Prayer Its Significance and Its Benefits Afzalur Rahman Chapter: 3 SIGNIFICANCE OF PHYSICAL POSTURES IN PRAYER It is pity that so much effort is being wasted in transcendental meditation (TM) to revive human co- nsciousness (the soul) to the supreme Reality of the Universe. A cursory study of history shows that this technique was never really effective even in the old days and was only confined to a few hermits and Rishis. It was an intellectual exercise of the mind which was practised by a very few individuals of very high calibre to quench their thirst for the Divine Union and was practically beyond the compr- ehension of the common man in the street. It is a mental exercise which quietens the mind so long as the person is in that state of meditation but has no permanent effect which can give an individual peace of mind in a practical way. Transcendental meditation (TM) without any consc- ious objective cannot bring permanent peace of mind It is a negative approach to human problems and history bears witness to the fact that such intel- lectual and mental exercises have never achieved anything permanent. It has, however, a temporary effect. It is true that one experiences a soothing effect when in the state of transcendental medita- tion, but this effect is not confined to this method alone. Any kind of mental exercise, in TM in Sub- ud, or in any other form, will effect the body's physiology and thereby cause changes in an electr- Oencephalogrm (EEG or brain waves) and produce similar effects. But it is yet to be proved that such changes do produce any effect of a permanent nature. The human mind is affected by various kinds of creative mental exercises (based on the science of creative intelligence) but such exerci- ses have long been confined to intellectuals or hermits among Hindus or Christians. They are beyond the comprehension of ordinary individuals. More- over, mental exercises which provide some temporary comfort to an individual cannot be effectively used to solve the complicated problems of mankind. Above all, it is a mental exercise in a vacuum with- out any conscious objective or goal. One practises T.M without any clear goal before him going from nowhere to nowhere and such an exercise cannot re- ally be expected to produce fruitful and beneficial results of any permanent value. In the olden days, Rishis and hermits did practice it, but they had a clear vision of their objective. They wanted to achieve nearness to their Creator through creative reflections (meditations)O It was not an exercise in a vacuum, like modern T.M. But even this did not achieve very encouraging results for it remained an intellectual luxury of the few and was never cons- idered a recipe for the ills of mankind.. Now the question arises: do we need such mental exercises for fun, or momentary excitement and co- mfort, or something which may provide a real solu- tion to our problems? Obviously mankind is in need of something positive, practical and realistic that may help to secure peace, and happiness at indivi- ual as well as at national level. People have lost peace of mind through over-indulgence in pleasures and neglect of their celestial and spiritual needs. A philosophy of life which can bring proper coord- ination and understanding between the physical and spiritual needs of man could solve many of the pr- oblems that face him today. Man has lost his rela- tionship with the Creator and is new wandering around in the wilderness of abstract thinking in search of peace. Surely he can regain his peace of mind through re-establishing his link with his Creator. And the shortest route to renew their re- lationship is to open dialogue with Him through prayers. It seems very likely that there exists every intimate relationship between the performance of prayer and Divine favors. Presumably the physical postures and movements of prayer have a deep significance and important function in re-vitalising and re-igniting the potential of enlightement and energy inherent in every man. Prayer is composed of four main pos- tures or movements of the body, i.e., qiy'am, ruku, sajdah and qaadah. It is very important that these four movements in the prayer are performed exactly in the same manner as taught by the Messenger of God. We offer our prayer to God because the Holy Prophet told us to do so. It is, therefore, absol- utely essential that it must be performed in its every detail in the way it was performed by the Messenger of God himself. Prayer is an obligatory duty and mere performance of it will no doubt absolve a believer of his duty to God, but if he wants to nourish and develop his self and soul, he must perform it in the way it was performed by the Messenger of God himself. The Ho- ly Prophet laid great emphasis on the right perf- ormance of every act of prayer. Qiy'am must be performed properly; one must not bend forward or backward or lean sidewards but stand straight with eyes fixed at the place of sajdah and not looking around. Ruku must be moderate, neither too low nor too high but in line with the body as taught by the Holy prophet. There must be a reasonable gap between ruku and sajdah and between the two sajdahs, as advised by the Holy Prophet. The importance of the proper performance of each part of prayer is emphasised by the Holy Prophet o Anas reported God's Messenger as saying, " perform the bowing and the prostration properly, for I sw- ear by God that I can see you behind me" According to Abu Masud A1 Ansari the Messenger of God said, "A man's