Prayers, the Most Important Religious Obligation
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“In Qiyāma the first thing that one has to account for is one’s prayer. If it is accepted, his other good deeds will be accepted too. And if it is rejected his other good deeds will be rejected too.”
(Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 18 page 52)
Muawiyah Ibn Wahab asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), “Which is that meritorious deed that brings one closer to his Lord?” Imam (a.s.) replied,
“After the Marefat (recognition) of Allah, the Prophet and Imam no deed is superior to Prayer. Don’t you see that the righteous slave of Almighty, Hazrat Isa (a.s.) said, ‘As far as I am alive, the Almighty Allah has commanded me to pray and pay the poor-rate’? The Holy Prophet (S) was queried regarding the Best of deeds and he replied: Of all the good deeds the best is a prayer that is offered at the earliest hour.”
(Furu al-Kāfi Vol. 3 page 264)
Hazrat Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says:
“Prayer is a pillar of faith, it is like the centrepole of the tent. As far as it is fulfilled, the ropes and pegs remain taut. When this centre pole does not remain straight or is broken, the other ropes and pegs also loosen from their places and the tent collapses.”
(Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 82 page 218)
In the same way all the good deeds and acts of worship are connected to Prayers. Such that if this (Prayer) is neglected the other good deeds will also be wasted.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) comments on the Verse,
“…and whoever denies faith, his work indeed is of no account…”
(Surah al-Mā’ida 5:5)
Imam (a.s.) says,
“This ayat denotes those who neglect prayer without any disability or problem.”
(Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 82)
Hazrat Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says,
“The foundation of Islam is based on five things: Upon the prayer and Zakat and Hajj and Fasting and Wilāyat.”
(Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 111)
Zurarah asked Imam (a.s.) which of these were the most superior. Imam (a.s.) replied,
“It is Wilāyat, Because Wilāyat of Āle Muhammad (a.s.) is the key to other things. And after Wilāyat the most superior is Prayer. Because the Messenger of Allah (S) has said, ‘The Prayer is the Pillar of your religion.”
The Messenger of Allah (S) said,
“When the day of Judgement is established a serpent of the species of scorpion will emerge from Hell. Its head will be on the seventh heaven and its tail will reach lower than the earth. Its mouth will be wide open from the west to the east. He will say, ‘Where are those who warred against Allah and his Messenger?’ Then Jibrīl the trustworthy will descend and ask him as to what people he wanted. The serpent will reply, “I want five groups of people. Those who neglected prayer, those who didn’t pay Zakat, those who took usury, the drunkards and those who talk of worldly things in the Masjids. (Meaning Harām conversation. For example the backbiting of Muslims and falsely accusing them, or to start an illegal practice, praising an oppressor or praising a person who doesn’t deserve this praise, or criticising a person who is free from blame.)
The Messenger of Allah (S) also said,
“There is a valley in Hell and the inmates of Hell scream 70000 times daily due to the severity of its punishment. There is a house of fire therein and this house has a well of fire. In this well is a casket which houses a thousand headed snake. Each of the head has a thousand mouths and each mouth has a thousand fangs and each of the fangs is one thousand metres long.”
Anas said, “O Messenger of Allah (S), for whom is this punishment reserved?” The Prophet (S) replied,
“For those who imbibe wine and those who omit Prayers.”
Numerous traditions have reached us describing the severity of the punishment for neglecting Prayer but we think the above mentioned ones shall suffice for our purpose.
Helping those who omit Prayer
Many traditional reports mention terrible consequences for those who help and assist the people who neglect prayer. As mentioned by the Messenger of Allah (S),
“One who helps the neglecter of Prayer by giving him food or cloth acts as if he has murdered 70 prophets, the first of whom being Adam (a.s.) and the last Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (S).”
(Layalul Akhbār Vol. 4 page 51)
He (S) also said,
“One who gives a draught of water to the neglecter of prayer, acts as if he has made war against me and battled with all the prophets.”
(Layalul Akhbār page 395)
The Holy Prophet is also reported to have stated,
“One who laughs with the neglecter of prayer, it is as if he has demolished the Ka’ba 70 times.”
