What is the importance and wisdom of prayer in Islam?
The life of man is full of signs that indicate the search for truth in order to reach the Creator of the universe. These signs are the consequence of our natural inclinations to believe and worship. These are innate and set in the nature of mankind. Those then who remain deprived of the (Divine) Reality and truth, and go astray by deifying a powerless being who cannot satisfy their true natural needs, as has been seen both in the past and present, end up following unreasonable and illogical paths. Thus, today, many millons of people deify such creatures as the cow, and many of them, as in the deviated religions, have an anthropomorphic view of the Transcendent Lord, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Universe.
This points out that man is in need of being a servant and is in need to carry out the requirements for fulfilling that purpose. Thus, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“I have only created the Jinn and humankind, that they may serve Me.” (Zariyat, 51:56).
This means that because of this destiny, man is a servant and since he is living in the secret of servanthood, he is in a state of need. Therefore, man is supposed to reach salvation and success to the degree that he is able to channel this natural inclination in to pursuing the honor and dignity of mankind. And he is, thereby, charged to praise and worship his Lord. Ultimately, all superior features and degrees that man is endowed with are based on the condition of accomplishing this task. It is stated in the Qur’an:
“You have no value before My Lord if you do notworship Him” (Furqan 25:77).
Thus, Allah in this verse, and in many verses of the Qur’an, states that man needs to do good deeds as well as having faith. Therefore, the believers who aim to enter the presence of Allah with a sound heart commit themselves to the sublime springs of acts of worship called righteous deeds and with a willing heart, they travel towards the ocean of union with their Lord. And prayer is, without doubt, the biggest and most important worship that leads the servant to the ocean of union with the Lord. Because prayer is the core and the zenith of all practices in terms of content, scope, and degree.
All creation in the universe; the sun, green meadows, and trees glorify Allah. Birds, mountains, and stones all praise Allah in ways that are unknown to us. Plants glorify Allah by standing; animals glorify Him by bowing down, and inanimate objects glorify Him by lying down. And the heavenly creatures follow the same pattern. Some angels glorify Allah by standing, some by bowing down, and some by lying down. However, the prayer that Allah offered man as a vehicle for ascension covers all these acts of worship. Thereby, those who are true in their prayers gain countless rewards and spiritual manifestations since this act of worship covers the totality of worship that beings of this-world and other-worlds can perform.
Soloman Chalabi puts this special characteristic of prayer into words so elegantly:
Whoever performs this prayer,
Acquires merit in Allah’s sight…
As it covers every form of worship,
Union with Allah is included in this kind of worship…
The Prophet (J) says in this regard:
“Prayer allows the person to attain Allah’s approval and also the love of the angels. It is the way of the prophets. It is the light of wisdom. It is the foundation of faith. It makes one’s sustenance blessed with increase and fertility. It gives comfort to the body. It is a weapon over the enemies. It keeps Satan away. It is an intercessor between the worshipper and the Angel of Death. It is a candle and a carpet in the tomb. It is an answer to the angels of Munkar-Nakir (the angels that question the dead person right after death). It is a bosom friend until the Day of Judgment. It is a shade over the worshipper on the Day of Judgment. It is a crown on the head. It is a dress on the body. It is pioneering light. It is a curtain stretched between him and others. It is a proof for the believers before Allah. It is a weight on the Scale. It makes the passage on the bridge to Paradise very easy. It is a key to Paradise. Because prayer is praising, honoring, glorifying, reciting and requesting. In short, a prayer on time embodies all virtuous acts.” (Tanbih al-Gafilin, 293).
That is why prayer is a meeting point with Allah, and it is a gift to the people of Islam as a small ascension(as compared to the Mir’aj of the Prophet (J). As stated in the Qur’an:
”.. Bow down in adoration, and bring yourself the closer (to Allah)!” (Alaq 96:19) one is supposed to enter the presence of Allah through prayer.
In a true prayer all else besides Allah is removed, and all worldly concerns are wiped out. The worshipper and the worshipped come together in a meeting place. One can thus travel to the bottom of the Divine secrets. Prayer was enjoined on the Prophet (J) after the meeting on the Night of Ascension(Lailatul-Miraj) without the mediation of Archangel Gabriel, and therefore, it is attributed as a personal union with Allah. That is why the Prophet (J) said:
“Prayer is the light of my eye.” (Nasai, Ahmad bin Hanbal).