prayer do not avail him unless he keeps his back steady when bowing and prostrating him- self." (1) Abu Qatada reported the Messenger of God as saying, "The one who commits the worst theft is he who steals from his prayer." When asked how one could steal from his prayer, he replied, "By not performing his bowing and prostration perfectly". There are details of qiy'am, ruku and sajdah in the hadith to help the believers to offer their pra- yer perfectly. According to A'isha, "God's Messen- ger used to begin prayer with takbir and the reci- tation of Surah Fatiha when he bowed, he neither kept his head up nor bent it down, but kept it be- tween these extremes; when he raised his head after bowing he did not prostrate himself until he had stood erect; when he raised his head after prostrati- on he did not prostrate himself again until he was in the proper sitting position." If there is any slackness on the part of a believer in performance of any part of prayer, his prayer becomes void and he does not gain anything from it. According to Abu Hurairah, a man entered the mosq- ue when the Messenger of God was sitting in it and offered his prayer. He then came and said, " peace be upon you" and God's Messenger replied, " peace be upon you. Go back and offer your prayer, for you have not prayed." He returned and prayed, then ca- me and said, "peace be upon you." The Messenger of God replied, And peace be upon you. Go back and pray again, for you have not Prayed.." On the third or fourth occasion he said, "Teach me, Messenger of good God." So he said, "When you turn to the qibla and say, Allah u Akbar, then recite a convenient portion of the Quran; then bow and remain quietly in that position; then raise yourself and stand er- ect; then prostrate yourself and remain quietly in that position; then raise yourself and sit quiet- ly." This hadith confirms our assumption that performa- nce of each part of prayer properly and perfectly as taught by the Holy Prophet is essential. Any va- riation or alteration in the performance of any part of prayer from what was taught by the Holy Prophet renders it a meaningless exercise. This great emphasis on the proper performance of prayer, even in minute details, is a testimony to the fact that there is a close relationship between the various postures and movements in prayer and the acquisition of Divine favours and enlightenm- int. The Holy Prophet emphasised again and again the deep significance of the actual performance of the different parts of prayer. It must therefore be performed exactly in the way it was taught by the Holy Prophet, otherwise it will not be a prayer but an exercise of the body performed to please your- self or just an habitual act. There seems to be an intimate relationship between the movements of prayer and Divine blessings. If it is offered perfectly, then it help man to benefit from his inner potential energy in the development of his self and his soul. In daily prayer, God has given man the shortest and the quickest method of obtaining His Grace and Blessings. People in the past have spent ages, and sometimes, all their li- ves, to obtain a glimpse of His Glory and many have failed and died in the wilderness of disillusionm- ent. A very few have received some form of enligh- tenment after years of hard and strenuous effort. People have starved themselves to annihilate their physical self in order to strengthen their soul and receive Divine Enlightenment, but without success. Some have spent all their lives with very little food and water in the jungles and in the valleys of mountains in the hope of rekindling and rejuvenat- ing the dying light in their souls but with no, or only partial, success. Prayer is a wonderful gift of God. There is no need in Islam to go to the mountains or jungles to kill your physical self in order to obtain dhyan (unbro- ken concentration) and through these forms of self- annihilation to reach for salvation. Prayer provides all the essential requisites for preparing the mind and transforming it into an extraordinary state ca- pable of receiving the Divine Light. It provides physical as well as mental exercise in such a bala- nced way that neither is ignored orover-emphasised. This harmonious functioning of body and mind at the correct level and in the most balanced way is achi- eved only through prayer. All the movements of the body from the standing position to the prostrating position, are the expression of the extreme humility of the body before the Supreme Being. It is, in fact, total submission of the physical self before the Supreme Authority. Recitation of Divine words and praises of God in prayer have a cumulative effect on the mental powers of man, And in this process of submission of the body and the mind to the Divine Will through the synchronisation of movements and recitation of the Qur 'anic verses in prayer, the sp- iritual power of man becomes stronger and gains full control over the physical self and gradually lifts it up to the Supreme Being. This process of the total submission of the body and the mind before the Ultimate Authority is explained in the words of the Holy Qur 'an: "When you threw (a handful of dust), it was not your act, but God's. " (8:17) The action of the Holy Prophet in throwing stones at his enemies was entirely in obedience to the Command of God and there was no personal motive or any realisation of his own physical self. In fact every action of the faithful servants of God, perf- ormed in obedience to His Command, can be