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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 5: Prayer to God


Chapter 5:
Prayer to God:

Another unique service the Prophet rendered to humanity was that he made prayer to God not only the foundation-stone of the individual development of man, but also the basis of the vast brotherhood of humanity which he established through Islam. The first three commandments which, he said, he had received from on High, were in the following order. Read and write, to attain to a place of honour, was, as we have already seen, his very first revelation. His second revelation was a command to warn the people and declare the greatness of God:

O thou enveloped in thy garment! Arise and warn, And thy Lord do magnify. (74:1-3)

The third commandment, his third revelation in the historical order, was to pray to God; not only to pray to Him in the daytime but even during the night:

O thou who hast wrapped up thyself! Keep awake in the night for prayer except a little, Half of it or lessen it a little, Or add to it and recite the Quran, reciting it in slow measured accents. (73:1-4)

Further on in the same chapter, we are told, how the Prophet himself and his Companions kept this commandment:

Surely thy Lord knows that thou keepest awake praying nearly two thirds of the night, and (sometimes) a half of it, and (sometimes) a third of it, as also a party of those with thee. (73:20)

And in another early sura, it is stated that resort to prayer was ordered both in the daytime as well as during the night:

Keep up prayer from the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night and the recital of the Quran at dawn; surely the recital of the Quran at dawn is witnessed. And during a part of the night, keep away sleep by means of prayer, beyond what is incumbent on thee; maybe thy Lord will raise thee to a position of great glory. (17:78, 79)

Prayer to God in the daytime as also during the night was thus declared to be the means of the raising of man to a position of great glory. It was further stated that prayer had to be resorted to time after time:

So glory be to Allah when you enter upon the time of the evening and when you enter upon the time of the morning -- And to Him belongs praise in the heavens and the earth -- and in the afternoon and when you are at midday. (30:17, 18)

Thus guided, the Prophet made prayer an institution to which he himself and his followers resorted at stated times. It was not left to the individual to find out a time now and then to pray to God when he felt himself free; prayer was interwoven with his daily work: a prayer in the morning when he rose from his bed; a prayer at lunch time, as an indication that if his body needed a diet, so did his spirit; a prayer in the afternoon when he retired from his daily work; a prayer at sunset and a prayer when going to bed, being the final act of the day's work.

The object aimed at was to deepen in the human heart the roots of God-consciousness, with which man was endowed by nature; to make him remember again and again that he owed a duty to his Maker; to call him back when he was in the midst of his worldly engagements and to usher him into the Divine Presence; to awaken in him in the midst of all the turmoils and agitations which were likely to lead his mind away from God, the consciousness that there was a Higher Presence to Whom he was really responsible for what he did; to remind him in the hour of triumph that he was nothing but a weak and humble creature of God, and in the hour of his failure and disappointment that he had still a support to fall back upon, and that there was nothing to despair of.

The stress laid on prayer was due to the fact that it was, in the first place, the means of realising the Divine in man. The Prophet did not deem it sufficient simply to preach the existence of God as a theory. He sought to instil into man's mind the conviction that God is, and to make it a living force in his life. The three requisites of a Muslim are given in the beginning of the Holy Quran in their natural order:

This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who fulfil their duty: Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them. (2:2, 3)

Belief in God, the Great Unseen, is immediately followed by the keeping up of prayer, thus showing that by means of prayer belief is turned into a realisation of the Divine within man, into a certainty of the Divine existence; and this again is followed by spending out of what God has given man, for the benefit of others in charity. Thus faith in God is translated into practice by prayer, which, in its turn, leads to the service of humanity. According to the Prophet, self-development of man depended upon prayer:

Successful indeed are the believers, Who are humble in their prayers. (23:1, 2)

The Arabic word for success is falah which means the complete attainment of what one desires. To the Prophet falah (or success) and prayer were so closely connected that they might almost be regarded as two interchangeable terms. Five times a day did he order the call to go forth from the minaret of every mosque:

Come to prayer Come to prayer

Come to success Come to success.

It was again through prayer to God that man's heart was purified and the evil tendencies in him were suppressed:

Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps one away from indecency and evil. (29:45)

And keep up prayer in the two parts of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deeds take away evil tendencies. (11:114)

The Prophet explained further what the Holy Quran taught. On one occasion he thus addressed his Companions:

Tell me if there is a stream at the door of one of you in which he bathes five times daily; what dost thou say, will it leave anything of his dirt?

And on receiving the reply that it would not, he added:

This is the likeness of the five prayers with which Allah washes away all faults. (Bukhari, 9:6)

With the Prophet prayer was an aspiration of the human spirit to be in touch with the Divine Spirit, the fountainhead of purity and the possessor of perfect attributes:

All the perfect attributes are Allah's. (7:180)

His are the most excellent attributes. (59:24)

Be imbued with the Divine morals.

