Religious Concepts

Five Moments With God

By María Isabel Losa, London.


Prayer.

Prayer is sometimes considered an empty word devoid of true meaning; a concept alien to some and, deemed by others to be a pointless activity.

As the Western world has passed through a period of economic prosperity, it has gradually moved away from organised religion. In turn, many in the “west” have abandoned the practice of prayer.

For some, the offering prayers is considered an outdated tradition, a ritual from the past and a “one-way” call to an ‘imaginary god’. Without answer. Without results.

Many reconciled with the apparent “fact” that life´s most profound questions cannot be answered, with any degree of certainty. Is there a purpose to life? Does God exist? Is there life after death? At best, many believe we may only come to know the answer to such questions when we die, if at all.

In its origin, the practice of prayer was taught by the world´s spiritual guides, who used it to communicate with The Divine. It was considered to be a door; a passage to another world where once The Eternal Voice could be heard.

But, what about now? Has the Voice of the Divine fallen silent in the 21st century?

Well, there is arguably only one way to find out: to put prayer to the test, and see if it actually works. We need to use the supplication methodology. That conversational endeavour: the call to God. We must knock on the door and wait for the answer.

Prayer.

But… how should we pray? Is there a guide to successful prayer?

How do spiritual people pray?

When I, myself, started searching and exploring various faiths, I became particularly interested in one. It was the religion in which the highest amount of daily worship is performed. That religion was Islam. I was intrigued by how, and why, Muslims pray five times a day.

That very same inquiry was once submitted to the Prophet Muhammad (sa).

Once his followers enquired of him, why they pray five times a day. To this the Prophet of Islam (sa) beautifully responded:

If there was a river at your door and a man took a bath in it five times a day, would you notice any dirt on him?

They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.”

The Prophet (sa)  replied, “That is the parable of the five prayers by which God removes sins.”[1]

Here we discover another dimension to the notion of prayer: the reformation of oneself. The cleaning of all impurities which one has accumulated with passage of time.

Once, Prophet Ahmad (as), the spiritual guide of the modern era, reminded us of this method of prayer:

The prayer which produces a sweetness and a zeal for more worship and which strikes a communication with God and is offered in all humility brings about a change in the life of man. And this change is instantaneously perceived by the one who prays like this. This change makes him realise that he is not what he was before” [2]

These changes, which prayer brings about, have been studied and researched in recent years. Such studies have shown many benefits of prayer and meditation to mental and physical health. These benefits include the reduction of stress and anxiety levels, promotion of a more positive outlook[3], improvements in attention[4] and the combating of depression[5]. Research also shows a correlation between prayer and a reduction in harmful habits, such as excessive alcohol consumption.[6]

Another study has shown a close connection between prayer and satisfaction in relationships. The study states:

Praying increased satisfaction with sacrifice, couple identity and emergent goals, both of which mediated the relationship between prayer for partner and sacrifice.”[7]

Such findings demonstrate that the benefit of prayer is neither hypothetical nor illusory. That prayer is not the mere repetition of empty words. Rather prayer has tangible effects. It brings about measurable changes within us. We can observe these effects before us. 

As such, prayer no longer appears to be an outmoded practice from the past. We can apply it, here and now. We can experiment with it and test it. We may adopt it in order to ascertain in full sense its benefits. So, this is something I myself tested and later came to implement in my daily life.

But is it even possible to pray five times a day in the modern age? Would it fit in with our busy schedules? Or would it not be considered more of a burden than a pleasure?

Such questions, if unanswered can disturb the minds of many, and push them away from even trying. But I would say that such considerations are unfounded since prayer becomes like a healthy addiction; once you try it, you cannot abandon it. You cannot leave it aside, nor can you ignore it. An invisible strength, an invisible yet urgent need comes from within your being and asks you, begs you, pleads with you to speak to that Higher Being.

As a convert to Islam, I have experienced both routines in my daily life: one without prayer and one with five daily prayers. Needless to say, there is no comparison between the two. The first was fastened with constant thirst. In the second, not only was the thirst indulged; but I was given an enriched and nutritious drink like no other; without equal. And I can confirm, without doubt, that the observance of the five daily prayers can fit within every single one of our schedules and daily routines.

The day of a Muslim starts with the “dawn prayers”; one of the most beautiful moments of the day. The sun in the skies breaks through and paints the firmament in such a way that it is worth admiring. You can lose yourself in the dawn. Only those who are awake at this time are able to appreciate these delicate seconds. And from the very first instance of that spiritual condition, reminds us that this is the beginning of another day wherein the sun is not rising by chance. Indeed, it is only due to the mathematical laws which the Perfect Designer has caused to underpin this beautiful universe.

Then, the day continues on with one’s normal activities, until the next prayer arrives: the “noon prayer”. It invites you to pause in the middle of the day. To stop, to sit, to relax and prostrate before your Lord. It takes you apart from everything; separating you from the world.

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) said something very interesting, which explains what happens when a Muslim falls in prostration and prays. It is described as the moment in which a human being is nearest to his Lord.  It is the apex of the prayer. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) left behind a beautiful legacy of spiritual guidance, which can be encountered in these words:
The nearest a servant comes to his Lord is when he is prostrating himself, so make supplication (in this state)”.[8]

That moment is everything.

