Purity of Body and Soul
By: Ayatullah Fadhil Milani
The manufacture of detergents and cleaning materials is a highly profitable business. Millions are spent on advertising soaps, shampoos, conditioners, washing powders etc. Families that maintain clean, wholesome and healthy homes also ensure that their bodies, clothing, bed linen, soft furnishings and houses are kept clean. That cleanliness is of the utmost importance is illustrated by a tradition of Allah's final Messenger (S) in which he said, 'Cleanliness is part of faith.' The question is - why do we assume such traditions refer only to bodily cleanliness when purification of the soul is the very objective of our existence?
Many ayat of the Qur’an refer to purification of the soul as the essential element in the attainment of prosperity, see Qur’an 91:9 and 87:14. This is realized in two ways - one positive, one negative. The negative is to keep away from sin, the positive is to pray.
A 'true believer' may achieve inner wisdom and knowledge of spiritual truths through her/his inner heart. The heart and 'inner heart' are closely linked. The difference between them is that the heart 'knows' while the inner heart 'sees'. When knowledge and vision combine, the unseen becomes visible and certainty is achieved. This was the goal of the Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) when he saw the 'Malakut' of the heavens and the earth referred to in Qur’an 6:75. There is no point in knowledge without vision, nor in vision without knowledge. It is analogous to visiting a foreign country without understanding its language, history or customs.
The Prophet (S) said, Worship Allah as if you see Him for even if you do not, He truly sees you.21
Once, when the Prophet (S) explained the significance of daily prayer to his companions, he asked, 'Do you think traces of filth adhere to the body of a person who has a flowing spring at the entrance to his house and is able to wash five times a day?' His companions thought not. He continued, 'In like manner, the five daily prayers remove dirt, filth, corruption and uncleanness from souls.'
When we have decided where we want to go, and have agreed to adhere to the regulations that govern that course, we may become comfortably established - in the 'carriage' of prayer - and be transported to our destination as it travels.
The heart's presence during prayer
Prayer is a celestial formula and 'Divine Electuary'. Every part contains a hidden 'Mystery'. Prayer is an expression of love, communication, and remembrance of the Lord of the Universe. It is the most excellent channel for spiritual perfection, ascension, and nearness to Allah. In one tradition, prayer is referred to as being the believer's 'Heavenly Journey' - Miraj.
Prayer is such a pure sparkling stream of spirituality that those who enter it five times a day purify their souls of every category of pollution and contamination. It is the key aspect for Allah Almighty and is the criterion for acceptance of all other deeds and acts of worship. However, none of the above advantages, or fruits of prayer, are achieved without the heart being present - that is, without devoting its full attention to Allah Almighty with utmost humbleness.
All the elements of prayer - wudhu’, invocations, recitals of Qur’anic ayat, bowing with deference, prostration in submission, bearing witness and salutation - constitute the 'face and body' of the prayer, while the heart's presence and attention to the Creator express its 'spirit'. Just as a body without a spirit is acknowledged to be dead, prayer that is offered without the heart's presence - even though it might satisfy the performance of an obligatory act of worship - does not contribute to the achievement of any higher spiritual position. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, Establish Worship for My Remembrance. (Qur’an 20:14)
The Friday prayer has been described as an invocation: O you who believe, when the call for the prayer on Friday is heard, hasten to the remembrance of Allah. (Qur’an 57:9)
In one tradition the Prophet (S) emphasized the above saying, Sometimes only half a prayer is accepted - at others, possibly only a third, a quarter, or a tenth - while some prayers, like crumpled clothes thrown by a careless child, are completely rejected.22
The link between remembrance and prayer
Remembrance of Allah - Dhikr Allah - is evidenced by the heart, by the tongue and by the limbs and - when all are combined altogether in a single communication with Allah Almighty - by salat.
How to obtain the spiritual advantages of salat
The Prophet (S) showed his companions how to pray and ordered them to follow his example. He (S), his progeny and his faithful companions then initiated them into how to derive the utmost spiritual advantage from prayer. They highly recommended the following:
1. To remind oneself that the prayer being offered might be our final one. The effect is to increase the intensity of concentration in the hope that the maximum benefit from this opportunity is achieved.
2. To intend to express the utmost submission and humility during prayer. None are able to 'draw close' to Allah Almighty until they are aware and have accepted that they themselves are insignificant creatures. The Prophet once commented on the carelessness of someone who was praying, saying, 'Had he been truly humble he would have remained aware of the awesomeness of his communication and been more measured in his actions.'
3. To understand, while declaring Allahu Akbar, that He is far greater than these words are able to express. Alternately, to have consciously and sincerely placed one's absolute reliance on the Greatest and Mightiest Power.
4. To manifest during bowing with deference - ruku - absolute faith and total submission, regardless of whether He should decide to behead you or not.
5. While in prostration - sujud - to concentrate on the fact that we have been created from earth,are returned to it by burial and will, on the Day of Judgement, be again raised from it.
6. It is highly recommended: while standing upright, for eyes to be focused on the point where the forehead will meet the earth; while bowing with deference, for eyes to be focused between one's feet; while sitting between prostrations and while bearing witness - tashahud - for eyes to be focused on one's lap; and while offering the invocation - qunut - for eyes to be focused on the palms of one's hands.
7. It is also highly recommended that the nose touch the earth during prostration. In many traditions this act is expressed as defiance to Shaytan - his intention being to divert submission from Allah - for this act is an expression of utter submission to Him.
8. And, when raising hands to the ears and uttering Allahu Akbar, to be conscious of surrender to Supreme Authority; when standing upright, to relax the arms with palms in contact with the thighs; when in prostration, for males to keep hands directed inwards and elbows outward – forming the arms into 'wings', tajnih) - and for females, to keep hands pointing forwards with elbows close to their sides.23
How to pray
There are three aspects to discuss: how to prepare for worship; conditions to be complied with during worship; and the offering of the prayer. In addition, some prayers are obligatory while others are voluntary.