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Lesson 13

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Lesson - 13


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

Prayer as a means of guarding against evil

In my last two lessons I have discussed the important reasons underlying the Divine intent to keep Himself in the Unseen. As a result of being in the Unseen, people tend to forget Allah, and are in need of a reminder. Prayer serves as such a reminder. Thus the Holy Quran states:

"And keep up prayer for My remembrance." (20:14)

It is not just enough to recite the prayer. In fact, a believer is enjoined to keep up prayer. In the previous chapters I have discussed the injunctions pertaining to this. In brief, prayer should be recited with understanding of its meaning, and with the realization that one is standing in front of Allah. It should be considered a great privilege to be given the opportunity to stand before the Best of Judges five times a day. The words of the prayer create the most excellent concept of the Divine Being and His attributes (provided prayer is kept up, and not just said in a hurry). Prayer also strengthens the belief in our hearts that Allah, the Possessor of all perfect attributes, is with us all the time; He sees us, and we can pray to Him wherever we are. He is able to hear our prayers, and is aware of our inner secrets. This is why during prayer we stand with our hands folded, bow down and prostrate; and some of the prayer is recited loudly while the rest is said in silence. When faith firmly becomes established in all of these concepts, the truth of the Quranic statement:

"Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil" (29:45)

is fully manifested. This means that no dirt or evil collects in a person’s heart, or remains behind as a part of his actions. He reaches the state of taqwa or guarding against evil, which is a great achievement.

Spiritual sustenance

Now I would like to mention another great objective of prayer, knowledge of which has only been given to us by the Holy Quran. No other revealed scripture or religion mentions this. The human soul also requires sustenance for its well-being, progress and existence, just as food is essential for the life, health and development of the human body. This spiritual nourishment is provided by the institution of prayer. Our physical bodies, which are maintained by the daily intake of food and water, will eventually die and perish into the earth. The human soul is the part that remains behind forever, and on it is based our life hereafter. This is the reason why so much stress has been laid on prayer in the Holy Quran and Hadith, and it is a major edict of Islam. The human spirit which receives this nourishment stays healthy, develops, and remains alive. This is the greatest blessing for mankind. The Holy Quran explains this vital truth in these verses:

"And strain not thine eyes toward that with which We have provided different classes of them, (of) the splendour of this world’s life, that We may thereby try them. And the sustenance of thy Lord is better and more abiding. And enjoin prayer on thy people, and steadily adhere to it. We ask not of thee a sustenance. We provide for thee. And the (good) end is for guarding against evil." (20:131, 132)

It is a distinctive characteristic of the literary eloquence of the Holy Quran that in very few and simple words it sheds light on some very important and complex issues. The essential facts which have been described in these two verses can be summarized as follows.

     1. Allah has created different classes of persons. This is mentioned in another place in the Holy Quran:

"See how We have made some of them to excel others." (17:21)

This Divine wisdom makes it possible for the activities of daily life to be conducted in a satisfactory manner.

     2. Each class of persons has been given variable amounts of material possessions. Abundance of wealth, however, leads to a greater degree of trial. This occurs because the attraction of material wealth is such that man makes it the purpose of his life, despite the fact that the world is a temporary abode. The sorrow of leaving one’s prized possessions, and the realization in the Hereafter of the immense loss sustained by not having exerted oneself for the greatest blessing, the love of Allah, is in itself akin to the torment of hell. In addition, a person will have to account for all that he was given in this world. If he considered his worldly possessions a trust of God and spent out of them according to Divine injunctions, he would be secure. His punishment, otherwise, would be that of a dishonest person who betrays a trust given to him.

     3. A believer should not greedily long for the fineries of this world. Worldly sustenance is temporary, and one is held accountable for its appropriate disposal. For the believer, however, the everlasting reward is the spiritual sustenance which is bestowed without the need for accountability, and is of a far superior quality.

     4. This spiritual sustenance is acquired through prayer. The Holy Quran is a wonderful book of knowledge and profound wisdom. While mentioning the procurement of this sustenance through prayer, the believer is first enjoined to ask his family to do so, and also provide a strong personal example of steadfastness in the keeping up of prayer. This is because even in case of physical sustenance, man gives preference to his wife and children. A large portion of his earnings is spent for food and clothing and other necessities for his family. The man of the house, who is usually the breadwinner, spends very little on himself. Thus man is told that just as he worries for the physical maintenance of his family, he should be even more concerned for their spiritual well-being. In order to accomplish this he is advised not only to enjoin them to keep up prayer, but also to keep up prayer in person so as to set an example. Without a personal example it would be difficult to get their compliance.

