Why do Muslims pray five times a day?
TO some, the Muslim’s prayer, otherwise known as Salat, is an enigma. “What exactly do these genuflections in the Muslim prayer connote?” Some wonder.
Ironically, some among my fellow worshippers do not help either the non-Muslim observer or the development of their individual souls.
When the Muslim enters the mosque, or sets up the prayer mat on the assumption that he desires to worship Allah, on the intention that he wishes to enter into private communion with his creator, the Almighty, the assumption becomes inevitable that, like an investor, he desires to reap some dividend from the endeavour.
The non-Muslim neighbour who observes the Muslim daily routine, the person who hears the constant eulogy of the name of the Almighty Allah, the one who observes the standing and bowing down, the proclamation of the salutation of peace, is equally a stake-holder.
He expects a direct and an indirect dividend from the successful ascension of the Muslim worshipper to the celestial grace; an ascension which should fructify on the terrestrial realities of humanity where piety, transparency, honesty and peaceful coexistence have become sine qua non for human survival.
Now how do we ensure we observe our prayers in the proper way in order to assure the maximum impacts?
Let us mention at least three elements. First is cleanliness. The Muslim prayer is invalid once the worshipper is physiologically unclean, when his cloth is unclean and when the place in which the prayer is to be observed is uncouth. The Prophet (upon him be peace) says “Allah is clean; He would not accept anything except that which is clean.”
The second element that can be mentioned is Knowledge. Unlike other religions, knowledge is key to the Muslim prayer. The worshipper whose prayers would attract maximum benefit should know the object of worship, namely, Allah and how to worship Him.
Knowledge of Allah includes the recognition of our nothingness in relation to His mightiness; it includes our awareness that by worshipping Him through the medium of Salat, we are actually serving ourselves.
Knowledge of how to worship Allah also features knowing exactly what to say, how to say it and when to say it. For example, the Muslim worshipper who does not know how to recite the first chapter of the Qur’an correctly wastes his time each time he postures as if he is in Salat.
Knowing what we say in Salat means understanding the implication of each move we make in the process. In other words, the Muslim who says Allahu Akbar while in prayers but still fears some earthly principalities inevitably finds himself in the hiatus of belief and un-belief. How could she say “Allahu Akbar” in the mosque only for her to say to her husband at night: “without you my life is nugatory and useless.”
What about the element of concentration. This, according to Al-Ghazali, refers to “that state in which one’s mind and feelings are in no way distracted from what one is doing and saying. Perception is united with action and speech. Thoughts do not wander. When the mind remains attentive to what one is doing, when one is wholeheartedly involved, and when nothing makes one heedless, that is when one has achieved conscious awareness.”
The Prophet, while underscoring the importance of this element, says: “the worshipper shall have no reward except for that part of his Salat in which he is conscious.” Thus, he wastes his effort, that Muslim who performs the Salat while his mind is with Chelsea or Arsenal. I “asked” Muadh b. Jabal, that famous companion of the Prophet for his opinion on this. Brethren, I had to pause and take a deep breathe when he says: “A man gets no credit for a prayer in which he deliberately notices those on his right and left.”!
Now what can we suggest as some of the inner dimensions of the Muslim prayer? One, the Muslim prayer connects the worshipper to his creator. It nullifies the establishment of intermediaries between the creator and the created. This explains why there are no monks in Islam. Brethren, how could a monk intervene between me and my Creator when the former is equally a subject, a “manufactured product”?
Through the instrumentality of salat, the Muslim worshipper is set free of looking for God each time and any time he desires to communicate with Him. I do not have to traverse long distance in order for me to call al-Rahman. I do not have to sweat in order to meet with al-Qarib: “If My servants question you about Me, (Allah), tell them that I am very close to them, I answer the prayer of every supplicant when he calls Me…(Q2; 186)
The Muslim prayer equally reminds the worshipper of her origin; it awakens him to his ultimate end. When we raise our hands up at the beginning of the prayer and say Allahu Akbar, we are indirectly saying we affirm the poverty of our being; that we acknowledge that we came to the world with nothing; that we shall leave with nothing when death eventually comes except with our piety and good works.
When the worshipper bows down in prostration and proceeds to bring his forehead to the ground, he is affirming the earthly nature of his being; that from the earth he was created, that he shall be returned back to the earth.
Let me reiterate again, dear Brethren. One critical advantage Muslims enjoy when they observe Salat in the right way is the speed at which their supplications are accepted. Thus, the Prophet advise us that when we are in the last sajdah posture, when our forehead is still on the ground, we should increase our supplications to Him- of what use is all other efforts once we enjoy divine succour and protection.
Al-Ghazali, the revered Muslim polymath says: “When you hear the call to prayer given by the Muezzin, let yourself perceive the terror of the Summons on the Day of Resurrection. Prepare yourself inwardly and outwardly to respond, and to do so promptly.
Those who are prompt in answering this call are the ones who will be summoned gently on the Day of the Great Review.
So review your hearts now; if you find it full of joy and happiness, eager to respond with alacrity, you can expect the summons to bring you good news and salvation on the Day of Judgment. That is why the Prophet used to say: “Comfort us, Bilal! For Bilal was the Muezzin and prayer was the joy and comfort of the Messenger.
Let me close with this statement from Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s): “If a man’s prayer does not deter him from indecency and mischief, he gains nothing from Allah but remoteness.” In other words, our prayers are worthless when it fails to confer worth and value on our earthly life; if you say “Allahu Akbar” inside the mosque and act “Allahu Asgahr” outside, then you have lost the essence of your being. I seek His protection from such a calamity.
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