Prayers - Necessity
Salat (Islamic Prayer):
"The Great and Glorious Allah does
not insist upon the performance
Salat (Namaaz) and its Philosophy
Salat, the Islamic prayer, is the fifth "veil" in the Chishti spiritual training.
Hazrat Ali Hujwari describes various beneficial meanings of Namaaz in the light of Sufism. He says, "Namaaz not only puts the devotee on the path leading to Allah but also opens up all the secrets of this path to a keenly devoted mind. For instance. 'wazoo' (ablution) means outward cleanliness of the body, the first and foremost condition to prepare for Namaaz."
"Then comes 'tauba' (repentance)which means inner cleanliness of the devotee. Then comes the standing posture facing towards Kaaba', which means the devotee's implicit faith in, and devotion to, God."
"Then comes 'Qayaam' which means struggle against Nafs. Then starts the 'Qirat' (recitation of certain Qur'anic verses) which means 'dhikr' or remembrance of God. Then follows ruku' (the first forward-bending pose) which denotes humility overpowering the Nafs. Then comes 'Tashhed-e-Uns' which indicates assertion of the devotee's complete faith in, and love for, God, and, finally comes 'Salaam,' which means good-bye to all worldly attractions with the blessings of God."
The Surah Al-Fatiha, the Opening of the Holy Qur'an is in one sense the most condensed and concentrated prayer we can utter. It is said that the whole of the Qur'an is encapsulated in this opening Surah.
Two of the verses of this Surah are a special imploring of the servant to Allah Almighty for His Guidance:
Ihdinas sirat al-Mustaqueem
Not only has the Most-Kind Allah provided humans with the best possible invocation to Him, but immediately after He hears this sincere request, He informs His creatures of the means of attaining it---by revealing the entire Qur'an for the perfect and total guidance of humankind.
However, in the very first verses of the second Chapter of the Qur'an, Allah establishes the only keys which will open the blessings of this Book:
Zaalikal-Kitaabu laa rayba fi
The word Salat is Arabic (it is called Namaaz in Persian, Turkish and Urdu) and means prayer or worship, and also, supplications for forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.
One of the very most unfortunate facts regarding the presentation of Islam and its authentic Sufism in the Western languages for the past 100 years, is to be found centered in this conception of Salat. For, almost invariably, scholars have translated from rare and important works of Muslims scholars and Sufis, rendering the word Salat simply as "prayer or worship."
In fact, the practice of Salat is very specific, and forms the most unique and central feature of religious life in Islam and its Sufism. The Holy Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:
"The difference between a believer in
The great saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (RA) has commented to his followers on the importance of the Salat in the following manner:
"Without performing Salat, none can
approach God, because
"Salat is the ladder leading to the proximity (Qurb) of God."
"Salat is a trust committed to human care by Almighty God, a secret relationship existing between the worshipper and the Worshipped."
The Indian mystic musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought some Sufi ideas to the West in the early part of this century, said,
"A person who never accomplishes
[Salat] has no hope of ever advancing any other way, for every posture has a wonderful
meaning and a
Salat is at once both an external and internal practice: a set of physical exercises (or yogasanas, to which some have compared them), and the richest spiritual nourishment.
By considering each of these aspects in some detail, we can learn why the Sufis have regarded in many cases, that they would rather die than forego their Salat. Ma sha Allah! (May it please Allah the Almighty!).
Importance of Salat
Allah ta'ala has Informed us many times in the Holy Qur'an that we must make the performance of Salat the cornerstone of our belief and practice in Islamic life.
"Say: Verily, my prayer and my
service of sacrifice, my life and
"And during the night, prostrate
yourself to Him and glorify Him, a long night through. Verily, these love the present life
of this world,
Moreover, the Holy Prophet performed Salat at a practically unimaginable level of commitment and devotion. Here are a few of his remarks and advices about the Salat.
"Once Allah's Messenger passing by his Companions asked: Do You Know What The Almighty Allah Says? He Says, I swear by my honor and glory, there is no one who performs the Salat at its stated time, but I admit him to the Paradise. But for who performs it without observing its prescribed time, I may have mercy upon him if I like or punish him, if I like." Related by Tabarani
A child born into a Muslim family begins his life hearing the Adhan in his or her right ear and the Iqama (call to immediately begin prayer) in the left ear. From early childhood a child should be taught the importance and method of prayer.
