When a woman gets pregnant it is as though she has joined a club. She suddenly hears horror stories of aunties, friends, and neighbors. Everyone wants to touch her stomach, and all around her she begins to see pregnant women. Her smart phone fills up with apps about baby’s growth, her weight, and nutritional guidelines. She buys books and watches YouTube videos about how to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. She dreams about her healthy glow, and imagines herself in cute pregnancy clothes.
Then reality sets in...
At this point the last thing on her mind may be the prayer, yet in this state, as in every state of the Muslim, it must be the first thing on her mind. Jabir b. Abdullah (r) said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (s) saying: ‘Between a man and polytheism and unbelief is the non-performance of prayer.’” (Sahih Muslim)
A pregnant woman may feel as though she is now invincible – I remember myself, four months pregnant with my first child; I had a vague, though not articulated, feeling that immortality had come upon me with the presence of this baby. I didn’t realize I had this feeling until I read in the local paper of a woman who had died in a plane accident – she was four months pregnant. I cried for the woman, and then cried for my foolish self. There is a sacredness of pregnancy to be sure; but no guarantee. Here, as in every other stage of life, we must take seriously our obligations to our Lord first and foremost, before even our obligations to our self and/or our unborn child.
Our personal obligations to Allah (swt) are compounded by the trust we carry in our wombs. For the prayer is certainly something the baby is interacting with. I remember Ramadan 1991; I was six months pregnant with my second child. Every evening when I would stand to pray taraweeh, she would wake up and do somersaults. I started to say, “Ok time to wake up, we are about to pray.”
Babies get their first exposure to the outside world through their mothers. While there are not any studies that I am aware of about the positive effects of salah on the unborn child, there are plenty about the negative effect of stress on the unborn child. Dr. Katrina Johnson of Emory University speaks to the problem of stress on the unborn child, “When we are stressed, a series of chemical changes is set off in our bodies and brains, such as the release of cortisol and adrenaline. … Stress hormones in the mother’s body do reach the baby. When a pregnant woman is chronically stressed or experiences extreme stress, the baby may be exposed to unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which can impact the baby’s brain development. Chronic or extreme maternal stress may also cause changes in the blood flow to the baby, making it difficult to carry oxygen and other important nutrients to the baby’s developing organs. In addition, chronically or severely stressed mothers may feel overwhelmed and fatigued which might impact their diet and sleep habits and consistency of prenatal care. All of these factors may help explain how maternal stress during pregnancy can have long-term effects on the unborn child.”
She continues, “Importantly, studies are beginning to examine what factors might help buffer the effects of stress during pregnancy…” Your unborn child hears you pray, feels the movement of the prayer – day in and day out. It is a protection and the beginning of his own spiritual life. Your prayer helps you deal with your daily life, and brings about a peace in your soul that you share with your baby. The recitation of Quran that your child hears, and the rhythmic movements that your child joins you in day in and day out, are all part of a deep habit that you are establishing and will stay with him until his final day.
It is interesting to note that a woman does not pray during menstruation, yet she does not stop praying during pregnancy. Whether she is vomiting in the morning or squinting her eyes with a headache at night, the prayer must still be prayed.
During the nine-ten months of pregnancy, she will face many physical difficulties, days of exhaustion, and some nights without sleep. It is important to have knowledge of the prayer, so that she never misses what is essential, and can complete her prayer without worrying about not giving it its due. Indeed, `Uthman b. `Affan (r) tells us that he heard the Prophet (s) say, “Not a single Muslim prepares for a written prayer, and makes good his wudu’, his presence in the prayer (khushu`), and his ruku` but that it is a penance for him for all that came before of sin, that which was not of a major sin, and this is for all time.” (Sahih Muslim)
Obligations of Prayer:
Salah has many layers. There are those aspects of the prayer that are absolutely necessary for it to be considered ‘salah’, and there are those aspects that enrich it and make it a more complete prayer. Schools of thought agree on most of what is absolutely necessary.
1. The intention: `Umar (r) has narrated that the Prophet (s) said, “Indeed deeds are in their intentions…” and the prayer’s most important act is the intention. It is a “heartfelt determination or firm resolve to perform an act or worship for the sake of drawing near to God alone.” All four schools agree that salah is not valid without the intention. So pregnancy brain or not – before every prayer, pause and make sure you know the number of rak`ahs you are about to pray, which prayer you are about to pray, and that you are about to offer this prayer to the Lord of the worlds, Almighty God, may He be glorified.
2. The takbirat al ihram – or saying Allahu Akbar to commence the prayer: All four schools agree that it is necessary to say Allahu Akbar to begin the prayer. And that once these words have been uttered we have entered into a sacred presence, one that must not be sullied by any action or words that are outside the act of praying. The Prophet (s) said, “We open the way for prayer by cleansing ourselves of ritual impurity; we sanctify it with the takbir, and we conclude it with the greeting of peace.” For those of us who were not born with an Arabic tongue, it is worth it to learn to pronounce this phrase correctly.
