Rites and Rituals of Muslim Fighters on the Battlefield: Prayers, Invocations, and Exclamations

Aram Shahin
James Madison University

Muslim scholars have proclaimed ritual prayer, ṣalāt, as the main pillar of the Islamic faith. The Qur’ān enjoins the performance of prayers even during military operations (Q 4:102), albeit in a modified way. This type of prayer is called Ṣalāt al-Khawf, “the prayer of fear,” and it has been described as a uniquely Islamic prayer. Descriptions and discussions of this prayer can be found in collections of Prophetic reports and juristic treatises, but not in writings specifically dealing with the various aspects of warfare or manuals of war. In this type of literature, the focus is on the pragmatic means of achieving military superiority and victory. Starting from the “Epistle to the Crown Prince” written by ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd ibn Yaḥyā al-Kātib (d. 132/750) and continuing in monographs and treatises exclusively or partially dealing with warfare up to the end of the Mamluk Period (648-923/1250-1517), the place of religion in times of battle is confined to the proclamation of invocations and the shouting of certain religious exclamations. A number of individuals were assigned the duty of performing these and other affiliated tasks: quṣṣāṣ (popular story-tellers or preachers), khuṭabā’ (deliverers of sermons), mu’adhdhinūn (callers), mukabbirūn (those glorifying God by shouting: Allāh akbar “God is great”), and mudhakkirūn (those reminding of Judgment Day). Muslim fighters could also say their own invocations and shout out religious exclamations, but shouting out could only be done at the orders of a commander, and failing to do so could lead to the punishment of the fighter. This paper discusses the religious rites and rituals that could be performed on the battlefield as described in various Islamic literary sources, pointing out how different genres focus on different rites and rituals.