One of the distinguishing features of a Muslim is his daily prayers, every day a practicing Muslim will pray 5 times, but why? What is the purpose of this? How does prayer help?
What is Prayer?
Prayer is a central tenet of Islam, it is mentioned hundreds of times in the Quran and Sunnah, even if you have never read the Quran, you will know that Muslims pray. So what are they doing? How important is prayer?
‘Islam is based on five principles. They are Divine authority, the prayer, charity, fasting in the month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage.’
(Imam Al Baqir AS -Al Kafi H 1484, CH 10, h 7 )
“Between faith and unbelief is abandoning the prayer.”
(Jabir Ibn Abdullah (r.a) reports the Prophet (pbuh) -Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Musnad)
So prayer is one of the fundamentals of Islam, but what is prayer?
We have a narration from Imam Al Baqir AS who has said, Allah says in the Quran ‘Those who consider themselves above the need to worship Me will soon go to hell in disgrace.’ (40:60) “The Imam then said, ‘This is a reference to prayer. The best form of worship is prayer.” (Al Kafi H 3047, CH 1, h 1 ).
So we know Salah is a form of worship, which brings us to the next question, what is worship? What are we doing by bowing and praising Allah? What are we trying to achieve?
Imam Al-Ridha, AS, said, ‘A great deal of prayer and fasting is not worship. Worship is only when one is thinking about Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy.’” (Al Kafi H 1547, CH 24, h 4 )
So Prayer is acknowledging the status quo, admitting that Allah is the creator and sustainer, and we are dependent on Him. Think about the words that we say in every prayer :
It is You we worship, and upon You we call for help.
Prayer is a recognition of this relationship between us and Allah, a confirmation that we know what our place is in this universe. It is a time to think about Allah, His Mercy, His wisdom and our dependence on Him.
Why do Muslims Pray?
People sometimes think that Salah is giving something to Allah, but Allah does not need anything, nor does He increase or decrease if we pray to Him or not. So what is the point of praying? We know that prayer is recognising the reality of our situation, the fact that we are created beings in this created universe who will be held to account for our behavior here, and that Allah is the one who can help us and He is the one who will judge us.
So what does prayer actually do? What is the difference between a person who prays and one who doesn’t?
Lets see what Allah says in the Quran :
Recite what is revealed to you of the book, and perform the prayer. The prayer prevents immorality and evils. with the remembrance of God who is the greatest, And God knows what you do.
So Allah says that the accepted Prayer of a person will prevent immorality and evil deeds, How? by remembering Him, being mindful that our actions will have consequences. So the prayer is a tool to improve our behavior. To improve the way we handle situations in life.
So prayer is like exercise for our moral decision making process, if a person prays properly, with the right intention then they are less likely to do things which are immoral and evil.
A narration from Al Kafi says, Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Rada, AS, who has said the following: “Amir al Mu’minin, AS, has said, ‘Paradise is for those who maintain sincerity in worshiping Allah and in prayer to Him. Whatever they see does not occupy their heart. Whatever they hear does not make them forget to speak of Allah and they do not feel depressed because of what is given to others.’”
(H 1472, CH 9, h 3 )
So that person has focused sincerely on Allah, and is not distracted by material items like cars, friends or jealously. The narration didnt say, those who pray or kept up their prayer, but it said those who keep praying sincerely. They can see the universe for what it is, and it is much more than just gaining a car or some money or being popular.
Lets look at a narration which explains what is meant by being sincere , Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah,AS , who has said the following: “In the tribe of Israel there was a man who prayed to Allah for a son for three years. When he found that Allah did not answer his prayer, he then asked, ‘O Lord, am I far away from You and You do not hear me or You are close to me but do not answer me?’ The Imam said, ‘Someone came in the man’s dream and said, ‘You have prayed to Allah, the Majestic, the Glorious, for three years in an obscene language, with an oppressive heart that is impious and with untrue intentions. Stay away from obscenity, be pious before Allah and make your intention to be good.’ The Imam said, ‘The man followed the instruction, and prayed to Allah, only then a son was born to him.’”
(H 2611, CH 127, h 7 )
To give you an example, If we were feeling unwell, and we went to the doctor, and they did their tests and concluded that you need to become fitter and healthier or you will start to have serious health problems. So they prescribe you a routine of exercises and a healthy diet. Now if that person follows the doctors orders and stays fit and eats well, then there health should improve. So they need to make a complete lifestyle change. If someone wants to improve their moral health, then they should do salah regularly, but if you want it to have the best effect, it also needs to be part of a lifestyle change, so it means that between prayer the person should try and uphold Islamic values. Just like the example of the unwell person, its no good exercising and then eating junk food, its counter productive, for the best effect we need a complete lifestyle change.
