The Philosophy of PrayerNo Comments | September 2013
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We present extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias, on the power and acceptance of prayer. These are republished from the second volume of Essence of Islam.
To Supplicate is Human and to Respond is Divine
When a child being driven by hunger cries for milk, then milk is generated in the mother’s breasts. The child does not know what prayer is, but his cries draw the milk. This is a universal experience. Sometimes when the mother does not perceive the presence of milk in her breasts, the child’s cries help to draw it. Then can our cries before God Almighty draw nothing? They certainly draw everything. But those sightless ones, who parade themselves as scholars and philosophers, cannot see it. If a person were to reflect on the philosophy of prayer, keeping in mind the connection and relationship which a child has with its mother, he would find it easy to understand. The second type of mercy comes into operation after supplication. Go on asking and you will go on receiving:
“Pray unto Me, I will answer your prayer,”1 is not mere verbiage, but is a characteristic of human nature. To supplicate is human, to respond is Divine. He who does not understand and does not believe is false. The illustration of the child that I have set forth expounds the philosophy of prayer in an excellent way.2
It is at a time of trial that the wonderful and rare qualities and effects of prayer are manifested. The truth is that our God is recognized only through prayers.3
Etiquette of Prayer
Prayer is a wonderful thing. It is a pity that those who pray are not aware of the true manner of prayer, nor are they acquainted with the ways of the acceptance of prayer. The truth is that the very reality of prayer has become strange. There are some who deny the effectiveness of prayer altogether. There are others who do not deny it, but as their prayers are not accepted on account of their lack of knowledge of the manner of prayer and are not prayers in the true sense, their condition is worse than that of those who deny the effectiveness of prayer. Their practical condition has pushed many others to the verge of atheism.
The first condition for prayer is that a supplicant should not get tired and become a prey to despair that nothing will happen. Sometimes it is seen that a prayer is carried on till it is about to be accepted and then the supplicant gets tired and the result is failure and frustration. Frustration results in the denial and effectiveness of prayer and gradually culminates in the denial of God. It is said if there is God Who accepts prayer why have not those prayers been accepted which were offered over a long period? If those who think thus and stumble were to reflect upon their lack of perseverance, they would come to know that all their frustration is the result of their own haste and impatience which generated an ill concept of the powers of God and resulted in despair. So one should never get tired.
Be Sincere and Determined
Praying is like the sowing of a seed by a farmer. Apparently he buries the good seed in the soil and who can expect at that time that the grain of seed will grow up in the form of a good tree and bear fruit? Outsiders and even the cultivator himself cannot see that the grain is assuming the form of a plant inside the earth. But the reality is that within a few days the grain undergoes a change and begins to assume the shape of a plant till its shoot emerges from the earth and becomes visible to everyone. From the moment when the grain was placed in the earth it had started its preparation to become a plant, but an eye that can only perceive the visible was not aware of it till its shoot emerged from the earth and became visible. An ignorant child cannot understand at that stage that it will bear fruit only at its due time. He desires to see it bearing fruit immediately, but an intelligent cultivator will know what is the time of its bearing fruit. He looks after it steadfastly and nurtures it till the time comes when it bears fruit and which also ripens.
The same is the case with prayer, which is nurtured in the same way and brings forth fruit. Those who are in haste get tired quickly and give up, and those who are steadfast persevere and arrive at their objective. It is true that there are many stages in prayer, ignorance of which deprives the supplicants of the fruits of their prayers. They are in a hurry and cannot wait, whereas there is progression in the works of the Almighty. It never happens that a man marries today and a child is born to him next morning. Though God is All-Powerful and can do whatever He wills, yet compliance with the law and the system that He has appointed is necessary. In the first stages of childbearing nothing is known, like the nurture of vegetation. For four months there is no certainty. Then a movement begins to be felt and after the expiry of the full period the child is born after great travail. The birth of the child also gives a new life to the mother. It is difficult for a man to form a concept of the troubles and travails which a woman has to endure during her pregnancy, but it is true that the coming of a child is a new life for the mother. She has to accept death so as to have the joy of bearing a child. In the same way, it is necessary for a supplicant that he should discard haste and endure all troubles and should never imagine that prayer is not accepted. At last the time arrives for the result of the prayer to be manifested; the child which is the objective is born.
A prayer should be carried on to the limit until it produces a result. You will have observed that a piece of cloth is placed under a burning glass and the rays of the sun concentrate upon it and their heat arrives at the degree which sets the cloth on fire. In the same way, it is necessary that a prayer should be carried on to a stage where it should develop the power of burning up failures and frustrations and to fulfil the desired purpose.