ascribed to God Himself. According to Abu Hurairah, the Holy Messenger said: "God says, 'My servant becomes closer to Me by pe- rforming those deeds which are obligatory on him And he gets close to Me through constant observance of optional (nafila) prayer until he becomes My beloved. When he becomes My beloved, I become his ears through which hears, his eyes through whi- ch he sees, and his hand with which he holds, and his feet with which he walks." This hadith sh- ows that all the powers of his body and mind come under the Guidance of God and man attains very close relationship with his Lord. This harmonious working of the body and the mind helps in concentrating and thereby activating the latent energies of the physical self. This process gradually transforms the centrifugal ( out-going ) forces operating in mind and body into centripetal (inward-going) and unifying forces which lift man from the world of matter into the world of spirit and show him glimpses of the boundless spiritual world. In the course of the transformation of the concealed energies of the physical self into active unifying forces, the mind is slowly but surely re- leased from the limitations of the physical self and is then able to conceive and grasp the meaning of the manifestations of the Supreme Being. At this stage, man is fully prepared and ready, pr- ovided he maintains the standard of performance of his prayer, to receive the Blessings and Favours of the Supreme Power. In other words, he has reached the stage where he is in a position to establish close communion with God. And why not? After all, man represents the two important aspects of God's Creation, as stated by the Holy Quran in these words "That which I have created with both My Hands." (38:75) "Both hands" refers to the two aspects of God's Creation. He has a physical body, which makes him one of the animals, and he has a soul, which makes him supreme over all other creation, including an- gels. When he is at his best in prayer, he leaps towards his spiritual world and establishes close contact with his Lord. And this is confirmed by a hadith, according to which a Muslim achieves audie- nce with God (hudhur) in prayer. "Prayer is Miraj of the believers" Muslim jurists have taken this hadhur to mean the presence of angels in prayer. --- This may be explained in another way. The harmoni- ous working of body and mind helps to awaken the Spiritual or super-sensory powers in man. The gre- ater the harmony between the former two forces of man, the stronger the awakening of the super-sens- ory power in man. The proper balance between the tria- ngular forces of body, mind and spirit acts like an electrical wire, which transfers the necessary elect- rical current from the main generating station to the electrical lamp. Just as it is unthinkable to trans- fer electricity direct from the main power house to a small electric lamp, similarly it is inconceivable to receive Divine Light or communion with God without proper harmony between the afore said forces. It may, therefore, be said that an harmonious fun- ctioning of the triangular forces in man is absol- utely necessary before any progress can be made in this direction. Unless body, mind and spirit ( or the soul) are properly functioning in harmony, it is not possible for man to rekindle his soul from the Light of the Power of God or to achieve any sort of close communion with Him. People have in the past adopted various methods to achieve this harm- onious functioning of the triangular forces within the self but have often taken years for very litt- le or partial success. Islam has given man a very short but effective recipe in the form of prayer to achieve the requ- ired harmony between the triangular forces within him. Just study the form and the words of the prayer and how it is performed, and you will notice the wonderful combination it provides for body, mind and soul which no other religion or system has yet suggested. This process of the activation of spir- itual or super-sensory powers in man can also be explained in this way. Man is a psychosomatic org- anism- he has a body, which is the external part of him and a mind, which is the internal part of him His body is composed of matter which, in the ulti- mate physical analysis, consists of atoms. His mind represents the entire world of ideas, beliefs, ho- pes, fears and aspirations. All these belong to the world of consciousness, ie, the inner side of man. This consciousness (mind) of man play a vital role in relating the soul of man to his environment. In other words, it is a vital factor in relating spi- rit to matter. There are thus two worlds in man: the physical, represented by body and, the spiritual, represent- ed by mind. The latter belongs to the invisible world which exists side by side with the visible world disclosed by sense perception. The latter is dimensional while the former is extra-dimensional. Internally man belongs to the invisible world, that is to say, his soul or spirit belongs to that wor- ld, externally he belongs to the visible world, that is to say, his body belongs to that world, but through consciousness man is related to both the Worlds. If a man looks within his self he moves towards higher levels of consciousness and a dee- per understanding of spiritual values. If, on the other hand, he devotes himself to the external wo- rld of matter, he tends to move away from the higher Spiritual values to the lower values of the visib- le world. Regular prayer helps to attain the right