Answered by Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali
from Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din
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States at Each Stage of the Ritual Prayer
The Call to Prayer
[REVITALISATION OF THE SCIENCES OF RELIGION
Abridged by Abd el Salam Haroun
Revised and Translated by Dr Ahmad A Zidan
© 2001 www.Muhammad.com
The Mosque of the Internet
When you hear the call to prayer given by the Muezzin, let yourself perceive the terror of the Summons on the Day of Resurrection. Prepare yourself inwardly and outwardly to respond, and to do so promptly. Those who are prompt in answering this call are the ones who will be summoned gently on the Day of the Great Review. So review your hearts now; if you find it full of joy and happiness, eager to respond with alacrity, you can expect the Summons to bring you good news and salvation on the Day of Judgment. That is why the Prophet used to say: “Comfort us, Bilal! For Bilal was the Muezzin and prayer was the joy and comfort of the Messenger.
When attending to ritual purity in the things that envelop you, do so progressively; your room, then your clothes, then your skin, do not neglect your inner being, which lies at the heart of all these. Endeavor to purify it with repentance and remorse for your excesses, and a determined resolution not to commit them in future. Cleanse your inner being in this way, for that is the place to be examined by the One you worship.
You cover the private parts; i.e. prevent certain areas of the body from being exposed to human view. But what about the shameful areas of your inner being, those unworthy secrets of your soul, that are scrutinized only by Allah Almighty. Be conscious of these faults. Be discreet about them, but realize that nothing can be hidden from the sight of Allah, High Exalted. Only through repentance, shame and fear will they be forgiven.
As for facing the Qibla, in doing so, you turn your external face away from all other directions and toward the House of Allah, High Exalted. Do you then suppose you are not also required to turn your heart away from everything else, directing it towards Allah Almighty? What an absurd notion, since this is the whole object of the exercise! The Prophet said: “When a man stands up to pray, directing his desire, his face and his heart towards Allah, he will come out of that prayer as on the day his mother gave him birth.”
As for standing upright, it means holding oneself erect – in body and in spirit – in the presence of Allah. Your head which is the highest member of your body, out to be bowed down as a reminder of the need to keep the heart meek and humble, free of arrogance and pride.
When forming the intention, resolve to be responsive to Allah by performing the prayer in obedience to His command, by doing it properly, by avoiding things that invalidate or mar it, and by doing all this sincerely for the sake of Allah, in hope of His reward and in fear of His punishment, seeking His grace and favor by His leave.
As for the Takbir (the words: Allahu Akbar), your heart must not gainsay the words on your tongue. If you feel in your heart that there is something greater than Allah High Exalted, though your words are true, Allah will attest that you are a liar.
When making the opening invocation be very wary of distinguished polytheism in yourself. It was concerning those who worship for the sake of human as well as Divine approval that Allah revealed in the Koran:
“…whoever seeks to meet his Lord, then let him do righteous deeds, and never associate any other in worship with his Lord” (Chapter 18 verse 110)
When you say: “I take refuge in Allah from accursed Satan,” you should be aware the devil is your enemy and that he is waiting for an opportunity to alienate you from Allah. Satan is envious of your ability to commune with Allah, and to prostrate yourself before Him.
Where recitation of the Koran is concerned, we can distinguish three types of people: (a) those who move their tongues unconsciously, (b) those who pay conscious attention to the movement of the tongue, understanding the meaning while listening as if to a person outside themselves; this is the degree of ‘those on the right’, (c) those who start from awareness of the meaning, then use the tongue to give expression to this inner consciousness. The tongue may act as interpreter for the inner feeling, or as its teacher. In the case of those nearest to Allah, the tongue is an interpreter.
