The Islamic Concept of Prayer
Your Lord says: “Call on Me!”
What is Prayer in Islam?
To call for help is a decree from our Lord and not a voluntary act. The Holy Qur’ân says: To pray is His Command (6:72) and His Law that shows the path to His Rahîmiyyat - His special Mercifulness, to those who strive hard with all their might and their heart for attaining His pleasure (29:69). He opens His door to those who knock (2:186). He hears the prayers of a supplicant when he is in distress (27:62) and He opens the gates of His Mercy and pours down His Blessings in torrents who comes as a beggar. There is a saying of the Holy Prophet narrated by Omar Fârûq in Tirmidzî: “Prayer is helpful in averting afflictions which have come and those which are yet to come. O servants of Allâh! Take recourse to prayer.”
The Arabic word Du’â means to pray, to call upon for help, in the same sense as someone who is in trouble and in great need calls for help. Prayer (-Du’â) is the believer’s weapon, and the mainstay of faith. It is the essence of every religion and the key to our Lord’s mercy and grace. Prayer makes the heart soft and humble and makes one grow in one's love for his Creator. It is a means to attain great spiritual, moral and material progress and a help with which calamities, afflictions, catastrophes, depressions and disease can be averted. In short, prayer is a means of developing a close relationship with God the Almighty and for achieving one’s desired objectives. Its efficacy is greater than any other natural means. There is nothing as efficacious as prayer in the whole realm of natural means. To develop a close liaison with the Living God - the source of all life, to derive strength from His strength, to gain knowledge from His knowledge, to attain His blessings and bounties, all this can be achieved through prayer. It is a weapon, which leads individuals and the nations to victory. The prayer of a very high order can even change the destiny of a whole nation.
There has not been a prophet who has not taught his people to pray, for they knew that all the effacing of things lies in His Hands alone and that, it is only through prayer that the door to gnosis are opened. Prayer eliminates all sinful habits and gives one the capability to persevere in doing good. The following verse tells us that we should turn towards our Creator, the Almighty God in all humility and free of pride and vanity. This is a precondition to the acceptance of prayer.
And your Lord says, “Call on Me (and no one else)! I will answer your prayer. But those who wax too proud to worship Me will surely enter Gehenna, humbled and despised.” (40:60).
There are some who ask simply to conform with the command: "Call on Me!" Such a one is a servant of God (Abd), for in such a supplication there is no trace of self-interest. Divine gifts are bestowed on such people without request. Such people ask for more "servanthood". But sometimes their state necessitates making requests, as was the case with Job (21:83-84). In these verses we read an account of Job (Ayyûb) where Allâh has specified a particular aspect of His identity by which we should call on Him to alleviate a distress. Allâh commends Job for his patience (Sabar). Patience (Sabar) is neither acceptance of the thing predestined, nor is it, as many think, just only the restraining from complaint, but it is restraining from complaint to what is other than God. By other than God is also meant some particular aspect or attribute of God, as all "causes" are through Him. God also "found him repentant and always returning to Him" (Awwâb) in prayers; to "Him", and not to the causes to alleviate the pain and the hurt. The resorting of a divine servant to the One Who alleviates the hurt is better than having resorted to a particular cause that might not be in accord with God's Knowledge concerning the hurt. The supplicant may then be compelled to say, "Allâh does not answer my prayers." He has resorted to the cause and not to the alleviator of the cause. In this narration of Job there is a great lesson for the community of Prophet Mohammad. Job, being a prophet, acted according to this wisdom given by God. Allâh decrees:
"Remember Me (and glorify Me), I will remember you (and grant you eminence) (2:152)
Remembrance is a discourse. Whosoever remembers God, sits with God and God is with him. Now whoever, provided he is perceptive, is in the presence of Someone, he will be able to see his Companion with his inner eye. From this the one praying will be able to ascertain his degree of gnosis. If he cannot see Him, then at least he is worshiping Him. And if the one who is praying is able to see Him, he can also listen to Him, as he is in discourse with Him. So let him listen more carefully to what God might say to him in response to his prayer. If he is an Imâm of the era, the angels will be praying with him. Consider the rank and the sublimity of a prayer, to what degree of dignity it brings to the one who performs it. The verse above continues to say, "Above all, the greatest thing is that Allâh will remember you and help you to rise to eminence."
Remembrance of God is a way of developing communication with Allâh and of getting revelation from above. It is a major means of attracting God’s Grace. When one bows before Allâh with perfect conviction, in deep love, full of hope, in extreme loyalty and full resolve, eliminating all types of heedlessness and vanity, and advances towards Him in full consciousness, he not only gets what he wants, nay, he finds God Himself. Prayer in its perfect form is a euphoric ecstatic state, like a fount of sweet water. Through it one starts to realize the existence of God and knows with perfect certitude that He is here.
“Prayer is love for God, a means to fly towards a secret sky, and to cause a hundred veils to fall.”
Love for God and His creation, Istighfâr (- desire to suppress and cover up one's weakness and seeking Allâh's help through complete union with Him) and Taubah (repentance and turning to God again and again in all humility), are all a form of prayer. They have guided thousands to a state of holy life where it can be claimed that the spirit of Allâh dwells in them and the light of Allâh's acceptance has been engendered in them and they reflect the Light of Divine Glory. Such men have appeared among the followers of Qur'ân in every stage and their holy lives have not been without proof of this state or restricted to mere verbal claims.