(Layalul Akhbār Page 395)
Obviously the general implication of these traditions is that if help and assistance given to a person, who neglects prayers, makes him complacent about his lapse and he continues to neglect his prayer; or if this assistance encourages him to be even more neglectful, then such help should not be given. And indeed whenever helping the sinner induces him to sin more, it is absolutely Harām. And from the point of view of Nahy Anil Munkar it is obligatory not to render such a person any help.
It may also be that helping or not helping does not have any effect on the person who neglects prayers. In this case it is not clear whether one should withhold help. There is a possibility that some assistance may in fact encourage a person to start praying or to stop sinning, in which case, needless to say, helping becomes obligatory.
Different ways of Neglecting Prayer
1. As we have already seen there are some who do not offer prayers because they refuse to believe that it is an article of faith and a religious obligation, commanded by Allah (S.w.T.). Such denial amounts to denying Allah (S.w.T.), Allah (S.w.T.)’s Prophet and Allah (S.w.T.)’s book, the Holy Qur’an. These are the people who shall be in everlasting chastisement. There is no escape for them.
2. It has also been mentioned that there are others who do not deny Allah (S.w.T.)’s complete supremacy and accept the fact that prayers have been made obligatory, but they never pray out of sheer laziness or due to excessive involvement in worldly affairs. These are the people who are not condemned as unbelievers but they are transgressors who have committed a greater sin, for which they will have to undergo severe punishment. Even if such a person were to die a believer, he can get salvation only after he has undergone the rigours of punishment. That a person who omits prayer can die a believer is itself a highly remote possibility, because sins make a person hard hearted and destroys his faith; except that the Almighty with His kindness and mercy heeds the call for help at the time of death and because of the sinner’s love for Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) allows him to die a believer. It is possible that intercession by Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) may lighten his punishment or remove it altogether. On the other hand these divine personalities have themselves said that their intercession will not reach those who consider prayer insignificant.
3. A third category of people are those who do not omit prayers altogether but pray occasionally. These are people whose faith is weak and lacks the strength of firm conviction. Such people when they do pray may be inclined to postpone prayers after the time has set it, on the grounds that they would pray later and may not pray at the earliest hour.
Certainly this way of neglecting Prayer is different from the previous two kinds but such a person has also considered Prayers unimportant, so whatever punishment is promised for those who belittle or omit Prayers will be applicable to him also. Traditions have made a special mention of such types of people. In one narration Imam Ja’far as Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“The Messenger of Allah (S) said,
“If one prays after the prescribed time the prayer rises up as the prayer of one who omits it and in a horrid condition. It tells the person: You have wasted me. May Allah waste you as you have wasted me.”
Imam (a.s.) also said that the first deed about which one shall be questioned in the presence of Allah on the day of Qiyāma is Prayer. If Prayer is valid the other worship acts shall be considered valid too, but if it is not correct his other deeds are also invalid.
In the same way the Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“My intercession shall not reach the person who delays prayer (even) after its time has arrived and (he delays it) till the time has expired.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 81)
He (S) also said,
“As far as one exercises caution and performs the five obligatory prayers the Shaitan is in awe of him. But if he wastes these prayers, the Shaitan gets an upper hand and lures him towards more dreadful sins.
(Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 81)
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) said,
“If one performs prayer on time keeping in mind its due importance and does not give preference to anything else, the Almighty writes for him salvation from punishment (that is Allah (S.w.T.) will not punish him). And one who recites prayer after its time has lapsed and prefers the worldly affairs to his prayers, his consequences are in the hands of Allah (S.w.T.). He may forgive or punish him.”
Emphasis on Reciting at the earliest time
Traditions have greatly emphasized on punctuality with regard to prayer times and performing it on time. One should not delay prayer without a valid excuse. Our guides did not ever miss the best time of prayers even in the most difficult circumstances.
