The Power of PrayerNo Comments | August 2013
We present extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas, on the power and acceptance of prayer. These are republished from the second volume of Essence of Islam.
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A Brief Review of the Booklets of Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan Sahib, KCSI
Prayer, its Acceptance, and the Principle of Qur’anic Interpretation
O prisoner of your own intellect, do not be too proud of yourself;
This wonderful celestial sphere has brought forth many like you.
One alienated from God can never find access to His court;
Secrets of that Beloved are revealed only to those who come from heaven.
To fathom the secrets of the Holy Qur’an on one’s own is a false notion;
Whoever invents meanings by himself invents only filth and carrion.
In his booklets, Sayyed Sahib sets forth his belief that:
“The acceptance of prayer does not mean that the supplicant should be given what he asks for. If this should be the meaning of the acceptance of prayer two difficulties would be encountered. The first would be that thousands of supplications that are made most humbly and earnestly are not fulfilled, which means that the prayer has not been accepted, whereas God has promised acceptance of prayer. The second difficulty is that that which is to happen is determined and so is that which is not to happen. Nothing can happen contrary to that determination. If acceptance of prayer means granting the request made, then the Divine promise:
“Pray unto Me, I will answer your prayer.”2
is not fulfilled concerning supplications the granting of which is not determined. According to this interpretation, the general promise of acceptance of prayer will be falsified inasmuch as only those requests are granted the fulfilment of which is determined, and yet the promise of acceptance of prayer is general and is not subject to any exception. Some verses indicate that those things which are not determined will not be granted and some verses indicate that no supplication is rejected and that all are accepted. The verse:
“Pray unto Me, I will answer your prayer.”3
shows that God has promised the acceptance of all prayers. Thus, the only way of reconciling this contradiction between the verses is that the acceptance of prayer should be interpreted as meaning the acceptance of an act of worship, that is to say, that prayer should be interpreted as a type of worship concerning which there is a Divine promise of acceptance when it is offered in the sincerity and earnestness of the heart. The acceptance of prayer is, therefore, no more than that it earns merit by being regarded as a type of worship. If the bestowal of something has been determined and it is also prayed for, it is bestowed not because of the prayer, but because it had been determined upon. The great benefit of prayer is that when at the time of prayer the heart is fixed upon the greatness of God and His limitless power that idea overcomes all the apprehensions which were the cause of restlessness and the supplicant experiences patience and steadfastness. This condition of the heart is produced by worship and this is what the acceptance of prayer is. Sayyed Sahib observes that those people who are unaware of the reality of prayer and of the wisdom that is inherent in it can say that if that which is not determined cannot happen, then prayer is of no use. That is to say, that that which is determined will happen in any case whether one offers a prayer in respect of it or not and that a thousand prayers will not help where the matter has not been determined, thus prayer is vain and useless. In answer to this Sayyed Sahib says that to supplicate for help in a time of distress is a characteristic of human nature and a person supplicates on account of his natural characteristic without thinking whether what is being supplicated for will happen or not. On account of this characteristic of his nature he has been told to supplicate God for whatever he desires.”
This summary of the view held by Sayyed Sahib indicates that his belief is that prayer cannot be the means of achieving one’s goal, nor has it any effect on such achievement. If by prayer the only purpose of the supplicant is that through his supplication his request should be granted, his purpose is vain, inasmuch as no prayer is needed for that which has been determined and for that which has not been determined, humility and earnestness are without avail. He believes that prayer is only a form of worship and it is vain to adopt it as a means of achieving a specific purpose.
We shall, Insha’Allah (God willing), show later that Sayyed Sahib has woefully misunderstood the verses of the Holy Qur’an. At this stage, we would observe with regret that if Sayyed Sahib’s intellect had fallen short of the meaning of the Holy Qur’an, had he at the time of writing these booklets overlooked the law of nature which he claims to follow and which he regards as the interpreter of Divine guidance and of the hidden mysteries of the Holy Qur’an?
Is Sayyed Sahib not aware that though nothing good or ill in this world is free from determination, yet nature has appointed such means for the achieving of the good or the ill, the true and correct effect of which is not questioned by any wise person? For instance, though keeping in mind determination, to have recourse to a remedy in case of illness is the same as praying or not praying for an object. Yet would Sayyed Sahib affirm that the science of medicine is altogether without any basis and that remedies have no effect whatever? If, despite his belief in determination, he is persuaded that remedies are not without effect, then why does he create a distinction between this law and a similar and parallel law? Does he believe that God had power to invest certain medicines with such powerful effects that their full dose should immediately move the stomach, or that certain poisons should have such powerful effect that a full dose of them should dispatch the consumer from this world within a matter of minutes, yet He should leave as dead and without effect the supplications of His elect which are full of resolve and attention and earnestness? Is it possible that there should be a contradiction in the Divine system and that the Divine design which works for the welfare of His servants through medicines should not operate in the case of prayer?