The only way to do this was to get in touch with the Divine Spirit, to be drawn away from the imperfection of human environment for a while and to drink deep at the Divine fountainhead of purity and perfection. "When one of you," said the Prophet, "says his prayers, he holds confidential intercourse with his Lord." (Bukhari, 9:8) In prayer, the Divine Presence was reality:

Thou shouldst worship Allah as if thou didst see Him; if thou dost not see Him, He surely sees thee. (Bukhari, 2:37)

And seek (Divine) help through patience and prayer, and surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones, Who know that they shall meet their Lord, and that they shall return to Him. (2:45, 46)

These descriptions of prayer show its real nature to be that of being in actual intercourse with the Divine Being, and the man who prays to Him in real earnest, prays to Him with the conviction that he can meet Him in this very life.

Prayer was further meant to seek help as well as guidance from God. The seeking of help and guidance is linked up in the daily prayer of the Muslim, repeated about forty times a day:

Thee do we serve and of Thee do we seek help. Guide us on the right path. (1:4, 5)

Thus, every now and then, the Muslim is required to turn to God to seek both help and guidance from Him in all his undertakings.

In one place, prayer is referred to as a sustenance for the spirit of man, so that the man who does not pray to God must be regarded as spiritually dead:

And glorify thy Lord by the praising of Him before the rising of the sun and before its setting, and during the hours of night do also glorify Him and during parts of the day, that thou mayest be well-pleased. And do not stretch thy eyes after that with which We have provided different classes of men, and the sustenance of thy Lord is better and more abiding. And enjoin prayer on those dependent on thee and steadily adhere to it thyself; We do not ask thee for sustenance: We do give thee sustenance; and the good end is for those who fulfil their duty. (20:130-132)

That with which We have provided different classes of men," are things pertaining to the physical life of man, things which he needs physically, and in comparison with these, prayer is called the "better and more abiding" "sustenance of thy Lord," a thing which man needs spiritually. Prayer is thus needed time after time, both during the day and the night, to sustain the spirit of man, as food is needed time after time to sustain the body.

The prayer service was divided by the Prophet into two parts, one to be said in private, and the other to be performed in congregation, preferably in a mosque. While the private part was meant simply for the development of the inner self of man, the public part had other ends as well in view -- ends, indeed, that make the Islamic prayer a mighty force in the unification of the human race. In the first place, this gathering of all people living in the same vicinity five times daily, is a help towards the establishment of healthy social relations. In the daily services these relations are limited to a comparatively narrow circle, i.e., to members of the same neighbourhood. The circle, however, becomes wider in the weekly Friday service which gathers together all Muslim members of a particular locality, and still more extensive in the two annual gatherings of the Muslim festival, called `Id/Eid. Thus prayer promotes social relations between the different sections of the Muslim community.

Far more important than this, however, is the levelling of social differences brought about by means of congregational prayer. Once within the doors of the mosque, every Muslim feels himself in an atmosphere of equality and love. Before their Maker all Muslims were made to stand shoulder to shoulder, the king along with his humblest subject, the rich arrayed in costly robes with the beggar clad in rags, the white man along with the black one. There could be no greater levelling influence in the world. All men, great and small, white and black, stood on terms of perfect equality five times a day in the mosque and this entirely changed the mentality which made one man think himself superior to another, either on account of riches, or on account of rank, or on account of race or colour.

The congregational prayer, instituted by the Prophet, in fact, carried into practice the theoretical lessons of equality and fraternity, of the oneness of humanity, which he taught. However forcibly he may have preached in words the equality of man and the fraternity of the community of Islam, all this would have ended in mere talk had it not been translated into everyday life through the institution of the daily congregational prayers. Thus the institution of prayer as established by the Prophet became a unique force in the unification of the human race.

Congregational prayer effected yet another great purpose. Differences of rank, wealth, race and colour vanished within the mosque; and quite a new atmosphere, an atmosphere of brotherhood, equality and love prevailed within the holy precincts. It is indeed a blessing to be able to breathe, five times daily, in the atmosphere of perfect peace in a world of strife and struggle; of equality where inequality is the order of the day; and of love amid the petty jealousies and enmities of daily life. It is more than a blessing, for it is the great lesson of life. Man has to work amidst inequalities, amidst strife and struggle, amidst scenes of hatred and enmity; and yet he is drawn out of these five times a day and made to realise that equality, fraternity and love are the real sources of human happiness. The time spent in prayer is not, therefore, wasted even from the point of view of active humanitarianism; on the contrary, the best use of it is made in learning those great lessons which make life worth living. And these lessons of fraternity, equality and love, when put into practice in daily life, serve as foundations for the unification of the human race and for lasting civilisation of mankind.

