One of the things that fascinates me most about Muslims in their adherence to the daily prayer. Five times a day you see them stopping whatever they are doing to make a connection with God. It’s not uncommon to see a truck stopped by the side of the road, its driver prostrating in prayer at the appointed time, or an entire group of people praying together in a mall, amusement park or soccer field. The prayer is the most significant act of a Muslim and, according to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prayer observed at its appointed time is the deed that God loves best. Second is kindness to parents.
Prayer in Islam involves much more than in other religions, and it is the act that characterizes one as a Muslim. In other words, if one doesn’t pray the daily prayers, he is not considered a true Muslim. To prepare for this supremely important show of faith, the Muslim makes ablutions: just as one would groom himself before meeting an important friend, the Muslim checks his clothes for impurities, washes his face, hands, forearms and feet, and may brush his teeth in preparation to stand before his Lord. Ablutions prepare the Muslim both physically and mentally for his encounter with God.
The prayer itself is comprised of verses from the Quran, supplications and various gestures and positions. As God gave us a body, mind, heart and voice, all are used in the prayer, making it an act of complete physical, mental and spiritual focus. The Muslim begins his prayer with the words, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) and repeats them every time he changes his position during the prayer. If worldly concerns or distractions creep into his mind during prayer, “Allahu Akbar” reminds him that God is greater – and more important – than all of that. Then he recites the first chapter from the Holy Quran, which constitutes what could be called “the Lords’ prayer” in Islam. This short chapter taught me the best way to approach God in prayer: first with praise and then with supplication not only for myself but also for my brethren in faith.
Bowing and prostration are an essential part of the Muslim’s ritual prayer, and these postures are reserved for no other being but God. While bowing humbly he repeats, “Glory to God the Great,” and while prostrating, “Glory to God the Most High.” These words during prostration have a great effect on the mindful Muslim because as he is in his most humble position he acknowledges God’s incomparable status and His supremacy, power and majesty. The ritual prayer ends by invoking blessings on God’s righteous servants, especially on the prophets Mohammed and Abraham.
By repeating the ritual prayer five times every day since childhood, the Muslim benefits in many ways. The habit of remembering God is the foremost benefit and it is also the main purpose of the prayer. The Quran states, “… and establish prayer for My remembrance” (20:14), since remembering God often fosters a habit of gratitude and prevents one from doing shameful deeds. The prayer increases one’s self-discipline and time management skills, as well as trains us to look beyond the illusive qualities of life on earth. When our lives get too hectic, too distracting, or too intense, the prayer is there to calm and refocus us. And when our lives become routine and monotonous, the prayer invigorates and inspires us.
In times of trouble, prayer is a source of comfort and strength, and provides a refuge and a comfort from the minor and major trials of life. In this respect, it is interesting to note that there are no exemptions from prayer due to travel, fear, illness or handicap, although there are concessions that make it easier at these times. The believers are instructed in the Quran to “seek help in patience and prayer. Truly, God is with the patient” (2:153). The Muslim’s prayer is his lifeline.
In addition to the ritual prayer, the Muslim is encouraged to engage often in remembrance of God and supplication. Supplication is informal communications with God, a spontaneous prayer from the heart of a believer at any moment during his life – in times of need, in moments of joy, during reflection or strenuous effort. The prophet Mohammed set a perfect example by supplicating often from the time he woke up until he slept at night. He repented often, sought God’s help at every opportunity and constantly glorified He who sustains us, provides for us and guides us throughout our lives. His supplications were recorded by his companions and touch every aspect of life – from the usually mindless activities such as dressing in the morning to the most serious and somber situations like preparing a body for burial.
The concept of “prayer” in Islam is a combination of ritual prayer and supplication. This combination is the central purpose of a Muslim’s life. As God explains in the Quran, “I have created man and jinn to worship Me” (51:56). To worship the Possessor of mercy, justice, generosity and forgiveness is the most exalted occupation a human can aspire to and yet it is within anyone’s reach. It is an occupation that requires only the time needed to pray the five daily prayers and a presence of mind for frequent supplication at other times. It does not require one to isolate himself from worldly endeavors, but to focus on a higher authority while engaging in them. It does not require one to abstain from physical pleasures but to express gratitude for the many bounties he enjoys. It does not require deep study and rigid exercise, but a sincere and tender heart, ever mindful of the Creator. As the Quran instructs us, “seek help in patience and prayer; it is indeed burdensome except for those of humble spirit – those who are mindful that they shall meet their Lord, and that they shall return to Him” (2:45).
Habitual prayer nourishes the soul, strengthens the will and revitalizes the spirit. By understanding the importance of the prayer in the Muslims’ life, it is easy to see why you see them leaving their work, play and sleep to stand devoutly before God, oblivious to the world.