What is gained through prayer such as perfection, serenity, relief, tranquility and intimacy, can be attained with no other practice, but prayer. The rank of prayer in the world is like the rank of seeing Allah in the Hereafter. Because, in no act of worship may the servant come closer to Allah than in prayer. The finest taste and spiritual manifestation can be acquired through prayer. It may be said that all other acts of worship are steps to prepare the servant for prayer. That is why the Prophet (J) described prayer as:
“The pillar of religion and the light of the heart, the key of happiness, and the ascension for believers.”
Prayer, with its all Divine character, is an extraordinary act of worship divided between the servant and Allah. It is like surah Al-Fatiha (the first chapter of the Qur’an).
The first four verses: (1- In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
2- Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds.
3- Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
4- Master of the Day of Judgment) belong to Allah;
And the fifth verse “You (do) we worship, and Your aid (do) we seek)” belongs to both Allah and the servant. This brings together the servant’s commitment to Allah, and also Allah’s function as the deity for the servant. Namely, the servant is supposed to devote his acts of worship to only Allah by being conscious of the fact that Allah is the Unique One to worship. The rest of surah belongs to the servant. It is said in a tradition supplementing the Qur’an (Hadith-i-Qudsi): related by the Prophet (J) as if spoken by Allah:
“I divided the prayer between Myself and My servant; one half is Mine, and the other is his/hers.” (Muslim, Salat, 38-40).
So, prayer is an appeal to the Lord by His servant. It is an invocation. Allah says in the Qur’an:
”.. Establish regular prayer for celebrating My Praise.” (Taha, 20: 14).
And again the secret of the verse “Then do you remember Me; I will remember you!..” (Baqara, 2:152) emerges in prayer rather than in another act of worship.
Thus, during the invocation of prayer, the union with Allah is actualized as stated in a Hadith-i-Qudsi related by the Prophet (J) as if spoken by Allah:
“I am with the one who invokes Me…” (Bukhari, Tawhid, 15).
However, in order that one could duly utilize this union attaining to the lerel of (ihsan) is required. The Prophet (J) says in this respect:
“Ihsan(Beneficence) means the pray as if you see Allah! Even though you cannot see Him, He sees you!..” (Muslim, Iman, 1).
So, a prayer which is done in this way is regarded as “light of the eye” (joy).
Those who do the prayer in this way please Allah and His Prophet (J).
Therefore, prayer is like a glorious tree that shows Prophet Moses (a.s) the path. It is a consolation for broken-hearts; it is a joy for the hearts tired of the preoccupations of this world; it is a spiritual sustenance; it is a cure for souls; and it is a language of enlightenment. The Prophet (J), when the pressure of worldly duties grew strong, used to ask Bilal (the companion first assigned to give the call (adhan) for prayer) as follows:
“O Bilal! Comfort us by calling to stand for the prayer.”
This is because there is no other act of worship like prayer. The person doing the prayer can engage himself with nothing, but prayer. Prayer breaks his connection with any other engagement. It gives one the opportunity to experience in true prayer, the indescribable pleasure of union with Allah. No other act of worship can provide this pleasure. For example, during the worship of fasting one can be in the market as a buyer, or a seller… The person who does the pilgrimage is also in the same position. Yet, the person who prays can neither be a seller nor a buyer. He can only do the prayer. Namely, he is in presence of Allah both physically and spiritually.
Perfect believers pray five times a day as enjoined in the Qur’an:
”.. Prayers are enjoined on Believers at stated times.” (Nisa, 4:103).
They also do supererogatory prayers, and they, step by step, find a place among the virtuous servants of Allah, and in the end, by getting endless beneficence and mercy reach the home of peace as required by Allah’s decree of “Come back you to your Lord!”
Muslims who follow this line are in position of “Then do you remember Me; I will remember you!..” (Baqara, 2:152).
They enjoy the declaration of “Remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life)!” (Ankabut, 29:45).
This statement includes both meanings of “remembrance of Allah, namely, prayer is the greatest thing” and also “Allah’s remembrance of the servant is greater than the servant’s remembrance of Allah.” So, prayer is the primary act of worship that makes the servant come close to Allah.
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, ISLAM SPIRIT AND FORM, Erkam Publications