There are a few things that invalidate salah for men and women. And given that Salah is the most important of all the obligatory acts God has ordained upon Muslims it’s super important to know what could nullify your efforts. Not knowing would be like getting dressed for a job interview and then finding out it was canceled once you get there. Major bummer.
Here’s a list of things that invalidate your Salah:
1. Anything that breaks/invalidates your wudu (ablution).
For a summarized list of things that invalidate your ablution, read here.
2. Laughing loudly during prayer
Once when I was in praying in congregation at the mosque a little kid (maybe 2-ish) stepped away from his mom and then couldn’t find her among the rows of scarved women. When Muslims pray, our heads are slightly bowed and so this little kid started walking quietly up and down the lines bending down to see each woman’s face. When he got to me I couldn’t help but smile. Luckily that didn’t invalidate my prayer because smiling or laughing quietly (though not ideal) won’t end your Salah.
3. Talking or making sounds that sound like words
This is a pretty serious one because the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) specifically forbade talking during Salah.
4. If a woman, black dog or donkey passes in front of you
When you pray it’s best to put an object (called a “sutra” in Arabic) in front of you, which acts as a barrier between you and anyone who might pass in front of you. This sutra could be your purse, water bottle, a notebook — whatever you have on you. At home I’ll put something in front of me when The Boss is home because even though I pray in a corner near my desk he sometimes needs to reach the phone charger. So rather than him having to wait until I’m done praying, or me being worried (and unfocused!) during my prayer that he might step in front of me, I simply lay something one the ground. Once it was a balled up pair of his clean socks!
5. If any area of your “aura” is or becomes uncovered
The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to do a once over of yourself in the mirror before you start praying. Make sure that your clothes and/or scarf are properly on so that no part of your aura is exposed during the movements of salah. For all you guys out there that means, PULL UP YOUR PANTS! Okay, okay, us ladies too.
In Islam, the Aura is generally considered as any part of your body, which is not allowed to be kept naked in front of others; the aura between a man and a woman differs.
For men, the area between their naval and knees, plus one shoulder must be covered during Salah.
For women, everything except your face and hands should be covered during prayer and 3 out of the 4 schools of Islamic thought say that a woman should also cover her feet from the ankle to the toes. The easiest way (I think) to cover your feet is with opaque socks, but you can also pull your skirt/dress forward if it’ll stay during the prayer.
Covering the aura means that whatever you’re wearing should not show the color of your skin (i.e. be transparent), or show the full form of your body. If you’re majorly pregnant try your best to wear something during prayer that doesn’t scream BOOBS! and regarding your scarf, you shouldn’t be able to see the color of your hair.
Both men and women must wear clothes that are clean and free or any impurities such as urine, blood or feces; semen is considered a pure substance in Islam and so if there is a small spot on your clothes for example, you don’t need to change before you pray.
6. Adding extra movements to the prayer
Okay confession time. Once when I was like 8 or 9 years old my mom called me in from playing outside because it was time to pray. My neighbor Sandy usually sat quietly on my mom’s bed while I prayed, but one afternoon it occurred to me that Sandy could be bored. I mean, we’d been best friends and neighbors since we were like ZERO and she’d seen this same prayer a hundred times. So this day, in the middle of my Salah, I decided to mix things up a little. I started adding all these extra arm movements to keep her entertained. Obviously I was too little to be held accountable for my shenanigans, but THAT my friends is the perfect example of something that invalidates your prayer!
7. Adding or subtracting ruk’u (bending at the hip, hands on knees) or sujood (prostration)
8. Changing the meaning of what you’re reciting
Every word of the ritual prayer is recited in Arabic, which is the original language of the Qur’an. Understanding what you’re reciting is obviously the most ideal (which means you have to learn Arabic if you don’t already know it), because if you don’t know what you’re saying therein lurks the danger of accidentally changing the words/meaning around.
If learning Arabic is totally not possible for you now or in the near future, try your best to mimic someone else’s proper recitation. This isn’t always the best advice since there are loads of well-intentioned, good-hearted people in Muslim communities who just straight up say stuff wrong; but if you’re really at a loss check YouTube for well-known reciters of Qur’an and imitate them!
9. Hesitation mid-prayer
This one might sound a little tricky so here’s an example of hesitation mid-prayer.
Let’s say you start praying and then suddenly remember that you were supposed to text your friend. If in that moment of remembering you need to send a text you wonder if you should stop praying; congratulations(!) you’ve just invalidated your prayer.
However there is one exception. And that is in the case of “severe danger.” So let’s say you left something on the stove and your kitchen catches fire while you’re praying; your grandmother is choking; you forgot to put your car in ‘park’ and it’s rolling out into the street where kids are playing — these are all examples of “severe danger.”
If you must stop praying in an extenuating circumstance you must also make up that prayer as soon as you can. If you invalidated your prayer because that text was just too tempting, ask God for forgiveness, refocus your thoughts and try again.