There is a narration from Imam As-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said: “If a person wants to know whether his prayers have been accepted or not, he should observe if his prayers have prevented him from evil and sinful acts. If it does, then the amount it has restrained him is the amount his prayers have been accepted.”
Biharul Anwar, Volume 82, Page 198
How Should prayer be used?
Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah AS, who has said the following: “The prayers of four kinds of people are not heard: a man who sits home and says, ‘O Lord, grant me sustenance,’ and it is said to him, “Have I not commanded you to work?” a man who is troubled by his wife so he prays for her to leave, but he will be asked, ‘Have I not made divorce lawful?’ A man who has destroyed his wealth and asks, ‘O Lord, grant me wealth,’ he will be asked, “Have I not commanded you to spend it moderately?”
(H 3231, CH 32, h 2)
So we can see from this narration that when you request something in prayer, Allah is not a genie who will just grant your wishes. There is a system in place. Allah will not grant someone injustice, or impose an outcome that is unjust. So if I don’t like my neighbor, I should move, perhaps he has done nothing wrong, perhaps that neighbor loves his house and the area. So just because I don’t like him, and I pray, is Allah is going to move him away? Where is the justice in that? This is obviously not how it works. When we know how to do something, but cant be bothered to do it, Allah is not going to ignore our laziness and change the universe so that we get what we want without earning it.
Remember, if this life was as simple as just sitting and praying and getting what you want, the Prophet’s SAW tooth would not have been broken in battle. Our Imams AS would not have had to go to to wars and get wounded. Imam Ali AS was in the position of caliph for only 4 years, and in that time he had to fight 3 major wars. They all had to work hard to achieve their goals. Salah is not a get rich quick scheme, or a short cut, or a way around doing your duties.
Importance of Salah
So now we know what is prayer, what it will do for us, and how it should be used. Now lets focus on what happens if we ignore it and the consequences of not taking it seriously.
In the Quran we find the following verses:
In gardens, they shall ask each other about the guilty: What made them end up in hell? They shall say: We were not of those who prayed;
(Surah Muddathir 74:40-46)
In another surah the Quran refers to those who are going to hell : “So he did not accept the truth, nor did he pray, he called the truth a lie and turned back”
In another Surah, there are statements about the generations of people after Prophet Noah, Abraham : But they were succeeded by generations who lost the prayers and followed their desires. They will meet their destruction. (19|59)
That was from the Quran, now we have some narrations.
Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah AS who has said the following: “I asked Abu ‘Abd Allah AS ‘Which is the best deed?’ The Imam said, ‘Prayer in its proper time, kindness to parents and hard work to strive for the cause of Allah”
A second narration says:
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) has said: “One who considers the prayers to be insignificant and trivial is not from me. By Allah! He shall never come close to me at the pool of Kauthar.”
Biharul Anwar, Volume 82, Page 224
We have another narration that illustrates this point, it refers to the dua of Nabi Musa AS which is mentioned in the Quran as follows:
Moses said, “Our Lord, you have given Pharaoh and his chiefs splendor and wealth in this worldly life. Our Lord, they use it to lead away from Your path. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth, and harden their hearts, they will not believe until they see the painful torment.”
The next verse says :
He said, “Your prayer has been accepted, so go straight, and do not follow the path of those who do not know.”
The narration says :
Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah AS, who has said the following: “Between the words of Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, ‘Your prayer is accepted,’ (10:89) and the time the Pharaoh was seized, there was a forty-year time span.’”
(Al Kafi H 3142, CH 19, h 5)
So things are not always instant, you still have to earn it, Salah will give you the resolve to stay on the path and the patience to wait for our prayers to be turned to reality.
There are those that say : “I feel I cant pray because I haven’t prayed for a while and I have done so much wrong….etc”
We have a lengthy narration from Imam Ali Ibn Al Husain AS, and I will summarise it, there was a young man who lived near the coast, and he had really gone off the rails, he had done anything and everything, nothing was taboo for him anymore. So forget about praying, this man was a thief and everything else. One day there was a shipwreck, everyone on board except a married women died, this lady stumbled onto the shore and noticed the bad man. The bad man immediately went with his desires and tried to act like her husband and grabbed her. The lady panicked and started to pray, the man then said, “why are you so upset?” She said she was afraid of God, the man then said, “have you done anything wrong?”, she said No. The man then said, you fear him this much and you haven’t done anything wrong, and even now it is me forcing you into this situation?