The human soul's real and ultimate comfort (Râhat) lies in accepting God, loving Him and expressing his love to Him in worship and prayer and obeying Him. At the time of the creation of human being God named the human being Rûh- the soul. He also called him Nafs, because he was able to attain a union with Him through prayer, worship and obedience. The state of soul's union with God is like that of a tree, which has its roots into the soil. As the tree sucks up water from the soil, likewise the soul (Rûh) sucks water from the spring of God's Love. It continues to grow in a holy progress through this union with Him. Allâh refers to this ultimate state of a person "Nafs Mutmainnah" (- the soul at peace) with whom the Lord is well pleased and the soul well pleased with his Lord (89:27-30). This ultimate state of comfort and peace is the greatest blessing of prayer and worship, which is attained after union with Him. As for the person who has been blessed with a contented and peaceful mind He will say to him we are told in the Holy Qur'ân in the following words:
‘O you soul at peace! Come back to your Lord well-pleased with Him and He well-pleased with you. Enter the fold of My chosen servants, And enter the Garden made by Me.’ (89:27)
Acceptance of Prayer - A Great Mercy of Allâh
God's Mercy is universal, and He is begged ever for His Mercy by everyone through His other attributes and names. It is His Mercy (He calls it Rahmatî - "My Mercy" 7:156), which is all encompassing. His Mercy can be acquired by obligations, in a way as the verse 7:156 continues to inform us or by Divine Grace followed by what is said in 48:2.
And when My servants ask you concerning Me (tell them), "I am nearby indeed, I (and no one else) answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me, so they should response to My call and believe in Me.” (2:186)
When He is called, the response is at once "I am here." The time of granting what is requested depends on the measure (Qadr) appointed by God. If a request is made at just the right moment, which is in the knowledge of God, the response is swift. Allâh never lets a suppliant go to waste. It is a major mean to attracting God’s attention.
“On Whosoever from among you is opened the door of prayer, on him has been opened the door of mercy.” (Saying of the Holy Prophet as narrated by Ibn Omar)
Favours derived from the Names of God are of many kinds. Sometimes God bestows His gift on His servant (Abd) in His Name "The Merciful" (al-Rahîm). In that case the gift will be free from all that is contrary to the servants demand at that time. Sometimes God gives a gift in His Name "The Wise" (al-Hakîm), to serve the best interest of His servant, sometimes He gives in His Name "The Gracious" (al-Rahmân) in this case He gives as an unasked favour so that the recipient is under no obligation to render thanks. He many give in His Name "The Forgiver" (al-Ghafûr) so that if a punishment is due, He will protect the servant from it, and if no punishment is due, He will protect him from the incur of this punishment. There are several accounts in the Holy Qur’ân which tells us about the prayers of the holy men and the prophets and how these prayers were accepted by Allâh. For example we read in the Chapter Mary:
(This is) an account of the mercy of your Lord (shown) to His servant Zachariah, when he called upon his God, crying aloud (in humble supplication), ‘My Lord! now the very bones within me have waxed feeble and the hair of (my) head are all grey and hoary, my Lord! never have I been (hitherto) deprived of a favourable response to my prayer to You. ‘I fear (for the unrighteousness of) my kinsfolk after me, and my wife is barren. Grant me by Your (special) grace a (pious and righteous) successor, who may be an heir to me and inherit (the divine blessings promised to) the House of Jacob and make him, my Lord! well-pleasing (to You).’ (God said,) ‘Zachariah! We give you the glad tidings of (the birth of) a son, named Yahyâ (- John). We have named none like him (in your house) before this.’ (19:2-7)
Similarly, about Noah we read:
“He prayed to is Lord (saying), I am overcome so come to (my) help to defend me’. Thereupon We opened the gates of the clouds and allowed water to pour down in torrents” (54:10).
In fact the Holy Qur'ân gives several examples of the prayers and the promises made by Allâh for his servants who ask Him and beg Him for His favours.
Sometimes the experience and expertise of a physician fail to cure a disease, at times one sees no way out of burden and worries. At times it may seem impossible to achieve high goals and one is ground under calamities. In such situations it is the weapon of prayer that comes in handy. In prayer the distressed turns towards his Lord and He out of His Rahîmiyyat (- His special Mercifulness) then "answers the distressed person and removes his distress (and agony)" (6:41; 27:62). The apparently fatal and incurable disease vanishes, the troubles go away, financial burdens are removed, the mountains of difficulties disappear, the barren female is blessed with offspring and a door is opened for a lot of physical and spiritual progress. A number of good fortunes, bounties and capabilities are the happy outcome of prayers, a fact to which innumerable chosen servants of Allâh have borne witness and even now bear witness. We do not need to go to a saint or to a holy man or to a prophet to witness wonders and see that God hears the plead and accepts the prayer. He hears the plea of a simple pleading woman when she makes complaints before her Lord about her distress and agony as in the case of Khoulah wife of Aus bin Sâmit a Companion of the Holy Prophet:
“Allâh has indeed heard the plea of her who pleads with you with regard her husband and makes her complaints to Allâh.” (58:1)
To say that prayer is not a means to the attainment of one’s objectives, nor is it efficacious in attaining our wishes is to deny the existence of a living Almighty God. Allâh never lets the supplication of a suppliant go to waste. What care our Lord would have for us, were it not for our prayers and our supplications for His Grace, His great Mercy and His Beneficence:
Say, "My Lord will not hold you to be of any worth if you do not call on Him (in your prayer) (25:77)
So He does not need us, He is Self-Sufficient, rather we need Him. Hence if we do not supplicate to Him, we stand to lose His attention and His great Mercy since:
“Allâh is independent of the worlds” (3:97)
No Intermediary Between Human and Allâh
“If you pray to them, they do not hear your call; and even if they could hear it at all, they could make you no response” (35:14)
The verse above and the saying of the Holy Prophet establish clearly that there is no intermediary between man and The Exalted Person of Allâh. This announcement becomes more clear in another Qur’ânic verse (40:60) in the formulation: Astajib æ- "I answer". The Divine precincts are accessible to everyone without an intermediary, just as numberless bounties of Allâh that have been created for us can be approached by us without any intermediary. Only our personal efforts bring us near to Him. Prayer enlightens us to His ways and carry us to the Divine precincts.
"Anyone who does not beg at Allâh’s court, Allâh turns away from him."
