The Purpose of Prayer
"There are men who say, 'Our Lord! Give us (Your bounties) in this
world.' But they will have no portion in the Hereafter. And there are men who say, 'Our
Lord! Give unto us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is
good, and save us from the torment of the Fire.' To these will be allotted what they have
earned. And Allah is swift at reckoning" [Al-Baqarah 2:200-202].
"Prayer is the essence of worship." [Hadith].
Prayer is communication with God. Everyone who believes in God also prays. But
"how" and "for what" of prayer depend upon one's concept of God and
outlook on life. The pagans of Arabia used to pray as the above verses mention. According
to a recent Newsweek survey report, a great majority of Americans also pray, many of them
daily. They pray for health, safety, love, and for relief of a "Job-like list of
human miseries." Guidance to the Straight Path, protection from Hell and success in
the Hereafter are not mentioned.
What is even more intriguing is the language of the Western discourse about prayer. In
Western literature God is depicted as a wise old man in the sky and prayers appear to be
petitions for solution of problems that it is His "duty" to solve. According to
the Newsweek poll "85 percent of Americans say they accept God's failure to grant
their prayers." God's failure? They debate: "Is God unjust or He only appears
that way?" Others, like Carl Sagan, who died last year holding firm to his unbelief,
ask: "Does God need to be reminded that someone is sick?"
This is several notches below the level of the pagans of Arabia. At work here is the
arrogance of achievements in science and technology. In fact in one case the scientists
are conducting an "experiment" to determine the usefulness of prayer. At the
Arthritis Treatment Center in Florida, one group of patients will additionally receive
healing prayers through the Christian Healing Ministry, while the other group will only
receive medical treatment. By the end of 1997 they will have "scientifically
determined" if prayers work!
For a believer this is blasphemy of the highest order. Prayer is not a polite demand
for rights. God gave us life, and everything that we possess, without our having any right
to it. It is His design and it is with a purpose. Our conditions of health and sickness,
our affluence and poverty, our joys and sorrows, our apparent successes and failures, our
gains and losses -- all of them are just a test.
"He created death and life that He may try which of you is best in
Our ultimate success or failure -- in the Hereafter-- will depend solely on how we
acted in the different circumstances that He chose for us. Did we seek His help when we
needed help or were we too arrogant to ask? Did we accept His will when things did not
turn out our way? Did we show gratitude for His favors or were we proud of our own
achievements? And under all circumstance did we follow His commands or were we preoccupied
with our demands?
We pray to Him because only He can give. He is not answerable to any authority and
everyone is answerable to Him. He has power over everything and none can over-power Him.
His knowledge is infinite while ours is infinitesimal compared to His. He is the Lord; we
are His slaves. He may grant our prayers here; or He may reward us for it in the
hereafter; or He may give us something better than what we asked for. In any case a
praying person can never lose for prayer is the highest form of submission to Him.
"Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, was the best of mankind because he
was the best in submission to Allah," says Maulana Manzoor Naumani. "Anyone who
studies his supplications, cannot but be awestruck with the perfect understanding of our
relationship to the Creator reflected by them."
One of the saddest days in his life came in June 619 CE in his visit to Taif. The
pagans of Taif not only mocked his invitation to believe in the one true God, they also
sent their urchins to throw stones at him till his shoes filled with blood. In great
distress the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, turned to Allah: "O
Allah, unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness
before men. O Most Merciful of the merciful, You are Lord of the weak. And You are my
Lord. Into whose hands will You entrust me? Unto some stranger who will ill-treat me? Or
unto an enemy who dominates me? If You are not angry with me then I don't care, but Your
favoring help will be easier for me. I take refuge in the light of Your Countenance
whereby all darknesses are illuminated and the things of this world and the next are
rightly ordered, lest I become the object of Your wrath and anger. To You alone belongs
the right to blame and to chastise until Your pleasure is met. There is no power and no
might except through You." Moving
Thirteen years later the situation had changed completely. All of Arabia had come under
the domination of Islam. Paganism had been totally defeated. At the Farewell Pilgrimage
about 124,000 companions gathered to perform Hajj with the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa
sallam. And there in the plains of Arafat this was his prayer: " O Allah!
You hear me and see me and know everything that I reveal or conceal. None of my affairs is
hidden from You. I am a person in distress, a needy person, a beggar, a fearful person. I
confess my shortcomings. I entreat You like a humble needy person. I beseech You like a
sinful lowly person. I ask You like a person in tribulation whose neck bows before You;
who cries in front of You; whose whole body trembles before You. O Allah! Do not leave me
frustrated in my prayer and be the Most Merciful and the Most Gracious to me. O the best
of those who are beseeched. O the best of those who give." Sublime
In the best of times, in the worst of times, Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa
sallam, was the same servant of Allah. His supplications remain a living miracle inviting
all open-minded people to reflect upon the source of that level of consciousness of Allah.
For this Ummah, his prayers are one of his greatest spiritual gifts. How unfortunate
that any of his followers should remain unlearnt about them.