Summery of 5.5 "Prayers: Form & Significance Continued"
First we started by giving the translation and meanings of the recitations and supplications that are mentioned in the prayers. We indicated that these supplications have to be in the original Arabic language, which gives the opportunity for any Muslim in the world at any given time in the present or in the past fourteen hundred years to pray using the same words in the same language and to unite with other Muslims.
Third of all we talked about the significance of the timing of the prayers throughout the day. Regular performance of the prayer helps keep the believer’s life on the proper rail for the entire day. We talked briefly about some of the concessions in prayers to facilitate difficulties like travel or sickness. Finally, we indicated that the five daily prayers are mandated on every adult Muslim and that beyond that a Muslim can make additional prayers at any time during the day or night.
5.6 Group Prayers, Conclusion
Host: Are there any prayers that must be preformed as a group, in congregation?
There are certain prayers that must be preformed in a congregation. The most important congregational prayer is the noon prayer on Friday. Usually the prayer is proceeded by a brief sermon explaining some aspects of Islam and its application to people’s lives and some of the contemporary problems. In addition to that there are certain other prayers like funeral and festival prayers that must be prayed in a congregation. There are two basic festivals a year one after the month of fasting and the other is called the Feast of Sacrifice at the time of the pilgrimage. These are the prayers that must be prayed in congregation.
In addition to the above it is highly desirable for the five daily prayers are to be preformed in congregation especially if a person has easy access to the mosque. In fact prophet Muhammad PBUH indicated that to perform prayers in a congregation would give one at least twenty seven the spiritual reward than if one does it by themselves. However if a person doesn’t have easy access to a mosque or might be traveling to a place were there is no possibility of going to the mosque then at least a few people neighbors or family can perform congregational prayer.
Host: When prayer is performed in congregation is it the same as when one does it alone?
The basic format of the prayer doesn’t change when praying individually or in congregation. When prayers are conducted in congregation people who are praying stand in straight rows shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot. In front of the rows would be an Imam or leader of the prayer (his position is not like a priest or intermediary as there is no such thing in Islam) who is simply standing there as a coordinator. So the basic format of the prayer are done but following the Imam whom initiates the beginning of the prayer and who gives signals by saying Allahu-Akbar (God is Greatest) while moving from one prostration to the other. When all recitations are finished at the end of the prayer the Imam ends the prayer by saying Asalamu-Alikum (Peace Be Upon You) which is a signal for those praying behind him. During a congregational prayer everyone prays in unison as a solid group. A person should not anticipate the Imam and should just follow him so long as the prayer is done in the proper way.
When the prayer is done on Friday there is a sermon that proceeds it or during festivals there is a sermon that follows the prayers. There might be other detailed differences but not in the basic format of the prayer.
Host: Can women join in the congregational prayers?
Certainly, women can have congregational prayers in a variety of forms. Women can do it by themselves if there are only women available, the can pray with other Muslims (a man, wife and children can pray together along with their neighbors). If women prefer to go to the mosque they should be welcome. In fact Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that “we should not prevent the female servants of God (just as the male servant of God) from going to the houses of God or houses of worship. In fact in his own practice Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) welcomed women in the mosque as they joined in prayer with the men. The so called rightly guided caliphs after the Prophet, especially the first four, who strictly followed the instructions of the Prophet (PBUH) also followed in the same tradition of welcoming women to the mosque.
But one should also indicate that there are concessions for women concerning congregational prayers which are not given to men. This concessions are related to the compulsory nature of attending congregational prayers. For example it is compulsory for males to go and pray the congregational prayer on Friday and it is almost compulsory to pray in the festivals or even the five daily prayers whenever possible in the mosques. For women it is optional to go to any of these prayers. They are given this concession in consideration of their basic noble function as mothers which may make it at times difficult or inconvenient to go to the mosque on a regular basis several times a day. This is simply a concession but not something that is to mean that they are not welcome there.
