By Khalid Baig
13 October 2017
IN one of his circulars Sayyidna Umar ibn Khattab (RA), sent instructions to all his administrators saying, “In my opinion prayer (Salat) is the most important of your obligations. Whoever takes good care of it and safeguards it safeguards his religion and whoever neglects it will neglect other things even more.” He then added instructions about the times for the five prayers (Salats) and admonition against dozing off before Isha. [Muwatta Imam Malik. Hadith No. 5]
This letter or Executive Order from the ruler of a vast empire to the officials of his government gives us a lot to reflect upon. For prayer is among the most emphasised commands in Shariah. Unfortunately it is also a grossly neglected obligation in our life today. Even a Muslim school child knows that prayer is a pillar of Islam. What Sayyidna Umar (RA), expressed was that it is true at all levels and in all settings, from the private to the public. One cannot build an Islamic life, an Islamic community, an Islamic institution, or an Islamic government while neglecting or weakening this pillar. It is a measure of its extraordinary status that unlike all other obligations, Allah gave the command for prayer to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) during his miraculous Ascent to Heaven or Meraj.
Very fittingly so, for prayer is the Meraj of the believer. One begins the prayer by standing while facing the Kaba or the House of Allah, isolating himself from the worldly affairs, and then addressing Allah directly: “Oh Allah, You are sanctified and (I begin) with Your praise. Your name is Blessed and Your Greatness is Supreme. And no one else is worthy of worship except You.” During prayer a believer repeatedly stands, bows, and prostates to Allah. Each of these acts brings him closer and closer to his Master and Creator filling him with the feelings of love, devotion, and obedience. The sitting position even includes the re-creation of the conversation that took place between the Prophet (PBUH) and Allah during the Heavenly Ascent. The Prophet (PBUH): “All greetings, blessings, and good acts are for Allah.” Allah: “Peace is upon you oh Prophet, and the Mercy, and the Blessings of Allah.” “Peace be with us and unto the righteous servants of Allah. I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah.” “And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”
This closeness is the most valuable gift for the believer. It is the source of all strength and all goodness in his life. It is the light that shows him the right from wrong in all walks of life. It is the river that bathes and cleans him of all sin and contamination. In the hardships of life, it is the source of solace and strength. It is the regulator of the Muslim life, the daily schedule of a believer being built around the five daily prayers. It is a source of joy and happiness, of spiritual nourishment and purification. It is the key to all success. It is the key to paradise.
On the other hand, not focusing on the prayer is a very serious offence. Qur’an says, “Woe to the worshippers who are negligent in their prayer.” Hadith says: “Prayer stands between man and unbelief.” Another Hadith says: “prayer is the pillar of religion. Whoever destroys it has destroyed the religion.” Another Hadith informs us that prayer is the first item about which one will be questioned after death. The person, who succeeds in this test, will likely pass through the subsequent tests. The one who flunks this one has little chance of getting through the rest. Yet another Hadith warns us that the person who neglects his prayer has walked out of the protection of Allah. We can understand the enormity of missing just one prayer on purpose from the Hadith that says that such a person is like one who lost all his family and all his wealth!
In the presence of all the persuasion and all the admonition about prayer in Quran and Hadith, one wonders how could any sane believer be negligent in this matter. To a person who claims to be a believer yet does not offer his Salat regularly five times a day, we must ask: What is your justification? The more one thinks about it the more he or she will realize that there is none. Absolutely none.
One cannot plead that the obligation is too difficult or time consuming. While the obligation remains whether one is healthy or sick, and whether it is rain or shine, Shariah goes to great lengths to accommodate our circumstances. If you cannot stand, you can offer it sitting. Cannot sit? You can offer it lying down. Cannot move? Use whatever gestures are possible. Travelling? Just offer two units instead of four. Cannot figure out the direction of Qiblah? Use your best judgment. Can’t use water to purify yourself in preparation for prayer? Perform dry ablution.
As people run out of excuses they sometimes try rationalisations. What good is prayer if one’s mind wanders all over the place? Well our job is to try to concentrate not to achieve concentration. We are doing our job if we are simply making the effort. What good is prayer if one is still involved in other sins, like the proverbial person who steals and prays? The simple answer is that our lives are combinations of good and evil. Our goal is to increase the good and reduce or eliminate the evil. And that won’t happen by putting the good on hold until we can get rid of the evil. It may also be helpful to remember that the greatest theft is that of prayer itself.