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The significance of prayer

By: Ayatullah Fadhil Milani

Qur’anic ayat on the significance of prayer
1. Maintain prayer at both ends of the day - and the early hours of night.
For it is through good deeds that bad deeds are effaced. (Qur’an 11:114)
2. He is glorified in the morning and the evening by those - not distracted from remembrance of Allah by bargain or trade - who maintain the prayer and give zakah. For they fear a day in which hearts and sights are transformed. (Qur’an 24:37)
3. Allah will surely help those who help Him. For Allah is All-Powerful, Almighty. If We would grant them power over the land they would maintain the prayer, give zakah, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong- for the outcome of all matters rests with Allah. (Qur’an 22:40-41)
4. Certainly, it is the faithful who attain salvation - those who are humble in prayer and baulk at all conceit. (Qur’an 23:1-3)

The significance of prayer from Nahjul Balaghahh
1. Commit yourself to maintain prayer. Offer them as frequently as possible in order to seek nearness to Allah. For prayer casts off sin as trees do their leaves. The Messenger of Allah likened it to the availability of a hot bath that, used five times a day, cleanses one of all dirt.1
2. For the God-fearing, prayer is the means by which to seek closeness to Allah.2
3. Keep Allah in mind apropos the Qur’an. No one should excel you in acting upon it.
Keep Allah in mind apropos prayer, because it is the pillar of your religion.
Keep Allah in mind apropos Your Lord's House [Ka’bah],do not forsake it while you remain alive ...

Imam Ali’s (a.s.) last words to his sons
4. Sleep, in a state of firm belief, is better than prayer in a state of doubt.

Imam Ali's (a.s.) comment at seeing a Kharijite offering the midnight prayer
Imam Sadiq (a.s.), on the significance of prayer
1. When people stand for prayer Allah's mercy rains down upon them. Angels surround them as one of their number comments, If people comprehended the full benefit of prayer, their prayers would never cease.3
2. When anyone praised another in the presence of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) his sole interest was to know about her/his prayer.4
3. Prayer may be likened to a tent pole that is maintained in an upright position by guy-ropes and tent pegs. However, if the pole breaks, neither ropes nor pegs are able to afford it further support.5
(All quotations attributed to any of the 12 error-free Imams of the progeny of Allah's Holy Messenger (S) refer to what was said by the Messenger of Allah (S) himself.)

