Essence of Obligatory Prayers
By: Sayyid Jan Ali Kazmi
There is a difference between perform- ing certain obligatory acts and acceptance of those obligatory acts in the court of Allah. Now it might be possible that the prayers, fasting, Hajj, alms, and majlis of a person are rightly performed but there is a difference between performing these acts and their being accepted as well. If all the obligatory duties of Hajj, prayers, fasting Majlis etc, if correctly performed then these might save the believer from the punishment and torments of hell. Nevertheless, if these are accepted and granted at the court of Allah hence it is at this degree of acceptance that the doors of the unseen world is opened for the believer. Moreover, this acceptance of our duties helps to increase and raise the status and degree of a believer in the view of all.
In a similar manner, there is a difference between prayers performed and prayers accepted. If we read the Holy Quran we find that no where in the Quran has Allah ordered His people to ‘Read’ the prayers but on the other hand the order of Allah is that a Muslim should ‘Establish’ (Qaim) the Prayers.
It is easy to read and offer ones prayers for it takes hardly five to ten minutes in the act, but the actual demand of Allah is of, “Aqeem-us-salat”, which means that the prayer should be ‘establish’ and should be in a state of “Qiyaam”. ‘Qiyaam’ means to stand up and set up the prayers, thus if we only say and offer our prayers but our prayer does not reach the state of Qiyaam then this prayer cannot save us from any big or small sin.
In the Quran in Surah Ankabut 29, verse 45 it states, "surely prayer keep (one) away from indecency and evil."
However, the situation is completely opposite to what the verse states. We find people who offer their prayers and at the same time tell lies, are also involved in slandering (defaming) and backbiting, get angry and offended (insult, outraged). This is because we are still offering our prayers and performing the acts but the prayers have not reached the state of being ‘setup' or Qiyaam.’
Therefore, there is a difference between offering prayers, reading prayers and setting up the prayers. Nowhere does Allah demand that the prayers must be read but the order on the other hand is that the prayers should be set up. Thus, the prayers that the Muslims offers are numbed (ineffective, sleeping) prayers and a numbed prayer cannot save a man from sin. Once the prayer reaches the state of being set up then it would not allow a man to commit sins and make errors. Then the man would not look at another woman with lustrous desires, speak lies, would not become jealous of others, and would not get involved in backbiting.
Another point is been noted, is that as the Verse of the Holy Quran states “prayers protect a man from all sin and transgression (crime, violation).’’ Now if we look at the same verse in a reversed manner we would find that prayers (which are set up properly) have the power to protect man from sin and error, then conversely (reverse, opposite) sin and error has the power to refrain (stops, withholds) man from saying prayers. Thus it is the sin and faults of a person, which stand in the way or which obtrude (interferes, trespass) man from setting up his prayers. Therefore, it is proved from experience that people who commit small sins do not get the Divine (sacred) guidance. The grace to offer the night prayers and people who commit big sins and errors (mistakes) do not get the Divine guidance and favour to offer the obligatory prayers of the day.
Only one verse of the Quran, Surah Rom verse 31 "and keep up prayer and be not of the polytheists." Is enough to prove the importance of the prayers, which says:
“O men if you refrain from prayers then you are a non believer and a denier.”
This verse proves that it is the ordinance (decree, order) of Allah that if a person refrains from his prayers than no matter if the entire world calls him a Muslim and a believer but Allah would call such a man a denier and a non-believer. Therefore, if a man does not offer his obligatory prayers then he is a non-believer in the sight of Allah, according to the teachings of the holy Quran and in the opinion of the Ahlul-Bait. Hazrat Ali (AS) states in this respects that:
“He who thinks of prayers as something trivial (small, valueless) and ordinary then such a person would be denied of our friendship and our mediation and intercession”
The biggest question, which should be raised here, is that how can a person while offering his prayers reach the condition in which his mind and heart should be present in the court of God.