That is not so. Sayyed Sahib himself is unaware of the true philosophy of prayer and has no personal experience of its high effectiveness. His case is like that of a person who over a period uses a stale medicine which has lost all its effectiveness and then concludes, as a general rule, that that medicine is ineffective. Sayyed Sahib has reached an advanced age, but the natural system, that determination is closely related to means, has eluded him. That is why he has fallen into the error that anything can happen without the intervention of the means which nature has appointed spiritually and physically. As a general rule, nothing is free from determination. A person who derives advantage from fire, water, air, clay, corn, vegetables, animals, or minerals, does so under the rule of determination; but if a stupid one should imagine that without the help of the means which God Almighty has appointed, and without treading the paths that have been fixed by nature, something might be acquired without the mediation of physical or spiritual means, such a one seeks to falsify the wisdom of God Almighty.
The meaning of all that Sayyed Sahib has put forth is that he does not regard prayer as one of the effective means, the existence of which he admits, and that he has in this matter gone beyond the limit. For instance, if someone mentions the effect of fire to him, he will not deny it. He will not affirm that if anyone’s being burnt has been determined he would be burnt without the intervention of fire. Then I am surprised that despite being a Muslim he denies the effectiveness of prayer which sometimes lights up the darkness like fire and sometimes burns the hand of an impertinent intervener. Does he remember determination at the time of prayer and forget it when fire or the like is mentioned? Does not the same determination comprehend both? When, despite determination, he adheres so strongly to effective means that he has acquired an ill reputation in his exaggeration, then what is the reason that the system of nature which he acknowledges is forgotten by him in the matter of prayer, so much so that while in his view a fly has some effect, yet prayer has none? The truth is that he is unaware of the effect of prayer and has no personal experience of it, nor has he had the advantage of keeping company with those who have such experience.
Miracles are Wrought by Prayer
The subject of the acceptance of prayer is a branch of the subject of prayer. A person who does not comprehend the principle encounters difficulty in comprehending a branch. This is at the bottom of the misunderstanding of Sayyed Sahib. The principle of prayer is that there is a mutually attractive relationship between a pious servant and his Lord. To begin with, the mercy (Rahmaniyyat) of God Almighty draws a servant to itself. Then through his sincerity the servant approaches close to God Almighty and in prayer that relationship, when it arrives at a certain stage, manifests its wonderful qualities. When a servant being confronted with a great difficulty leans towards God Almighty with perfect certainty, perfect hope, perfect love, perfect fidelity and perfect resolve, and becoming extremely alert and tearing aside the veils of heedlessness advances far into the fields of the discarding of self, he beholds in front of him the court of the Divine and that He has no associate. Then his soul prostrates itself at that threshold and the power of attraction that is invested in him draws the bounty of God Almighty towards itself. Then God, the Glorious, addresses Himself towards fulfilling the purpose of the supplication and casts the effect of prayer on all those preliminary means which give rise to the means that are necessary for the achievement of the purpose of the prayer. For instance, if the prayer is for rain then on its acceptance the natural means that are needed for rain are created by the effect of the prayer. If the prayer is for famine the All-Powerful One creates the contrary means.
It has been proved to the satisfaction of those who have frequent experience of visions that in the prayer of a perfect person a power of fashioning is created. That is to say, by the command of God the prayer exercises control in the lower and higher worlds and turns the elements and heavenly bodies and the hearts of people to the direction that is desired. There are many instances of this in the holy Books of God Almighty.
The Effect of Prayer is Greater than the Effect of Fire
Some types of miracles are in reality the acceptance of prayer. The source of thousands of miracles that were manifested by the Prophets and the wonders that have been exhibited throughout by the saints was prayer, and it is through the effect of prayer that extraordinary events display the power of the All-Powerful. Are you aware what was the wonderful event that happened in the deserts of Arabia, that hundreds of thousands of the dead came alive within a few days, and those who had been corrupted through generations took on Divine colour, and the blind began to see, and the tongues of the dumb began to flow with Divine insights, and such a revolution took place in the world which no eye had seen and no ear had heard before? It was the prayers during dark nights of one who had been wholly lost in God which created an uproar in the world and manifested such wonders as had appeared impossible in the case of that unlearned helpless one.
“O Allah, send down blessings and peace on him and on his people proportionate to the amount of his suffering and sorrow for the sake of the Ummah and send down upon him the light of Thy mercy forever.”
I have experienced that the effect of prayers is greater than the effect of fire and water. Indeed in the systems of natural means nothing has greater effect than prayer.