According to Ikrimah, Allah is referring to the postures of standing, bowing, prostration and sitting when he says: “The One Who sees you when you stand in prayer, *And when you pray among those who prostrate.” (Chapter 26 verse 218-219) Bowing (ruku) and prostration (sujud) are accompanied by a renewed affirmation of the supreme great of Allah. In bowing you renew your submissiveness and humility, striving to refine your inner feeling through a fresh awareness of your own impotence and insignificance before the might and grandeur of your Lord. To confirm this, you seek the aid of your tongue, glorifying Allah and testifying repeatedly to His Supreme Majesty, both outwardly and inwardly.
Then you rise from bowing, hopeful that He will be merciful towards you. To emphasize this hope within you, you say: “Allah hears those who give thanks to Him.” Acknowledging the need to express gratitude, you immediately add: “Grateful praise to You our Lord!” To show the abundance of this gratitude, you may also say: “As much as the heavens and earth contain.”
Then you go down in prostration. This is the highest level of submission, for you are bringing the most precious part of your body, namely your face, down to meet the most lowly of all things, the dust of the earth. If possible, you should make your prostration directly on bare ground, this being more conducive to humility and a sure sign of self abasement. When you place yourself in this position of lowliness, you should be aware that you belong there. You are restoring the branch to its root, for of dust you were created and to dust you shall return. At the same time you should renew your inner awareness of Allah’s majesty, saying: “Glory to my Lord Most High!” Repeat this to add confirmation, for saying it only once is not sufficiently emphatic.
When your inner feeling has clearly been refine, be confident in hoping for Allah’s mercy. For His mercy quickly flows towards weakness and lowliness, not towards arrogance and vanity.
As you raise your head, say “Allahu Akbar!” and ask for what you need, making the supplication of your choice, e.g. “My Lord, forgive and have mercy! Overlook my faults of which You are aware!”
You then make a second prostration, reinforcing your submissiveness.
When you sit to make the testimony (tashahhud), sit decorously. Declare that all the prayers and good works you perform are for the sake of Allah, and everything belongs to Him. Such is the meaning of al-tahiyyat. Be inwardly aware of the Prophet, and on his noble person, as you say: “Peace be upon you, O Prophet, as well as Allah’s mercy and blessing.” Be sure that your salutation will reach him, and that he will return an even more perfect greeting to you. Then salute yourself and all Allah’s righteous servants. Then testify to the Unity of Allah, High Exalted, and to the mission of Mohammad, His Messenger, on him be peace and prayers. By repeating this two-fold testimony, you reaffirm the covenant of Allah, and assure yourself of its protection.
At the end of your ritual prayer, you should offer a traditional supplication, imploring and entreating with meekness and humility, confidently hoping to be heard. Let your supplication include your parent and the other believers.
Finally, and with the intention of concluding your prayer, address your salutation (salam) to the angels and the others present. Feel a sense of gratitude to Allah, High Exalted, for having enabled you to complete this act of worship. Imagine that you are saying farewell to this prayer of yours, and that you may not live to see another like it.
States Conducive to Perfecting
The Life in Prayer
These qualities can be expressed in many ways, but they are well summed up in six words, namely: awareness; understanding; reverence; awe; hope; shame.
By conscious awareness we mean that state in which one’s mind and feelings are in no way distracted from what one is doing and saying. Perception is united with action and speech. Thoughts do not wander. When the mind remains attentive to what one is doing, when one is wholeheartedly involved, and when nothings makes one heedless, that is when one has achieved conscious awareness.
Understanding the meaning of one’s words is something that goes beyond awareness, for one may be conscious of making an utterance, yet not be aware of the meaning of that utterance. What we mean by understanding, therefore, is an awareness that also includes comprehension of the meaning of one’s utterance. People differ in this respect, not sharing a common understanding of the Koran and the glorifications.
How many subtleties of meaning we have come to understand in the course of ritual prayer! Things that had never occurred to us before.
It is in this context that prayer becomes a deterrent to indecency and mischief, for the understanding it brings is a positive obstacle to vice.
As for reverence, this is something beyond both awareness and understanding. A man may address his servant in full awareness of his speech, and understanding the meaning of his words, yet without reverence, for reverence is an additional element.
