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Lesson 12

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Lesson - 12


"Who believe in the Unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them." — The Holy Quran, 2:3.

Prayer, the means of Divine realisation

In the preceding lesson we have discussed the wisdom behind Allah keeping His Being in the unseen, and the spiritual benefits of our belief in Him as such. As a result of this wisdom, Allah is invisible to the human eye, and therefore liable to be easily forgotten. Prayer is what keeps this memory alive in the human mind. Thus further on in the Holy Quran in the Chapter Taha it is said:

"And keep up prayer for My remembrance." (20:140)

There are some basic facts to keep in mind about the remembrance of Allah. He is Omnipresent and not confined to the church, temple, mosque or heaven. That is why the Holy Quran states:

"And He is with you wherever you are." (57:4)

Prayer can, therefore, be said at any location. It is true that prayer, especially the obligatory prayers are considered most excellent and blessed when recited together in congregation. For this very reason a mosque is essential as a gathering place for people to get together and supplicate. However, when the need arises, congregational prayers can be said in any location. If a congregation is not available, prayer can be said alone, in the house, on the ground, while in a journey, standing, sitting, lying down or by using signs. Prayer can be said even in the battlefield.

God is Omnipresent

Prayer, therefore, serves as a reminder to a man that God is with him everywhere, and all the time. This is the way it ought to be; otherwise how could Divine protection and help be rendered to mankind in times of need? Questions arise about the Divinity of the Being Who is confined to a place like an idol, or a human being, and as far as we are concerned, is not able to observe, protect, help and nurture us unto perfection. It is also essential for the Divine Being to be able to observe His creation at all times in order to nurture it unto perfection. This is even more so in case of mankind who is the vicegerent of God on earth. He needs to be constantly observed and evaluated for the performance of his duty and actions; for as I have stated in my commentary on the verse, "Master of the Day of Requital," every action, good or evil, has an effect, or consequence which occurs instantaneously. Similarly it is necessary for Allah to be able to hear humans. The reason for this is twofold: firstly because a human is accountable not only for his actions but also for the statements he makes; and secondly when man prays, God should be able to hear Him. It is also essential for Allah to be aware of man’s inner secrets, because by hiding his inner thoughts from fellow beings he is capable of great deception and damage to others. The good or evil of any action depends upon the intent, which is again hidden deep within the recesses of the human mind. For example, a murderer may slash a person’s throat, so does a surgeon; because there is such a great difference of intent in each case, the murderer is hanged, while the surgeon’s fee gets paid with gratitude even if the operation does not succeed. God is the Creator of man’s inner self; how could he be unaware of what goes on inside his mind?

The Holy Quran elaborates all this by frequently referring to the Divine attributes: Sami‘ (the Hearing), Basir (the Seeing), Aleemun bi-zat-is-sudur (Knower of what is in the hearts). The act of praying creates the awareness of these attributes within us. Belief in these attributes of Allah is strengthened when we stand humbly with our hands folded, and bow down and prostate with the knowledge that Allah is seeing us. Part of the prayer is said in a loud voice, while most of it is said silently. This is because Allah hears our speech and knows what is within our hearts. Prayer (salaat) recited at least five times a day reminds us of the existence of the Divine Being. It nourishes our belief in Allah, and reminds us of the strong bond that exists between God and man, simultaneously strengthening our belief in it. Prayer thus lifts the veil off the face of the Unseen; that is why right after the injunction to believe in the Unseen we are enjoined to keep up prayer.

The true spirit of prayer

It must be noted that the Holy Quran always commands us to keep up prayer, not merely to recite it. Reciting the prayer is mentioned only on one occasion and that also in way of a reprimand, as in the verses:

"So woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayer, who do good to be seen, and refrain from acts of kindness!" (107:4-7)

This means that such people recite prayer but are unaware of its true implications. The proof of this is that their prayer is merely a performance to impress other people. It is not said with an honest intent and a truthful heart. The heart in this case is imbued with the love of material wealth rather than with the thought of Allah. This leads it to forbid acts of kindness, due to lack of compassion towards God’s creation.