Abdullah b. Amir b. has reported that the
Messenger of Allah said: "Command
your sons to pray when they reach the age of seven..."
"Verily, between man and between polytheism and
disbelief is the negligence of prayer."
The Prophet said: "The first thing that the servant will be called to account for on the Day of Judgment will be the Salah. If it is good, his deeds will have been good. If it is bad, his deeds will have been bad." Related by Tabarani
Necessity of Salat
There are unfortunately some persons parading as pseudo-sufis in the West, who assert that Salat is unnecessary. They make the strange claim that such formal actions as Salat are mere ritual, which the true spiritualist can dispense with. Such mis-guided persons give the examples of Ibn Arabi (RA), Maulana Rumi (RA), Imam Al-Ghazzali (RA) and Mansur Al-Hallaj (RA) as examples of the truly liberated, free-thinking 'sufis.' And, they disdain anyone who makes Salat or suggests its necessity, as one who is a backward-thinking 'fundamentalist.'
It is hoped that the presentation of only some of the deeper aspects of the practice of Salat will inspire people to learn and practice the Salat to learn its truly marvelous effects.
Persons such as Maulana Rumi, Ibn Arabi and the others mentioned above, were the most ardent and sincere followers of the Salat, as are all Sufis.
One December in Konia, Maulana Rumi (RA) had gone into his Hujra (meditation cell) to do his nighttime prayers. When the time for the Fajr (morning) prayer arrived, he did not appear. His followers became quite alarmed, because in twenty years Maulana had never failed to join them in congregational prayer. As time passed, and the mureeds' alarm grew, someone finally decided to force the door open. Inside, they were startled to find the Maulana with his beard frozen to the ground, struggling to set himself free. In his supplications, he had begun weeping so copiously that a pool of water of tears formed, and his prostration was so prolonged, that the cold air froze the tears, trapping him by his beard!
Mansur Al-Hallaj (RA) became famous in the history of Sufism for his alleged crime of offending the so-called orthodox clergy. However, he actually was tried and convicted on the charge of divulging Divine Secrets, which he had overheard while eavesdropping on his sister, who was a Sufi saint. The trial lasted over eight years. As Mansur Al-Hallaj sat awaiting his execution during the last week of his life, he passed his time by punctually offering his Salat, and is reported to have performed up to 500 rakats per day.
The Sufis are the most strenuous supporters of Salat. There is a story of Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani (RA), who one morning was about to miss the time of the morning prayer. A cat came over to his side as he lay asleep, and began nudging Abdul Qadir, until he awoke. Noticing the lateness of the time, he quickly offered his two Rakats of prayer. When he had finished, he looked at the cat, and with his spiritual insight, he saw that the cat was actually a satan. This puzzled the great saint, as to why a satan would wake him up for prayer. So he asked, "I can see you are a satan, but why on earth did you wake me up for the Fajr prayer?"
The cat answered him, "You are just as pious and clever as my fellow satans said you were. Since you've discovered me, I might as well tell you. I knew, that if you missed your obligatory prayer, you would have offered 100 Rakats as compensation, so I woke you up so you would only get the benefits of two."
Salat is both the first step and the final step for the true believer. It is the real means of uniting one with the whole of humanity, and also with Almighty God. It is never changed, varied or altered in its essential features (and never has been for 1,400 years) and thus becomes the foundation upon which the more refined spiritual practices are built. For anyone who desires to enjoy the most excellent health, harmonizing the physical, mental and emotional and soul life, there is no better medicine than the Salat.
As Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (RA) always was remarking to his followers: "Hurry up and perform the Salat, before the Final Hour passes!"
Interesting Features of Salat
Another interesting feature of the Salat, is that in the course of assuming the three main positions (Quayam, Ruku' and Sajjda), one makes the physical shapes of the Arabic letters 'A', 'D' and 'M'. These letters spell the word Adam, the first created human, and the first Prophet .
In fact, the angels --- who were created solely to worship Allah and do so as their natural behavior --- perform all of these postures of worship. All of the prophets of history (Peace be upon them all) also used one or more of these postures. The prophet Muhammad was granted the Grace of conveying to humanity the synthesis of all of the postures of all the prophets. Alhamdulillah al-Hayyoo! Al-Qayyoom!