The silence, with your head on the ground, knowing God Almighty is listening to you, humbles you and makes you burst into tears, questioning why are you worthy of being listened to by the Creator of the Universe? Why you? If you are like any other soul, like any other human being, who experiences birth and death.

But that moment exists. And it can be experienced by anyone, at any time, to the point that you become addicted to such a prayer. And it is then, that you will understand why Muslims pray 5 times a day.

In the middle of the day, the “afternoon prayer” arrives. When the sun starts to decline, but before it sets, you have another moment of solitude and seclusion for your own self. You and Your Lord. To remind you of your mistakes, your boundaries, your needs and your supplications.

If the dawn was majestic, then let’s not forget about the next moment of prayer. The “sunset prayer”. The golden hour, as many have named this moment for the beautiful visible light in the skies. The remainder of the burning sun creates a great piece of art in the heavens above. No one can deny the shaking of oneself when observing the reds, the oranges and the yellows, mixing together with the clouds; creating a masterpiece that not even the best of artists can imitate. Unparalleled and unequal in beauty, it yet again reminds the believer of the wonderful Designer who has created the Heavens and the Earth.

Then the day comes to an end, and the obscurity approaches the earth, and the dusk envelops all. We do not know if we will be alive tomorrow. So, we have another opportunity to meditate, to brace oneself and ask forgiveness for one’s faults, to ask for help, or pray for those who are going through difficult times.

The ritual that encompasses prayer in Islam is rich in itself. From beginning to end. A pre-requisite to each prayer is ablution. Performed with the purpose of not only washing one’s hands, face and feet, but with the metaphorical cleansing of the soul. It allows one to leave aside all others worries and thoughts, to prepare oneself for that holy moment; the moment of coming closer to the Divine. The moment which has no equal. The moment with God.

After the ritual of physical purification, with one’s face still slightly wet, it’s time for the last prayer of the day, the “night prayer”.

A time that is fixed to the moment when the dusk has finally disappeared and the night is shrouded in darkness. Just before sleep, we have a final opportunity for an intimate conversation with God, before the day comes to an end.

Islam illustrates in many ways the reward for those who pray and observe the five daily prayers. Once the Prophet of Islam (sa) explained:

If the people knew what is the reward of making the call (for prayer) and (of being in) the first row (in the prayer), and if they found no other way to get this privilege except by casting lots, they would certainly cast lots for it. If they knew the reward of the noon prayer, they would race for it, and if they knew the reward of the morning (i.e. Fajr) and night (Isha) prayers, they would present themselves for the prayer even if they had to crawl to reach there.” [9]

The five daily prayers are not a mere repetition of the same wording or movements. Each and every one of them has a unique beauty, splendour and richness. I cannot adequately describe in words what each prayer encompasses. How the soul is granted nearness to God. The reward for which we wait, for which we are struggle and search, is no other than “the answer”. That tangible communion with God Almighty, that I personally, and many others have perceived and witnessed. Is not a fallacy, is not surreal. God answers prayers.

It is something that is worth testing, worth approaching individually.

I would like to end this invitation by quoting the words of the most recent in an ancient line of the spiritual guides, the Promised Messiah (as) and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement in Islam:

 “Until a person throws themselves before Allah Almighty, considering their own being to be nothing more than a complete non-entity or the like thereof – this being an inherent demand of divine providence – they cannot receive God’s grace and light. However, when they do receive this blessing, they experience an intense pleasure, which cannot be matched by any other.” [10]

María Isabel Losa Serna is the Deputy Editor of The Review of Religions, Spanish Edition.

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ENDNOTES:

  1. Sahi al-Bukhari no. 505, Sahi Muslim no. 667.

2. Promised Messiahas, Malfoozat vol. 6, pg. 378.

3. Derrick Wong, M.D. “Mind and spirit”. CentraState Healthcare System. https://web.archive.org/web/20090201075605/http://www.centrastate.com/body.cfm?id=520&action=detail&articlepath=%2FAtoz%2Fdc%2Fcen%2Fcanc%2Fgen%2Fmindspirit.html

4. Julie (Athman) Ernst  & Martha Monroe : The effects of environmental- based education on students’ critical thinking skills and disposition toward critical thinking, Environmental Education Research, (2004) 10:4, 507-522, DOI: 10.1080/1350462042000291038

5. Pérez, J.E., Rex Smith, A., Norris, R.L. et al. Types of prayer and depressive symptoms among cancer patients: the mediating role of rumination and social support. J Behav Med 34, 519–530 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-011-9333-9

6. Lambert NM, Fincham FD, Marks LD, Stillman TF. Invocations and intoxication: does prayer decrease alcohol consumption? Psychol Addict Behav. 2010;24(2):209‐219. doi:10.1037/a0018746

7. Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham, Scott Stanley: “Prayer and satisfaction with sacrifice in close relationships”, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. (2012) Volume: 29 issue: 8, page(s): 1058-1070. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407512449316

8. Sahih Muslim Hadith no. 482.

9. Sahih- al Bukhari no. 2689.

10. His Holiness Mirza Ghulam AhmadasMalfuzat – Volume 1 (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 2018), 161-162.

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