In this, respect Hazrat Imam Jaffer Sadiq
“Whenever you stand for your prayers, if you are offering it only verbally and your mind is caught in the thought of other activities of the world, then it is only a physical presence before Allah, this prayer might be correct so far as the method of offering is concerned but it might not be accepted by Allah. These prayers protect you from punishment but its reward is low. For instance if four percent, five percent of your mind and heart are involved in the remembrance of Allah then only five percent of your prayer has been accepted. And if ten percent of your mind and heart are involved
in the remembrance of Allah then only ten percent of the prayer is accepted and ninety percent is not accepted.”
Therefore, it is obligatory on every Muslim who is a lover of Hazrat Ali (AS) that their prayers are not only being performed but these prayers should also be granted (accepted). This should be the essence (nature) of prayers of those who claim that they love Hazrat Ali (AS).
There is a well-known tradition of a battle in which Hazrat Ali (AS) got wounded and an arrow pierced the foot of Hazrat Ali (AS). This arrow had so dangerously pierced into the bone that all the companions found it difficult to remove it. At this the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) asked
the companions to leave the arrow as it is and when Hazrat Ali(AS), would stand for his prayers the arrow should be taken out then because then Ali would be so much involved in his prayers that he would be indifferent (callousness, negligence) to the pains of pulling out the arrow. Thus when Hazrat Ali (AS) stood up for his prayers he got so greatly involved in offering his prayers that the companions pulled out the arrow. However, Hazrat Ali did not feel even the slightest pain in the process; rather he did not even know that something had happened during his prayers.
Therefore, all the Muslims should endeavour (attempt, strive) to achieve a certain status in their prayers. Even though it is not possible and easy for an ordinary person to achieve the degree of involvement, as we find in the example of Hazrat Ali (AS). Nevertheless, all the Muslims should at least put in some effort to reach a degree where their mind and thoughts do not waver (shake, tremble) hither (here) and thither (there) and he is able to concentrate in the remembrance of Allah alone.
Some people find it difficult to believe that a person could get so greatly involved and lost in an act that he becomes unconscious to any physical pain as Hazrat Ali (AS), got when the arrow was pulled out
of the bone.
Thus to prove this fact the Quran gives the example of the plight (of the women who were asked by Zulaikha to sit with knives and apples in their hands and to cut the apples while Hazrat Yusuf (AS) passes them. At this instance the Quran testifies (affirm, certify), that all the women had cut their fingers along with their bones at a single sight of Hazrat Yusuf (AS). The women were so lost in the beauty of Hazrat Yusuf (AS) they did not even feel that their hands had being cut with the knives in their own hands. Such common women who were non-believers had got so greatly lost in the physical beauty of a Prophet of Allah. Then is it not possible for a person like Hazrat Ali (AS) (the best of all believers) to get so greatly engrossed (absorbed, occupied) in Divine beauty of Allah, who is actually the creator of even Hazrat Yusuf and the creator of all the wonders and beauties of the world, and become unconscious (unaware, unknowing). This is indifferent to the realities of the world while remembering Allah.
Moreover, there can be no objections raised against the great love which Hazrat Ali (AS) had for his creator and which he proved many a times through out his life. Moreover, there are not many examples where the Islamic history would find characters like Hazrat Ali (AS), who was a great devotee (follower), and a great lover of Allah.
There is an incident (occasion) in which Hazrat Ali (AS), came to visit the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) and asked the Prophet,
“O Prophet of Allah pray for me?” and at this the Prophet of Allah raised his hands and prayed for his brother thus,
“O Allah has mercy on Ali in the name of Ali”.
At this Hazrat Ali (AS), questions the Prophet,
“O Prophet of Allah why did you give my reference in the prayer while praying for me?”
The Prophet of Allah (pbuh) replied,
“O Ali when you asked me to pray for you I searched the entire universe to find out a person who might be the most beloved of Allah and I could not find a person more beloved than you in the entire universe. So I prayed for you on your account, for there is no one whom Allah loves more than you and there is no one whom you love more than Allah”
The reality is that Hazrat Ali was a great lover of Allah and a lover of worship of Allah, and if we wish ourselves to be called the followers of Hazrat Ali then it is our duty to improve the standards and degrees of our prayers. Thus, to find a solution to the problem which every Muslim faces while he prays. To seek how a person can concentrate on his prayers and is completely involved in the process of prayers. We can seek guidance from Hazrat Ali (AS) himself and see what he has to say in this respect.
