The visage of prayer

Whatever can be said and written about prayer would still not be enough to fully describe it. How could it be possible to express in a few words the pillar of religion, the banner of Islam, the reminiscence of religions and prophets, and the pivot of the acceptance of all deeds?

Prayer is the program for every morning and evening. In the morning the first obligatory word is prayer and in the evening the last obligation is prayer. So, the beginning and the conduct of every day is through remembrance and for the sake of God.

Prayer is the secret of the one who—wherever he is and whoever he is, whether traveling or not, on the ground or in the air, whether in poverty or in affluence—is subservient to Him and not to other than Him.

Prayer is the practical ideology of the Muslim in which he expresses his beliefs, ideas, aspirations, and models.

Prayer means strengthening values and preventing the disintegration of the personality of individuals and members of the society in the same way that if the materials of a building are weak, the building will collapse.

The call to prayer [adhan] is the clarion of monotheism [tawhid], which summons the scattered soldiers of Islam in a single line and under a single banner, and places them behind a just leader [imam].

The imam of the congregation [jama‘ah] is one person so as to serve as a clue that the imam of the society [jami‘ah] should also be one person so as to have centralization in the conduct of affairs.

The imam of the congregation is supposed to attend to the weakest among the people, and this is a lesson that in decision-making, the deprived class of the society must be attended to. While praying, when the Messenger of Allah (s) heard the cry of a child, he hurriedly performed the prayer so that in case the mother of the child had ever participated in prayer, she could quickly attend to the needs of her child![71]

The first command after the creation of man was the command for prostration addressed to the angels: “Prostrate before adam (Adam)!”[72]

The first place on earth that surfaced and became dry was the site of worship (Mecca and the Ka‘bah).[73]

The first task done by the Messenger of Allah (s) after his emigration [hijrah] to Medina was the construction of a mosque.

Prayer is both the enjoinment of what is good [amr bi’l-ma‘ruf] and the forbiddance of what is evil [nahyi ‘ani’l-munkar]. We say everyday in the adhan and iqamah:

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[Hayya ‘ala’s-salah, hayya ‘ala’l-falah, hayya ‘ala khayr al-‘amal] “Come to prayer; come to (the means of) success; come to the best of deeds.” That is, of all affairs, the best deed is prayer. Also, prayer keeps man away from corruption and indecency:

“Indeed the prayer prevents indecencies and wrongs.”[74]

Prayer consists of movements which have emanated from consciousness and cognition. It is through the cognition of God that by His order, for His sake and because of zeal for Him, we stand in prayer, and thus, the Qur’an has prohibited us from praying while in a state of drunkenness[75] and indolence[76] so that whatever we recite in prayer must be with consciousness and attention.

Prayer gives awareness. The Jum‘ah prayer is held every Friday of the week and prior to it two sermons [khutbahs] are delivered. These two sermons are made in lieu of two rak‘ahs of prayer, and in a sense, are part of the prayer. According to Imam ar-Rida (‘a), the sermons must inform the people of all the issues in the world.[77] Listening to the sermons and then praying means being informed and then praying.

Prayer means exit from one’s self and soaring toward God. The Qur’an says in this regard:

“And whoever leaves his home migrating toward Allah and His Apostle, and is then overtaken by death, his reward shall certainly fall on Allah.”[78]

Imam Khomeini says:

Migration [hijrah] from the abode of the heart to God is one of the manifestations of this verse. Migration from self-admiration, self-centeredness and self-conceit toward worship of God, love of God and God-wariness is the greatest of migrations.[79] Prayer is in the rank [manzilah] of the Greatest Name of Allah [ism al-a‘zam], nay it is the Great Name of Allah itself!

In prayer, the honor [‘izzah] of the Lord [rabb] and the lowliness [dhillah] of the servant [‘abd] is manifested, and this station is already sublime.

Prayer is the banner of Islam.

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Just as a banner is a symbol, prayer is the symbol and the emblem of Islam. Just as a flag is respected, and insulting it is tantamount to insulting a nation and country, insulting and neglecting prayer also means insulting and neglecting the religion as a whole. Just as hoisting the flag is a sign of political vitality and military prowess, performance of prayer is also the same.