Another important point regarding this practice, simply as a physical activity, is that persons of all ages from age one to the end of life, can do it. It is smooth, flowing, easy and in time becomes the greatest physical development that is possible.
In the course of one day, the minimum performance consists of seventeen units of prayer, comprised of nineteen separate positions during each Rakat. This is a total of 119 physical postures per day, or 3,570 postures monthly, or 42,840 postures yearly.
In the average adult's lifetime of 40 years, 1,713,600 postures are performed. Anyone so doing, is protected and innoculated against a host of ailments and diseases, such as heart attack and cardiac problems, emphemzema, arthritis, bladder, kidney and bowel problems, viral and bacterial infections, eye diseases, loss of memory and senilty, sciatica and spinal ailments, and many, many others. And, this practice can be done virtually anywhere, requires no special equipment, and costs nothing at all.
But for the sufis, the Salat has even greater import in their lives, because the prayer carpet at the place of prayer becomes the stepping off place into the Divine Reality, the Haqiqat.
The Shaikhs generally state that there are four stages of development to the aspirants to God. These are: Shariat (Law), Tariqat (Path), Haqiqat (Truth) and Mar'ifat (Ecstacy).
The first requirement is to adopt and follow the Shariat, meaning the Divine Laws of human life, which in due course of time, leads one onto the Sirat Al-Mustaqueem, the Path. The travelling of the enterprise of sufism is frequently referred to as following tariqat. This Path leads one to the Haqiqat. This is a difficult term and concept to convey, but a good effort is: Haqiqat is the final, incontrovertable and Absolute Truth of All Existence.
For example, some people believe Allah exists, some do not. Both cases cannot be true. The Haq (or Truth) of this matter is Absolute. And we will all have this matter resolved with finality, at the time of death. All of such hidden knowledges belong to the realm of Haqiqat. When one attains this status of insight into the Divine Truths, there follows the stage called Mari'fat---the overwhleming ecstacy of being a favored and chosen friend of the Beloved, Almighty God.
The performance of Salat is required to attain any of these stations (which are sequential). But merely voicing sounds and standing in one place will not produce the desired effects. Several internal conditions must be present.
One must first of all approach the prayer with a sense of humility, with a recognition of the dependent position of the worshipper in relation to the Worshipped. In point of fact, Allah has informed us that we were "a thing unremembered, until I Remembered you." There is not a single living person in the history of the world, who was responsible for his or her own conception of life. We did not only not exist: we did not even KNOW that we did not exist!
We should put all thoughts except those of our Merciful Creator out of our minds as we prepare to address Him. Worldly affairs must be shoved aside, with the understanding that the prayer is the means of stepping into the next world, of drawing near to God. And, if the mind is already filled with mundane thoughts, there will be no space for remembrance of God.
Another condition of prayer, is that the meaning of the words uttered be understood as completely as possible. Even though they are spoken in Arabic, one should know the translated meanings in one's own language, and contemplate these meanings as deeply and sincerely as possible.
It is narrated in the Traditions, that Allah said to Moses : "O Moses, when you want to remember Me, remember Me in such a way that your limbs tremble and that you hold Me dear at the time of remembrance and rest satisfied. When you stand before Me, stand before Me with a fearful mind like the poorest slave and speak with Me with the tongue of a truthful man."
And then Allah revealed to him: "Tell your disobedient followers to remember Me. I took oath upon Myself that I shall remember one who remembers Me. When Abraham stood for prayer, the voice of his heart was heard from a distance of two miles. An individual will be forgiven in the next world according to the qualities of his mind, and not of his body."
Some people may wonder about the suggestion that we must fear God, asserting instead, that we only need to think of Allah as Kind and All-Loving.
A verse in the Holy Qur'an which makes this clear is found in Surah Bakara:
Balaa man 'aslama wajha-huu lillahi
In other words, if one gives up one's own selfish desires and serves the humanity solely for the sake of pleasing Allah, the reward is the totally and unrestricted protection, grace and favour of Allah. When one has Allah, the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of the Creation, as his Protecting Friend, how could one ever be afraid or suffer saddness?