equilibrium between the spiritual and the material worlds of man. He lives in the world of matter, works in it for his livelihood and satisfies all his material needs, but, at the same time, he keeps his link with the spiritual world and further strengthens it. Prayer enables him to develop and widen his perception of the extradimensional spiritual world to such an extent that he is able to perceive and understand the things of a higher level of consci- ousness which he could hardly visualise before. Es- tablishment of prayer will strengthen the extra- dimensional powers of man to such a degree that he will be able to establish close relationship with the Ultimate Power. It must, however, be emphasised that this link can- not be maintained without the establishment of re- gular prayer. Prayer is the means as well as the end. It helps man to establish and maintain his link with God. If the institution of prayer or its proper performance is lost, the link with the spi- ritual world will automatically be cut off. Man has not yet known any other effective means of establ- ishing and then maintaining his relationship with God. It is like a wire, as explained before, conn- ected with the main Generator. As soon as the wire is disconnected from the main source of power, the light goes off, and all is darkness again. This wire is prayer. Thus prayer, through multifarious ways beyond human comprehension, acts and reacts on the human mind until the latter is enlightened spiritually with the Nur (Ultimate Light) of the Universe. As all men do not possess similar or equal power, their personal experiences may very considerably. Each man gains this experience according to his own in- ternal as well as external powers. But regular pr- ayer does provide opportunities to every believer to develop his latent energies within his self ac- cording to his potentialities and thereby establish his link with God. The greater the perfection in the performance of prayer, the closer the relatio- nship with God. Communion with the Divine Being is attained when prayer is performed perfectly and properly inbody, mind and soul as instructed by the Holy Prophet. This is why the Holy Prophet said that prayer was a miraj for believers. It provides an opportunity to believers to have a direct and close relations- hip with God as did the Holy Prophet during the night of the mi raj. This is also explained by an- other hadith when the Holy Prophet said "When you perform prayer, think that you are standing in front of God and seeing Him with your eyes. And if it is not possible for you to see Him, at least think that He is seeing you" When one achieves this miraj in prayer, he is bound to rise far above the physical barriers of this ethereal world and enter into the world of the unknown, experiencing new and wonderful things which he could never think of in his ordinary state of mind. The Companions of the Holy Prophet often experienced this in their pray- er. Anas used to perform long ruku and sujud; people often thought he had forgotten that he was offer- ing his prayer. Abdullah bin Zubair often stood in qiyam like a lifeless pillar and spent so much time in sajdah that pigeons of Baitullah sat on his back taking it to be an inanimate object. once two Companions of the Holy Prophet were on night sent- ry duty on the battlefield. One was sleeping and the other stood in prayer. One arrow struck him while he was in prayer. He was bleeding but he co- mpleted prayer. After completing his prayer, he woke up his colleague on duty and told him that he was reciting one surah of the Holy Quran when the arrow struck him but he did not want to finish pr- ayer without completing that surah. Once an arrow struck Ali; It was very deep and could not be pul- led out. Ali asked his companion to pull it out while he was in prayer. He offered two rakat pray- er and the arrow was pulled out of his leg, but he continued his prayer without feeling any pain. Dr. Iqbal recognises the human quest for a Divine mission in these words. "But as I have said before, religious ambition sees higher than the ambition Of philosophy. Religion is not satisfied with mere conception; it seeks a more intimate knowledge of and association with the object of its pursuit. (God) . The agency through which this association is achieved is the act of worship, ending in a sp- iritual illumination. The act of worship, however, affects different types of consciousness differen- tly. In the case of the prophetic consciousness, it is mainly creative, ie, tends to create a fresh ethical world wherein the Prophet, so to speak, applies the pragmatic test to his revelations Thus you will see that, psychologically speaking, prayer is instructive in its origin. The act of prayer, aiming at knowledge, resembles reflection Yet prayer at its highest is much more than abstr- act reflection. Like reflection it too is a process of assimilation, but the assimilative process in the case of prayer draws itself closely together and thereby acquires a power unknown to pure thou- ght. In thought, the mind observes and follows the working of reality; in the act of prayer it ceases to be a seeker of slow-footed universability and rises higher than thought towards Reality itself, becoming a conscious participator in its life. The- re is nothing mystical about it. Prayer, as a means of spiritual illumination, is a normal, vital act by which the little island of our personality sudden- ly discovers its situation in a larger whole." "Do not think I am