Prayer and the Qur’an

In many cases, the Qur’an and prayer have been mentioned together such as in this verse:

“Indeed those who recite the Book of Allah and maintain the prayer.”[80]

And in another place, it states:

“As for those who hold fast to the Book and maintain the prayer.”[81]

Sometimes, one attribute has been mentioned for prayer and the Qur’an, just as the word ‘remembrance’ [dhikr] has also been mentioned for the Qur’an:

“Indeed We have sent down the Reminder and indeed We will preserve it.”[82]

In addition, the philosophy of prayer has also been mentioned as ‘remembrance’:

“And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.”[83]

What is interesting is that sometimes instead of the word ‘prayer’ [salah], the word ‘recital’ [qur’an] has been mentioned, such as in this verse:

“Indeed the dawn recital is attended [by angels].”[84]

It is said that what is meant by the ‘dawn recital’ [qur’an al-fajr] is the dawn prayer [salah as-subh].

Apart from the fact that the recital of the Qur’an in the form of Surah al-Fatihah and another surah is one of the obligatory parts of the prayer, prayer is discussed in most surahs [suwar] of the Qur’an including both the longest surah (Surah al-Baqarah 2) and the shortest surah (Surah al-Kawthar 108).

Prayer and qisas!

The law on qisas[85] is discussed not only in Islam but in all divine religions according to which the punishment for a person who cuts somebody’s ear is to cut his ear and the penalty of one who breaks somebody’s tooth is to break his tooth as well, in order to implement justice. One of the cases of qisas is that the hand of a thief must be amputated. But only four fingers are to be amputated and the palm of his hand should not be included; for, the Qur’an says:

“The places of worship belong to Allah, so do not invoke anyone along with Allah.”[86]

This is because at the time of prostration [sujud] in prayer, he has to put the palm of his hand on the ground. Thus, concerning the penalty for theft, the issue of prayer and prostration must be taken into account and the palm of his hand should not be amputated, so even a thief’s right of worship is respected!

Worship [‘ibadah] and guardianship [wilayah]

Worship [‘ibadah] has value when it is not superficial. In fact, it should be associated with cognizance of the heavenly leader and his guardianship [wilayah] and associated with humility and its particular disciplines.

H?adrat ‘Ali (‘a) was encumbered by a group of holier-than-thou prayer performers who were known in history under the labels, Mariqun and Khawarij.[87] They were those whose foreheads were calloused on account of long and frequent prostrations in prayer. Yet, they revolted against ‘Ali (‘a) and unsheathed their swords against him. We also read in the hadiths that when the Imam of the Time (‘a) would appear, a group of mosques will act against him.

Do not imagine that those who had gone to Karbala’ to kill Imam al-H?usayn (‘a) were all neglectors of prayer [tarik as-salah]. In fact, they used to even attend congregational prayers! Mu‘awiyah and Yazid themselves were mosque-goers!

Yes, worship, which is associated with ignorance [jahalah], regards killing the most devoted worshipper [‘abid] among mankind as the greatest form of worship, and goes to kill ‘Ali (‘a) on the Night of Power [laylah al-qadr] with the aim of seeking nearness to Allah!

Not only prayer but in fact all other forms of worship should be associated with cognizance of the leader of truth and obedience to him. It has been stated in the traditions that God has made Hajj obligatory so that the people could gather around His House and establish communication with the infallible Imams (‘a) at this center of gathering. Nowadays, however, millions of people gather around the Ka‘bah but because they have no divine leader they have been splintered, and in spite of having this center of unity and economic leverage, they sill suffer setbacks from a handful of Jews!

Yes, Islam is a totality which is indivisible. Prayer without the acknowlegment of guardianship [wilayah] is unacceptable. Prayer without the payment of zakah is invalid. In the same manner, alms-giving without the performance of prayer is nullified.

