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Goodness and Piety

Goodness and Piety (Afzalur Rahman) Prayer is undoubtedly the most effective weapon for fighting against evil in society and the best means to ward off evil from an individual. But this is the negative aspect of prayer. Its positive function is to make people truthful and righteous, pious and virtuous, pure and good, so that they may become instruments for purifying society. The Holy Quran refers to this positive aspect of prayer in these words: “He indeed is successful who purifies himself and remembers the Name of his Lord and then prays.” (87:14—15) Real success and prosperity, according to the Holy Quran, is for the one who attains purity and goodness. This verse tells us the means through which an individual may acquire it. It is prayer which enables man to attain that standard of goodness and piety enjoined by Islam: “Thou canst but admonish such as fear their Lord in secret and keep up prayer. And whoever purifies himself, purifies himself only for his own good.” (35:18) This shows that prayer protects man from moral weaknesses, guards him against evil in himself and develops his spiritual strength. In fact, it is a very powerful means of purifying man of his lower and mean carnal self and, instead, developing in him the nobler virtues of life. It lifts him from the depths of meanness and raises him up to the heights of goodness and peity. Prayer brings a man out of his animal self and adorns him with moral qualities of goodness, piety, love, affection, self-sacrifice etc., that render him an enviable object even for the angels. There is only one way to crush the power of evil that is found in individuals as well as society. And it is this. That you should become more and more honest and pious and defeat the forces of evil by. your goodness. And the best way to attain goodness is by practising prayer. It will help you not only to fight against the organised evil in society but will also assist you and prepare you in defeating it and establishing, instead, a system of goodness and justice. In short, prayer is a means of strength for the righteous. The Holy Quran praises the high moral qualities of the believers against the wickedness of the evil-doers in these words: “Surely man is created impatient. . . fretful when evil affects him, and niggardly when good befalls GOODNESS AND PIETY 39 him . . . except those who are steadfast in prayer.” (70:18-22) This verse gives good news to those who practise regular prayer, that they will attain the highest degree of excellence and acquire the most valuable qualities of being faithful and righteous—will be charitable, truthful, chaste, true and honest in their dealings and most fearful of their Lord. Moreover, it shows that the real source of good qualities and high moral values, which Islam wants to develop in its followers, is prayer. If it is performed properly in the right state of mind, fulfilling all its conditions, it will definitely produce the desired results on individuals, as described in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Messenger. This is why the Holy Messenger described prayer as the real pillar of Din-Allah. With its strength, Din-Allah is strengthened and with its weakness the whole superstructure of Din falls down. There is doubt that healthy development of human powers and faculties depends on the goodness of the inner self. If a man’s inner self is purified of evil tendencies, it is likely to develop his faculties on right and healthy lines. And prayer is definitely a very strong and effective means of purification of the heart, as is pointed out in the two verses of the Holy Quran quoted above (29:45) and (11:114). Therefore believers are told to purify’themselves: “He surely is successful who purifies it (his soul) and he fails who corrupts it” (91:9). And the Holy Prophet said, “The key of Paradise is prayer, and the key of prayer is being purified.” Abu Dhar said that the Prophet went out in winter, when the leaves were falling, and took two branches of a tree whose leaves began to fall. Then he turned towards him and said, “A Muslim observes prayer for God’s sake and his sins fall from him as these leaves fall from this tree.” Abu Hurairah reported God’s Messenger as saying, “If one of you has a river at his door in which he washes himself five times a day; do you think it would leave any dirt on him?” The companions said that it would not leave any dirt on him (and that he would be perfectly clean). The Prophet said, “This is an example of the five prayers with which God wipes out all the evils of man and make him completely pure and good.” There are many sayings of the Holy Prophet which clearly state that prayer is a means of purifying the worshipper from evil tendencies from within and without. And the Holy Quran describes the state of such people in these words: “In it are men who love to be purified, and God loves those who make themselves pure” (9:108). Undoubtedly a true Muslim must be pure in body, mind and soul, and daily prayers help him to achieve this degree of purity and goodness. This is because the prayer is a form of remembrance of God and the latter is a very effective means of suppressing evil and thereby purifying the heart of unhealthy tendencies. The Holy Quran clarifies it in the following two verses: It is I Who am God, there is no deity but I, so worship Me and 40 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS establish prayer to remember Me” (20:14). And remembrance of God is the greatest thing in life without doubt” (29:45). The real object of the prayer is that people should not neglect their obligations to God, Who is their Lord and Master and they are all His servants. The daily prayer is prescribed to remind them of the presence of God and their duties and obligations to Him. This remembrance suppresses evil tendencies in man and leads him to his moral advancement. The effective sanction of the presence of God in the prayer acts as a restraint upon his tendencies to break Divine Laws. The greater and the stronger the feeling of the Divine Presence in the prayer the greater and the more effective is the restraint upon his tendencies to break the Divine Law. Thus prayer by suppressing the evil tendencies of the worshipper, purifies his heart and soul of evil and leads him on the straight path to the growth of his inner self. Another factor which greatly assists the worshipper to suppress feelings of evil and to attain goodness and piety is the fear of God. He is fully