3. Standing: It is this obligation of the prayer that a pregnant woman need pay heed to, for all schools agree that standing is an obligation in every rak`ah if the person praying is capable. In non-obligatory prayers (sunnah) the schools agree that the prayer can be performed from a seated position even if the person is capable of standing. For obligatory prayers, however, if you can stand to do the dishes, you need to stand to do the prayer.
4. The Fatiha: The Shafi`is, Malikis, and Hanbalis all agree that the Fatiha must be recited in each rak`ah. The Hanafis opinion is a little more complicated, but for the purposes of this particular article, they also agree that the Fatiha should be recited in all the rak`ahs of prayer.
5. Ruku`: All the schools agree that one must bow in ruku’ if they are capable of it. There is a difference in opinion about how much of a bow is necessary to fulfill this obligation. If your protruding stomach does not get in the way, then you should prostrate fully. If you have bladder issues that are aggravated by a full bow you may lessen it as long as you bow to some degree.
6. Sujud: All schools agree that the person performing her salah must prostrate twice for each rak`ah. The actual position of the bow differs according to the different schools, but all agree that your forehead, nose, hands, knees and toes must face the Qibla. In pregnancy, you and your baby prostrate together to Allah the Most High.
7. To rise to a standing position after ruku`
8. To rise to a sitting position after each sujud
9. To rise from the position of sitting after the second sujud to a position of standing for the next rak`ah.
10. To pause: When a person rises to the standing position or the sitting position in between ruku` and sujud, she should pause and not rush into the next movement.
11. The final sitting
12. The final testimony
13. The greeting of peace
14. The order of the movements of prayer
Pregnancy and the movements of prayer:
For a pregnant woman, it is the movements of the prayer that could possibly be difficult or impossible for her to do at different times throughout her pregnancy:
1. The Obligation of Standing: In general if she can stand to talk on the phone, or to do the dishes, or to wait in line, it is an obligation to stand in the prayer. Feeling tired is not an excuse to leave the qiyam and to pray sitting. If it is a sunnah prayer, then she may pray sitting, but if an obligatory prayer all the schools agree that standing is an obligatory part of the prayer. The Prophet (s) said, “Indeed the prayer standing is preferred, and who sits in prayer receives half the reward, and who prays lying down receives half of he who is sitting.” (Sahih Bukhari) It is a blessing that the sunnah prayers are acceptable sitting, so that if she is tired, she can increase her worship without hardship; for half the reward is better than no reward. However, it is important to stand for the obligatory prayers if she is able.
2. Praying as an ill person: If there are complications in the pregnancy that cause the mother to fear for her own health or the health of the baby, she may pray as an ill person.
a. The ruling is that, if standing for the prayer will increase the symptoms or delay her recovery, she may pray from a sitting position.
i. In the case where she is on bed rest, and cannot stand to perform the prayer, she can sit. In this case if she can stand to go to the bathroom, she should begin her prayer standing and, after the takbir, she may sit to complete it.
ii. If she cannot stand at all, she may begin her prayer from a sitting position.
iii. If she cannot even sit, she may pray with her head, and if she cannot do anything but move her eyes, or gesture in her heart, she is required to do so (the Hanafis take exception to this particular rule).
b. If she is well enough to stand during the qiyam, but cannot do the full ruku` or sujud, she may gesture or indicate the ruku` and prostration, either from the standing position or from a sitting position. In either case the ruku` must not be as low as the sujud.
A pregnant woman is not automatically an ill person. As long as she is healthy she should perform her obligatory prayers as any other healthy person. She may decide to pray tahajjud, and her sunnah prayers sitting – especially if nausea, headaches, or at the end, heaviness, leave her weary. On the other hand, if she is suffering complications, she must not skip her prayer but take upon herself the ease of this beautiful religion, and pray her prayers sitting or lying down.
It is a world of the educated pregnant woman. She who carefully chooses what she ingests, and reads article after article about her baby’s development. In this context, it is crucial that the Muslim woman recognize the importance of prayer in her life. Just as she ingests organic dairy products and green leafy vegetables because she knows that the cells of her unborn child are dependent on her to feed them well, she must also perfect her prayer, stand, bow, and prostrate to the best of her physical ability, realizing that the soul of her unborn child is dependent upon her as well.
May Allah guide us to carry the amanah (trust) of the child in our womb- that we may prepare him and/or her in the best of ways physically and spiritually. And may we be ever cognizant of our first and foremost obligation – that of servant to our Lord; of which the prayers prayed correctly and on time is a primary obligation. Ameen.
 Islamic Jurisprudence according to the Four Schools; 2009 pg. 275