By Dr A Q Khan
May 18, 2015
In my last three columns I covered the importance and utility of ablution and prayer in Islam and quoted Quranic edicts on prayer (and charity). Now I would like to dwell on the physical and spiritual importance of prayer, which is not just about praying, but about a complete mode of life – disciplined and orderly.
I have yet to read a better rendering of the physical and spiritual interpretation of prayer than that given by a simple Bedouin living in Jerusalem to that great Islamic scholar, Muhammad Asad (ra), an Austrian Jew by origin and a convert to Islam. His two books, ‘Road to Makkah’ and ‘The Meaning of the Holy Quran’ have become classic works and made him immortal. In the first book the author describes his journey towards accepting Islam. It is from this book that I take the following portion about prayer.
“During that autumn I was living in my uncle Dorian’s house just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. It rained almost every day and, not being able to go out much, I often sat at the window which overlooked a large yard behind the house. This yard belonged to an old Arab who was called hajji because he had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca; he rented out donkeys for riding and carrying and thus made the yard a kind of caravanserai…….men were always noisily attending to the camels and donkeys.
“They were poor but …when they sat together at meals on the ground and ate …, I could not but admire the nobility and ease of their bearing and their inner quiet; you could see that they had respect for themselves and the everyday things of their lives. The hajji, hobbling around on a stick ...was a kind of chieftain among them…Several times a day he assembled them for prayer …all the men in a single, long row and he as their imam in front …they would bow together in the direction of Mecca, rise again, and then kneel down and touch the ground with their foreheads; they seemed to follow the inaudible words of their leader, who between the prostrations, stood barefoot on his prayer carpet, eyes closed, arms folded over his chest, soundlessly moving his lips and obviously lost in deep absorption: you could see that he was praying with his whole soul.
“It somehow disturbed me to see so real a prayer combined with almost mechanical body movements, and one day I asked the hajji, who understood a little English: ‘Do you really believe that God expects you to show Him your respect by repeated bowing and kneeling and prostration? Might it not be better only to look into oneself and to pray to Him in the stillness of one’s heart? Why all these movements of your body?’ As soon as I had uttered these words I felt remorse, for I had not intended to injure the old man’s religious feelings.
“But the hajji did not appear in the least offended. He smiled and replied: ‘How else then should we worship God? Did He not create both soul and body together? And this being so, should man not pray with his body as well as with his soul? …We turn toward the Kaaba, God’s holy temple in Mecca, knowing that the faces of all Muslims are turned to it in prayer, and that we are like one body, with Him as the centre of our thoughts. First we stand upright and recite from the Holy Koran, remembering that it is His Word, given to man that he may be upright and steadfast in life. Then we say, ‘God is the Greatest,’ reminding ourselves that no one deserves to be worshipped but Him; and bow down deep because we honour Him above all, and praise His power and glory.
“Thereafter we prostrate ourselves on our foreheads because we feel that we are but dust and nothingness before Him, and that He is our Creator and Sustainer on high. Then we lift our faces from the ground and remain sitting, praying that He forgive us our sins and bestow His grace upon us, and guide us aright, and give us health and sustenance. Then we again prostrate ourselves on the ground and touch the dust with our foreheads before the might and the glory of the One.
“After that, we remain sitting and pray that He bless the Prophet Muhammad who brought His message to us, just as He blessed the earlier Prophets; and that He bless us as well, and all those who follow the right guidance; and we ask Him to give us of the good of this world and of the good of the world to come. In the end we turn our heads to the right and to the left, saying, “Peace and the grace of God be upon you” – and thus greet all who are righteous, wherever they may be. It is thus that our Prophet (pbuh) used to pray and taught his followers to pray for all times, so that they might willingly surrender themselves to God – which is what Islam means – and so be at peace with Him and with their own destiny.’
“The old man did not, of course, use exactly these words…Years later I realised that with his simple explanation the hajji had opened to me the first door to Islam; but even then, long before any thought that Islam might become my own faith entered my mind, I began to feel an unwonted humility whenever I saw, as I often did, a man standing barefoot on his prayer rug, or on a straw mat, or on the bare earth, with his arms folded over his chest and his head lowered, entirely submerged within himself, oblivious of what was going on around him, whether it was in a mosque or on the sidewalk of a busy street; a man at peace with himself.”
One can see how Allah Almighty was opening Asad’s heart to Islam through small events, stories and explanation by simple, almost illiterate Arab nomads. And didn’t Allah say: “He whom Allah guides is rightly guided but he whom Allah leaves to stray, for him will you find no protector to lead him to the right destination” (18:17). If one carefully reads the explanation given by that simple Arab (hajji) one would almost automatically go into this trance-like state when praying, provided only that the mind is free from worldly affairs.
Please do seriously consider the salient features of cleanliness and the physical and spiritual importance of prayer. The famous French philosopher, Rosseau, once said: “Hygiene is not only a knowledge, but a virtue.” This Almighty Allah and our Holy Prophet (pbuh) had already taught us more than 1400 years ago.
My humble request to religious parties and their leaders is: “Please don’t run for high offices; concentrate on the rights and necessities of the common man. In that way a clean, honest, hard working nation will emerge leading to honest and upright rulers.
To be continued