Host: Where do women who wish to participate in the congregational prayer stand?
In my description of how the Muslim prayers are performed one has to understand the format of prayer in order to understand why it is organized in a particular way. As I said before Muslim prayers are not simply people sitting together or singing but rather it involves thinking, recitations as well as physical movements. As I said in congregational prayers people should stand in straight rows shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe as one row after the other. Considering this kind of format in prayers there are three alternatives where women can participate in the prayers. Either they would be in front and the men pray behind them, they could stand next to men within the same rows or they should stand behind the men in rows.
Lets address each alternative. If women were to stand in front of men and prostrate to the ground in prayer while men are behind them they would not feel a sense of privacy and it would be uncomfortable for either side. If they stand along side men shoulder to should and toe to toe obviously this would not be the most conducive atmosphere for both sexes to really concentrate on their devotion in prayer where they should be standing before God and communicating with Him and dedicating themselves to God. The third alternative which is perhaps the more logical solution and is what the Islamic Law agrees with is that when men come to pray they should go to the front rows and women should start from the back rows and close in the rows. In this way both sexes can be totally devoted and concentrate on their prayers without any particular physical distraction that might reduce this highly spiritual act as the format simply necessitates this particular order.
Host: What are some of the benefits that come from performing prayer and some of the impact that this can have on an individual‘s life? What are the spiritual impacts of prayer on a person?
As human beings we have natural inclinations to relate to and worship a power that is greater than us. What happens in the absence of divine guidance to the right path is that people seek the power that is greater than them, the power that they yearn to relate to. They may find it mistakenly in some powers that God created in nature like the trees, rivers, sun, and moon and they worship those objects which is an erroneous way of fulfilling this natural human aspiration. Some people find this fulfillment by worshipping other human beings. Other people who may not believe in a revealed religion may seek fulfillment a tyrant or their own desires. Self worship and mind worship are all various forms of misdirection of the instinctive natural feeling of relating to the greatest power that anyone can perceive in this universe.
Prayer is basically communication, personal contact and our relationship with the creator. Islam fulfills the instinctive feeling of aspiration and yearning to the only one who is worthy of being worshipped, the one and only creator and sustainer of the entire universe, God.
Secondly prayer by its very nature is a practical way of expressing ones love of God. Standing five times every day and keeping this vigilant remembrance of God, knowing and realizing that when we pray He hears and listens to our prayers and that he responds to our prayers without any intermediary or obstacles that may stand between us is a beautiful feeling and way of expressing divine love. We find that God addressed Prophet Moses in the Quran in (20:14) “Verily, I am Allah. There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise.” Remembrance of God is one of the greatest aspects of the expressing the love of God in a practical way.
When a person stands for prayer he or she stands on the earth from which they were created unto which they are going to return and on which they will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment. The humble movement when the person puts their forehead on the ground to express submission to God is a reminder for one not to be too arrogant or proud because after all the face which is the most honorable part of the body is submitting itself by putting itself on the floor in expression of humility before God. It is as such a total expression of submission to God. It is submission of the soul, mind and body. The body is trained through prayer to be obedient to the way of life and the path of God. Prayer is the very embodiment of the virtue of humility.
In addition there is the recitation in every unit of prayer where there is praise of God and thankfulness to God for the various countless bounties and blessings that He has given to mankind. As such this develops a sense of appreciation and content feelings in the mind of the believer. When prayers are understood in their true spirit and meaning it could provide a person with infinite strength to face the difficulties and tribulations of life. If a person is suffering from anguish or stress, he should pray in order to be soothed and to release these feelings. We find the Quran describes prayer as one of the basic things that one can seek strength in (2:153)“ O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer;” which is also a source of stress release. If a person is in a state of anxiety and worry the best cancelation and encouragement is to perform prayers. In the Quran in (13:28) it says “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah. for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” This creates a therapy for the common anxiety and stress. There is no wonder that fourteen hundred years ago the Prophet of Islam that whenever he had any kind of worry or difficulty he would go and make ablution and start praying. In the Prophet’s own sayings he said “my ultimate pleasure is in performing the prayers.”
