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ISLAM: THE 5 PILLARS
To learn more about the foundations of Islam,
...and establish the Prayer..
Five times in every day the Muslim turns his back on whatever has been preoccupying him and bows and prostrates in submission before his Creator. The regular act of Salat is a powerful aid to the constant, unceasing remembrance of the eternal presence of God. Through it, the believer constantly pulls back to this remembrance and acquires the ability to see the hand of the Lord in everything which befalls him. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once compared it to a stream running by a house. "If a person were to wash in the stream," he said, "five times a day, would any dirt remain on his body?" "None," replied his Companions. And he remarked, "So it is with the five daily prayers, with which God wipes away faults." These five daily acts of devotion, which are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and in the evening, are best prayed in the company of others, but quite acceptable to pray alone
Each of the Prayers is announced vocally in the Call to Prayer, or Adhan.
The muezzin (caller to Prayer), who may be anyone from the local community,
stands in an elevated place, usually the tall graceful tower known as a minaret,
and sings forth the following declaration:
In its directness and stark simplicity the call evokes an instant response in those that hear it. To them it serves as a reminder that through their daily existence, with its hopes and its disappointments, there runs a thread of Divine remembrance which calls them to make their every act affirm the unity and omnipresent nature of God. And at the Dawn Call, sent forth just as light begins to show on the horizon, the muezzin adds, "Prayer is better than sleep! Prayer is better than sleep!" to rouse us from our lazy slumber to stand before our Creator at that blessed hour, thanking Him for our lives and the good things of Hid providing and asking Him for fuller participation in His light and for forgiveness and joy on the Day of Judgement.
The Second Pillar of Islam is the duty to pray five times daily. It is seen
as more meritorious for a Muslim to pray in a mosque and with a congregation,
but quite acceptable to pray alone. All men and women are required to participate
in the rite, which happens at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and at The
prayer is virtually identical everywhere, and has not altered in its form since
the earliest days of Islam. Muslims often proudly claim that they are the only
people who pray exactly as the founder of the religion prayed.
As the years pass and the discipline of regular worship begins to take effect, every prayer will become more and more absorbing, more and more powerful and awesome until our whole lives become infused with the awareness of God's grace and protection. By the same token, every moment in which we are not at prayer will become a form of Prayer itself, and we will find that in our spare time nothing seems so fulfilling and moving as facing God anew, declaring His name in humility and wonder. Thus the world in which we live will thus change in meaning for us. From being a space of taking and profit into a realm of pure service to God and to our fellow men, for as our spiritual horizons widen we will learn to take delight in selflessness.
The Muslim form of prayer involves a series of bowings and prostrations, evoking the Islamic notion of the close bonding of body and spirit. There is no priest to conduct the ceremony, because there is no concept of a sacrament, in the sense of a visible sign of God's saving intervention that needs to be administered by a hierarchy. Every believer is alone before God, even when worshipping shoulder to shoulder with others.
For a beginners guide to performing the prayer click here.
Observing the five prayers that God has laid down for us ensures that we will remember Him in times both of ease and of difficulty, and that there will never be a period of more than a few hours in which we do not turn to God. In fact the time when we least feel like praying is often when we need it most, but naturally whenever one wishes to pray one should do so, exploiting the opportunity and the inclination to the fullest.
For prayer times from around the world click here.
In the vision of the Quran, Prayer has a social impact. As God says, Prayer distances us from evil, corruption and aggressiveness. The mechanism of this is complex, but it is nevertheless clear that as the inward voyage progresses, the one embarked upon it finds himself simultaneously drawn both into and away from the society which surrounds him. He is drawn into it in the sense that he feels himself to be overflowing with the delight of closeness to God and longs to bring something of this to others, thereby consolidating further its hold within his soul as he begins to live in the service of his fellows. On the other hand, as he discovers that the best things in life are within; so he finds less and less satisfaction in pursuing those thing which the lower reaches of his personality crave: good food, fast cars, power, reputation - the list is familiar.
For each Prayer, they are "cleansing themselves with the water of heaven." If they understand their worship correctly and allow it to purify the interstices of their lives which lie between the Prayers, then each new act of devotion will not merely restore what has been lost, but will provide a step upwards on the ladder of spiritual growth. Every prayer will become more and more absorbing and more and more powerful, until our whole lives are infused with the awareness of God's grace and protection. The more complete the adorer's submission and concentration, the nearer he is to God and hence the more his external character and conduct will be under the control of his inner dictates. Thus, every moment in which we are not at Prayer will become a form of Prayer itself, a form of remembering God, and a consciousness of Him in every aspect of our lives. The world in which we live will thus change in meaning for us, from being a space of taking and profit into a realm of pure service to God and to our fellow men, for as our spiritual horizons widen we will learn to take delight in selflessness.