9.2 Introduction to prayer
All of us are able to exercise and develop our muscles. Some do so to keep fit, some to participate in a particular sport and others to shape and sculpt their bodies. Whatever our motive, success is only achieved by way of sustained application and effort. This applies equally to intellectual development, with academic qualifications being awarded after years of diligent study, and, it follows, to the development of our innate spiritual capacities. While it is apparent that the body requires nourishment, care and protection to grow and flourish, precious few consider the soul's need for similar nourishment, care, protection and growth.
As though bedazzled by the ‘limousine’ that they are happy to refill, wash and securely house, many appear blind to the 'essence' of the entity it carries through this life. Like children who do not understand that education is an investment for the future, they do not grasp that this material world affords the soul the opportunity to realize its true potential and achieve its objective.
They are able to register and respond to stimuli that materially affect their ‘world-space’ or ‘worldview’ but, as spiritual life does not exist for them, they are not able to register or respond to spiritual stimuli. For similar reasons, a pack of wild wolves only equipped to register other creatures as potential meals is not able to register and respond to stimuli - such as status, gold ornaments or ‘state-of-the-art’ electronic equipment - that for them do not exist in any meaningful sense.
However, the fact that, to some people, a thing may seem not to exist does not prove that it is in fact non-existent. During routine eye tests those with astigmatism are often surprised to perceive details not previously apparent to them, as are those with stereopsis when enabled to see with full three-dimensional vision. And, although it may stare them in the face, those who are ‘color blind’ do not see numerals formed by tonal dots within fields of similarly toned colored dots.
To some extent, lack of awareness may also result from upbringing, as William Wordsworth - appointed Poet Laureate in 1843 - expresses so beautifully in these few lines from his ode, Intimations of Immortality, The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, he sees it in his joy; The Youth who daily farther from the east must travel, still is Nature's priest and by the vision splendid, is on his way attended; At length the Man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.
Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own; Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind, And, even with something of a mother's mind, and no unworthy aim, the homely nurse doth all she can to make her foster-child, her inmate Man, forget the glories he hath known, and that imperial palace whence he came...
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height, Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke the years to bring the inevitable yoke, thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight, and custom lie upon thee with a weight heavy as frost, and deep almost as life.
Despite this, the works of painters such as Edward Hopper eloquently illustrate the soul's yearning to transcend the mundane and emerge into celestial light.
Jallaludin Rumi also refers to this in his lines: Hearken to this Reed forlorn, Breathing, ever since was torn From its rushy bed, a strain of impassioned love and pain ...6
Having revealed the outward manifestations of the faith - its practical, ethical and social precepts - and having summoned humankind to His side, to His Inner Reality, Allah Almighty has also provided a link between the out­ ward aspects of faith and the position of the spirit. The only nourishment needed by a soul in order to hone its ability to see everything with the help of Allah - 'Light of the Heavens and the Earth'- is 'communication with the Creator' who has granted each one the non-materialistic attribute referred to as the soul's 'eye'.
Thus, the objective of the inner and outward aspects of the faith of Islam extends beyond the life of this world. The term 'nearness to Allah' stretches beyond physical nearness to the lords of wealth and power of this world, for those who step on the path of human destiny travel a straight path to 'Nearness to Ultimate Truth' - Al-Haqq. Beings who exist in this world should not imagine that success is limited to excellence in the sciences, arts, skills, customs or traditions that confer status in society. Real success can only be achieved through the refinement of the soul, and appreciation that its ultimate goal is the Purified Essence of Unity.
Allah gave the Prophet Muhammad (S) access to His religious commandments and Divine precepts so that he would focus our attention on the destination of this life's journey. He taught us how these relate to our 'well-being' or 'wretchedness' in the next world; how the blessing of everlasting happiness is achieved by putting those Divine precepts into practice; how dedicated and determined effort brings us closer to Allah; and how, at the higher stages of closeness, human spirituality may approach truth and reality.
Thus, to travel the 'Path to Nearness' is to tread the path of servitude, humility, self-annihilation and non-being rather than mastery over the things of this world. Those who travel this route are like jewels with Allah's power and strength at their core.
This is the position that Allah refers to in the Qur’an when He talks about the Prophet Muhammad (S): Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for those who consistently remember Allah and place their hope in Allah and the Last Day. (Qur’an 33:21)
Say, if you love Allah follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins... (Qur’an 3:31)
In these ayat, the Prophet Muhammad (S) is introduced as our exemplar for behavior and morality - whose example we should take as our precedent.
It evidences the Prophet's freedom from sin and error, for had this not been so, there would have been no value in Allah Almighty presenting him as a leader and as a precedent. This position was passed from the Prophet to his Household, as is witnessed by ahadith reported by many scholars: I leave among you two precious things: the book of Allah and my progeny. These two will not be separated until they meet together at the pool of Kawthar [in paradise]. Always follow them otherwise you will perish, and do not attempt to instruct them, for they are wiser than you.7
The Prophet (S) said: I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate; so whoever wants to enter the city should come through the gate.8
Hubshi ibn Janadah reported that the Prophet (S) said: Ali is from me and I am from Ali and no one represents me but Ali.9

