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Prayer and its acceptance

`Id al-Fitr Khutba at London Centre

by the Editor (Dr. Zahid Aziz)

(The Light & Islamic Review : Vol.71; No. 3; May-Jun 1994; p.8-11)

Introduction / True spirit of worship / Nearness of God / Acceptance of prayer / Modern times / Examples of acceptance in this age / Lack of apparent acceptance of some prayers.

(This is the text of the Khutba delivered on the occasion of 'Id al-Fitr at the U.K. Centre of the A.A.I.I.L. on 13 March this year.)

"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil." - The Holy Quran 2:183.

"And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way." - 2:186.

The purpose of fasting is clearly described in the first verse, and it is to learn to refrain from following one's wrong urges and desires by developing self-control. Fasting is not meant as a social custom or bodily ritual which you go through, but which does not change you in any way whatsoever. Many Muslims say that they fast "because Allah has commanded us to", but they forget that Allah has also told us of the aim and purpose to be attained through fasting. If we make no attempt to reach that aim, then we are not doing what Allah has commanded us to.

True spirit of worship.

Regarding prayer it is clearly stated in the Quran:

"Woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers, who do it just to be seen, and refrain from acts of kindness." ch. 107.

So the physical act of prayer is, by itself, of no use and is even condemned by Islam when it is performed only as an outward act without leading you to do good. Again regarding the sacrifice made at the time of the hajj, the Quran says:

"Not their flesh, nor their blood reaches Allah, but what reaches Him is your righteousness." - 22:39.

So we can be as meticulous and precise as we like about observing the physical details of fasting and other worship, it will count for nothing with God - it does not reach Him - unless we have brought about a change for the better in ourselves as a result, however small that change may be, provided it is a real change.

The Quran says several times that even the smallest amount of good a person does, counts with God and leads to good consequences. So the smallest change for the better in ourselves through fasting is a real gain and is the foundation of further progress.

As taught in the verses from chapter 107 quoted above, the doing of actual good deeds in practice is essential (as distinct from believing and performing acts of worship). Such importance does the Quran give to this that it is said to be the object of man's existence:

"(Allah is He) Who created death and life that He might try you as to which of you is best in deeds." - 67:2.

Nearness to God.

In connection with fasting God says in the Quran, in the second verse read at the beginning, "when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh". God is near. This is the realization which religion aims to create in a person's heart. Once that is created a human being becomes the possessor of the highest noble qualities, and he leads such a life that those around him can see Divine light in Him, and the hand of God can be seen working in his life. The Holy Prophet has said:

"Allah has said: Whoever is hostile to a wali of mine, I declare war upon him. . . . My servant ceases not to attain nearness to Me by means of voluntary efforts [over and above what is obligatory] until I love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he holds, and his feet with which he walks, . . . " (Bukhari, 81:38)

Such is his relation with God that all his actions are so much in accordance with the Divine will as if his faculties and limbs are being directly controlled by God.

The man who reached this status of nearness to God to the highest degree was the Holy Prophet Muhammad. His life abounds with instances showing how close he felt to God. When he and Abu Bakr were sheltering from their murderous enemies in the cave of Thaur during the hijra, and their pursuers reached the very mouth of that cave, the Holy Prophet remained perfectly calm and consoled his companion with the words: "Fear not, surely Allah is with us" (the Quran 9:40).

Followers of the Holy Prophet throughout the ages too reached high stages of Divine nearness. Let me recount an incident from the life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. He, like all other reformers from God, had aroused much opposition. Once he had to go to the Delhi central mosque where a public debate had been arranged between him and some Ulama. When he arrived there he found a most hostile crowd, its tempers having been brought to the boil by the religious leaders. The gathering was fuming with fury and indignation against him, and was poised to attack him when given the signal by the leaders. He calmly walked through the crowd with his few friends and sat down in the mosque. One of his companions said to him anxiously: "They are very incensed and excited." Hazrat Mirza replied with perfect composure and tranquillity: "What harm can the dead do to the living!" Those who have the true feeling of nearness to God know that they are protected by Him and are unafraid of their opponents.

Acceptance of prayer.

The verse quoted above in which Allah says "I am nigh" continues with the words: "I answer the call of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way."

Islam teaches that prayers are answered, both prayers relating to personal matters as well as prayers relating to nations and to mankind. The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad as well as the lives of countless righteous Muslims in history show endless examples of prayers being fulfilled for objectives which appeared impossible. The Holy Prophet's life is replete with such examples. He prayed before the battle of Badr for victory of the Muslims, and they defeated a much more powerful foe in their very first encounter.

