Thursday, November 6, 2008

Muslim perspective of Prayer

Muslim Perspective of Prayer:

As muslims, we believe in the power of Prayer. It is an integral part of our lives. We pray atleast five times a day: early morning, just after midday, late afternoon, just after sunset and at night. These are the five compulsory prayers which help connects the individual to the Creator. Our prayers take a minimum of five minutes at a time, but can be lengthened as much as one wishes. There are three main aspects to our prayers:
1. The physical poses: standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating___ complete exercise of the body, something similar to the various positions of original Jewish prayers and yoga.
2. Then comes the wordings or the content of the prayer: we repeat the first seven lines of the very first chapter of the Holy Quran which is a very comprehensive prayer for all humankind. We also recite some portion of the Holy Quran after that to remind ourselves of the message….. praying five times a day keeps reminding us of our real purpose, and helps keep us focused. It reminds us to continue and improve on whatever good that we do, and stay away from all evil. It teaches compassion, humility, discipline, punctuality and so many other good virtues. The reason that you do not see that in the behavior of most muslims is that many do not pray, and some of those who do: do so without understanding…. as a mere ritual. Thus, they are not able to benefit from their prayers.
3. We also pray to Allah for whatever we desire, both in this world and the hereafter. Allah listens to all prayers and grants whatever He decides in His Wisdom is best for us. He is the Most Beneficient, Most Merciful………. He knows what is good for us.

We are told in the Holy Quran that humans have been endowed with free will, and because Allah is just, He has sent us to this world which is basically a place of trial, so that each one of us humans can prove whether we deserve to go to Heaven or Hell………. Allah in His complete knowledge knows our fundamental natures, yet He has given us the free will, and an open-book exam, the book being the Holy Quran, which is a Book of guidance for all humans. The ups and downs of this world, the wealth, the poverty, the health, the sickness, loss of loved ones, shattered dreams, getting more than expectations, living a good life, poor standard of living, all are basically trials for the soul. The good things are not rewards, neither are the difficult times a punishment………… judgment is for the Hereafter………………. This is all a trial. Prayer is the most powerful tool, and we are reminded again and again in the Holy Quran that
a. Those who believe in Allah and the Hereafter
b. Those who pray
c. Those who do good deeds
d. Those who endure with patience
These are the ones who will be successful in the Hereafter, which is the real life………….. the eternal life!

On the scientific side, I was recently reading somewhere that some scientists studying quantum physics theorize that this world is basically a virtual reality, an illusion, a matrix-like scenario, the proof of which they find in the uncertainity principle itself, in the vibrations of the quantum mechanics, and the necessity of an observer for an event to actually take place!

More on Muslim Prayer:

Other than the five compulsory prayers, one can pray as much as one wants. The prayer in the late hours of the night is most advisable and carries great rewards. It is a time of solitude when a muslim leaves the comfort of the bed and shortens the sleep so that he/she can have some private ‘quality’ time with the Creator. At that time, no one is watching, and the prayer and devotion is solely for the love of Allah! But, praying throughout the night is discouraged, as one must get enough rest and sleep, so as to be able to spend the day in a productive way. We, as muslims, must live complete lives, playing all our roles properly, i.e. living the family life, earning a living, taking care of the community, seeking a good education, etc, etc. The prayer just described, and in the previous mail is known as Salaat.

Then comes Fasting, which is compulsory for a month once a year. The month is the lunar month called Ramadhan of the Islamic calendar, being observed all over the world these days. Fasting has been prescribed in the month of Ramadhan because the Holy Quran was sent down in this holy month. Fasting carries a lot of spiritual, bodily, and other worldly benefits with it. Spiritually, one feels good about obeying Allah by not eating or drinking from dawn to dusk, and realizes also that if we can not eat and drink for the sake of Allah, then we can eschew other sins also for the sake of Allah. We can control our anger, we can refrain from lying, cheating and so many other social vices that are prohibited similarly through out the year…. We have the ability, what is needed is the will to do so. We realize how the poor suffer from hunger, how difficult life must be for them, and thus compassion for fellow beings is generated. It is medical research that fasting for a month once a year is most beneficial for the digestive system, especially the liver.
Holy Quran, Chapter 2:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-

(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.

