|Kitab-ul-Taqdeer (Book of Destiny)|
In this chapter I propose to tackle one of the most delicate and sensitive issues in the domain of religion, viz. a viz. prayer, be it in the form of certain rituals of worship, or the act of making a request to the Almighty. It is a sensitive issue because prayer is directly concerned with human sentiments and emotions whereas the Quran suggests the use of reason to tackle life’s problems.
Prayer has been an element of humanity ever since the dawn of history.
Universality of Prayer
It has been one common characteristic of mankind
regardless of time, place, society, philosophy, or the deity involved, or even the rites employed. The incentive for prayer is asking an invisible mighty power for help. Even worship is invariably a prelude to prayer. Sacrificial or other offerings made to a deity are also conditionally accompanied by a request. Prayer is solace for the wronged, support for the weak, hope for the dismayed, shoulder to cry on for the hurt and the last chance for the hopeless. The more sentimental, devoted and absorbed a prayer feels, the better are the chances considered for the prayer’s success.
I propose to examine critically such an emotional issue because the Quran bases its teaching on reason and logic (even metaphysical phenomena like the Hereafter – 2/219-200). It guides to the path of Allah (the Truth) those who strive to ponder upon it (29/69).
The prevalent concept of prayer makes it an activity in which Allah is
The Current Concept of Prayer
requested to do, or give, something. But
the Arabic term du’aa (دعا) means to call out to (beckon) someone. As ‘calling out’ is often for help, the term has also come to be used for ‘seeking help’, ‘asking for’, ‘requesting’, etc.
The Quran often uses the same term for both the currently prevalent but erroneous concept as well as the Quranic version of it, for example, ‘Ilaah’ (اله) (to mean an idol as well as Allah) and ‘Ibaada’ (for reverential worship as well as practical adoption of Allah’s law). Similarly, ‘da’aa, yad’oo etc. has been used in the meaning of the idolators calling out to their gods and goddesses for help, as well as for a Muslim to obey Allah. Let us first look at instances in the Quran where this particular term and its derivatives have been used to mean ‘obedience to Allah’. Sura Al-Momin: “He (Allah) lives and give life. Say
Da’aa to mean obedience
(O Messenger!): I have been forbidden to obey
those whom you call (obey) other than Allah. I have been ordered to submit to the Preserver of all worlds! (40/65,66). Sura Maryam cites Abraham saying to his people: “And I severe connections with those who obey someone other than Allah …” (19/48, 49). Sura Momin: “Your Preserver says to you: ‘Call me and I will answer you. Those who transgress My obedience shall enter Hell, humiliated!’” --- (40/60). Sura Toor mentions residents of Paradise answering the query about their deserving the good end by: “Previously (in the worldly life), we used to call (obey) Him”. The Messenger was told: “Say: ‘I only call (obey) my Preserver and do not have anyone sharing with Him! – (72/20). Messenger, in general, beckoned: “and don’t call (obey) any other god along with Allah: -- (26/213; 28/88; 72/18). Sura An’aam clearly says to the Messenger to say to men: “After having received such clear guidance, how can I call a god other than Allah? I have been ordered to submit (only) to the Preserver of all worlds!” – (6/71).
Let us now look at the instances where da’aa has been used in the
Da’aa to mean petition
Quran to mean calling out to Allah (for help,
guidance, etc.). Before we do that, however, we should look at some of the questions raised by this particular meaning of ‘da’aa’.
The belief in an unchangeable pre-destined life renders da’aa simply futile. For example, the pre-written destiny of a dying patient cannot be altered by praying (da’aa) --- believing that prayer can alter destiny negates the original belief of unchangeable destiny! Furthermore, this projects Allah in a strange way --- He first decides something (unchangeable destiny) and then waits for prayer by men to change it!
Difficulties also arise with the view that Allah rules by decree – making decisions as events occur. For example, A (right) and B (wrong), involved in a law suit against one another, both pray to Allah for success. Obviously, only one prayer will be answered. Who is it going to be? What if A had not prayed at all? If we take the view that A’s prayer will be answered because he is in the right (which is contrary to our social experience, anyway), then once again, prayer is rendered pointless. Again, one may take the view that, in order to succeed, prayer must be accompanied by proper action. In that case, will B win despite being wrong and A lose despite being right?