As for awe, it is over and above reverence. In fact, it represents a kind of fear that grows out of the latter. Without experiencing fear, one will not stand in awe. There is an ordinary fear of things we find repugnant, like scorpions or bad temper, but this is not called awe. What we call awe is the kind of fear we have of a mighty king. Awe is the kind of fear induced by a sense of majesty.
As for hope, this is unquestionably something else again. There are many who revere some king or other, and who are in awe of him or afraid of his power, yet do not hope to be rewarded by him. In our prayers, however, we must hope for the reward of Allah, High Exalted; just as we fear His punishment for our faults.
As for shame, it is something additional to all the rest, for it is based on the realization of one’s deficiencies and the apprehension of sin. It is quite possible to conceive of reverence, fear and hope, without this element of shame.
Internal Prerequisites of Prayer:
Actions of the Heart
The Need for Humility and Conscious
Many Koranic Verses and Traditions could be cited in evidence of this, including the words of Allah Almighty: “…and establish prayer for My Remembrance” (Chapter 20 verse 14)
The obvious force of the imperative is to make something obligatory. Since heedlessness is the opposite of remembrance, how can someone who is heedless throughout his prayer be performing it in remembrance of Allah? The Almighty warns us in the Koran.
“…do not be of those who are heedless.” (Chapter 7 verse 205)
Here we have taken a negative imperative, with the obvious force of a prohibition. Allah High Exalted also says:
“…until you can understand all that you say, (Chapter 4 verse 43)
This explained the reason for debarring those who are intoxicated from the mosque, but the term intoxicated applies be extension to those who are wholly preoccupied with temptations and worldly thoughts.
When the Prophet said: “The prayer is nothing but submissiveness and humility…” he used a particularly definite and emphatic construction in Arabic.
The Prophet said: “If a man’s prayer does not deter him from indecency and mischief, he gains nothing from Allah but remoteness.” Heedless prayer does nothing to deter a man from these vices.
The heedless are alluded to in the Tradition: “Many of those who pray derive nothing from their prayers except weariness and strain.”
The Prophet said: “A man gets credit only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious.” This is confirmed by the Tradition: “When performing the prayer, one is conversing intimately with one’s Lord.” Speaking in a state of heedlessness is certainly not what is meant by intimate conversation with Allah Almighty.
To Clarify matters further, let us consider the contrast between ritual prayer, on the one hand, and Zakat, fasting and pilgrimage on the other. A man may pay his Alms without being consciously attentive, yet the very act of parting with money runs counter to greed and is hard on the lower self. The case of fasting is similar; since it subdues the natural forces and breaks hold of the passions, which are the tools of Allah’s enemy Satan, its purpose may well be achieved in spite of heedlessness. As for Pilgrimage, it presents physical hardship and difficulty and involves painful struggle, whether or not its actions are performed in full awareness.
In contrast to these other religious duties, ritual prayer consists only in remembrance, recitation, bowing, prostration, standing erect and sitting down.
and other forms of worship. It is unique in having capital punishment as the penalty for its abandonment. I do not believe that ritual prayer enjoys all this special dignity by virtue of its external motions, unless these are linked to the purpose of intimate communion with Allah. That is what has priority over Fasting, Zakat, Pilgrimage and so on; indeed, over sacrifices and offerings which entail self-denial through financial outlay. As Allah High Exalted says:
“It is not their flesh that reaches Allah, nor their blood, but that which reaches Allah is your piety…” (Chapter 22 verse 37)
What is meant here by ‘devotion’ is a quality that gains control over the heart, disposing it to comply with the commands it is required to obey.
What, then, of the ritual prayer, if its actions are without purpose?
You may say that I am going against the consensus of the jurists, if I make the validity of prayer dependent on conscious awareness, since they stipulate such attention only at the initial ‘Allahu Akbar’. But the jurists do not concern themselves with the inner life or the way of the Hereafter. Their job is to formulate the outer rules of religion, with reference to external physical behavior. As for what is beneficial to the afterlife, this is beyond the scope of jurisprudence, since no consensus can be claimed.