Host: How can prayers contribute to an individual’s moral development?
The best answer is to quote the Quran directly in (29:45) “Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.” This means that if the person performs the prayer, not just as mechanical movements of going up and down as many Muslims do today without getting into the depth and impact of prayer, in its complete sense then the prayer itself is capable of transforming the life of the individual. Five times everyday a person goes into this vigilant remembrance of God. One remembers the greatness of God and expresses their love of God; this approach to prayer or a person who performs it in that sense is not likely to indulge in acts which are indecent or things that are morally improper according to the revelation of God. We find that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) indicated that a person who’s prayer does not forbid him from indecency is not is not really getting anything out of that prayer. This means that one just makes the mechanical movements of prayer but doesn’t get the benefits of the prayer. One time the Prophet quoted in a Hadith Qudsi (the Prophet relates the inspiration of God in a form that is not the Quran) in which God says “I only accept prayers from those who humble themselves before my glory, those who try to restrain their passion and keep away from what I have forbidden, and those who feed the hungry and cloth those who don’t have clothes.” This is the real nature of the moral aspect of the prayer.
However, what if a person makes an error, as we are all sinful as human beings we are not perfect? Again through prayer the believer finds ample opportunity to correct mistakes, to try to get on the right path and to purify one’s self from whatever he one may have done between prayers. This basic point was explained by prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he said “suppose one of you has a river right at his doorstep and five times everyday he goes to the river, immerses himself and cleanses himself would he have any impurities on him?” So the companions replied “no” and he replied “the prayer is like that.” So prayer is likened to total cleansing. It teaches the believer that the moral aspect of life is not separate isolated compartment of life but that all aspects of life are interwoven through one’s entire life. Prayer shows us that religiosity is not limited to a few hours every week but is part of our entire lives.
Host: In what way is prayer relevant to the social aspect of life?
In a sense prayer and especially congregational prayer, which is highly encouraged, is a practical manifestation of true human brotherhood and equality before God. When a person goes to a place of worship there is no place reserved for this person or that person. People don’t stand in lines by virtue of race, status or any kind of false criteria. In prayer it doesn’t matter if a person is a ruler, rich or poor everyone stands in one line side by side shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot expressing true universal brotherhood and equality before God.
When people go for congregational prayers in the mosque they do it five times a day and they meet people as they go to prayers five times a day. This establishes solidarity, mutual concern and caring for one another unlike what we see today where a person could die and rote in his home before anyone can ask about him. In addition to this we find that in congregational prayer where we follow the movements in unison of the Imam, it teaches public order and self discipline. This leads us to the leadership in Islamic government and we see that if we make an analogy between the rules of leadership in congregational prayer and leadership in a government system they fit perfectly. An example is that in prayers the Imam can not impose himself he should be consented to from the people who pray behind him, which is this is the same as the rule in Islam that a ruler can not impose himself but should be accepted by the people.
Secondly, in the prayer the role of the Imam is not as an intermediary between man and God but simply a person who follows the format of prayer as he doesn’t invent anything or have dictatorial or absolute power. In Islamic government there is no theocracy and a ruler is not an intermediary and can’t claim to have powers that are beyond human capacity. People follow the leader not as an intermediary but as a coordinator.
Thirdly, in prayers if the Imam makes a mistake it is an incumbent duty on those who are behind him to gently correct him without disturbing the prayers and the unity. In the Islamic system of government it is an incumbent duty of the ruled to correct the ruler if he makes a mistake without creating chaos.
Finally, if the person leading the prayer continues to make mistakes and refuses to comply with the rules of prayer which is incumbent on everybody then people have to remove him from his position which is the same with the system of government in Islam. So really guidance in prayer is not limited to an individual but involves collective training of the community of believers.