(Saying of the Holy Prophet narrated by Omar Fârûq in Tirmidhî)
A prophet - Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha or any other, is a teacher, a guide and an exemplar, but he is never an intermediary. Belief in an intermediary weakens our sense of responsibility and destroys self-reliance. The chief object of our belief in One God is to create in us steadfastness of character and independence of judgment, thereby encouraging freedom of action. Could belief in an intermediary be helpful in cultivating these high morals? Belief in an intermediary is, in fact, a remnant of Paganism. Every cult and every country of the ancient world had its intermediary. This primitive belief crept into almost all branches of Theism, including various sects of modern Islam. Thus no religion of Divine origin in its subsequent stages remained free from it. It was not only the founder of a religion that was accepted as an intermediary between his people and the Exalted Person of Allâh, but many men of known righteousness and piety after them. Often self-claimed righteous of religious sects were adopted as an intermediary. Christ is not the only intermediary in the Christianity, but after him Mary, Peter, Paul, Popes, Cardinals and even the ordinary persons play the same role. Situation is not different in Islam where self-made "khalîfahs" (- religious heads) and "Pîrs" (- caretakers of graves and shrines) assert themselves to be pious and religious . They do not sometime hesitate to proclaim to be intermediaries between man and God. They ask for monetary gains and other worldly benefits for the "service of their prayer". The Holy Qur'ân says about such self-made pious:
Have you not considered those who assert themselves to be pure? Nay, only Allâh purifies whom He will; and they shall not be treated unjustly, not even a whit. Behold! how they forge lies. (4:49-50)
Also the dead, though they may be very exalted in God’s court, cannot accept or respond to prayers:
"You cannot make the dead hear, nor can you make the deaf hear the call when they retreat turning their backs (on you)." (30:52)
The Holy Qur'ân gives the fact that they cannot accept or respond to supplications as a proof that they are false deities:
“And who is more misguided than the person who instead of (praying to) Allâh prays to those who will not answer him till the Day of Resurrection and these (deities) are even unaware of their prayers." (46:5)
The most important aspect of the concept of The Exalted Person of Allâh, as given by the Holy Qur'ân, is that He hears the supplications and sees the submissions of His servants and accepts them (2:186). Here is a clear information in the word Ujîbo - "I answer", that the prayers are accepted by Him alone and no one else. The verse 2:186 also establishes once again that there cannot be an intermediary between man and The Exalted Person of Allâh. God, the absolute Dispenser, has bestowed on all people an equal share of natural faculties. As the external features - nose, eyes, face, hands, legs - have been bestowed on human beings belonging to all communities, so they have all been endowed with the same internal spiritual faculties. In the above verse we are also told that when we develop an urge to gain proximity to Allâh, we are granted this opportunity ("I am nearby indeed" He says) and when we are granted with the capability of offering sincere supplications, such supplications are accepted by Allâh ("I answer the prayer of the supplicant"), for He is quite close to His servants. He bestows His love and mercy on them who come closer to Him and also vouchsafes His knowledge and power to them. Furthermore, we are told that in order that our prayers to be accepted, we should be completely cleansed of all polytheism, and also that we should address only to Allâh, and to Him we should explain all our needs. No other deity, living or dead, no real spiritual leader or self-made khalîfah, no Fakîr or any grave or the guardians of such shrines are of any worth or any use, or can function as an intermediary. This message is clearly explained in the following verses:
Allâh is Highly Exalted, far above the things they associate (with Him). They associate (with Him as partners) those who create nothing but are themselves created. And they (the associated those who) will have no power to give them any help, nor can they help themselves. And if you invite these for (your) guidance, they will not respond to you. It makes no difference to you whether you call them or you remain silent. Verily, those whom you call on beside Allâh are (merely helpless maids or) servants like yourselves. (If it is not so then) call on them they should then make a response to you if you are right. (7:190-194)
When a window towards the sun is opened the sun's rays necessarily enter through it. Likewise when one turns himself straight towards Allâh, and no veil of an intermediary is present between him and Allâh, a blaze of heavenly Light immediately descends on him, illumines his being and cleanses him of his hidden impurities. He is then a new person, and a great change comes over him. It is then said that he has attained to a holy life.
Prayer is also repentance and penitence (Taubah) which is linked with appropriate good deeds that follow. All good deeds lead to the perfection of Repentance. When we comply with this commandment and call on Him, Allâh responses to this and causes certain influences to become operative and affect the elemental causes, which in turn give rise to such means and resources as has been prayed for.
"Who answers the distressed person when he calls on Him, and removes his distress (and agony)" (27:62)
On the other hand a god or a deity who does not hear, speak or answer is nothing better than a Sâmiri’s calf. Obviously there is no benefit in believing and worshiping an ungracious god who cannot hear our cries and whose words we cannot hear, who cannot lead us, who cannot grant us our wishes nor can he fulfil our needs - a god whose manifest signs we cannot witness. Why should we, like the polytheist, the superstitious, the quick to believe, set up a self-invented god in our mind, hang them on crosses and waste our precious time in prostrating before them.
Whatever they call on besides Him are none but lifeless objects (and false deities). (4:117)
Rest assured, there does exist a Seeing, Hearing God, Allâh, Who notices what his servant is asking for, and watches over his compulsions, Who listens to his supplications and beseeching and grants acceptance out of His Rahîmiyyat - Mercy and Grace.
Though Allâh did create His universe out of His expediencies and He did put His creation subject to His laws, yet this does not mean that He has nothing to do with the day-to-day life of human beings. This concept is wrong. It is His attribute that He removes the afflictions of His being when he knowingly or unknowingly maneouvers himself into it.