Some of the solutions that Hazrat Ali (AS) prescribes to improve ones concenttration is that:
Whenever we say our prayers one should translate all the words and try to understand the meaning of what is been said. This can be easily done and once a person translates the words then he can concentrate on the act (of prayer) because then he would not only be performing the prayers but at the same time deciphering (interpretating, revealing) what he is verbalizing (literally, orally)
The second solution prescribed by Hazrat Ali is that when a person says ‘Allah O' Akbar’ (Allah is the Greatest) while beginning his prayers he should imagine as if Allah is watching him or he himself is watching Allah. This thought would not make his mind think of trivial matters and he would be attracted only towards the remembrance of Allah.
The prayers should be in the form of dialogue as if the person is talking to his Lord the most high and merciful.Thus for this reason a person should translate (in his mind) whatever he speaks and as a result his mind would not be diverted.
For instance, a person should revise the words in his mind thus:
O' Allah, I begin in your name the Beneficent and the most Merciful
O' Allah, all the praise is directed towards you and all my reality in this world is not even equal to a grain (small particle) of sand…
O' Allah, it is Your Mercy and Grace upon this sinner that you have given me a chance otherwise I would have been extinct (finish, exterminate) by now if seen in the context of the greatness of my sins…
O' Allah, I am your obedient servant and your thrall (slave, bondman) and thus I beseech Your Mercy and Grace…
O' my Allah, You are the Lord of the Day of Judgment… and on that day, some people would appear in the form of animals and others with wretched face.
O' Allah, I am your thrall so I beseech your help and assistance…
O' Lord do not debase (dishonour) me on
the Day of Judgment and help me there…
O' Allah, keep me on the right path…the path of the Ahlul-Bait…and do not let me tread (step) on the path of those whom you have earned your disfavour (disapprove) but let me tread on the path of those, which you have favoured and appreciated…
Thus Hazrat Ali (AS) has instructed that a man should keep revising and reverberating (echoing, deep) in his heart whatever is on his tongue and in a way a persons prayer would be increased in its degree and be accepted and granted in the court of Allah.
There is another method recommended by the last Prophet of Allah (PBUH).
Once the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) was been asked by, some of his companions that,
“O Prophet of Allah (PBUH) we say our prayers regularly and we try to be accurate in our performing the act of prayers. However, we lack the desired concentration and while saying the prayers we are attracted towards the thoughts of the world, and daily activities. This is very disturbing because a prayer rightly performed would save us from punishment of grave but a prayer accepted would illuminate the grave and the hereafter. Thus recommend us some method through which our prayers would reach the degree of acceptance in the court of Allah.?”
At this the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said, “Whenever you offer your prayers, offer it with the thought that it is the last prayer of your life. When you recite, “Allah is the Greatest” then form a boundary on all four sides to prevent Satan from coming near you and distracting (confuse, disturbance) you. While offering your prayers imagine as if the angel of death is standing behind you and is ready to take away your soul. Imagine that the prayer mat on which you stand is not a simple mat but the bridge over hell.
Imagine that in front of you are the doors of paradise, which is your goal, and on your right side is standing the last Prophet of Allah, and the Twelve Imams, and watching you perform your prayers. And on your left side angels are watching you and above you is Allah watching you.”
Therefore, by creating a protective boundary on all the sides a person can concentrate on his prayers and save the person from the distractions of Satan.
Thus, the true essence of prayers is that a person is not only physically involved in the act of prayers but it was been performed from the depth of his heart and mind. There should be a spiritual involvement experienced in the act of prayers. And this is the degree where the prayers achieve the status of not only being performed but also being granted in the court of Allah and thus illuminating the life and the hereafter of a Muslim.
The performing of daily prayers is similar to eating daily food and supplementary (mustahab) prayers is like eating fruits to make the soul strong and powerful. When the Prayer are been performed with full concentration, real pleasure is achieved. For example walnut is hard and tastless from outside but real taste is inside similiarly prayers with out concentration is hard and pleasureless.