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I keep hearing claims along the following lines:

  • If you don't perform [some action] in [some specific manner] during [wudu/prayer], your prayer is invalid and not accepted.

It seems, as per these claims, Allah is up-tight about how wudu/prayer is performed. Given how precise these claims are, I'm fairly sure I have yet to pray correctly even once, and thus I can conclude that my prayers thus far have always been invalid and not accepted.

Question: What does it mean for a prayer to be invalid or not accepted?

When I pray, I try not to be too selfish: I thank Allah about the good things that happened that day, I pray my friends don't get blown up by terrorists, I pray my family members are safe, I pray that Allah keeps me strong in my faith, etc. The usual stuff, really. What would happen if Allah rejects these prayers?

  • There are actually two forms of "(ritual) prayer not accepted" that I'm aware of. One is leaving out one of the conditions for the prayer to be valid or adding something that is not part of the ritual prayer; in this case, Medi1Saif's answer addresses the relevant issues, and to sum up, it's a matter of repeating the prayer with the conditions of its validity being observed properly. – G. Bach Aug 3 '16 at 12:21
  • The other form of prayer not being accepted is recently having committed a sin that bars you from your prayers being accepted in the sense that you won't get a reward, such as alcohol consumption. If you drink a glass of wine, you will still be obliged islamically to prayer the ritual prayers, but for 40 days after the drink, your prayers will not gain you any reward according to islamic thought, see e.g. here. I don't know whether there are any other sins that have a similar verdict. – G. Bach Aug 3 '16 at 12:23
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Question: What does it mean for a prayer to be invalid or not accepted?

I think the question isn't focused enough. Therefore the answer would be general hoping you may specify what exactly troubles you!

Scholars have defined a few rules which they consider as necessary for a prayer (I mean salat not du'a=supplication, which can be a part of the prayer also) to be valid. I'd say that this qualification of validity doesn't say anything about whether a prayer might be accepted by Allah or not, it is only a statement about the "technical correctness" of the done act of worship. As we never know whether a worship will be accepted by Allah, but should always hope so (see also my answer here).

An overview on the rules of validity

Shortly those are the fard (obligatory) parts of ablution (wudu') and prayer and some other rulings. Most of these parts are directly deduced from the Quran, for example for ablution, but scholars may define others too for example the intention/niyyah is often if not always considered as a fard because of the hadith, some may add the order of the acts etc.. Beside this any position in the prayer like qiyam (Standing) qu'ud (sitting), ruku' (bowing) and sujud (prostration) can be found in the Quran, so they are fard!

Now there are other necessary rules on the location where one prays and the person who prays:

For example the direction of prayer one is asked to do his best to pray towards al-Kaaba (this is considered as fard) because of:

... So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. ... in 2:144, 2:149 and 2:150

Of course you are asked to be (ritually) clean (not only ablution but in case you visited a toilet before the wudu' your body parts being clean too, see for example and this case), be wearing (ritually) clean (tahir) clothes and the place you pray on should be ritually) clean. One could find evidences for that. What does ritually clean may mean: For example they shouldn't have impurities on them like alcohol, urin, excrement ... and some may add if some of it has been licked by a dog (some would add a pig also) or came in contact with his muzzle.

To conclude if you performed the obligatory (fard) acts according any madhab you should be on the safe side. But for example let's say you didn't wash any part of your body three times or didn't wash your hands (only) at the beginning of the wudu' or didn't know the correct du'a for ruku' and said something different your prayer still would be accepted, as you didn't miss an essential part of it (see also this Post on missing an "essential" part of a prayer and this one on mispronunciation). The only problem is that you may missed a reward. But there are cases -and those are primarily related to the rules of prayer itself- where one can "repair" his/her prayer with sujud a-sahw (prostration of forgetfulness).

Here's a fatwa explaining how to perform ablution.
Here a fatwa about the rules of prayer (Please be aware that this is a salafi view).

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