Then comes Charity, the next equally important form of prayer. One must spend on the welfare of parents, relatives, orphans, travelers, and all who need help… those who ask, and also seek out those who are really needy but are too proud to ask, and in the way of Allah. Allah says that no charity goes to waste, rather, He increases the rewards manifold.
The Holy Quran:
The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the Way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn); it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He pleases. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures needs, All-Knower. ( سورة البقرة , Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #261)
Kind words and forgiving of faults are better than Sadaqah (charity) followed by injury. And Allah is Rich (Free of all wants) and He is Most-Forbearing. ( سورة البقرة , Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #263)
O you who believe! Do not render in vain your Sadaqah (charity) by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen of men, and he does not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day. His likeness is the likeness of a smooth rock on which is a little dust; on it falls heavy rain which leaves it bare. They are not able to do anything with what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. ( سورة البقرة , Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #264)
Those who spend (in Allahs Cause - deeds of charity, alms, etc.) in prosperity and in adversity, who repress anger, and who pardon men; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinoon (the gooddoers). ( سورة آل عمران , Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #134)

To those who can afford it, Pilgrimage once in a lifetime is ordained. We go to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, cicumambulate the Kaabah, and re-live the the rites of great Prophet Abraham. We run between the hills of Safa and Marwa to re-live the anguish of the poor mother Hagar of Prophet Ishmael who was running from one hilltop to another looking for water for her child. We drink from the well of Zamzam, which miraculously appeared where the baby Ishmael was lying, kicking his feet, crying due to thirst. Scientists have tried to find the source of this water, and they have just no explanation where this appeared from in the middle of the desert, and continues to supply water for the pilgrims to this day. We go to Mina, stay there glorifying Allah, then go to field of Arafat on the day of the Pilgrimage, ie 9th ZilHajj, then spend the night in Muzdallifah, praying, resting, and collecting tiny stones. Armed with the stones, we return to Mina in the morning, and go to symbolically stone the devil at the three places where he had tried to deceive Abraham by talking him out of sacrificing his first born, as per his dream and the custom prevalent in those times. Then we sacrifice an animal, in memory of how Allah had graciously accepted the sacrifice of Abraham, and replaced Ishmael with an animal, while Abraham had covered his eyes and lowered the knife to carry out the will of Allah. Allah had saved Ishmael, as all He wanted was to test Abraham and Ishmael, and see if they were completely muslims(submitting to the will of Allah) or whether love for life or child would hinder either of them. They passed with flying colours, and muslims remember and re-live it, which helps increase faith. The sacrificed animal is to be eaten, shared with family, neighbours, relatives, the poor and needy. Thus, there is no needless killing or waste, the sacrifice becoming a part of the great circle of life.

The great thing about being a muslim is that we do not need to go through any ‘in-betweens’ to communicate with Allah. Any time we need to talk to Him, remember Him, or ask for help, we can just directly speak to Him, sitting, standing, lying, or if possible, formally praying. And the great thing, we know for sure that He is hearing each and every word, and He will either grant us our wish, or give something better instead. Even when, apparently, our wish is not being granted, we know that its either due to the trial that we must go through, or that it is somehow not the right thing for us, as Allah, in His complete knowledge knows that our wish, if fulfilled, will be to our physical or spiritual detriment.

Allah is the Most-Beneficient, Forever Merciful, and loves all of us. That is why, He invites mankind again and again to believe in Him, and not associate any with Him. He says He will forgive all sins of those who repent sincerely, and then worship and obey Him, as guided in the Holy Quran.
May Allah bless and guide us all. Amen

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