The Prophet said to Ali (a.s.), Fatimah (a.s.), Hasan (a.s.) and Husayn (a.s.)
I am at peace with those whom you are at peace with; and I am at war with those whom you are at war with.10
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (S) said: Whoever loves Hasan (a.s.) and Husayn (a.s.) loves me, and whoever hates them hates me.11
In the language of the Qur’an, the holder of 'the degree of nearness' - the one who links humankind to its Inner Reality - is called Imam. It is therefore the Prophet (S) and error-free Imams (a.s.) who hold the reins of spiritual guidance on Allah's behalf, who transmit the light of Allah to our hearts.
So believe in Allah and His messenger and the light We have sent down ... (Qur’an 64:8)
From the ayah below it is clear that Allah ordered the Prophet Muhammad (S) to direct Muslims to establish a special closeness vis-a-vis his progeny: Say (O Muhammad(S)): I do not ask you for any reward [for the toils of Prophethood] but love of my progeny. (Qur’an 42:23)
This facet of wila - closeness - that relates to his progeny is reiterated in the hadith of Ghadir Kumm in which the Prophet (S) said: For those of whom I am mawla [those over whom I have authority] Ali (a.s.) is also mawla12.
It also appears in the Qur’anic ayah: Truly, truly, your guardian [waliy] is Allah, His messenger [Muhammad] and those who believe, establish the prayer, and give to the poor while they bow [in prayer]. (Qur’an 5:55)
No Muslim scholar understands this ayah to be a universal instruction for all Muslims to give zakat while in ruku. Al-Tabari, Al-Zamakhshari and Fakhru’d-Din al-Razi clarified that 'pay zakat while they bow in prayer' refers specifically to the occasion on which, while, bent directly forwards from the waist during prayer - ruku - Ali (a.s.) was asked for charity - and took off his ring and gave it. The revelation of this ayah identifies the specific person who, in addition to Allah and His Messenger (S), is the leader of the Muslims. Leader in this sense denotes 'guardian of', or 'one who has authority over the affairs of others ...'
Another facet of closeness refers to the 'Wila of Love' - mababbah – and the 'Wila of Kinship' - qarabah. The 'Wila of Love' and the 'Wila of Kinship' indicate that people should cultivate love and closeness to the Prophet's progeny over and above the love and closeness they should have for other Muslims. Qur’anic and ahadith references, narrated by all Muslim sources, confirm that love for the Prophet's progeny is a basic precept of Islam.
Every Islamic precept has an underlying philosophical and spiritual reason. The reason and benefit of the need to love and feel close to the Prophet's progeny is that it is bonds of love that truly connect people to 'them'. It is those bonds that make people yearn to learn from them, to emulate their behavior and manner, and to draw benefit from their purity and closeness to Allah. Two famous scholars, Al-Zamakhshari and Fakhru’d-Din al-Razi, both narrate the hadith on the 'Wila of Love'. Al-Razi quoting al-Zamakhshari relates that the Prophet (S) said: Whoever dies while in love with the progeny of Muhammad (S)- has died a martyr; Whoever dies while in love with the progeny of Muhammad (S)- has died in forgiveness; Whoever dies while in love with the progeny of Muhammad (S)- has died a believer in the perfection of their faith.13
Wila, in its sense of the Imamate or leadership of the 12 error-free Imams, is the position of authority in the faith to which matters are referred for decision. That is, it is a position that others should follow, should adopt as their example for action and behavior, and from which they should learn the precepts of the faith. Such a position is necessarily one that is free from sin - ismah - so that the speech and actions of such Imams are safe guidance for others.
Thus, the 12 error-free Imams of Ahl al-Bayt are acknowledged as the authoritative source of what the Prophet said and did. Had they been associated with unrighteousness or ignorance, had they had ceased to be the complement of the Qur’an, and had they not been, like the Prophet himself, free from sin and error, they could not have been exemplars and leaders in the Prophet's place.
In the second year after the Prophet m had migrated to Madinah revelations established the Call to prayer - adhan
Mental and physical purification that conditions and readies one to commune with the Lord - wudu,
Mandatory prayers - salat, and
Direction to face in order to align one's being with the earthly core of Islam - qiblah.
The Prophet Muhammad (S) taught people how to pray - and this section is for those who seek to follow the path of servant hood taught by him (S), and who desire to adhere as accurately as is possible to his teaching - for Allah tells us in the Qur’an, In Allah's Messenger you certainly have an excellent example for those who place their hope in Allah and the Last Day, and are constant in the remembrance of Allah. (Qur’an 33:21)
Allah's final Prophet departed this world in the year 11AH at the age of 63.

9.3 Why we Pray
O you who believe! Seek help through patience and prayer ... (Qur’an 2:153)

The Significance of Prayer in Our Lives

As individuals
Prayer is the most highly esteemed communication between human beings and their Creator.
It develops our ‘greatest faculty's’ capacity for concentration - and evidences the highest level of submission to Allah Almighty.
It purifies the soul and provides a framework for life's daily discipline - in particular, prayers offered at their specified times.
Prayer affords the satisfaction of having fulfilled daily obligations, and affords a spiritual taste of the sweetness of being in Allah's presence.
Recitation and remembrance maintain ‘Awareness of Allah’ and encourage perception of the - everywhere evident – ‘signs’ of His mercy and wisdom.

As families
As Islam's first preference is for prayer to be offered in a mosque, its second is for prayer to be offered in congregation, while prayer within the family has lesser significance. Nonetheless, parents have responsibility to encourage children to fulfill this most essential pillar of Islam. When toddlers watch parents perform wudhu’ and offer daily prayer, they inevitably copy them and adopt these practices.