     5. Allah provides us with physical sustenance, and does not ask us for it. In a similar manner, when He enjoins prayer, it is not for His own benefit. It is purely for the good of mankind, and provides him with spiritual sustenance, which is essential, much superior, and everlasting.

     6. The final comment is that taqwa (keeping one’s duty, guarding against evil) leads to a better end. Keep your duty also in regard to the physical sustenance you are given, for you will be held accountable for it. Utilize the spiritual sustenance provided for you in the form of prayer to strengthen and keep your spirit healthy, so that it can control your animal desires. If the animal within you is left unbridled it will weaken your defenses (taqwa) against evil, resulting in loss and torment of hell. As I have already mentioned, if prayer is kept up and not merely recited, it leads to living faith in God, which of course gives rise to the quality of guarding against evil.

Spiritual ascension

I will end this discussion by mentioning one other important aspect of prayer. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Prayer is the ascension (Mi‘raj) of the believer." Now the event of Mi‘raj (ascension) is well known to the Muslims. The Holy Prophet in a state of vision (kashf) ascended to the spiritual heavens. He progressed in spiritual status beyond the level of all other prophets. At a certain point in this spiritual journey, the Angel Gabriel who escorted him on this journey also parted his company, stating that from there on he would not be able to withstand the manifestation of the Divine presence. He advised the Holy Prophet to go on further by himself. As the Holy Prophet proceeded ahead, he came into the presence of Allah. He sat down respectfully with his legs folded in front of Allah and said: "All services rendered by words, and bodily actions, and sacrifice of wealth, are due to Allah." To this Allah replied: "Peace be on thee, O Prophet, and the mercy of Allah and His blessings." To this the Holy Prophet answered: "Peace be upon us and on the righteous servants of Allah." What other conversation took place during this spiritual encounter is not recorded. The extraordinary precious treasure or reward, however, that he brought back with him was the permission for his followers to pray five times a day. The lessons that we learn from these events of the Mi‘raj are:

     1. If we follow completely the footsteps of the Holy Prophet, we can ascend to those highest levels in the life after death, where we have to go eventually.

     2. By completely following the path of the Holy Prophet, one can progress further than the reach of the angels. The Quran also tells us that if a man truly becomes the vicegerent of Allah, angels are committed to bow before him.

     3. The spiritual status achieved by the Holy Prophet is the ultimate stage of Fana-fi-Allah (losing oneself completely in Allah). At this stage every word, action, and possession is spent in the way of Allah, and under His direction. This is apparent from the words of the Holy Prophet: "All prayers and worship rendered through words, bodily actions and sacrifice of wealth are due to Allah."

     4. As a result of this complete obedience and service with humility, Allah rewarded the Holy Prophet with peace, mercy and everlasting blessings in this world and the Hereafter. He immediately conveyed these to his followers and all the righteous servants of Allah, because he knew that whenever Allah says something it is fulfilled. This is clearly indicated by his words: "Peace be upon us and on the righteous servants of Allah." In these words we see a remarkable display of the feelings of selflessness, love and caring for humanity that the heart of this pure and saintly person was endowed with.

     5. Going directly into the Divine presence is a historically unique occurrence. What did the Holy Prophet request from Allah? He asked Allah to bless his followers with the same honor and blessing that he was blessed with in obtaining nearness to God. The permission to pray five times a day was granted for this very purpose. How unfortunate is the being who keeps himself deprived of this blessing, and does not keep up prayer; or merely recites it as a custom without acquiring its full benefit.

     6. The Holy Prophet has called prayer the Ascension (Mi‘raj) of the believer. This tells us that prayer is the means to get close to Allah and recognize Him. The conversation which took place between Allah and him is recited in the obligatory prayer service after the two prostrations. From this it is quite apparent that prostration is the posture of closest proximity to the Divine Being. Prolong your prostration and understand what is being recited, i.e. "My Lord is free of all faults, and He is the most High." In reciting these words we are imploring Allah, Who has created the means for our spiritual evolution: just as He is free of all faults, may He nurture our spiritual progress so that we can obtain freedom from all our shortcomings; just as He is the most High, due to His goodness and perfect attributes, may He create good qualities in us. If this prayer is rendered sincerely, in it lie all the blessings of this life and the life hereafter. Besides the prayers of the Hadith and the Holy Quran, if you have to make any other request before Allah, you can pray in your own language. Say prayers with the shedding of tears, for prostration is the time when one is closest to God. When a child wraps his arms around his mother and cries, maternal feelings of love and mercy are aroused. Crying of the suppliant in prostration evokes an outpouring of Divine mercy, for who is more Merciful and Bounteous than Allah?

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