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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."
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
"And He is with you wherever you are."
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 mans 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 persons
throat, so does a surgeon; because there is such a great difference
of intent in each case, the murderer is hanged, while the surgeons
fee gets paid with gratitude even if the operation does not succeed.
God is the Creator of mans 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 Gods 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
Rules of prayer
The following requirements are essential for keeping
Bodily cleanliness, or ablution, bathing and cleanliness
of apparel. Injunctions in this regard are given in 5:6; 7:31;
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"
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 ones 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 ones
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"
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"
To recite the prayers quickly, and afterwards to
raise the hands for prolonged periods of supplications, is akin
to wastage of ones 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.