Salat is the Arabic word for prayer. Every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day, always facing Mecca, and by prostrating herself or himself in utter humility. It wasn’t always so: During Muhammad’s time, Muslims initially were required to pray facing Jerusalem, in recognition of the religion of Abraham, and to do so twice a day, then three times a day. When Muhammad decreed the switch to Mecca, following one of his “revelations,” he also decreed the five-times-a-day requirement, though reluctantly so: Muhammad thought the requirement excessive.
Ibn Ishaq, the 7th century Muslim historian and collector of oral traditions about Muhammad that sourced his first biography, tells the story of Muhammad bargaining with God on the number of times Muslims should be required to pray. Initially, according to Ibn Ishaq’s retelling, God told Muhammad that Muslims should pray 50 times a day. On his way down from the throne, Muhammad encountered Moses, who suggested to Muhammad to go back to God and get the number lowered. Muhammad did so, again and again, until the requirement was reduced to five. Muhammad still thought the number too high, but by then he was too ashamed to return to God to ask for one more reduction. Five it would be.