Disclaimer: I read Quran in the light of science, philosophy, ethics, and public policy. This is not a theological discussion, but some rational thinking shaped by the Quran.
Muslims must pray five times a day. The prayer or Salat is the second pillar of Islam and the key to paradise. As such, making them as correctly, devoutly, and abundantly as humanly possible is the benchmark. It took me a long time to realise what I pray in my prayer. However, once I got to the meaning, my prayers became more of a need than obligation. It felt more about here and now then hereafter.
When I was growing up, the society was in general very pious. Daily religious practices were more than rituals. They were an integral part of our societal norm and culture. Common people were more concern about devotion than theology. As a young boy, I used to go to Masjid with my peers to pray and to learn how to read the Quran. Going to the Masjid was more of an additional opportunity to spend some time with friends. Especially during the evening prayers when we all were supposed to be at study tables. The prayer felt like a welcome break from the study.
Religion was life. No body raised the questions about religion. There was no discussion about its purpose and meaning. We simply lived in them. As a non-Arab, we were used to learn how to read the Quran in Arabic without knowing the language. The correct pronunciation and intonation were our focus. The meaning and understanding were reserved for the student of theology. Our major concerns were how, when, and how much more. Why and what were of least importance. How should we pray to make them more accurately? When and how much more can we do them to get the maximum rewards? Thus, without thinking, praying, and fasting became our built-in habits like a second nature.
We want to build the same habits in our children. We all want the eternal bliss of hereafter for us and for our children. Unfortunately, what was very easy for us, is not so easy for them. What was norm for us, is barrier for them. What was culture for us, is scripture for them. The time has changed. The society has changed. Nowadays, we live in a practical society. We like to know the usefulness of everything. Life is more materialistic and economical, especially in the Western lifestyle. When our children asked us about why they are supposed to pray instead of how they should pray, we stumble upon the question.
For our children, we must relearn our religion starting from what and why, the very meaning and purposes of our prayer and piety. The opening chapter of the Quran is our prayer. It contains seven verses. Every time we stand for the prayer, we recite these verses:
“All praise and gratitude are for Allah – Lord of the worlds, the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone, we worship and You alone, we ask help. Guide us to the straight path – the path of those You have blessed – not the path You are displeased with, or those who are astray” (Quran 1: 1-7).
Thus, fundamentally we pray for Allah’s acceptance, His divine help and guidance. What best one can ask for! The Quran itself is the response of this prayer. The next chapter begins with:
“This is the Book! There is no doubt about it – a guide for the God conscious people” (Quran 2: 2).
Many of us don’t realise that if we don’t make the Quran our guiding principles for life, our prayers become meaningless.
Before every prayer, we must do the ablution – a ritual of purification. We wash our suggested body parts (i.e., face, hands, feet, and head) with water. Purification with water is common sense. However, what is not common sense is that according to our theology, if the water is unavailable, we must use clean earth (i.e., mud) to purify ourselves known as the ritual act of dry purification.
“O believers! When you rise for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, wipe your heads, and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of full impurity, then take a full bath. But if you are ill, on a journey, or have relieved yourselves, or have been intimate with your wives and cannot find water, then purify yourselves with clean earth by wiping your faces and hands. It is not Allah’s Will to burden you, but to purify you and complete His favour upon you, so perhaps you will be grateful” (Quran 5: 6).
The water and earth are the core elements of our primordial life:
“Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and then We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?” (Quran 21: 30):
“Who has perfected everything He created? And He originated the creation of humankind from clay” (Quran 32:7).
As if, for every prayer we pause our daily life and get back in our consciousness to the origin of our creation to meet our creator. We are supposed to pray in congregation. The etiquette of entering the Masjid is to recite – “O’ Allah, open the doors of your mercy”.
To finish our prayer, we sit down and send our greetings – peace and blessing – to Allah, to the prophet Mohammad (s) and his family (r) as it had been received previously by the prophet Abraham (a) and his families, which automatically includes Moses (a) and Jesus (a). I wonder if there is any other religion, which makes their devotees to finish their obligatory prayer by invoking the peace and blessing received the prophets of other religions from Allah!
Our prayer is the testimony of our universal belief in the long tradition of prophethood:
“Say (O believers) – We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us; and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants; and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them. And to Allah we all submit” (Quran 2: 136).
Finally, we finish our prayer by saying peace and blessings for all around us. After every prayer, often our prophet (s) used to say “O Allah, you are the peace and the source of all peace. Make our life peaceful.
However, the people around us do not understand our prayers. Collectively we are not like our prayers beyond the rituals. For example, our prayers are supposed to prevent us from all wrongdoing (i.e., corruptions):
“Recite, (O Muhammad), what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.” (Quran 29: 45).
The global corruption perception index (CPI) done every year by the Transparency International, reveals that the corruptions are pervasive in today’s Muslim world. In the Quran, Allah gave examples of failed nations. Our situations seem best fit with the people of Midian, who did not understand the relationship between prayer and their corrupt economic practices. When their prophet (a) said:
“O my people! Give full measure and weigh with justice. Do not defraud people of their property, nor go about spreading corruption in the land. What is left as a lawful gain by Allah is far better for you if you are truly believers. And I am not a keeper over you” (Quran 11: 85-86)
The people of Midian replied:
“They asked (sarcastically), “O Shu’aib! Does your prayer command you that we should abandon what our forefathers worshiped or give up managing our wealth as we please? Indeed, you are such a tolerant, sensible man!” (Quran 11: 87)
Individually there are many examples of prayers, pieties, and goodness. However, it seems that collectively our prayer could not make us accountable and righteous. In the West, people are leaving the organised religions en masse, but running after all sorts of meditations for their spiritual solaces. The global picture of prayers has become a great paradox. In the West, the prayers lack faith and rituals and in the Muslim world, it lacks the rational. We need collectively a prayer of faith, rituals, and rationales.