Summary lessons from the Ihya (4): Mysteries of Worship

Ihya series: Mysteries of Worship

The religion establishes the relationship between the creation and the Creator, and the Salat (Islamic worship/prayer – whose root word means to connect) is the connection to establishing the relationship. Therefore, the adhan (call to worship) is the call to connect to Allah. 

The call is pronounced five times daily as a reminder that Allah (God) calls us to connect after the disconnect and distractions of life. Getting to answer Allah’s (God) call is undoubtedly the most honourable thing to do. Internalising what Allah (God) means to every creature in their past, present, and future, answering the call to worship and performing it duly, is an act of gratefulness. The opposite of this is a sign of ungratefulness. Amongst the acts of worship, salat has the highest rank, perhaps being the one that is meant to place one in remembrance entirely and connects one to Allah (God). 

One of the unique things Imam al Ghazali did in Ihya is the description of spiritual realities in jurisprudence language by synchronising both outward and inward together such that everyone can relate. For instance, Kushoo (being in a state of reverence, presence, and mindfulness before Allah) is something that can genuinely be determined inwardly-it is a state of mind we cannot see physically, so it cannot be an abiding condition in jurisprudence, but Imam al Ghazali boldly states it as a condition of prayer (for someone who wants a meaningful salat). When you are standing to establish the prayer, it is to be present with the one you are praying to (Allah). Being in a state of remembrance in prayer is a command and being mindless contradicts and nullifies remembrance. It is said by the Prophet, “Verily, the worst thieves among people are those who steal from their prayers.” Stealing here means the prayer is not given its due or not correctly performed. 

The road to performing prayer is to know the conditions of the validity of the prayer. Some of them are; 

  • Knowing the time for prayers. Go to Allah with certainty, not by doubt.
  • Have an awareness of the Qiblah (direction of prayer) 
  • Covering the nakedness. What is nakedness for men and women is different.
  • The fabric of covering. And ensuring the clothing is not purchased from haram means.

Remembrance of Allah (God) is from the soul. The body needs healthy food, but the soul needs the remembrance of Allah. The prayer consists of Allah’s remembrance in the Quran’s recitation, prostration, and bowing and sitting. And every single position of prayer has a spiritual reality. The goal behind all of these positions is to have the utmost reverence of the heart (not of the body) before Allah (God). The most honoured part of a human being is the face, and we let it face the ground in order to humble it before the Most High while acknowledging our lowliness. And this is why in Islamic Law, it is forbidden to perform prostration to anyone other than Allah. 

To attain the internal reality, one should have; 

  • Awareness of the heart vis a vis the salat’s activities so that one is not distracted from what he is saying. Imam al Ghazali likens him to a drunkard if he does not know or pay attention to what he is saying in the salat. 
  • Have knowledge of the meaning or understanding (e.g., the recitations). It serves as an obstacle to vice 
  • Reverence of the heart. One can understand without reverence, but reverence comes from understanding. We won’t just enter the salat rushing in and rushing out knowing fully well the same God will fulfil all of our needs with this understanding. 
  • Having awe of Allah. Fear of the sense of majesty.  
  • Hope – The fear that is induced by majesty does not compromise having a good opinion of Allah (God) 
  • Shame – A result of knowing or acknowledging one’s deficiencies. The state of salat should remind one of his imperfection 

There are two primary reasons people are distracted in prayer; 

  • Outward distraction

Outward distraction is easy to avoid by observing a few technics or removing objects of distraction or going to a secluded place. 

  • Inward distraction 

 Inward distraction is more intense. They take a person to have all of these concerns and thoughts from one thing to another. 

According to Imam al Ghazali, the best way to avoid this is that a person prepares himself before entering the salat, having the intention to solely pray to Allah and ignore every other matter. Takbir’s saying (raising the hand while mentioning the opening declaration – Allah is great) reminds one God is greater than what one intends. The person standing for prayer should remind himself (or renew the remembrance) of the hereafter and the severity of the outcome of that day in standing before Allah for judgement. 

Bowing and Prostrating

It is accompanied by a renewed affirmation of the supreme greatness of God. Prostration is the highest form of submission as you are putting the noblest thing to a man on the ground. 

“The hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying. You understand. But bending my knees to pray — that act — well, that took me a week … I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up. For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, and to implore God’s forgiveness is the hardest thing in the world. It’s easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, I would force myself back down into the praying-to-Allah posture. When finally, I was able to make myself stay down — I didn’t know what to say to Allah.”

(The Autobiography of Malcolm X).

 So, Imam Ghazali advises that before you pray, you should take care of those things that can lead to distraction and free yourself of every responsibility (so that it does not lead you to rush). Imam Ghazali gives an analogy of you standing before a great King and how focused you will be in his presence so that nothing can cause you to be distracted from him. In that case, nothing is comparable to Allah; all glory belongs to Him. 

May He establish us in the reality of our connection to Him. And free us from all distractions from Him and make the salat the coolness of our heart. Ameen

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