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 deed."[Al-Mulk, 67:2].
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 words!
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 words!
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.