‘Who delivers you from the horrors of the land and the sea when you call upon Him in humility and in open supplication (saying), “If He delivers us from this (hardship) we shall ever be grateful (to Him)?"' Say, ‘It is Allâh who delivers you from these (horrors) and from every calamity, still you associate partners (with Him).’ (6:63-64
To beseech help from the Almighty, the Source of all grace, at the beginning of every task and for the achievement of every goal is the right course demanded from us by our Subservient. Those who commence their actions by asking for His assistance and begin the task with His name, He extends to them His assistance and support begins to flow in their favour. Those who beseech help from their Master and Creator, get His help, those who beg for knowledge and power from His knowledge and power get knowledge and power and those who beg for security, get His security for His security is not something which is in vain or which is based on notion or conviction. The Holy Prophet has said:
“Nothing is more honourable onto God than prayer.”
(Abû Hurairah in Jama-e-Tirmidhî)
Prayer and respect of Him is the right way of those who are careful of their obligations and are humble. Such an attitude is the right first step on the way to practicing Tauhîd (- Absolute Monotheism) in our practical life. The more one treads on this path, the more one gets clearer in his perception of Tauhîd and comes nearer to God. Denial of the institution of prayer is in fact denial of God and His Mercifulness. People who deny the effects of prayer are unaware of the marvellous effects that result from it.
Objections against the institution of prayer
There are many who doubt the effect of a prayer. Their doubtful minds bring forward many objections against the institution of Prayer. A few are mentioned and dealt with here.
1. It may be suspected that some prayers go in vain and have no effect, so it must be remembered that this is also the case with medicinal remedies. According to the discipline of nature, Allâh has put some useful effects in plants and poisons of animals, knowledge of which comes only from experience, so are the effects of prayer. Yet, would we consider the whole discipline of medicine is without any foundation and completely futile. We should not forget that Allâh, the Almighty God is our Master, He is not our obsequious servant, that no sooner we give him a command, then He commences to carry them out. He is our Master and not an underling who must give what is asked of him.
But it may be that a thing is hard upon you though it is (really) good for you, it may be that you love a thing while it is bad for you. Allâh knows (all things) while you do not know.” ( 2:216)
The condition imposed by God is that the supplications should be presented before Allâh with great intensity and sincerity what "Please Him".
"Nay, but you will call upon Him alone (and pray to Him), then He will, if He pleases, relieve (you) of that distress for (the removal of) which you called upon Him." (6:41).
Sometimes prayers are not submitted with the required decorum and conditions. The prayers are often on the lips while the heart is full of vanity, pride, neglect, laziness and show. This cannot be called a prayer but a mockery of prayer. “So woe to those who Pray, but are unmindful of their Prayer (and ignore the spirit and aim of it)” (107:4-5). Such is the practice of many and the practice of self-made holy leaders. We have to be beware of such practices and such claimants. God leads only those to the path of success who strive in His way with all their heart, attention and might as He says,
And those who strive hard in Our cause, We will certainly guide them in the ways that lead to Us” (29:69)
Though we are enjoined to pray five times a day and the Holy prophet has taught us prayers for all occasions of life, yet for our personal imminent and urgent needs we need to engage in special prayer. Repetition of memorized words of certain prayer in an indolent, heedless and careless manner, without proper concentration or attention cannot be truly termed as proper prayer. Nothing can be achieved without a strenuous striving. In order that the prayer reaches it proper destination - the Exalted Threshold - and in order become a recipient of His Gracious Bounties, calls for hard work, alacrity and concentration of attention. To engage in prayer properly is like to go into a deathlike state.
Would it be fair that the one who is full of vain and pride and prays for show, is sunk in laziness, sloth, neglect and carelessness should be at par in the matter of getting Lord’s Bounties with one who is striving His ways, day and night, with all his heart, all his might and his utmost efforts, trying again and again to get Allâh’s pleasure, who is searching for Him with sincerity and begging for His attention?
2. Sometimes it happens that Allâh has accepted the prayer of the supplicant in a manner that is appropriate in His Perfect Wisdom, yet the person, out of ignorance has not yet recognized the subtle Bounties of the Lord, for he does not have that deep perception of the circumstances of the case nor of the fine spiritual realities. Those who complain that though a certain prayer was made with all earnestness and humility and though all conditions and decorum has been observed, as far as possible, yet the prayer was not accepted. Such people ignore the message contained in the verse 2:216 of the Holy Qur’ân as cited above. If a thing asked for is harmful for the supplicant, non-acceptance of a prayer in fact tantamount to accepting it. Its example is like that of a child who, in ignorance, wants to handle a flame of fire, attracted by the brilliance of the flames. In spite of his cries, would a prudent mother allow him to do so?
3. Another objection raised against the institution of prayer is that there are many people who never pray, there are atheists who never turn to God for the fulfilment of their needs and alleviations of their sufferings, there are others who call upon already dead people for help, there are others who do not believe in the doctrine of the acceptance of prayer and are wholly dependent on worldly plans and stratagems for the solution to their difficulties. Yet the problem of such people are also solved, so what is the difference between these and those who call upon Allâh for help? The answer to this is in the verse with which a Muslim starts his prayer, namely:
“With the name of Allâh (Who is) Rahmân and (Who is) Rahîm”
This means that Allâh’s Mercy manifests itself in two ways. He is Rahmân and He is Rahîm. His attribute of Rahmâniyyat demands that He bestows His bounties, mercies and kindliness without one’s asking for these. His Attribute Rahîmiyyat comes into play in response to asking for something. His Grace and kindness (Rahmâniyyat) is for everyone, irrespective of his cast, creed, colour or religion. The warmth of His sun is alike for every body, His air provides a medium of breathing for all living creatures. But those who do not pray remain deprived of His bounties coming from His Attribute of Rahîmiyyat - "Mercifulness". Sometimes it also happens that some of those Bounties which are bestowed on the disbelievers are blessings that stem from the presence of certain blessed personalities and prophet, whose presence in this world is like the presence of a sun, so the benefit is drawn through this sun by all who are exposed to him. But in confrontation with these personalities, the atheist and the disbeliever always come out as losers because they rely on material means at their disposals. And when the prayers of perfect believer are accepted and when he is informed from on High that plans against him shall fail, no strenuous efforts of his opponents, no matter how much they prostrate before their own deities, such a plan never succeed.