Physical and Spiritual Means are Not Outside Determination
If a question is raised that some prayers are not heard and no effect of theirs becomes visible, I would say that the same is the case with medical remedies. Have medicines shut the door of death, or is it not possible for them to fail of their purpose? Yet, despite this, can anyone deny their effect? It is true that determination comprehends everything, but determination has not wasted or disgraced knowledge, nor has it rendered means unreliable. Careful consideration would show that physical and spiritual means are not outside determination. For instance, if the fate of a patient should be good, the means of a proper remedy become available and the body becomes ready to take advantage of them. In such a case, the remedy becomes most effective. The same is the case with prayer. All means and conditions for the acceptance of prayer come together where the Divine design is of acceptance. God Almighty has tied together His physical and spiritual systems in the same chain of causes and effects. It is a great mistake on the part of Sayyed Sahib that he acknowledges the physical system but denies the spiritual system.
I deem it necessary to add that if Sayyed Sahib does not repent of his wrong assumption and should require proof of the acceptance of prayer, I have been commissioned by God to dispel such misconceptions. I promise that I shall inform Sayyed Sahib in advance of the acceptance of some of my prayers and will also publish the fact, provided Sayyed Sahib promises that on my claim being established he will repent of his wrong assumption.
Must All Prayers be Accepted?
Sayyed Sahib says that in the Holy Qur’an God Almighty has promised acceptance of all prayers while the fact is that some prayers are not accepted. This is a misunderstanding on his part and the verse:
“Pray unto Me, I will answer your prayer.”4
does not help his purpose. The prayer that is prescribed in this verse as a command is not any ordinary prayer, but is the worship that has been made obligatory. Not all prayers are obligatory. At some places God, the Glorious, has praised those who are steadfast and at a time of trial commit themselves entirely to God. In this verse, prayer has not only been commanded but the verse goes on to describe it as worship and in case of disobedience warns of the torment of hell. It is obvious that in the case of other prayers this warning is not added. Indeed, in some cases Prophets were admonished in respect of their prayers. The verse:
“I advise thee lest thou become one of the ignorant.”5
is an instance. This shows that if every prayer had been worship Noah would not have been rebuked about his prayer. In some situations, prophets and saints have considered it disrespectful to supplicate and the righteous have followed the dictate of their hearts in respect of such prayers; that is to say, if at a time of distress the heart suggested prayer they turned to prayer and if the heart suggested steadfastness, they were steadfast and turned away from prayer. Besides, God has not promised acceptance of prayer in all cases, but has clearly said that He would accept if He so wills and would reject if He so wills. This is clearly indicated in the verse:
“Nay, but on Him alone will you call; then will He remove that which you call on Him to remove, if He please…”6
Conditions of Acceptance of Prayer
Even if we were to concede that the phrase “Call Me” means prayer, we would have to affirm that by prayer is meant such prayer as complies with all required conditions and that is not within the power of man unless he is helped by God. Humility alone is not enough for prayer, but righteousness, purity, truthfulness, perfect certainty, perfect love and perfect attention are all needed. It is also necessary that the object prayed for should not be opposed to the Divine design for the welfare in this world and in the hereafter of the supplicant, or of the one on whose behalf supplication is made. Very often, despite all other conditions being fulfilled, the object for which supplication is made is opposed to the Divine design and there is no good in its fulfilment. For instance, if a child should cry that his mother should hand over to him a burning brand, or a serpent, or should feed him a poison, which appears agreeable, the mother would not comply with his wish. Were she to do so, and though the child might escape with his life some limb of his should become useless, then arriving at years of discretion the child would have a grievance against his foolish mother. There are many other conditions in the absence of which prayer does not deserve that name and so long as a prayer is not inspired by full spirituality and there is not a close connection between him who supplicates and him on whose behalf supplication is made, there is little hope of the acceptance of prayer. Unless there is Divine willingness for the acceptance of prayer all these conditions are not fulfilled and full attention remains lacking.
Sayyed Sahib acknowledges that the good fortune of the hereafter and its bounties and delights and comforts which constitute salvation, are the result of faith and sincere prayers. That being so, Sayyed Sahib would be compelled to acknowledge that a believer’s prayers have effect and become the cause of the removal of calamities and the achievement of objectives. If that were not so, then how would they be of help on the Judgement Day? If prayer is truly a vain thing and cannot be the cause of removal of any calamity in this life, then how will it become a cause for their removal on the Judgement Day?
If our prayers truly possess the effect of safeguarding us against calamities then that effect should be manifested in this world also, so that our faith and hope might be fostered and we should pray more earnestly for our salvation in the hereafter. But if prayer amounts to nothing and that which is written is bound to happen, then as, according to Sayyed Sahib, prayer is vain for the calamities of this world, it will be vain for the hereafter also and no hope could be placed in it.7
1. [Malfuzat, Vol. I, p. 198 (Eng. Translation in Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 187)].
2. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Mu’min, Verse 61.
5. Holy Qur’an Surah Hud, Verse 47
6. The Holy Quran Surah Al-’Anam, Verse 42
7. [Barakat-ud-Du’a, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 6, pp. 5-14 (Eng. Translation in Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pp. 187-198).]