The reformation of Arabia by the Holy Prophet was also a result of his prayers. As the Quran tells us, he grieved for his people. Regarding this, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad writes:

"That strange event which took place in the desert land of Arabia, by which millions of people who were spiritually dead were resuscitated in a very short time, and people who had remained corrupted for generations became imbued with Divine attributes and the blind regained their power of vision and the dumb became eloquent in respect of the knowledge of God, and a revolution took place in the world in such a sudden manner that the like of it no eye had seen before and no ear had heard - what was it after all? It was at bottom the silent prayers in the darkness of the night of a lonely man who had annihilated himself in God that created this huge tumult in the world, and produced those strange phenomena which seem almost impossible to have been effected by that unlettered, helpless man." (Barakat-ud-Dua')

Modern times.

About a century ago, some objections arose regarding the acceptance of prayer. As science had discovered laws of nature which governed how things happen, rationalist thinkers in the world including some Muslims came to believe that prayers could not cause anything to happen because whether something happened or not was determined by laws of nature. The Founder of this Movement wrote extensively in refutation of this view. He explained that the basis of prayer is that when we find ourselves helpless we turn to one who has greater knowledge and power than we do, and we implore such a one for help. This is what we do when we turn to various experts for help. Prayer is similar. He writes:

"In short, when our soul stretches its hands of petition with utmost enthusiasm and humility towards the source of all grace in its efforts to get a thing and when finding itself devoid of resources it seeks light, through thinking, from other quarters than its ownself, the state of mind which ensues as a result is, in fact, a state of prayer. It is through such prayers that all the sciences of the world have come into being. . . . Our thinking, our pondering, our directing our thoughts to finding out the hidden matters - all of these are included in the act of praying. . . . But the man in the veil of ignorance, who has no attachment to God, does not recognise the source of grace. Like the man of spiritual knowledge, he also, in the course of his mental struggle, seeks help from a source outside and makes efforts to secure that help; with this difference that the man of knowledge sees that source whereas this one walks in darkness and is not aware that whatever comes to the mind as a result of his thinking and pondering, is also from God Who, accepting the thinking of the thinker as a kind of prayer, communicates the knowledge to his mind." (ibid.)

As to the laws of nature, he wrote that there are also other laws of nature besides those known to man, and God can make things happen according to those laws yet unknown to us. When a prayer is accepted, God brings about the causes which produce the effect which was being prayer for. The acceptance of prayer also shows the existence of a spiritual world which is superior to the physical world, for by spiritual means you can cause to happen that which is considered impossible by the physical means available to man.

Examples of acceptance in this age.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad also gave literally thousands of examples of the acceptance of his prayers, and of being informed beforehand by God as to the fulfilment of the prayer. Likewise, there were many prominent men and women of this Movement who were renowned for the acceptance of their prayers, and they used to be approached by Muslims outside this Movement to pray for them in particular matters. The vast improvement in the material condition of the Muslims in the last hundred years, and the failure of the powerful movements which tried to discredit Islam as a false religion and to lure its followers to other faiths, has come about through the prayers of the righteous. Similarly, the survival and rescue of this Movement itself in the face of attempts and exertions of every possible kind to eradicate it, is due to the prayers of its well-wishers.

Lack of apparent acceptance of some prayers.

Not all prayers are accepted by God. Obviously, if God was bound to accept every prayer, even from only certain exalted individuals, then He would be more a servant than a master! Regarding why God does not always grant prayers, even of the righteous whose prayers are always sincere and for unselfish motives, Hazrat Mirza writes:

"If the acceptance of a certain prayer may bring harm to the man who prays, and God wants his moral and spiritual training, His rejection of the prayer is in reality a kind of acceptance. Sometimes a certain prayer of a man remains unfulfilled and he thinks that his prayer has been rejected whereas the fact is that God grants his prayer and it takes the form of its apparent rejection, wherein consists his good and welfare. . . . The fact is that He listens to every prayer of His servants as He says: 'Pray to Me and I will answer you' (the Quran 40:60). The secret of such apparent rejection is that the good and the welfare of the petitioner lies along this line. The law of prayer is that God is not under the behest of our desires. Consider how dear a child is to its mother and how anxious she is to see it safe from all troubles. But if the child foolishly cries for and insists on having a sharp knife or flaming piece of fire in its hand, will the mother, with all her real love and tenderness for the child, allow it to burn its hand with an ember or to cut its hand with the sharp edge of the knife? It is evident she will not. . . .

"God, Who is the real well-wisher of man and can see the ultimate results of things desired, sees the harm and ill-effects of the prayer so addressed, in the event of its being granted, rejects the prayer as it is, and this rejection itself is, in fact, its acceptance."

In the verse quoted above, God says that just as I answer your prayer, you should answer My call and walk in My way. Those who answer His call find that He answers their prayers all the more.

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