4. Another objection raised against the institution of prayer is that when Allâh the Almighty God already vouchsafed the necessary powers and capabilities in our nature to accomplish a task, where is the necessity of beseeching His Help for this task and for its completion? Moreover to ask for powers and capabilities which are already given would be asking for what we already have. The answer to this is that although these powers are granted to us and the faculties and capabilities are present in us, yet the dominion of the Sustainer of the Universe is still present over us and He has not separated Himself for us, and His Grace does not want us to be deprived of His Assistance and Support, not wanting us to be deprived of His incessant Beneficences, and wanting us to remain recipients of the fruits of His Rahîmiyyat . Whatever He has granted us is finite, but what can be asked from Him is beyond average imagination, and is infinite. The eternal Master completely encompasses us and knows our apparent and inner selves, our capabilities and strengths, and His catering to these is immeasurable. So many heavenly and earthly means and causes must be brought into play to fulfil man’s comfort and ease. It is beyond the control, the resolve and power of human being to provide all these. The recourse to prayer can solve such problems, which are beyond our capacity.
5. The doctrine of prayer is brought under question by juxtaposing it with the doctrine of Predestination (Taqdîr, Kismet) - the belief that what is going to happen is predestined and must come about, and things that are not going to happen are also predestined, so where is the use of prayer. The answer to this is that good or evil that afflict one are a result of many causes, and such means and causes are also decreed by Him, yet He has also created means and sources of averting evil or attaining good. In case of illness, by relying only on Predestination and not going to the physician or going to a physician to avert evil are not the same. Relying on Predestination makes the science of medicine utterly useless. Hence in spite of our faith in Predestination, we rely on good medicine and we find medicines are not without effect, then why we should deny the effect of prayer? To concede that the leaves of Senna will cause diarrhea, arsenic can be fatal and antibiotics will kill bacterial infections, but not to concede that the passionate and humble beseeching, supplications full of high resolve before the Almighty Allâh can be effective would be an unfair discrimination.
Everything in this universe is governed by certain laws of nature, and the mankind is deriving great benefits from these predestined laws. Our safety in the air and water, our means of comfort, all depend on the consistency of these predestined laws. Hence Predestination is dominant and covers every affair, yet Predestination does not mean nullifying all knowledge or to discredit all means. If a person unknowingly puts his hand into fire, would it be in order for the onlooker to say that if it is decreed that his hand would remain unharmed even put into fire, and thus sensibly withhold him from fire and save him from the burns? Any one who thinks that an object can be achieved without the use of means, spiritual or physical, is, in fact, negating the wisdom of God and denying His laws, His measures and His decrees, His Taqdîr. God the High has tied up His Divine measures and decrees to certain causes, and these series of causes have deep link with one another.
In fact, the followers in the doctrine of Predestination neither fully understand the philosophy behind predestination nor do they fully believe in it. Their understanding and their belief in the doctrine is flawed. They concede that the effect of a cause and results of means are part of God’s Predestination, but do not consider the causes and the means themselves as part of His Predestination. In fact, one cannot deny the existence of the effective means and the essential causes, not withstanding the accepted and correct doctrine of Predestination, because they are also a part of predestination. Though predestination is dominant and covers every affair, yet predestination does not mean nullifying all knowledge and experience. The fact is that by instituting prayer the Holy Qur’ân has drawn our attention to the fact that this spiritual means is not extraneous to Allâh’s Predestination. Predestination is nothing else but His Law, His Plan, His Measure and is a obedient subject to His Qudrat - His Divine Absolute Power over everything, His Kingship.
Both words Taqdîr (- Predestination, kismet) and Qudrat (- Absolute Divine Power) have the same root Qadr which means He made according to a measure and Allâh is Qâdir.
“Thus We determine and how good We are at determining” (77:23)
This does not mean that after having made this universe from His Qudrat and having laid down laws in it under which it must operate (Taqdîr) Allâh the Almighty has become bereft of all authority and gone into a total abeyance. To entertain such an idea shows a total ignorance of all His Attributes (- The Almighty, The Ever Merciful, The Most Bounteous, The Living and so forth). Allâh’s Sovereignty and His full Control continues to be exercised over His creation every moment. Prayer is an attracting force to call for His intervention and is a part of His Plan, His Taqdîr and like other laws it is a mean of obtaining our objects. Attributes Everything responds instantly to His Call and controlling string of all laws lie in His Hands. Hence to deny the effect of a prayer is to deny His control over His Own laws. We are repeatedly told that:
"Allâh is the Possessor of full power to do all that He will" (5::17; 5:19 etc.)
In simple words Taqdîr (Kismet, Predestination) is Allâh’s Law, His Intention, His Knowledge, His Decree that if one is thirsty and drinks water, his thirst would be quenched, if one is hungry and he eats food, his hunger would be satisfied and if one is in need and trouble and he prays, he will attain his object and alleviate from his sufferings. It has always been Allâh’s Law that humble and tearful supplications of a person made to Him are bound to provoke response from Allâh’s mercifulness. There is a saying of the Holy Prophet about prayer and Destiny:
“The prayer can avert the Hand of Destiny”
6. There are some, though they believe in the existence of God and concede His granting of Blessings and Bounties, hold the view that there is no necessity of supplicating and petitioning Allâh for the solution of his problems for as they say, "He is All-Knowing, All-Aware, Beneficent and Merciful and that thus He is even more aware of their problems and their troubles. To pray to Him would be telling to Him what He already knows." Such people are unaware of His Rahîmiyyat. His Rahîmiyyat - the special Mercy is especially reserved for those who take recourse to prayer and adopt Tauhîd - Unity and Oneness of Allâh as their guiding principle. They are the likeness of a person who do not go to the court of a king to beg for his needs, has a hidden trait of vanity and haughtiness. Such people do not know that by abandoning all kinds of vanity and haughtiness by becoming embodiment of tearful supplications, humility and entreaty they lose their hidden traits of vanity, pride and haughtiness. It is they who are the truly practicing Tauhîd.
