Interwoven with the occurrences of Salah is the absence of Salah. While the absences that separate each Salah are a natural consequence to the layout of the specific timings of Salah, Ibn Qayyim interprets the purpose of these absences in a spiritual context:


“the Mercy of Allah necessitated that a gap of time pass between each invitation so the invitee is constantly calling for the rain from the One in whose Hand is the water to quench the hearts, and beseeching the clouds of His Mercy to have their water descend upon his heart in order that the trees of iman and the harvest of ihsan, growing from this divine Mercy (i.e. salah), do not dry out” (al-Jawziyyah, 2013, p.19).


Ibn Qayyim finds meaning in the spaces between the Salaat by suggesting that the intervals function as a mechanism for striving for continuous nearness to God, inducing a longing for the moment of return. A prerequisite enfolded in this idea is the conscious awareness of God’s constant and permanent presence at all times, implying that these spaces of apparent silence and disconnection from God are, in fact, encompassed by the presence of God. Silence, for Foucault, is ‘the positive condition for acquiring truth’ (Foucault, 1988, p.32), and in it, he suggests, one develops the ‘art of listening’. 


John Cage’s performance “4’33”, famously known as the “silent piece”, was conceived for the purpose to ‘make people listen’ (Ross, 2010). It is then interesting to consider the pauses in time that are also embedded within the performance of Salah itself. Every Salah begins with the recitation of ‘The Opening’ of the Qur’an in which Ahadith advise to pause or take a breath, reflecting a moment of silence, after each verse in the belief that God replies to the individual between the verses. Furthermore, another occurrence of spaces in time within the realm of Salah occurs when the Muezzin delivers the Adhaan. Listeners are encouraged, by Ahadith, to repeat each phrase delivered in the Adhaan. This creates an immediate echo of the Adhaan, filling the caller’s silence between each phrase. As a result of the nature of the global timings of Salah, this ‘echo’, per se, sews the thread of Adhaans that wrap the Earth; an infinite thread that secures a continuous presence of Salah, even in its absence. 


John Cage, whose interests lie in emptiness, silence, and time, poses a question whether silence really exists - a question that reflects similarities with James Turrell’s thoughts on darkness. Turrell, whose work explores our connection to the universe using light itself as his medium, claims, on the other hand, that there is, “never no light”, further noting that the mind manufactures light subconsciously (Turrell, 1996, p.132). Silence and darkness are entities that are defined as negatives of sensorial concepts, namely sound and light. While both are significant in the realm of spirituality, these concepts are structurally and experientially symbolic in the characteristics of the timings of Salah. 


In a discussion where he introduces the notion of ‘organised sound’, Cage suggests that time structures are “built on silence” (Kania, 2014). This concept draws parallels to Ibn Qayyim’s idea that the time structure of the sequence of Salah is built upon the gaps in time that pass between them. However, Cage points out that while one may assume that the only function of silence is to organise the sounds, ‘an understanding listener listens to the rests, just as she listens to the sounds’ (Kania, 2014). This consideration returns us to his piece, “4’33” (the ‘silent piece’) which is widely agreed to not be silent at all. Rather, its contents are the ambient sounds that arise during the performance (Kania, 2014).



- excerpt from The Sequence of Salah, Anusheh Zia