aware of the fact that God is watching him and his activities all the time wherever he goes, openly or in secret, in light or in darkness. He cannot hide anything from Him. This belief of the worshipper that God is present everywhere and that He sees everything restrains him from breaking the Divine commandments. It is the strength of this belief that determines the strength of his actions. The daily prayer is prescribed to strengthen this belief in the heart of the worshipper. The Holy Quran says: “Prayer restrains man from evil and unjust acts.” (29:45) Without daily prayer, it is physically impossible to maintain the strength of this belief and, consequently, adherence to goodness and piety. If the heart of a worshipper is deprived of this feeling, how can he possibly adhere to goodness and avoid evil for fear of God in his daily life? The obvious recipe is the practice of daily prayer: to evoke and revive fear of God in the worshipper and strengthen his belief in the Omnipresent God so that he may walk in ways of goodness and piety and avoid evil. Honesty Who can be more honest than a true believer who expects to meet his Lord on the Day of Judgement for final reckoning and to give full account of his omissions and commissions in this life? Who is fully aware of the Grandeur and all-comprehensive Power of God; Who knows the open and the hidden and even the secrets of the heart? Who is completely obedient and submissive to His command? And who has totally given himself and all his affairs to the Law of Allah? Who is true to Allah, the Unseen and obeys Him completely and meets Him five times daily in prayer? How can such a man be untrue in his worldly affairs? He follows, in word and deed, the teachings of God’s Messengers, who were the most honest of all people: Moses said, “O Firaun; I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds . . . One for whom it is right to say nothing but truth about God.” (7:104-105) GOODNESS AND PIETY 41 The followers of the Messenger are the most honest and truthful of all people: “Who establish regular prayer . . . such indeed are the believers.” (8:3-4) Their belief in the presence of God gets stronger and stronger through prayer and further strengthens their righteous character: “It is righteousness to believe in God, . . . to be steadfast in prayer . , . such are the people of truth, the Godfearing” (2:177). A beautiful description of the righteous and God-fearing man is given in the above passage from the Holy Quran. People who possess all those qualities and practise regular prayer are surely, without doubt, people who can be trusted in all matters. They have been put to the severest tests and have come out successfully with honour and glory. They have proven their truthfulness and, therefore, they can be relied upon in all matters under all circumstances: “We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.” (29:3) True believers have come out safely, purified but unharmed as from the goldsmith’s melting pot in which the fire burns out the impurities and pure gold is left behind. Such people are amply rewarded by God while the hypocrites are punished: “Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with God . . . that God may reward the men of Truth for their’truth, and punish the hypocrites.” (33:22—23) The honesty and sincerity of the believers is judged by God and they are given their due reward. The dishonest and insincere, on the other hand, are punished in accordance with their misdeeds: “So he gave nothing in charity, nor did he pray; but, on the contrary, he rejected Truth and turned away . . . Woe to thee.” (75:31-35) These are those who do not do good deeds and do not obey God and do not practise regular prayer in obedience to His Command, in fact, reject Truth and turn away from Him. And there are people who do all these things and practise prayer, in fact, accept and obey Truth from their Lord. They indeed are the righteous and truthful people, who can be trusted in all matters. People who believe in the teachings of the God’s Messengers and do good deeds and show mercy and forgiveness to their fellow creatures can never be untrue in their worldly dealings with people. All Prophets came with Truth and taught people Truth and honesty in all their affairs. “We have already shown clear signs to those who believe (what greater sigh could there be than that). We have sent you with the knowledge of Truth and made you a bearer of good tidings andawarner.” (2:119) The Prophet Muhammad was given the Truth as the Prophets before him were given the Truth and they preached the same thing to their people. “He has sent down to you the Book, which has brought the Truth and confirms the scriptures which preceded it. Before this, He sent down the Torah and Gospel for the guidance of mankind, and He has sent down the Criterion (of right and wrong). Now there shall be a severe punishment for those who reject the Commandments of God, for God is Almighty, Avenger of wickedness.” (3:3) 42 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The Holy Prophet is commanded to judge between people according to the criterion of Truth revealed to him: “O.Prophet, We have sent this Book to you with the Truth so that you may judge between people in accordance with the Right Way which Allah has shown you. So do not plead for dishonest people, implore Allah’s forgiveness, for Allah is Forgiving and Compassionate. You should not plead for those who are dishonest to themselves. Allah does not like the one who is persistently dishonest and sinful.” (4:105) This verse of the Quran strongly condemns partisanship in matters of Truth and Justice. It is sheer dishonesty that one should plead the cause of one’s own party man, even though he may be in the wrong, and oppose the man of the opposite party, even though he may be right. Glory of Islam Islam is the most dynamic religion in the world because it is based on the pure Word of God. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him) was the greatest of all the prophets. He was bathed in the effulgence of Divine Light and drank deeply from the fountain-head of revelation. Upon no other prophetwas bestowed such an abundance of Divine grace as was bestowed upon him. God spoke to him as a father speaks to his son. Every word of the Holy Quran is the genuine and pure verbal revelation of the Master of the universe. It is a perfect book and there is no doubt about it. None can successfully combat its divine power for it is the Word of God in the literal sense. (Bashir Ahmad Orchard)