Muhammad and the (non-)Priority of Prayer

Sam Shamoun

According to certain so-called sound narrations Muhammad refused to respond to a person’s greetings when he was in the act of praying:

Narrated 'Abdullah:
We used to greet the Prophet while he was praying and he used to answer our greetings. When we returned from An-Najashi (the ruler of Ethiopia), we greeted him, but he did not answer us (during the prayer) and (after finishing the prayer) he said, "In the prayer one is occupied (with a more serious matter)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 22, Number 290)

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:
Allah's Apostle sent me for some job and when I had finished it I returned and came to the Prophet and greeted him but he did not return my greeting. So I felt so sorry that only Allah knows it and I said to myself, "Perhaps Allah's Apostle is angry because I did not come quickly, then again I greeted him but he did not reply." I felt even more sorry than I did the first time. Again I greeted him and he returned the greeting and said, "The thing which prevented me from returning the greeting was that I was praying." And at that time he was on his Rahila and his face was not towards the Qibla. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 22, Number 308)

This is a sound principle since what could possibly be more important than worshiping one’s Creator and Sustainer?

Muhammad, however, acted inconsistently since he chided a Muslim for not responding to him even though the latter was busy worshiping Allah. What makes matters worse is that Muhammad cited a Quranic verse to justify a Muslim terminating his prayers in order to answer the call of Allah’s "messenger"!

Narrated Abu Said bin Al-Mu'alla:

While I was praying in the Mosque, Allah's Apostle called me but I did not respond to him. Later I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I was praying." He said, "Didn't Allah say—‘Give your response to Allah (by obeying Him) and to His Apostle when he calls you.’" (8.24)

He then said to me, "I will teach you a Sura which is the greatest Sura in the Qur'an, before you leave the Mosque." Then he got hold of my hand, and when he intended to leave (the Mosque), I said to him, "Didn't you say to me, ‘I will teach you a Sura which is the greatest Sura in the Quran?’ He said, "Al-Hamdu-Lillah Rabbi-l-Alamin (i.e. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds) which is Al-Sab'a Al-Mathani (i.e. seven repeatedly recited Verses) and the Grand Qur'an which has been given to me." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 1)

Narrated Abu Said bin Al-Mu'alla:
While I was praying, Allah's Apostle passed me and called me, but I did not go to him until I had finished the prayer. Then I went to him, and he said, "What prevented you from coming to me? Didn't Allah say:-- ‘O you who believe! Answer the call of Allah (by obeying Him) and His Apostle when He calls you?’" He then said, "I will inform you of the greatest Sura in the Qur'an before I leave (the mosque)." When Allah’s Apostle got ready to leave (the mosque), I reminded him. He said, "It is: ‘Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds’ (i.e. Surat-al-Fatiha). As-Sab’a Al-Mathani (the seven repeatedly recited Verses)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 170)

It is apparent that Muhammad thought rather highly of himself since he believed that responding to him took precedence over and was more important than worshiping his very own deity! For more on this point we suggest the following articles:

Be that as it may, it is clear that this is another case where Muhammad failed to practice what he preached since he expected his followers to disrupt their prayers for him but didn’t do the same for others.

Muhammad's Inconsistency
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page