Sufyan al-Thawri, an early legal scholar, is reported as saying: “Without humility and awareness, one’s prayer is invalid.” It is related that al-Hasan said: “Any prayer performed without conscious awareness is a short cut to punishment.” According to Mu’adh ibn Jabal: “A man gets no credit for a prayer in which he deliberately notices those on his right and left.”
According to an authenticated Tradition, Allah’s Messenger said: “Though he performs the whole prayer, a man may be credit with no more than one sixth or one tenth of it. A man gets credit only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious.” If this had been transmitted on lesser authority, it would surely have become a dogma, so why should it not be taken seriously?
Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd said: “The scholars are unanimously agreed that a man gets credit only for that part of his prayers of which he is conscious.” According to him, there is actually a consensus to this effect.
In short, conscious awareness is the very spirit of ritual prayer. Attentiveness to the initial ‘Allahu Akbar’ represents the bare minimum required to keep the spark of this spirit alive; of Allah we beg His gracious support!
Medication Conducive To Inner Serenity
As a believer, one must magnify Allah High Exalted, in fear and in hope and in humble awareness of one’s shortcomings. There can be no relaxation in any of this once faith has been achieved, although one’s intensity will depend on the strength of one’s conviction. Any slackness in prayer is surely caused by mental distraction, divided attention, failure to be whole hearted in communion, and a heedless attitude to worship. Random mental activity is the thing that distracts us from prayer; it must therefore be dispelled so that a feeling of serenity can be acquired. To remove the symptom we must treat the cause, so let us find out where it lies. Stray thoughts may be prompted by something external, or they may arise from within.
As for external causes, our attention is caught by anything that happens to engage our eyes or ears. We begin to take an interest in it. Then one thought leads to another and the process goes on and on. Seeing gives rise to thinking, then one thought becomes the cause of another. Sensory impressions do not divert those who intention is strong and whose aspiration is lofty, but they inevitably distract the weak. The remedy lies in cutting off these causes by lowering the eyes, praying in a room, leaving no distracting objects in front of one, or reducing one’s range of vision by praying close up to a wall. One should avoid performing the prayer on the street, in places where there is artificial decoration and on colored carpets.
That is why very devout people used to worship in a small dark cell, where there was just enough room for prostration, for it is easier to concentrate in such conditions. Those who were strong would attend the mosques, keeping their eyes downcast and confining their gaze to the place of prostration. They considered their prayers to be perfect when they were unaware of the people to their right and left. Ibn Umar would allow no object to remain in the place of prayer, not even a copy of the Koran. He would remove any sword he found there and erase any writing.
Internal causes pose a more serious problem. One’s worldly concerns may be many and varied, so that the mind does not dwell on a single subject but keeps flying from one direction to another. To lower the eyes is then to no avail, for plenty of distractions have already got inside. The way to deal with this is to make a deliberate effort to comprehend the meaning of the words one is reciting in the prayer, concentrating on this to the exclusion of everything else. It is helpful to prepare for this before the initial consecration, by reminding oneself of the Hereafter and that one is standing in communion in the awesome presence of Allah Almighty, and under His scrutiny. Before consecration for prayer, one should empty the heart of all its cares, leaving oneself free of potential distractions.
Allah’s Messenger once said to Uthman ibn Abi Shayba: “I forgot to tell you to cover up the cooking pots that are in the house, for there should be nothing in the house to distract people from their prayers.” This is a technique for quieting the mind. If mental agitation is not stilled by this tranquilizer, the only recourse is a putative that will strike at the roots of the malady. That is to say, one must examine the distractions that prevent the attainment of inner serenity. These will undoubtedly be traced to one’s pressing concerns, which have become so important simply because of one’s base desires. One must therefore discipline the lower self by abstaining from those desires and by severing those ties. Anything that distracts us from prayer is the adversary of our religion; the army of Satan is the foe. To hold it in check is more troublesome than driving it out, so let us drive it out and be rid of it.