In short, for the attainment of those Bounties of Allâh which are related to His Attribute Rahmâniyyat there is no need for prayers and supplications, but for the attainment of those Bounties which come from His Attribute of Rahîmiyyat. Rahmân is that generous Being who shows His Bounties without asking to everyone, but Rahîm, the Ever Merciful is the One Who grants when He is asked). A rain however widespread will wet only those who stand under it, similarly only those are given out of His Mercy (Rahîmiyyat) who beseech Him and response is given to only those who knock at His door.
Neglect of prayer lead to rusty condition on the heart, which in turn becomes heard-hearted and develops an alienation towards God and finally loses faith in Him. Those who deny the efficacy of Prayer in fact deny Allâh’s Powers over everything, they consider that all events are happening at random, by nature. They forget that Allâh has invested prayer with powerful effects, more effective than the water on fire. Ignorant are those who maintain that prayer has nothing to do with the fulfilment of their needs, nor the institution of prayer is an unfounded notion of a superstitious mind nor it is a dogma. It is a prescription tried million times. Recall the wonderful revolution that came about in Arabia fifteen centuries ago; how the whole world witnessed in amazement the change brought about by camel-drivers who became the masters of the civilized world, how those sunk in sin like animals started behaving like humans, and then from humans beings into moral beings and then from moral beings they became righteous. All these miracles were the result of prayers.
The underlying reality of Du’â is that it is an attracting relationship between the suppliant and Allâh. At first Allâh’s Rahmâniyyat comes into play and attracts a person to Him, then the worshiper, by dent of his bowing before Him with full faith, full of hope and in perfect loyalty and love for Him, draws nigh to Him and an attracting force which has been provided in his nature, starts to attract Allâh’s bounties, His Mercy, His Grace and His Love towards him. All this in turn helps to create means and circumstances which are essential for the fulfilment of suppliant need. Whatever is asked in secret, He manifests it openly.
7. Some people believe that prayer is nothing but an act of worship and that it would perhaps bring reward in the Hereafter. This notion that prayers are for the Hereafter and they have no effect in the present world is a vain hope. If the prayers are not effective in this world, what logic and argument we have that they would be effective in the Hereafter. It should be noted here that Allâh has given us in the Holy Qur'ân signs of people whose prayers were granted. Miracles were shown at their hands. Allâh not only accepted their prayers but also spoke to them and revealed the future to them. A saint has said once:
Let him, who says, 'If prayer has any effect, where is it?' Come to me. I shall show it to him, clear as the midday sun. With prayer try to cure your malady; and your disbelief in the efficacy of prayer. Since the cure for depression that comes from grape is more of the grape.”
Who else can answer the call of person when he is in agony and can removes his distress? It is our Lord. Would it be befitting that a careless person who never prays should benefit from His Graces and His Mercifulness to the same extent that would be the portion of another who seeks His pleasure and His attention and His favour with all his might and all his heart, with great striving and sincerity standing before Him a great part of the night in awe? (73:20) How pity that one starts struggling to meet the craving of an empty stomach, but for his inner spiritually starved condition he does not like to bring a single word of prayer on his lips.
Conditions for the acceptance of prayer
There are certain conditions for the acceptance of prayer and there are certain etiquettes, method, time and places to which attention must be paid. As there are certain times and certain places which are closely related for the acceptance of prayer, there are certain conditions on the praying person which are to be met for the acceptance of his prayer.
I call to witness (all the times and places specially important for the acceptance of prayers including) the dawn, and the (last) ten nights of (Ramadzân), and the Prayers which consist of even and odd numbers (of Rak'ats performed during the nights), and the Night (the blessed Night of Lailatul Qadr) when it moves on (to its close). In it there is surely a strong evidence for one who has sense and understanding. (89:1-5)
Our outward actions influence our inner selves and our inner self effects our outward action. That is why outward posture of standing and prostrating has been prescribed for Salât- the formal Prayer prescribed in Islam.
The Ritual Prayer (al- Salât)
Allâh said, "We have prescribed certain rites of worship for every people” (22:34) The rites of the Muslims are their ritual Prayers taught to us by the Holy Prophet which the Muslims perform five times a day. The words and the movements of the Muslim ritual Prayer are prescribed in all details by the Holy Prophet. The recitation of al-Fâtihah, the opening verses of the Holy Qur'ân are the central element of this Prayer. The Holy Prophet said, Allâh says: "I have divided the Prayer equally between Me and My servant. a half for Me and a half for My servant who may get from Me what he asks. Referring to al-Fâtihah then God said, "When My servant says: 'With the Name of Allâh, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful', My servant is remembering Me. When My servant says, 'All type of perfect and true praise belongs to Allâh, the Lord of the worlds', My servant is praising Me. When My servant says, 'The Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful', My servant is glorifying Me. When My servant says, 'Master of the Day of Judgement', My servant has yielded himself to My Judgement. This is the first half of al-Fâtihah which relates to God and belongs Him. Then the servant says, 'You alone do we worship and You alone do we implore for help', This is shared between Me and My servant. When My servant says, 'Guide us to the right path till we reach our goal, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Blessings, those who have not incurred Your displeasure and those who have not gone astray', these verses are reserved for My servant who may have whatever they ask." Thus the last three verses are for the servant of God alone, just as the first three verses were for God alone. From what is said, one may realize the necessity of reciting the verses of al-Fâtihah in all ritual Prayers.