One has to be occupied with prayer for a long time and then God Almighty manifests the result. It is my experience, which is borne out by the experience of the righteous in the past, that if there is silence for a long time, there is hope of success, but if there is a quick reply the purpose is not likely to be achieved. When a beggar goes to someone and begs with humility and earnestness and does not move from his place, even after he is rebuked, and continues his supplication, then in the end the person supplicated is moved and bestows something on the beggar despite his miserliness. Then should not a supplicant have at least so much steadfastness as an ordinary beggar? When God Almighty Who is Benevolent and possesses Majesty sees that His humble servant has been prostrate at His threshold for a long time, He does not lead him to a bad end. If a pregnant woman should become impatient after four or five months and should take some abortive medicine, the child would not be born, but she herself would be involved in despair. In the same way, he who is in a hurry before the due time only suffers loss and puts his faith in danger. In this condition some people become atheists. There was a carpenter in our village whose wife fell ill and then died. He said that if there had been a God, his multiple prayers would have been accepted and his wife would not have died. In this way he became an atheist.
If a righteous person practices fidelity and sincerity, his faith is fostered and he achieves his purpose. The riches of this world have no value in the estimation of God Almighty. He can do everything in a single moment. Have you not seen that He bestowed sovereignty on a people who were entirely unknown and made great kingdoms obedient to them and made kings out of slaves? If a person is righteous and becomes wholly God’s, he would lead an excellent life, but the condition is that he should be sincere and possess resolve. His heart should never be shaken and there should be no showing off and shirk in it. What was there in Abraham which made him the father of his people and the father of those who are devoted to God, and God Almighty bestowed numberless great blessings on him? It was his righteousness and his sincerity. Abraham had offered a prayer that a Prophet should appear in Arabia from among his progeny. Was it accepted at once? For a long time after Abraham no one paid any attention to that prayer, yet it was fulfilled in the advent of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and how grand was its fulfilment.4
Two Ways of Acceptance of Prayer
It should be remembered that the acceptance of prayer is in two ways; one as a trial and the other as exaltation. As a trial sometimes the prayer of sinners and disobedient ones and even disbelievers is accepted, but such acceptance does not indicate a real acceptance, it is by way of trial. The condition of acceptance of prayer by way of exaltation is that the supplicant should be one of the elect of God Almighty and the lights and signs of his being one of the elect should appear in him in all directions. God Almighty does not accept the prayer, as a true acceptance, of the disobedient ones. He accepts the prayer only of those who in His estimation are righteous and obedient to Him. The distinction between the two acceptances is that in the acceptance of the prayer which is as a trial, there is no condition that the supplicant should be righteous and a friend of God, nor is it necessary that on accepting such prayer God Almighty should intimate the acceptance through a special communication. Nor are those prayers of such a high degree the acceptance of which is a wonderful and extraordinary event. Those prayers that are accepted by way of exaltation have the following signs:
First, that the supplicant is righteous and truthful and a perfect individual.
Second, that he is informed of the acceptance of his prayer through the word of God.
Third, most of these prayers are of a high degree and relate to great affairs, the acceptance of which shows that it is not the work or planning of man, but is a special sample of Divine power which is manifested in the case of select servants.
Fourth, the prayers by way of trial are accepted rarely, but the prayers by way of exaltation are accepted in large numbers. Very often a supplicant by way of exaltation is involved in such difficulties that if any other person had been involved in them, he would have seen no way out of them except through suicide. It happens that when those who worship the world and are far away from God Almighty are involved in great grief, and sorrows, and diseases, and disorders and trials from which there is no escape, they, on account of the weakness of their faith and their despair of God Almighty, take poison or jump into a well or kill themselves with a weapon. On such difficult occasions, the person who enjoys exaltation is helped by God Almighty in a wonderful manner on account of the strength of his faith and his special relationship with God. The favour of God takes hold of his hand in a wonderful manner so that the heart of one who is aware of these mysteries testifies involuntarily that the person concerned enjoys the support of God.
Fifth, a supplicant by way of exaltation is the recipient of Divine favours and God Almighty becomes his Guardian in all matters and the light of the love of God and the signs of acceptance by God and of spiritual delight and favours are manifested in his countenance as is said by God, the Glorious:
“Thou wilt find in their faces the freshness of bliss.”5
“Behold! the friends of Allah shall certainly have no fear nor shall they grieve.”6,7
What is Prayer?