Thus in the book Irshad ul Quloob a narration states that one day Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) was in the midst of fighting during the battle of Siffīn. In spite of these circumstances he often glanced at the sun between the rows of fighters. Ibn Abbas asked him why he kept glancing at the sun? Imam (a.s.) said, “I am looking towards Zawāl (decline of sun from its zenith) so that I may perform Prayer.” Ibn Abbas asked him if there was opportunity to recite prayer in these trying circumstances? Imam (a.s.) replied, “Why are we fighting these people? Our aim in fighting these people itself is the establishing of Prayer.”
Ibn Abbas has related that ‘Ali (a.s.) never omitted the Midnight Prayer, not even during the battle of Siffīn when it was extreme winter.
It is reported that on the day of Aash-Shūrā at the time of Zawāl, Abu Thamama Saidawi came to the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Husain (a.s.) and said, “O my Master! We shall all be killed without any doubt and the time for noon prayer (Zuhr) has arrived. So you please lead us in Prayer. This shall be our last Prayer and we hope that on this great occasion we meet the Lord in the condition of having performed one of the religious obligations. Imam (a.s.) lifted his head towards the sky and said,
“You have remembered Prayer, may Allah (S.w.T.) include you among the praying ones. Yes, it is the time for Prayer.”
Then he said, “Recite Azān (the call for Prayer).”
After Azān he (a.s.) called out, “O son of Sa’ad. Have you forgotten the Islamic Shari’a? Would you not halt hostilities so that we can offer Prayer?” Thus Imam (a.s.) offered the ‘prayer under perilous circumstances (Salāt al-Khauf) in such a way that Zuhair Ibn Qayn and Saīd bin Abdullah Hanfi stood in front of Imam Husain (a.s.) and whenever an arrow was shot towards the Chief of Martyrs one of them acted as a shield and took the arrow upon himself. At last Saīd received thirteen arrow wounds in addition to the injuries caused by spears and swords and finally Saīd fell down and breathed his last.
Omitting an Obligatory ritual of Prayer
There are some who pray in the manner it has been commanded. They are heedless of the obligatory rituals essential for the correct fulfilment of prayers. They may not recite the Qur’anic chapters and other obligatory recitations, or they may recite them incorrectly, without making any effort to improve themselves; or they may not remain still during its recitation. Also, they may pray in clothes which are usurped or ritually impure; or they may pray at a place belonging to someone whose permission for use has not been sought or granted, or which has been usurped.
All such people who do not pay attention to the obligatory rituals of prayer come under the category of people who take prayer lightly and all that has been said regarding persons who waste their prayers also applies to these people.
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says:
“One day the Messenger of Allah was sitting in the Mosque when a person entered and started praying. But he did not perform the Rukū’ and Sajdahs properly (he did not recite the Wajib formulas or did so incorrectly, or he might not have remained still or failed to maintain composure during recitation or movements) The Messenger of Allah (S) said, He (this man) touches his forehead to the ground like a crow pecks at the earth and lifts it. If he dies praying like this he would not die on my religion.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia Chapter 8)
The Messenger of Allah (S) said,
“The greatest thief is one who steals in his Prayer.” Someone asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! How could one steal in his Prayer?” He (S) replied,
“It is not performing the Rukū’ and Sajdahs of Prayers properly.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia Chap. 8 Hadith no. 18)
He (S) also said,
“The prayer of one who does not performs Rukū’ and sajdah properly is invalid.”
(Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il, Chap. 8, tradition no. 18)
The Holy Prophet (S) also said,
“The prayer of one who performs Rukū’ and as-Sajda properly goes up in a condition of illumination and splendour. The doors of heaven open wide to accept it and the Prayer says, ‘You have protected me, may Allah (S.w.T.) protect you. The angels say, ‘Mercy and Grace of Allah be on the one who has performed this prayer. But if the prayer is not performed properly it rises up in a state of darkness and the door of heaven slams on it and the prayer says, ‘You have wasted me, may Allah waste you.’ And the Prayer is thrown at his face.”
(Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il Chapter 8, Hadith No. 15)
Allah’s Messenger (S) also stated,
“Everything has a face. (The most important part of a body). And the face of your religion is Prayer. Then none of you should deface and destroy his Prayer. (Which like the face is to the body, it is to ones religion).”
(Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il Chapter 6, Hadith No. 5)
A large number of traditional reports mention this subject. The ones quoted by us should suffice to emphasise the fact, that is one who skips even a single Wajib part of prayer is like one who has omitted the prayer as a whole.
There are other conditions for Acceptance of Prayers
One who recites Prayer in the proper manner has fulfilled his obligation. There is no punishment for him. But there are additional conditions for the acceptance of this Prayer by the Almighty and for being rewarded. The most important condition for this is to pray with concentration. One who aims for such a high status while being careful of these conditions is raised to such a degree that no other doers of good deeds can reach it. Here we shall be content to mention some of the traditions with the hope they shall benefit the readers.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“One who performs two units (rakats) of Prayer while being conscious of what he is reciting, then after he completes the Prayer, Allah will erase all his sins.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia, Vol. 4, page 684)
Imam (a.s.) has also stated,
“The Prayers that you have offered with concentration are with you but if one is unmindful in all the Prayer or recites it omitting some rituals, it is wrapped up and tossed at ones face.”
Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says,
“None of you should recite Prayers in sloth, laziness and sleepy condition. And neither should you think about yourself or any other thing. Because in the condition of praying he is in the presence of his lord and only that prayer of a person is acceptable which is recited with concentration.
(Wasa’il ul-Shia: Vol. 4, page. 687)
The Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“Two rakats (units) of prayers recited with concentration and consciousness of the meaning of recitation is better than standing up the whole night in worship.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia: Vol. 3, page. 54)
He (S) also stated,
“The Almighty Allah does not accept the prayers of one who does not recite it with concentration.”
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“When you stand up to pray, prepare your mind for prayers. Because whenever you step towards prayers and concentrate on it, the Almighty Allah will also turn His mercy towards you, And whenever you turn your attention from it, or are unmindful or leave one of its rituals or necessary condition, Allah will also not glance at you with mercy. That’s why, sometimes prayer is not accepted, except one third, one fourth or one sixth part that the person had recited with concentration. And one who remains absent minded in the whole prayers, will not be bestowed anything by Allah, the High and Mighty.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia and Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
The Late Aga Naraqi (r.a) says in the book Me’rajus Sadāt: Prayer is a divine composition that is made up of various aspects, the co-ordination of which brings the prayer to perfection. An analogy is the human form with its different external and internal characteristics, the co-ordination of which makes a complete functioning human being. The most important is the soul and its relation with the heart and the mind, which decides the spiritual calibre of the person.
Then there are vital organs like the heart, liver, brain, without which life is not possible; and their absence is death. Some features like limbs, eye, tongue etc. live without them, but their absence leaves a person incomplete. Then there are features like eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, ears etc. which contribute to the person’s good looks and their absence would make a person look very unpleasant.
For the enhancement and perfection of physical beauty are characteristics like big eyes, dark hair and a glowing complexion. In the same way for the divine conditions to be observed for prayers; the soul is the intention, piety, sincerity and concentration. Its rituals, Takbīratul Ehram, Ruku, Sajdahs, Tashahud and Qiyām are the vital organs, omitting even one of which nullifies the prayer. Other obligatory acts like, Qirāt, Zikr, unhurried Rukū’, as-Sajda and Tashahud are such that if they are neglected intentionally the prayer will be invalid.
They can be compared to the limbs and tongues of the human body. A loss of these sometimes results in death and sometimes the person survives. The recommended rituals like Qunut, the Mustahab Takbīrs and Mustahab Zikr etc. are like the decorative features which contribute to good looks and those, whose absence destroys the perfection of physical elegance.
Therefore concentration is a necessary condition for acceptance of prayers. It is like the soul in the human body. A prayer bereft of these conditions will be like a lifeless body. The prayer of the one who recites it without any concentration is just like a lifeless body, without any human feeling or consequence. The worshipper is also deprived of the blessings and rewards of prayers. And one of the most important consequence of reciting prayer according to the Qur’an is as follows:
“Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil.”
(Surah al-’Ankabūt 29:45)
If a person who recites prayers is prone to sin, it implies that his prayer was soulless.