The words of Prayer as taught to us by our Prophet are not only useful but also essential. Whosoever omits the middle verse, the link between God and the servant, namely "You alone do we worship and you alone do we implore for help", has not performed the Prayer properly. If you plant only the kernel of an apricot pit, it will not grow; but if you plant it with its shell, it will grow. Therefore it is important to know that the external form is as essential as the internal form. We read in the Holy Qur’ân:
Different however is the case of those devoted to the Prayers,
those who remain steadfast and constant in their Prayers (70:22-23)
The Prayer is thus internal and external and by virtue of the words and actions, is the most effective way to remember Allâh. Allâh says: "The (ritual) Prayer (al-Salât) restrains the observer from indecency and abominable things and loathsome deeds and all things that run contrary to reason" (29:45) this is also because the one who is engaged in Prayer is forbidden to occupy himself, both physically and in thoughts, with things other than Prayer.
O you who believe! Do not go near Prayer when you are not in full possession of your senses, until you understand all that you say (in your Prayers); nor (occupy yourselves in Prayer) when you are unclean (and under an obligation to have a bath) until you have bathed yourselves. But (you can do without a bath) when you are travelling along a way. If you are taken ill or (are) on a journey, or if one of you comes from the privy, or you have had (sexual) contact with women and you find no water (for bathing or ablution) then have recourse to pure and clean dust and wipe your faces and your hands (therewith). Indeed, Allâh is Most Benign, Great Protector. (4:43)
Salât is nothing but an outward manifestation of our inner yearnings and longing, not that if theses postures are not enacted, Allâh would not know of our inner yearnings. He knows us better than we know ourselves as He says:
“Your Lord is the Lord of immense protection. He knows you full well (since) when He created you from the earth and when you were embryos in the wombs of your mothers” (53:32)
Of course He knows us well, still it is obligatory to carry out these outward described postures. Prayer is an outward manifestation whose chords are connected with our inner selves. Therefore it is not possible that whilst there is a yearning and passion in the depths of our hearts, there should be no outward manifestation of these inner conditions. The Holy Prophet said, "There is no Prayer without the presence of Heart". The Prayer is also the prayer of spirit. The spirit does indeed have a kind of bow and prostration. Therefore bowing and prostration must be manifested in external form, as there is a connection between substance and form. So long the two do not coincide there is little benefit.
Rumi says, "The purpose of ritual Prayer is not that you should bow and prostrate yourself all the day. Its purpose is that you should develop a prayerful attitude, maintaining the spiritual state obtained in Prayer all the times, Whether asleep, or awake, at work or rest, you should always remember God, you should be one of those who are "constantly at their prayers" (Rumi in Fihi Ma Fihi)
That is why so much attention is given to our outward cleanliness. We are instructed to clean ourselves as follows: When you get up for Prayer (perform the ablution, so as to) wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and pass your (wet) hands over your heads (for masah), and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if you are under an obligation to perform a bath, then wash yourselves thoroughly clean by a bath. But if you have been taken ill or on a journey (while under obligation to take a bath) or one of you comes from the privy, or you have had (sexual) contact with women and you do not find water, then have recourse to clean pure dust and wipe your faces and your hands with it (as Tayammum). (cf.: 5:6)
Someone asked, "Is there any way to approach Allah other than prayer?" The answer is more prayer. However, prayer does not exist only in outward form; that is just the "shell" of the prayer, because it has a beginning and an end. The proclamation of Allâhu Akbar, is the beginning and the greetings of Peace is its end., its soul is infinite, without beginning and without end. The soul of prayer is the total absorption during which all these external form remain outside.
Where to Pray (al- Salât)
Just as there are certain times which are propitious for the acceptance of prayers, there are certain places which are closely connected with their acceptance. They are for instance the Ka’bah - the Holy Mosque at Makkah, with its surroundings and its interior (Hatîm) (cf. 3:96). The Hatîm is also the north part of Ka’bah which has no roof over it and it is marked by a boundary wall. Another special place around Ka’bah is the Multazim. Multazim is the portion of the periphery of Ka’bah between the Black Stone (Hajr-i-Aswad) and the door of the House. This place is also known as Maqâm-e-Ibrâhîm - the place where Abraham stood for prayer (cf. 3:97). Another place is the area between Saffâ’ and Marwâ - the two Hillocks where Hager, the wife of Abraham, ran praying for the protection of her son and looking for help (cf. 2:158). Another prominent place is in the Prophet’s Mosque at Madînah, namely between the Tomb of the Holy Prophet and the niche (Mehrâb) of the Mosque (Tradition of the Holy Prophet).
Cleanliness of the body and of the place where one intends to worship is essential. The Holy Prophet said that the cleanliness and purity constitute half of the faith, for they are reflected in the soul. It is better to chose a place for prayer where the suppliant is in complete seclusion. This helps in increasing attention and concentration in prayer. The rug used for prayer and worship should be kept clean, free of all bad smells.
When to Pray (al- Salât)
1. The time selected for prayer should be free of distracting noises. The last quarter of the night is the best suited time.
2. The suppliant should engage in fervent supplication during his daily prescribed Prayers (-Salât) which he offers five times daily. Salât has been termed as centerpiece of all worships and Du’â is termed as the centerpiece of Salât. It is becoming customary for most people to hurry through the prescribed Prayers (Salât) and at the end of the Salât service they start to indulge in lengthy supplications, raising their hand to heavens in often in loud voice. This is not a correct practice and was never practiced so by the Holy Prophet. One should keep supplication during the standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting positions of the prescribed Salât and:
"keep on remembering your Lord in your mind with humility and awe and in a voice not loud, in the morning and the evenings." (7:205)
Hafiz puts it so nicely in one of his poems:
The moon starts singing when everyone is asleep
And the planets throw a bright robe around their shoulders
and whirl up close to her side
Once I asked the moon, "Why do you and your sweet friends
not perform like that to a larger crowd?"
The whole sky chorus responded,
"The admission price to hear the lofty minstrels speak of Love
is affordable only to those who have not exhausted themselves
dividing God all day and now need rest"
3. There are certain times which are highly appropriate for prayer. These times are mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân and in the Traditions of the Holy Prophet. They are for instance the 10th. 11th. and 12 of the Islamic months, Fridays, especially from the beginning of the sermon till the end of the Friday-Prayer, from Azân (a call to the Salât) till Iqâmah (a call that the prayer is about to commence), Month of Ramadzân, last ten nights of the month of Ramadzân and the Night of Qadr (cf. Ch. 97 of the Holy Qur’ân).
