Dr Shadee Elmasry recounts the narration on the reduction of prayers from fifty to five and lists nine things we can learn from this.
In the Isra and Miraj, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, tells us:
Then the prayers were enjoined on me: they were fifty prayers a day. When I returned, I passed by Moses, who asked: “What have you been ordered to do?” I replied: “I have been ordered to offer fifty prayers a day.” Moses said: “Your followers cannot bear fifty prayers a day, and by Allah I have tested people before you, and I have tried my best with Bani Israel (in vain). Go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your followers’ burden.” So I went back, and Allah reduced ten prayers for me. Then again I came to Moses, but he repeated the same as he had said before. Then again I went back to Allah, and He reduced ten more prayers. When I came back to Moses he said the same. I went back to Allah, and He ordered me to observe ten prayers a day. When I came back to Moses, he repeated the same advice, so I went back to Allah and was ordered to observe five prayers a day. He told me to go for a further reduction, but I was ashamed to ask for more.
Why did Allah go through all of this when he knew what the final number would be? Why not just ordain five from the start? What is this supposed to teach us?
Nine Points of Learning
1. It is supposed to teach us the approachability of Allah. That he is approachable with our dua. That we should never stop returning to Him asking for ease and mercy even if over and over again.
2. It also demonstrates the importance of the prayer, for we were asked for fifty a day, a very large number.
3. It also puts on display the importance of asking those who have experience. In this case, the prophet who is about to lead a nation, asking the prophet who already led a nation.
4. It also shows the compassion the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, had for his umma, for he went back and forth quite a number of times, all for his concern with our well being.
5. It also shows the generosity of Allah with the umma of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, for even though we are doing only five, we are getting the reward of fifty, since one good deed is rewarded ten times over.
6. It shows that things unfold slowly, for the decrease did not go from 50 to 5 right away, but rather through steps and stages, for which we need diligence and patience.
7. So that the believers can feel the blessing of the reduction. If a mu’min feels the burden of five prayers a day, he feels relief knowing that it was originally fifty.
8. It is a gift to Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, that he was given the opportunity to show his concern for us and decrease the burden from off of Allah’s most beloved umma. Every individual Muslim is now indebted to him for this great ease which we experience daily. Our payment of that debt is recognizing his favor and increasing in our love for him.
9. It shows that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, could enter the Divine presence at will.
And Allah knows best.
Dr Shadee Elmasry was born and raised in New Jersey. He began studying at the age of eighteen, traveling to a number of countries including Egypt, KSA, Yemen and Morocco.
In addition to traditional learning, Dr Elmasry has received has an MA from The George Washington University and a PhD from the University of London SOAS.
Dr Elmasry went on to teach at several universities including Yale University, University of London SOAS, Trinity College, Hartford Seminary, and Manhattanville College.
Currently, he serves as Scholar in Residence at the New Brunswick Islamic Center in New Jersey. He is also the founder and head of Safina Society — an institution dedicated to the cause of traditional Islamic education in the West.