The Prophet once prayed while wearing a cloak with an ornamented border, a gift from Abu Jahm. He removed it when he had finished his prayers, saying: “Take it back to Abu Jahm, for it distracted me from my prayer. Bring me Abu Jahm’s cloak of course wool.” The Messenger of Allah Once had new laces put in his sandals. When their newness attracted his attention during the prayer, he had them removed and the worn laces put back. According to another Tradition the Prophet once found himself admiring the beauty of a pair of sandals he was wearing, so he made a prostration and said: “I have humbled myself before my Lord, so that He will not be displeased with me.” Then he went out and gave the sandals to the first beggar he met. He then told Ali to buy a worn pair of tanned leather sandals, which he put on his feet.
Before it was declared unlawful for men to wear gold, the Prophet used to wear a gold ring on his finger. As he stood in the pulpit one day, he threw this ring away, saying: “It distracted me, a glance towards it and a glance towards you.”
It is related that Abu Talha once prayed in his garden where there were trees. He was attracted by the sight of a honey bird and he spent so long following its movements as it flew about seeking an opening in the foliage, that he forgot how many cycles of prayer he had completed. He told the Messenger of Allah about the temptation to which he had succumbed, then said: “O Messenger of Allah I offer my garden as a charity. Dispose of it as you wish.” According to a different source, he was distracted by the pleasant sight of the bees, buzzing round the fruit as he prayed in the garden. He mentioned this to Uthman, saying: “I offer it as a charity. Use it for the sake of Allah.” Uthman then sold the garden for fifty thousand.
Such conduct was intended to eradicate cause of mental distraction and to atone for deficiencies in prayer. This medicine tackles the root of the disease; it is the only effective remedy. As for the gentler measure we proposed, such as calming oneself and concentrating on understanding the words used in prayer, they may be useful when passions are feeble and cares are only marginally distracting. But it is useless to try and calm oneself when the pressure of desire is strong, for it will attract you and you will attract it until it gets the better of you. You will be cause up in this process throughout your prayer.
Consider this analogy: There was a man beneath a tree. He wished to collect his thoughts, but the sparrows disturbed him with their chirping. He would chase them with a stick and then resume his train of thought, but the sparrows would come back and he would have to scare them away with the stick once again. Eventually someone told him: “This is like being a slave at the wheel, going round and round forever. If you want to escape the vicious circle, you should fell the tree.” So it is with the tree of base desire. Thoughts are attracted to its ramifying twigs and branches, just like sparrows to real trees. Flies are attracted by filth and chasing them becomes a full time occupation, for they just keep coming back. Random thoughts are like flies.
Our base desires are numerous and human beings are seldom free of them. They all share a common root, namely, love of this world. That is the origin of every fault, the basis of every shortcoming, the source of all corruption. Filled with the love of this world, a person becomes so attached to it that he fails to make provision for the Hereafter. He then has no hope of experiencing the pure bliss of communion in prayer. Those who delight in this world can take no delight in Allah, nor in communion with Him. A man aspires to that which gives him joy, so if his pleasure lies in this world, he will surely seek it there. Nevertheless, one must continue to strive, turning the heart back towards prayer and reducing the causes of distraction.
This is bitter medicine, so bitter that we instinctively recoil from taking it. The sickness remains chronic and the disease becomes incurable. Great men have endeavored to perform two cycles of prayer without having any internal conversation about worldly matters, only to find themselves unequal to the task. No hope, then, for the likes of us! If only we may be safe from temptation during half of our prayer, or one third, so that our deeds are at least a mixture of good and bad.
In short, the worldly and spiritual aspirations in the human heart are like water poured into a cup full of vinegar; as water goes in, an equal volume of vinegar inevitably goes out and the two can never combine.
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