Importance of The Prayer
Al-Azhar Magazine – April 1969
The prayer (Salath) is the first worship obligated in Islam. It is a perfect and organized institution through which man is connected with Lord of the Universe. The prayer in the religion of Islam is not mere words of appeal or praise of God but it is both action and speech fulfilled by meditation with heart, tongue, and whole body. The importance of prayer may be judged from the following facts:
“ It is the first duty enjoined on the Prophet; it is the most frequently repeated injunction of the Holy Quran; and the Prophet says: “The prayer is the pillar of Religion”; and: “The prayer is the first thing will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement”.
There are several reasons why prayer has been given this importance. It is really the first step in the onward progress of man and yet it is also a spiritual force which will help him in his all walks of life, and will be a source of happiness and peace. The prayer keeps man away from evil, and thus enables him to attain to his perfection. It helps him to realize the remembrance of God Who is over watching everything in the Universe. As he said is His Book: “Keep up prayer for My remembrance”. This remembrance not only urges him to do disinterested service for humanity but also makes him attain the highest degree of moral perfection.
The right development of human faculties, and attaining to moral greatness, depends upon the purification of man’s inner self and the suppression of evil tendencies. The Holy Quran says:
قَدۡ أَفۡلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّىٰ (١٤)وَذَكَرَ ٱسۡمَ رَبِّهِۦ فَصَلَّىٰ (١
It means: “He is successful who purifies himself. And remembers the name of his Lord. So prays”. (87:15)
Prayer is spoken of as a means of purification for heart. God Says:
وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱللَّهُ وَحۡدَهُ ٱشۡمَأَزَّتۡ قُلُوبُ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡأَخِرَةِۖ وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦۤ إِذَا هُمۡ يَسۡتَبۡشِرُونَ (-٤٥ )
It means: “Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Scripture, and keep up prayer; surly prayer keeps one away from lewdness and evil, but verily remembrance of God is more important. And God knows what you do”.
The belief in God is the fundamental principle of every religion. The object of religion is not simply to preach the doctrine of the existence of God as a theory; it goes far beyond that. It seeks to instill the conviction that this belief is a living force in the life of a man. The prayer is the means by which it is sought to achieve this great end. The reference to the beginning of the Holy Quran will show what prayer really aims at. There we are told that a man who would tread the road to self development, must except certain principles and carry out certain duties, as stated in the beginning of the Holy Quran:
الٓمٓ (١) ذَٲلِكَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيۡبَۛ فِيهِۛ هُدً۬ى لِّلۡمُتَّقِينَ (٢) ٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡغَيۡبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰهُمۡ يُنفِقُونَ (٣)
It means: “Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubtis a guidance to those who ward off evil; who believe in the unseen and keep up the prayerand spend out of what we have given them.”
The three requisites of a true Muslim are there given, as quoted above, in their natural order. The first is a belief in the Unseen, which means the belief in God, who cannot be perceived by the physical eye of man. His mighty being is beyond limited human comprehension. He is the all knowing, he knows all things both secret and open. The Second, which follows immediately the belief in the Unseen, is the keeping up of the prayer. This shows that the belief in God is turned into a realization of the Divine existence by means of prayer. The third requisite, spending out of what God has given, is the natural sequel of the Second and shows that the certain of the Divine existence leads to the service of humanity.
Through prayer the man can realize the great truth of the Divine existence within his heart. It works an entire change in his life and also enables him to rise to moral greatness. Prayer is also the means of leveling all differences of ranks, colors and nationalities, thus the means of bringing about a cohesion and unity among mankind. The establishment of prayer is a living force in the unification of the human race through Divine services.
Prayer in Islam aims not only making man drink deep at the fountain of Divine morals, purifying his heart and setting him on the right road to the development of human faculties ; but it also brings about love, levels, all artificial differences between man and man, and establishes a true union of humanity. The truth is that this object cannot be achieved without regularly instituted form of prayer, so that the service of prayer is divided into two types: the first one to be performed in private and the other to be performed in congregation, preferably in mosques.
The private type of prayer is meant simply for the development of the inner self of man, and the public type of prayer has other ends as well in view, that make the Islamic prayer a mighty force in the unification of the human race. While the people living in the same vicinity gather together five times in the mosques, this gathering is a help to the establishment of healthy social relations. But the circle becomes wider in the weekly Friday Service which gathers together all Muslim members of a particular locality, and still wider in the two great ‘Id’ gatherings. Far more important than this social relations and unification of the human race, however, is the place of prayer in the leveling of social differences brought about by means of congregational prayer. For example, once within doors of the mosque every muslim feels himself in a atmosphere of equality and love. They all stand shoulder to shoulder, the king along with the poorest subject, the rich with the needy, the white with the black and the master with his servant, before their Creator and Lord. Not only this the king or the master standing in a back row will have to lay his head, prostrating himself before God, at the feet of a poor subject or a low class servant standing in the front row. There could be no more leveling influence in the world. Thus prayer creates an atmosphere of brotherhood, equality and human love, and differences of rank wealth and color vanish within the mosque, totally differing from the outside world.
These lessons of fraternity, equality and love, when put into practice in daily life, serve as foundations for the lasting human civilization and unification. In fact, the five daily congregational prayers are meant, among other things to carry into practice the theoretical lessons of equality and fraternity for which Islam stands. However much Islam may have preached in words may have preached in words the equality of man and the fraternity of the community all this would have remained as dead – letter, unless it had been translated into the everyday life of man through the institution of five daily congregational prayers, because no idea can live without a practical institution to keep alive.
Now let us come to the times of prayer and its prerequisite conditions. In Islam there is not a single day set apart for worship, but prayer is made a part of the everyday affairs of man. So there is a prayer in the morning before sun rise when a man rises from his bed; another just after mid-day; a third in the afternoon; a fourth just after sunset; and a fifth at night after twilight and before dawn. Thus prayer is the first daily work of the day, and between these two there are other prayers during hours of business or recreation. Islam thus requires that in all the varying conditions through which man has to pass, his spirit should be in touch with the Divine Spirit. He should feel the Divine Presence under all conditions, so that while he is doing his work, a moral force in the transaction of everyday affairs.
The ablution preceding prayer, facing the direction of Ka’aba, cleanliness of Body, dress and place, the reverential attitude in standing, the bowing down, the prostration with the forehead placed on the ground and the recitation of the “Fathihah” and the “Tashahhud” – all help the mind to concentrate on one object, to realize of the Divine Presence as a fact. This mode of worship helps the worshipper to find his heart’s joy in doing honor is his real Lord and Master, not only with his whole body. There is not the least doubt that the spirit of humility in man finds particular expression in the reverential postures which must be adopted in prayer. It cannot be denied that a particular posture of the body will generate in man feelings of pride and haughtiness while another is suggestive of true humanity, and it is only the latter frame of mind that can bring man closer to God, if therefore humility is of the essence of prayer, naturally a man will unfold his heart before his Cherisher.
Now, as we have seen, one of the great objects of prayer is to level down the social and race differences, and If any other postures than those prescribed by the Quran and the Prophet are adopted, there would be a divergence from the Islamic mode of worship, and the uniformity of prayer is destroyed, and its main usefulness is gone. A little consideration will show that a law generally requires a sanction behind it, and behind all Divine laws which relate to the development of man and to his moral betterment, the only sanction is a belief in the great Author of those laws. A man reverts to prayer to that state in which, disengaging himself from all worldly attractions, he feels the Divine Presence as an actual fact, the greater is his certainty about the existence of God and the greater the restraint upon the tendency to break His Law.