As a community
Prayer strengthens bonds between community members who assemble to share common experiences five times a day (or three times - when Duhr and Asr, or Maghrib and Isha', are contiguously offered; ref. Qur’an 17:78). The community coheres and is unified by being together at the mosque.
As congregational prayers are often accompanied by discussions of Islamic rulings and lectures on the Qur’an and ahadith, the educational value and influence of community prayer is compounded.
Mosques are not merely places of worship, but also places in which social problems are often solved, fellow Muslims consulted about community affairs and crucial decisions apropos the community determined.

As an ummah
Prayer increases awareness of the needs of the 'worldwide' ummah, for whose contentment Muslims pray.
All Muslims face one qiblah, communicate with the One Divinity – Allah Almighty - and are all united by common goals and objectives.

Historical aspects of faith
The first prayer ever offered in Islam was when the Prophet Muhammad (S) stood in the Holy Mosque of Makkah with Khadijah and the young boy Ali (a.s.) behind him. From this event the apparent strength of Islam encouraged others to profess faith also. When the Prophet migrated to Madinah his first action was to build a mosque. That mosque has remained the representative symbol of Islamic heritage throughout the centuries.

The significance of prayer for Muslims today
As secularism offers no solution to spiritual problems, all the hopes, aspirations and prosperity of human beings rest with faith and regular communication between human beings and their Creator. Prayer plays a central role in uplifting the spiritual standing of humanity.

The ongoing relevance of discipline
Consistency and regularity of daily prayer contribute to discipline and organization - the secret of every success. For Muslims the discipline of prayer is as automatic as brushing the teeth - which similarly refreshes and contributes to feelings of 'well-being'. As with the brushing of teeth, rewards - although long-lasting - yield their benefits over time.

The ongoing relevance of unity
Congregational prayers at central mosques - to which all must travel - are effective in establishing unity amongst those who attend. This serves to crumble the artificial barriers of society, professions, wealth, class arid neighborhood, and to re-establish the equality of all human beings before Allah.

The ongoing relevance of identity
Congregating with others strengthens the individual's identity as a component of a larger group - in the same way that supporters identify with their football team. In the Western world in particular, congregational prayers reinforce bonds and relationships with the worldwide Muslim ummah. During the last decades of the 20th century Muslims were accused of being terrorists and attacking civilization. The new century will, 'Insha'a-Allah', witness the opposite and demonstrate the tolerance and broadmindedness of Muslims who participate and contribute to society - as their ancestors did. Politicians in the Western world have begun to realize this and to count on younger Muslims for positive contributions.

The fruits of remembrance
The essential teaching of Islam is to strive to feel the Omnipresence of Allah during every single moment of life as the Qur’an and 'Traditions' emphasize:
Remembrance of Allah satisfies the heart. (Qur’an 13:28)
Remembrance of Allah illuminates the heart.14
Remembrance of Allah leads to the love of Allah.15
Remembrance of Allah is the key to prosperity.16
Remembrance of Allah is nourishment for the soul.17
Remembrance of Allah is a cure.18
Remembrance of Allah keeps Shaytan away.19
Remembrance of Allah prevents hypocrisy.20
Remembrance of Allah's omnipresence inspires people and effectively deters them from succumbing to temptations and doing wrong.

The disadvantage of neglecting to remember Allah
Some advantages of the remembrance of Allah, essential elements in the building of Islamic personality, are listed above and some consequences of the failure to remember Him are listed below: The lives of those who turn from My remembrance will be circumscribed and they shall be raised blind on the Day of Judgement. (Qur’an 20:124)
We will appoint a devil as intimate companion of those who withdraw themselves from the remembrance of The Most Gracious. (Qur’an 43:36)
Shaytan plans to create hostility and hatred between you, and to use intoxicants and gambling to hinder your remembrance of Allah. (Qur’an 5:91)
It is not those who leave art exhibitions with blurred memories of pretty pictures who appreciate or understand the stature and achievement of an artist. It is those who grasp the significance, and appreciate the artist's achievement, which in reality understand and esteem the artist's work. And it is only those of us who grasp the significance of the signs of creation in the heavens and the earth, who genuinely glorify Allah Almighty and remember Him.

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