The Prophet went yet a step further. He taught that the prayerful attitude of man was not to be limited to the four walls of the mosque, nor to the particular condition when he was actually engaged in prayer. His programme was to make humanity prayer-minded, and so he taught a prayer with every change in man's mood. Though a Muslim's last act before going to bed is an organised prayer, yet when actually going to bed, he was taught a prayer which should set at rest all the anxieties of the day and the troubles of life, and help him in enjoying sound sleep with the assurance that he was a faithful servant of God:

O Allah! Into Thy charge do I give my soul, and into Thy hand do I entrust my affair, and to Thee do I turn my whole attention, and in Thee do I seek support for my back, longing for and fearing Thee; there is no refuge and no deliverance but in Thee; I believe in Thy book which Thou hast revealed and in Thy Prophet whom Thou hast sent. (Muslim Prayer Book, p. 50)

There was a different prayer on arising from sleep, so that while giving praise to God for another day of life, man should start the day with the conviction that his greatest responsibility was to God alone:

All praise is due to Allah Who raised us to life after He had caused us to die, and to Him is the rising. There is no God but Allah; He is One, there is no associate with Him; His is the Kingdom and for Him is the praise, and He is powerful over all things. (Ibid., p. 51)

When a man went forth from his house for his business, he was taught to pray that in his dealings with others he might be just to them and that the All-Powerful God might withhold the hands of those who do injustice to Him:

In the name of Allah, on Allah do I rely. O Allah! We seek Thy refuge lest we stumble or go astray, or lest we do injustice to others or injustice is done to us, or lest we behave ignorantly towards others or others behave ignorantly towards us. (Ibid., p. 51)

And when he returned to his house after his day's business, with all his failures he should still rely on God and pray thus:

O Allah! I beseech Thee that I may be made to enter a goodly entering and to go forth a goodly going forth; in the name of Allah do we enter, and on Allah our Lord do we rely. (Ibid., p. 51)

The blessing of God was to be sought before taking one's meals:

In the name of Allah and with blessings from Allah. (Ibid., p. 52)

And praise was to be given to Him after the meal was finished:

All praise is due to Allah Who gave us to eat and to drink and He has made us Muslims. (Ibid., p. 52)

On going out on a journey, the deepest desire of the heart should be that one should be faithful to one's duty and do only that which is pleasing to God, and that God may grant safety to one's self as well as to those one has left behind:

O Allah! We ask of Thee during this our journey righteousness and faithfulness to duty, and the doing of deeds Thou art pleased with. O Allah! Thou art the companion in the journey and the guardian of the family. (Ibid., p. 54)

When entering a town, one should pray for the good of the town and the good of its residents:

O Allah! We ask of Thee the good of this town and the good of its residents, and we seek refuge in Thee from its mischief and the mischief of its residents and the mischief of what is in it. O Allah! Make its residents love us and make us love the righteous among its residents. (Ibid., p. 53)

When visiting a sick man, one should pray to God that health may be restored to him:

Take away the sickness, O Lord of all people! and restore (Thy servant) to health. Thou art the Healer; there is no healing but that which Thou grantest. Grant recovery which leaves no ailment behind. (Ibid., p. 53)

On entering a boat, one should seek the help of God for a safe sailing:

In the name of Allah be its sailing and its anchoring; surely my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful. (Ibid., p. 55)

When riding or driving, one should give praise to God Who made man master of these things:

Glory be to Him Who made this subservient to us, and we were not able to do it, and surely to our Lord we must return. (Ibid., p. 54)

When one has performed an external act of purification, he should pray to God for the purification of his soul:

O Allah! Make me of those who turn to Thee and make me of those who purify themselves. (Ibid., p. 56)

When facing the enemy, one should seek the refuge of Allah:

O Allah! We beseech Thy help in opposing them and seek refuge in Thee from their mischiefs. (Ibid., p. 56)

The prayer for victory over an enemy stands unparalleled. It is always preceded by a desire for conquest of self and for humbleness:

Our Lord! Do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake; our Lord! do not lay on us a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us; our Lord! do not impose on us that which we have not the strength to bear, and pardon us and grant us protection and have mercy on us, Thou art our Protecting Friend, so help us against the unbelieving people. (2:286)

Our Lord! Forgive us our faults and our excess in our affairs and make firm our feet and help us against the unbelieving people. (3:146)

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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 5: Prayer to God

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