As I have just mentioned, the Holy Quran has frequently praised ‘the prayer which is kept up.’ One meaning of this is (as we have commonly experienced) that in the beginning, whenever a person recites the prayer, the devil (shaitan) tries to distract his thoughts in every way to keep him from converging his attention towards the Divine Being. In this state, when one gets distracted, prayer instead of being kept up falls down from a righteous state. Under these circumstances, the believer refocuses his thoughts and brings back his prayer to the right state. Despite these trials, if the believer remains steadfast in his prayer, it eventually becomes a source of enjoyment for his spirit, just like good food is for the body. According to Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (renowned Muslim saint), "Man is rewarded for the effort he makes to keep up his prayer." He was then asked if this reward ends once a person reaches the stage of full concentration in prayer? To this he replied, "his prayer then becomes a gift from God, and its reward is that pleasure and tranquillity such a person experiences through prayer." That is why when the Holy Prophet used to command Bilal (one of his companions) to recite the Adhan (call to prayer), he would say, "O Bilal! arrange for our pleasure." The Holy Prophet also said, "the coolness of my eyes is in prayer."

Rules of prayer

The following requirements are essential for keeping up prayer:

Bodily cleanliness, or ablution, bathing and cleanliness of apparel. Injunctions in this regard are given in 5:6; 7:31; 74:4.

Obligatory prayers are to be recited at certain fixed times as indicated in the verse: "Prayer indeed has been enjoined on the believers at fixed times" (4:103). However, while in a journey, or in the battlefield, or for some other valid reason, or disability, prayers can be combined.

Effort should be made to keep up all prayers consistently, as in the verse: "Who are constant at their prayer" (70:23).

Prayer should be safeguarded, i.e., kept up during a journey, illness, war, or any other time of distress and difficulty, as indicated by the verse: "And those who keep a guard on their prayer" (70:34).

Prayer is to be recited with understanding, i.e., one is aware of what is being said, and to Whom it is addressed. Also one should be aware of one’s helplessness and humbleness, and pray in a respectful manner; then only can true spiritual awakening occur during prayer. This has been referred to in verse: "Who are humble in their prayers" (23:2).

During prayer one should not allow one’s attention to get distracted as explained above in commentary on "And keep up prayer".

Prayer should not be performed with intent of impressing others as in: "Who do (good) to be seen" (107:6).

One should not be lazy in the performance of prayers. The Holy Quran speaks of the hypocrites as: "And when they stand up for prayer, they stand up sluggishly" (4:142).

As far as possible, prayers, in particular the obligatory prayers, should be said in congregation as indicated by the verse: "And bow down with those who bow down" (2:43).

To recite the prayers quickly, and afterwards to raise the hands for prolonged periods of supplications, is akin to wastage of one’s prayer and its effectiveness. The Arabic word for obligatory prayers is salaat which means praying, and includes the whole of the obligatory prayer service. The proper manner is, therefore, to understand the meaning of the whole prayer, to recite it thoughtfully, and with humility. Any prayer that comes to mind while saying the obligatory prayers (which are in Arabic) can be recited during the obligatory service, particularly while prostrating. This is the way (sunna) of the Holy Prophet. The example of a person who hurriedly recites his obligatory prayers, and then embarks on a course of prolonged supplication with raised hands, is like the one who goes into the court of a king, and instead of presenting his problems while he is there, comes out, and then tries to address the king in a loud voice from outside.

One must remember that it is a great privilege to be allowed to appear before the Supreme Being five times a day. This is the opportune moment for the believer to attain the pleasure of the Best of judges, Who is the Master of his being, his entire life, and the life Hereafter. Allah, Who is the Source of all blessing, becomes the Friend, Patron and Helper of the believer, as is frequently mentioned in the Holy Quran. In this world if one of us befriends a powerful or influential person, he is manifestly proud of his association, and frequently brags about it. A person is given the privilege of appearing five times a day before the Master and Lord of the heavens and earth, and perhaps the honor of His friendship; and he is unable to take advantage of this opportunity, or benefit from it. Who could be more unfortunate than such an individual?

I will, if Allah pleases, continue discussion on the subject of prayer in my next lesson, and discuss one of its most important benefits and need for mankind.

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