The Significance of Prayer

The Significance of Prayer (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) The importance of the injunction relating to prayers can be understood easily from the frequent repetition of that injunction in the Holy Quran. But the Holy Book at the same time warns the Muslims against a misconception or ignorance of the true nature of prayers, for it says: “Woe is to those who pray but are utterly regardless of the true nature of their prayers.” Prayers are a supplication addressed to Almighty God by a man to purify him and to make him attain union with Him, for unless a man is purified by the hand of God, he cannot be pure, and unless Almighty God makes him attain His union by His powerful hand, he cannot find it. Many are the chains and fetters with which a man is bound, and his own exertions, however hard, are not.sufficient to liberate him from them. He desires that he may become purified, but his efforts without the helping hand of God are of no avail, and sometimes he does stumble. To purify one from sins is the work of God only and there is no other power on the earth’s surface which can bring about that object. Hence Almighty God has enjoined prayers that they may be the means of bringing about a pure transformation and creating holy promptings and pure impulses within a man’s heart. Prayers are a humble and earnest supplication to Almighty God that evil desires, evil passions and evil impulses may be suppressed and a pure love and a pure connection with the Divine Being may be generated in their place which should enable a man to walk in obedience to Divine commandments. The word used for prayers in the Muslims Law is Salat, and the presence of the idea of burning in the root meaning shows that prayer is not the utterance of certain words with the lips, but that true prayer should be accompanied with a burning of the heart for the attainment of the object prayed for. Very few persons are acquainted with the philosophy of prayer. A kind of death comes over the person who sets himself to pray for the attainment of an object. It is then that prayer is accepted. But very few persons know this. I daily receive letters in which men complain that they prayed for an object, but that their prayer was not accepted. They do not know that the utterance of certain words with the lips is not prayer. It is a necessary condition for the acceptance of prayer that the heart should completely melt before God, and the grace of God should be sought with 12 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS patience and perseverance. Such prayers are generally accepted. The daily prayers which are enjoined by the Muslim Law afford to a Muslim the best occasion for addressing his supplications to God, but the Muslims are unaware of their blessings. It is due to ignorance that the different sects have invented different forms of devotion for seeking the nearness of God. It is through prayers only that His nearness is attained, and this was the way which the Holy Prophet followed. It is my personal experience that nothing can make a man attain that nearness of God which can be attained through prayers. All the movements in prayers are expressive of the deepest humbleness before God. First we stand with our hands folded on the breast, as a servant stands respectfully before his lord and master, expressing by this attitude that like a humble servant, we are ready to obey all the Divine commandments. Next we bend low before Him as a servant does before his master and thus express further humbleness while we praise the holiness and greatness of God. The highest degree of humbleness which is expressive of utter human weakness in the majestic Divine presence is shown in the act of prostration. The tongue utters the praises of God and thus while the words express His glory and greatness, the heart shows its sincerity in this praise and glorification of the mighty Lord of earth and heavens by the physical act of prostration. The physical movements of the body in prayers are therefore only practical expressions of the deep humbleness of the heart and both the tongue and the heart, the body as well as the soul, join in singing praises of the glory and greatness of God and expressing by words as well as practice the utter weakness and humility of man. As there is a deep significance beneath the physical movements of the body in the prayers, so there is a hidden meaning in the five times appointed by the Islamic law for the five daily prayers. They represent the five conditions of man. They are photographs of man’s changing conditions. The life of man is subject to five different changes which he undergoes in the time of adversity. These five changes are necessary to human nature. First of all he is informed of the misfortune that is going to befall him, as, for instance, when a warrant is issued from a court of justice for his arrest. For the first time then his comfort and happiness are suddenly interrupted and a cloud of melancholy is cast over his sunshine of glory. This stage corresponds to the time for the first prayer immediately after noon. As the sun begins to decline from the zenith after noon, so a man who is at the height of his prosperity and success witnesses the first stage of his declination when he comes to know of an impending misfortune. This stage of the human condition finds its representation in the prayer which is said at the first decline of the sun i.e., the zuhr prayer. The sun declines farther to the west and the troubles increase. In the illustration already stated, the person upon whom the warrant is executed is brought before the magistrate. Difficulties, then encompass him all around, and the light of comfort is on the verge of extinction. Corresponding to this state of man is the time of the day when the sun has declined far to the west and his THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PRAYER 13 light is turned pale so that the eye can rest upon him. The zenith of glory is left far behind and the setting of the sun after a short time is apparent. The latter after-noon prayer, i.e., asr answers to this spiritual state. A third change then comes over the man. There is no hope left of being delivered from the trouble. To continue the illustration already suggested, evidence being taken against the accused person which shows his guilt, a charge is framed by the magistrate. He is then frightened out of his senses and deems himself already a prisoner. The sun of glory is then set. This state corresponds to the time when the sun actually sets and the light of the day vanishes away. The evening prayer said after sunset represents this condition. The culminating point of adversity is reached when darkness encompasses a man all round, and its force is fully realised. The verdict goes against him and he is sent to gaol. Then there is before him the darkness of night. Corresponding to this state of physical adversity are the night-prayers which are said when the darkness of night fully sets in. This long interval of darkness is again followed by a light in the East which gives news of the rising sun. The period of imprisonment is over, and the sun of prosperity again begins to shine upon ‘the man. In accordance with this change the next prayer-time is the morning which brings the glad tidings of the new sun. Allah Answers Prayer Allah it is Who answers the cry of the distressed person when he calls upon Him and removes the evil. (Quran 27:63} Dedication to God I urge you to fear God. Stick to the Law of God. Listen to him upon whomsoever God has entrusted your affairs—and obey him, for he who will obey him will get rid of low passions, greed and unwieldy anger. Do not feel proud. It does not behove that he who is created from dustand hasto go backto dust should display pride; he hasto be eaten up by worms. Today he is alive and tomorrow he will be dead. Every moment that passes, carries him nearer to the time of his death. (HazratAbu Bakr)