talking of auto-suggestion. Au- to suggestion has nothing to do with the opening up of the sources of life that lie in the depths of the human ego. Unlike spiritual illumination which brings fresh power by shaping the human personali- ty, it leaves no permanent life. Nor I am speaking of some occult and special way of knowledge. All that I mean is to fix your attention on a real human experience which has a history behind it and a future before it. The quest of nameless nothing, as disclosed in Neo-Platonic mysticism- be it Christian or Muslim-cannot satisfy the modern mind which, with its habits of concrete thinking, demands a concrete living experience of God. And the hist- ory of the race shows that the attitude of the mind embodied in the act of worship if a condition for such an experience. In fact prayer must be regarded as a necessary complement to the intellectual act- ivity of the observer of Nature. (5) While discussing the real object of prayer, Dr, Iq- bal says," prayer, then, whether individual or ass- ociative, is an expression of man's inner yearning for a response in the awful silence of the universe. It is a unique process of discovery whereby the searching ego affirms itself in the very moment of self negation, and thus discovers its own worth and justification as a dynamic factor in the life of the universe. True to the psychology of mental at- titude in prayer, the form of worship in Islam sy- mbolises both affirmation and negation. Yet, in view of the fact borne out by the experience of the race that prayer, as an inner act, has found expression in a variety of forms, the Quran says: "To every people We have appointed ways of worship which they observe. Therefore let them not dispute this matter with you, but invite them to your Lord for you are on the right way, but if they dispute with you, then say, God best knows what you do; He will judge between you on the Day of Judgement, in the matters wherein you differ. (22:66-69)." "The form of prayer ought not become a matter of dispute. Which side you turn your face is certainly not essential to the spirit of prayer. The Quran is perfectly clear on this point: ' The East and West is God's, therefore whichever direction you turn, there is the face of God (2:109). And again, 'There is no piety in turning your faces towards the East or West, but he is pious who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Books and the Prophets, who for the love of God gives his wealth to his kindred, and to the orphans, and to ransom the slaves; who observes prayer and pays zakat, and fulfils the contracts which he has made; and is patient in pain and hardship, and in time of trouble; those are they who are just, and those are they who fear the Lord (2:177).' " Yet we cannot ignore the important consideration that the posture of the body is a real factor in determining the attitude of mind" To sum up, prayer is the key which opens the gate of the kingdom of God. And, according to Ibn 'Arabi, creative prayer becomes a dialogue between man and God and provides an opportunity to the earthly cr- eature to open up his heart before his creator. It is creative because it is at once God's prayer and man's prayer. Such an effective prayer opens up new horizons for man beyond the comprehension of an ordinary being. Surah Fatiha in the prayer pro- vides this opportunity to man to enter into such a dialogue and enjoy the excitement and ecstasy of Divine vision. According to the hadith reported by Abu Hurairah, the Holy Messenger said, "God says that I have di- Vided the prayer between Myself and Myservant into two parts. Half of it is for Me and half for MY servant and I give whatever he asksme for. When the servant says 'All praise is for the Lord of the un- iverse,' God replies, 'My servant is grateful to me' When he says, 'Most Gracious, Most Merciful,' God says 'My servant has praised Me.' When he says 'Master of the Day of Judgement, 'God says, "My ser- vant has exalted Me' When the servant says, 'You do we worship and Your help do we seek,' God says This portion is shared between Me and My servant. I be- stow whatever he asks.' When he says,' Guide me to the straight path, the path of those whom You blessed, not of those who earned Your anger or went astray.' God says, 'This is for My servant and bestow what he has asked for." This hadith throws some light on the unusual grea- tness and effectiveness of this prayer. First, no- thing can be better and more exalted than what is demanded in the prayer: the servant is asking from God guidance to the right path to reach Him In other words, he is requesting God to show him the way to get closer to Him. Second, it starts with thanks-giving and those attributes of God which entitle him to His blessings Third, by saying, 'We obey You and ask Your help alone' he puts himself completely in the hands of God. He has put his en- tire trust in Him and thrown himself at His door. He has cut all his relations and come to build only one relation, i.e., with God. There is no reason why his request should not be granted. The final words of the prayer provide the best intercession. The servant prays for guidance to God and requests to be granted the ability and power to tread that path which leads to Him. In these words, God has Himself taught man how to reach Him, get near to Him and open a dialogue with Him. Reference: 1. Mishkat 2. Forty hadith 3. Reconstruction of Religious Thought, Iqbal 4. Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin 5. Tadabbur e Quran.