and then subsequent reduction? What did Allah Almighty not say 5 prayers at the outstart?
If you want to teach your child a lesson, especially if they are a bit lazy, you might say to them that they have to clean the whole house – all the rooms upstairs, downstairs, the bathrooms, kitchen and even the driveway and garden. They will protest that this is too much and swear that they will be better, and more obedient. Then you might say they do not have to do the garden. At this, they child will protest again, and say it is still too much, they cannot possibly manage it all, so then bit by bit you reduce their chores till they only have to clean the living room or bedroom. The psychology behind this is to make them appreciate what all that you do for them, and how much they should be doing. It is to make them more obedient and appreciate their parents more. The child becomes aware that their responsibility could have been much greater, but their parents have been generous towards them. They are grateful that all they have to do is one room and they promise they will make it shine.
Similarly when we realise that no amount of worship can ever repay Allah Almighty for His favours to us, we appreciate that 5 salah is very little compared to what He deserves and what He could have commanded us to do.
The other aspect of this episode is Allah’s generosity, as He gave the Ummah the reward of praying 50 times even though the obligation is only to pray 5 times.
فَقَالَ هِيَ خَمْسٌ وَهْىَ خَمْسُونَ، لاَ يُبَدَّلُ الْقَوْلُ لَدَىَّ. رواه البخاري ومسلم.
‘These are five prayers and they are all (equal to) fifty (in reward) for My Word does not change.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Tafseer Class 28th February 2022
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