These two opposing forces do not, in fact, clash, as secular critics of religion would claim. Rather, they create a new and radical synthesis in the human personality. For the man or woman who is transformed by regular Prayer is also undergoing a basic change in his or her social function. No longer is such a person essentially a consumer, sleepily sucking at the teat of the materialistic golden calf; instead he shows himself concerned with improving society. This explains why to take a walk down any old street in Cairo or Damascus is to notice not only ancient and imposing mosques, but also public water fountains, schools, hospitals, and aqueducts, which are the direct result of the presence of those mosques.
The life of Prayer as understood in Islam is a fundamental challenge to the
modern attitude to the individual's role in society, which is defined mainly
as his contribution to the utilitarian, soulless contract of production and
consumption. The Muslim life rises above this mechanical estimate of man, for
Islam is founded, as it always has been, on the selfless pursuit of sanctity
and of what is in society's interests, regardless of the possibility of reward.
The opening chapter of the Quran, sura al-Fatiha, 'The Opener', constitutes the principal text of every canonical prayer, such that if it were neglected the Prayer would be regarded as not having been performed.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the Compassionate
In a hadith qudsi, the Prophet has narrated what God says when a person recites the sura al-Fatiha. The person says, "In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the Compassionate", and God says, "My servant mentions Me". The servant then says, "Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds," and God says in his turn, "My servant lends Me grace." The servant then says "The All-Merciful, The Compassionate, " and God replies My servant praises Me." The servant says, "Master of the Day of Judgement," and God says, "My servant glorifies Me and submits himself to Me." This first half of this chapter so far cited relates exclusively to God and the servant's invocation of His attributes. In the next half of the chapter, the servant prays with a complete sense of humility. The servant says, "You alone do we worship and unto You alone do we turn for help," and God says, "This is shared between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive that which he asks." When the servant says, "Guide us to the Straight Path, The path of those whom You have favoured, Not those who have incurred Your wrath, nor those who are astray," God says, "All that comes back to My servant, and My servant will receive that for which he asks. Thus, the second half of this chapter is related exclusively to man. It is because of this mutual participation between God and man in this chapter, which is considered to be the heart of the Quran, that the canonical prayer is regarded as not having been performed if this chapter is not recited.
It is in no way insignificant that the opening of the Quran begins with "In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the Compassionate" , with His attributes of Graciousness and Mercy. It connects those upon whom mercy is bestowed with Him, filling them with longing for Him, and encouraging them to obey Him. This is not like the attribute of anger, had He mentioned it instead of mercy, since anger grieves men, excites fear, depresses the mind and does not delight it.
Similarly the words, "Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds" include two things. One is the basis of praise which is gratitude. This gratitude is the beginning of the straight path and as it were half of it, since practical faith has two halves - half is patience and half is gratitude. The superiority of gratitude to patience is like the superiority of mercy to anger, because gratitude proceeds from joy, whereas patience under God's decree proceeds from fear and awe, and is not free from distress and sorrow. To walk along the straight path to God by way of love and to perform actions of love are much better than to walk along the path of fear.
The words of God, "The All-Merciful, The Compassionate" the second time indicate His attribute once again. This is not to be mistaken for repetition, as there is no repetition in the Quran, for repetition is defined as that which does not contain any additional benefit. The mention of mercy after the mention of "Lord of the Worlds" and before the mention of "Master of the Day of Judgement," has two great benefits in expounding the channels of mercy. One pays attention to creation by the Lord of all the worlds - He has created every one of these according to the most perfect and best of its kind and has given everything it needs.
In connection with this, His words, "Master of the Day of Judgement" indicates His mercy on the Day of Recompense at the time of granting the favour of perpetual kingdom, i.e. Paradise in exchange for belief in the sentence of testimony and for worship.
The words, "You alone do we worship", comprise two great parts. One is worship with sincerity in relation to Him. The second is the belief that none other than God deserves worship, and this is the essence of belief in divine unity. This is achieved by abandonment of belief in man's ability and power, and by the knowledge that God is alone in the execution of all works and that man is not independent by himself and without His help. Thus His words, "You alone do we worship" are an indication of making the soul beautiful by worship and sincerity, while His words, "and unto You alone do we turn for help" are an indication of its purification from belief in partnership and from paying attention to man's ability and power.
The words, "Guide us to the Straight Path" are a prayer which is the marrow of worship. These words of His make man aware of the need for entreaty and supplication to Him which form the spirit of servitude and also make man aware that the most important of his needs is guidance along the straight path, for it is by following this path that advancement towards God is accomplished.
The words, "The path of those whom You have favoured, Not those who have incurred Your wrath, nor those who are astray" are a reminder of His favour to His frinds and His revenge upon, and anger towards, His enemires, in order that encouragement may be given and awe may be excited from the depth of the hearts.
(Sources: Islam: Religion of Life, Abdul Wadod Shalabi; Image: ARC, Jean-Léon Gérôme - Caller to Prayer; The Jewels of the Quran, Imam al-Ghazali; The Inner meaning of the Islamic Rites - Islamic Spirituality, Syed Ali Ashraf)