How to Pray (al- Salât)
1. The greatness and importance of the institution of prayer can be gauged from the fact that the Holy Qur’ân begins with a prayer - the Sûrah al-Fâtihah - the most perfect prayer and closes with a prayer - the Sûrah al-Nâs. No other prayer can vie with the Fâtihah in grandeur and comprehensiveness. Therefore it is appropriate to begin every prayer with the most perfect Prayer - Sûrah Fâtihah (the Opening chapter of the Holy Qur’ân).
2. Before, during and after prayers the suppliant should be certain and convinced that Allâh the High is hearing his call and looking at his action. Only the call of a tongue, without the certain believe that Allâh the High is seeing and hearing is of no use. Yet one should not forget that Allâh is not at our service who like a servant will respond to our every order and fulfill our wishes. Nay! He is our Master, our King, our Creator. Never dare should anyone treat a Master like a servant.
3. The suppliant should always keep in mind that God’s creatures are like one family (cf. 4:1). If we look after His family, He would look after us. If we show mercy and compassion, generosity and graciousness towards His creatures, He will also deal with us in the same way. Therefore, before engaging in special prayer the suppliant should give from his bounties some in charity, afford some comfort to His animals and fulfil some needs of the needy (cf. 2:271).
4. The suppliant should take a stock of his weaknesses while engaging in prayer (cf. 54:10). He has to throw himself at Allâh’s mercy completely, make a full confession before Him about his sinfulness and his neglect of duties and engage in prayer with maximum humility, humbleness and lowliness. It is good to appear with a weeping eye in His court. The impassioned pleadings have a lot to do with the acceptance of the prayer.
5. The suppliant should recall the bounties and favour bestowed on him by Allâh, concentrate and visualize so much on those favour that his heart fills with the feelings of love and gratitude towards Him. The condition of impassioned thankfulness generates moves of hope and faith, therefore we are commanded:
"And remember Allâh's favour which rest upon you" (5:7 and 5:11)
6. The suppliant has also to visualize Allâh’s anger together with His Mercy and Love. Only then when Allâh’s fear and love for Him overwhelm the suppliant and he is lost in these emotions and is totally cut off from the worldly affairs, he is bereft of all other love and fears. This is the state when Allâh’s Glory is manifested.
7. The suppliant has to engage himself vehemently and frequently in praising and Glorifying Allâh. Such a fervent celebration of His Glorious Praise bring His Merciful Attribute into play (cf. 21:83; 23:109; 14:35-36; 2:128).
8. The suppliant should obediently pray for Divine Benedictions and Blessings upon the Holy Prophet.
9. The suppliant should try his best to assume the attributes of Allâh.
Assume the Attributes of Allâh! And who is fairer than Allâh in attributes? (2:138)
He should address God with those Divine Attributes, which are appropriate for his needs. He can call Him as Ghafûr (Forgiver of sins) or Ghaffâr (the Ever Forgiving) or Rahmân (the One Who bestows His bounties, mercies and kindliness without one’s asking for these) or Rahîm (His very special Mercifulness towards a supplicant) or Rabb (- the One Who makes a person evolve from an inferior condition towards perfection, - the Nourisher to perfection), He can call Him by any good attribute, for:
"To Allâh alone belong all the fairest and most perfect attributes.
So call on Him by these." (7:180)
10. While repeating often the general Divinely ordained supplication such as proclaiming the Glory of Allâh, sending Salâm and blessing to His Prophet and on other pious people. This is as if iron starts to float when tied to a wood.
11. The suppliant should try to project his oppressed condition before Allâh, for nothing stands between the pleadings of an oppressed person and Allâh.
12. The suppliant may also associate and include dead and other people far away from him in his prayers.
13. The suppliant must try his best to lead a clean and upright life, avoiding sins and striving for moral deeds. The seven hundred wings of Gabriel are the seven hundred commandments of the Holy Qur’ân. He must try his best to carry them out. His movements, his eating, drinking, sleeping and waking be all be with the name and remembrance of Allâh. His everyday life should mould according to the commandments laid by Allâh, not only this, he should mould him according to the Attributes of Allâh.
14. In prayer there should be no fickleness and haste (4:43). There is an appointed term for the acceptance of prayer, so steadfastness and perseverance are essential (3:200). Allâh is Self-Sufficient and unless one goes to His court repeatedly, He remains oblivious. The prophets never gave up praying for their success although they already received Divine revelation informing them of their success. The Holy Prophet was given the good news of the victory at the battle of Badr, yet he continued to pray till the last moment.
15. The suppliant should not make any stipulations in his prayer.
16. The suppliant has to take himself into a state of alacrity while in prayer.
17. Suppliant should not lose hope of the acceptance of his prayer even though he considers him to be a great sinner.
18. Prayers are sometimes accepted indirectly namely through the intensive prayer of another saintly elder who prays on one’s behalf. At the same time the suppliant should also pray that the prayer of the elderly on his behalf be accepted.
19. The suppliant should never pray to take away the rights of others.
20. The suppliant should try to become beneficial person for others. This is not only a prescription for the acceptance of prayer but also a good prescription for a long life.
21. It is advisable to start asking God for his need before the need becomes imminent and urgent or before the onset of calamity.
22. The suppliant should not only use the suggested prayers of the Holy Qur’ân but also use his own mother language.
Imâm Râghib says that the prayer can be answered in two ways: If there is no demand in the supplications, the answer can be by way of communication to God by words and if a demand has been made in the supplications, then fulfilling that need constitutes the answer of the prayer.
When you lean your graceful arms towards God in Prayer
“He alone is worthy to be taken as shield and He alone is most worthy of granting protection” (74:56)
Look at all that amorous light you can catch
That will let your soul get loose. (Hafiz)