When our soul, in search for something, extends its hand with great earnestness and weeping towards the Fountainhead of grace, and, finding itself helpless, seeks light from somewhere through its reflection, this condition too is like a condition of prayer. All wisdoms have been manifested through such prayer and the key of every house of knowledge is prayer. No knowledge or insight is manifested without it. Our thinking, our reflection and our search for the hidden objective are all parts of prayer. The only difference is that the prayer of those who possess insight depends upon the manners of insight, and their soul recognizing the Fountainhead of grace extends its hand towards it with insight. The prayer of veiled ones is an effort which is manifested in reflection and thinking and the search for means. Those people who have not a connection of insight with God Almighty, nor do they believe in it, they too seek through reflection and thinking that some way of success might be indicated to their heart from the unseen, and a supplicant possessing insight also desires that God may open the way of success to him, but the veiled one who has no relationship with God Almighty does not know the Fountainhead of grace. He too, like one possessing insight, seeks help from another quarter and reflects on the means of obtaining such help, but a person possessing insight has an eye on the Fountainhead. The other one walks in darkness and does not know that whatever strikes the heart after reflection and cogitation is also from God Almighty, Who, treating the anxiety of the anxious one as a supplication, casts the necessary knowledge into the heart of one who cogitates. The point of wisdom and understanding that enters the heart through reflection also comes from God and, though the person himself may not realize it, yet God Almighty knows that he is supplicating Him. In the end he is bestowed his object by God. This method of seeing light, if it is pursued with insight and with the recognition of the true Guide, is the prayer of a person of understanding; but if light is sought from an unknown source, only through reflection and cogitation without fixing one’s gaze on the True Illuminer, it is only veiled prayer…
Prayer and Planning are Two Natural Demands
As the relationship between planning and prayer is proved by the law of nature, it is also proved by the testimony of the book of nature. It is often observed that as human temperaments at a time of distress incline towards planning and remedies, in the same way they incline by natural eagerness towards prayer and almsgiving and charity…This is a spiritual argument that the inner law of man has, from the beginning, directed all peoples that they should not separate prayer from means and planning, but should search for plans with prayer. In short, prayer and planning are two natural demands of human nature which ever since the creation of man, have been the servants of human nature like two real brothers. Planning is the necessary consequence of prayer and prayer incites towards planning. The good fortune of man consists in this, that before entering upon planning he should seek help through prayer from the Fountainhead of grace so that being granted light from this everflowing spring good plans should be made available to him.8
He who supplicates God at the time of difficulty and distress and seeks the resolution of his difficulties from Him achieves satisfaction and true prosperity from God Almighty provided he carries his supplication to its limit. Even if he does not achieve the purpose of his supplication, he is bestowed some other kind of satisfaction and contentment by God Almighty and does not experience frustration. In addition, his faith is strengthened and his certainty increases. But the one who in his supplication does not turn towards God Almighty remains blind all the time and dies blind…
He who supplicates with the sincerity of his soul is never truly frustrated. That prosperity which cannot be achieved through riches and authority and health, but which is in the hand of God and He bestows it in whatever shape He wills, is bestowed through perfect prayer. If God Almighty so wills, a sincere and righteous person in the midst of his distress achieves such delight after supplication which an emperor cannot enjoy on the imperial throne. This is true success which is bestowed in the end on those who pray.9
1. Holy Qur’an, Al-Mu’min, Verse 61 [Publisher].
2. [Malfuzat, vol. 1, pp. 129-130 (Eng. Translation in Essence of Islam, Vol.2, pp.198-199)].
3. [Malfuzat, vol. III, p. 201 (Eng. Translation in Essence of Islam, Vol.2, p.199)].
4. [Al-Hakm, vol. 7, Number. 8, 28 February 1903, pp. 1-3 (Eng. Translation in Essence of Islam Vol.2, pp. 199-203).
5. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Tatfif, Verse 25.
6. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Yunus, Verse 63.
7. [Tasdiq-un-Nabi, pp. 43-45 OR Maktubat-e-Ahmadiyya, vol. III, pp. 75-77 (Eng. Translation, Vol.2, pp.203-205].
8. [Ayyam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, pp. 230-232 (Eng. Trans in Essence of Islam, Vol.2, pp. 206-207)].
9. [Ayyam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, p. 237 (Eng. Translation Essence of Islam, Vol 2, pp.207-208)]