The man then said, if that is your fear and you haven’t done anything, then I am the one who should be afraid. He then sat for a while and felt that if there was only a way to repent for what he has done in his life, he would do it. He started the journey to return to his family and try and improve his life. During his journey he met a monk was walking with him, it was a baking hot summers day, so the monk suggested to pray for cloud. The young man felt sad and said, I dont think my prayer would have any effect, I dare not even try. The monk said, I will pray, you can just say Ameen, he agreed, the monk prayed and the man said ameen. Shortly after a cloud appeared above them, they felt good walking in the shadow, but the monk and the man now are not traveling together. The monk needs to go one way, and the man the other. The shadow stayed on the young man, the one who had done all the bad deeds from before. The monk shouted to the man, God favored you over me, the prayer was accepted because of you, please tell me your story. So the young man come to the monk and told him, the monk said the sins you had committed are forgiven because of the fear that entered your heart, pay attention to your future deeds.
H 1595, CH 29, h 8
So the young man who thought there was no hope and no point in praying, as soon as he turned to God, sincerely, and made the changes in his life, then God helped him.
Another narration that explains this point, in al Kafi, Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah AS, who has said the following: “The Messenger of Allah has said, ‘Once Moses was sitting when Satan came to him with a multi-colored hooded cloak on him. When he approached Moses he took his cloak off, stood nearby, and greeted him. Moses asked, ‘Who are you?’ He replied, ‘I am Satan.’ Moses said, ‘Is it really you? May Allah keep you far away.’ Satan said, ‘I came to offer you greetings because of your closeness to Allah.’ The Imam said, ‘Moses then asked, ‘What is this hooded cloak for?’ He said, ‘With this I kidnap the hearts of the children of Adam.’ Moses said, ‘Tell me which sin is it that when the children of Adam commit it you feel successful?’ He said, ‘It is when he feels self-important, his good deeds are a great deal and his sins trivial.’ “The Imam then said, ‘Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, said to David, “O David, give good news to the sinners and warn the true believers.” He asked, ‘How should I give good news to the sinners and warn the true believers?’ Allah said, ‘Give good news to the sinners that I accept repentance and forgive their sins. Warn the true believers against feeling self-important due to their deeds. If I will ever make anyone settle his accounts, he is destroyed.’”
(H 2572, CH 121, h 8)
So Satan wants us to feel like our sins are so big that we can not even ask for forgiveness, and Satan wants us to lose hope in Allah, and give up on salah all together. Allah is telling us the opposite, all you have to do is turn to Him sincerely, he will forgive you.
Best form of Salah – Praying together.
We know what Salah is, what is does, how important it is, but salah has grades, and the highest grade is that of praying together.
Lets examine some narrations :
The people are saying that, a prayer performed in congregation has the equivalent of the merit of twenty five prayers of a man prayed alone is it true? Imam Abi Abdillah (a.s) said : They have spoken the truth, they then said : do two people make up a congregation?The Imam (a.s) said : yes and the other man stands to the right of the imam, not in one line and not behind him.
So remember prayer will stop you from becoming immoral and making mistakes in your life, and by praying with just one other person, its 25x more effective.
Another narration goes on to say : the prayer itself is an obligation, and not the act of congregating together , but congregational prayer is a Sunnah, and whoever leaves it – because of his dislike for it and also dislike for the gathering of the believers without having any reasonable argument, then there is no prayer from him.
So to conclude, now we know what is prayer, why we do it, what it will do for us, what it will not do for us and that the best form of praying is praying together.
We have all been in situations where we have sinned. None of us are perfect. Im not talking about the time you spilled some water, or turned left when you meant to turn right, those are innocent mistakes, I’m talking about sins.
Now in every one of those situations, we knew what was right and what was wrong, but we did not have a strong enough resolve to do what we knew was right, salah will give us that strength, give us the ability to make the right decisions in difficult times. We also know that every immoral act will bring us negative consequences in this life and the next. If someone was tempted to gamble, and they choose to do it, then they get addicted, there are consequences, they are now going to suffer, they are going to lose their money and be stuck this cycle of addiction, depression and fear. They have a defect of their decision making, they were not strong enough to act on their moral compass, it wasn’t that they didn’t know gambling was wrong, they knew it was wrong, but they could not control their desires, remember the verse from earlier which is talking about the generations of people after Prophet Noah and Ibrahem AS :
they were succeeded by generations who lost the prayers and followed their desires. They will meet their destruction.
Prayer would have shielded a person from all of those problems and more.