The precepts of Islam are like limbs of a body none of which can replace the other. The eye can neither assume the function of the ear nor can the ear assume the function of the hand. In Islam also, the performance of prayer cannot replace the payment of zakat. In the same manner, neither of the two can be substituted for jihad and struggle in the way of God. Rather, the aggregate of them is Islam.

Prayer and leadership

If the prayer is only conducted by the divine leaders, the tentacles of oppression and the t?aghut would be shattered. The ‘id [feast] prayer of Imam ar-Rida (‘a) commenced with such grandeur and majesty that the oppressive government itself trembled and understood that if they allowed this prayer to be completed, the ‘Abbasid rule would also come to an end. Thus, Ma’mun ordered the Imam (‘a) to be taken into custody along the way.

The reason why the prayers of Muslims today are ineffective is that only a part of the injunctions of the Qur’an are practiced while other parts are forgotten. In this regard, the Qur’an states:

“Maintain the prayer and give the zakat, and obey the Apostle.”[88]

Today, however, some people perform prayers but do not give zakah. They are also those who say their prayers and give zakah but accept the guardianship [wilayah] of infidels [kuffar]. In other words, they have faith in God but they do not deny the t?aghut. This is defective faith.

God says:

“So one who disavows the Rebels [t?aghut] and has faith in Allah has held fast to the firmest handle.”[89]

That is, both the disavowal of the t?aghut and faith in God are required. Yet, nowadays Muslims have forgotten the declaration of disavowal of the t?aghuts and infidels. So, concerning those who turn to the t?aghut, the Qur’an states:

“Have you not regarded those who claim that they believe…?”[90]

The degrees of worship [‘ibadah]

If we ask a child why he loves his father and mother, he will reply that it is because they buy him candies, clothes and shoes! But if we ask an adolescent why he loves his parents, he will say: “It is because my parents are the symbol of my identity and personality, and they are kind and sympathetic to me.”

As the child grows older, fondness and appreciation for parents increases and he no longer thinks about shoes and such things. Many children regard rendering services to their parents as a means to their own perfection and nearness [qurb] to Allah, and they think beyond material things.

Worship and devotion to God is also like that. Each person worships God for a particular reason. Worship has various stages:

First step: Some people worship God to express gratitude to Him for His graces. In addressing the common people, the Qur’an states:

Let them worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them [and saved them] from hunger, and secured them from fear.”[91]

The first step (stage or degree) of worship, which we shall call ‘worship for gratitude’, is exactly like the child’s love for his parents—it is because of their purchase of candies, clothes and shoes that he loves them!

Second step: At this stage, man worships God due to the effects and blessings of worship and they pay attention to the spiritual and religious effects of prayer. As the Qur’an discloses:

“Indeed the prayer prevents indecencies and wrongs.”[92]

This stage of worship which we call ‘worship for advancement’ is similar to the love of the adolescent for his parents—he pays respect to them as they have been his tutors and trainers and have protected him from deviations and dangers.

Third step: This is a higher step or stage of worship. God says to H?adrat Musa (Moses) (‘a):

“And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.”[93]

H?adrat Musa (‘a) performs prayer not because of food and water; it is not because of protection from corruption and wrongdoings either; for, he was essentially far from gluttony and misdeeds. He is among the great prophets [ulu’l-‘azm],[94] and he says his prayer for the sake of love for God and remembrance of Him. For the saints of God, love for God is the best reason for worship.

Yes, there are children who sit in the front of a religious assembly [majlis] along with the adults so that they would be better entertained or served with refreshments better! But there are also individuals who sit along with the adults so as to receive more spiritual benefit from them and they are concerned with entertainment or refreshments. For them, this very fondness of the scholars is a value in itself.

Fourth step: This stage, which is the highest and the most superior stage of worship, is not for gratitude, advancement and enthusiasm; rather, it is for the sake of nearness [qurb]—nearness to God.

We have four verses in the Qur’an which make the performance of prostration [sujud] incumbent on the one who recites any of them. One of these verses mentions the same issue of nearness [qurb] to Allah through worship. The Qur’an states:

“But prostrate and draw near [to Allah].”[95]

Worship has various degrees and stages which are different from each other depending upon the spiritual degree and faith of the individual.