These problems are compounded further by the traditional interpretation of the famous verse from Sur Baqara:
“(O Messenger!) when My people ask you about Me, tell them that I am close to them; whenever a caller calls, I respond with a reply.” (2/186)
The problem with this interpretation, as is frequently observed is that it doesn’t hold true in countless cases of oppressed, poor and down-trodden people around the globe. The traditional response to this argument claims that Allah listens to everyone but decides and does what is really good for the petitioner; therefore, an unanswered prayer is actually a blessing in disguise. This response, apart from being unable to satisfy the wronged, has far-reaching undesirable consequences. The oppressed are asked to accept the state of affairs as Allah’s better judgment and take all injustice and unfairness committed against them lying down, silently and happily!
Another traditionalist belief is that Allah answers prayers only of His
Allah listens to His favorites
chosen people. This has resulted in the
proliferation of the so-called ‘intermediaries’ forming a link between Man and Allah. Countless needy people refer to those ‘exalted’ men – dead or alive! -- to forward their requests to Allah, with a recommendation.
Obviously, this particular belief is a product of the autocratic period of
Divinity of the king
Muslim history. It was to the benefit of the absolute
rulers to have the people believe that ‘the king is god’s shadow on earth’. It was, therefore, natural for the masses to imagine Allah in the same mould as they experienced their earthly rulers (His shadows), complete with His divine court, guards, secretaries, intermediaries, and above all, a whimsical process of decision-making.
About the ‘intermediaries’, the Quran says: “They are men just like yourselves“ -- (7/194). About dead ‘agents’, (whose graves are so very reverentially visited by millions), it says: “They just can’t hear you. Even if they do, they cannot respond!” – (35/14). Also, “They remain ignorant of whatever you say to them” – (46/5); “They don’t know even about their own resurrection” --- (16/21).
How can such dead people help the living?
As to the question how, then, are prayers answered?, let us once
How are prayers answered
again look at verse 2/186 which says: “When
My men ask you of Me tell them I am close to them and respond to everyone who calls Me”. It goes on: “If you wish an answer from Me, you must be convinced of My guidance and obey Me. Sura Shura says: Those get their answers who are convinced and do good (proper and fruitful) deeds” – (42/26). Sura Momin: “You call Me, I’ll respond. (But) Those who defy and transgress, they will enter Hell, humiliated!” --- (40/60). Sura A’raaf, while talking about ‘calling out to Allah’, says: “He certainly doesn’t like the transgressors” – (7/55). Those who reject the laws of Allah, do not get their prayers answered” – (40/50). Conviction, followed by continuous diligence to adopt and implement His laws, is the fundamental requirement for getting prayers answered. In fact, such men work at it constantly round the clock and “call out to their Preserver, in hope and despair, and keep available for common use what He has given to them!” --- (32/15-16).
Sura Aal-eImran contains a beautiful account of this concept. I quote here my interpretation of it from my work Mafhoom-ul-Quran:
For those who put their reason to use, there are great signs, in the creation of the universe and the cycle of day and night, of the scope and validity of His laws.
It is for those men of reason who constantly keep in view Allah’s laws, be they standing, sitting, or lying down; they keep pondering over the creation of the universe. Their research makes them convinced and say: “O our Preserver! You have created this universe neither in futility nor to destructive purpose. You are too great to have done it so!
Grant us the ability to (benefit properly from the universe as a result of our scientific research and practical experimentation and thus) save ourselves from destruction.
Nations who do not follow this course of action see their efforts wasted away and they plunge into a humiliating, miserable existence with help coming from nowhere.
It is desirable to harness the forces of Nature and use them for the universal sustenance of Man, not for his destruction. This can be done only by a people who are firmly convinced of the divine guidance.
Therefore, these men of reason also say: ‘O our Sustainer! We heard a caller calling us to be convinced of the validity of our Preserver’s laws. We responded to his call and became convinced’.
Then these convinced men of reason desire in their hearts (and they pray): ‘O our Sustainer! Please save us from the consequences of errors we make. Make up for our little slips and mistakes of judgment and application. Please give us the eventual end of a prosperous existence.
O our Preserver! Please keep Your promise You have made, through Your messengers (Divine Revelation), of bestowing us with prosperity and success. Please don’t let us be humiliated on the Dooms Day.
We are sure You are a keeper of promises! (3/189-193).
To all this, Allah’s reply is the following:
‘Their Preserver then responded to them: “(I have heard your prayers, but you must remember that) I don’t waste the work of a worker – man or woman – and respond fully to an action)”’ (3/194).
Let us now make things even clearer by looking at the situation of the
Prayers of Divine Messengers Answered
exalted messengers of Allah
praying and having their prayers answered.
About Noah, it is said that he called out to Allah when his people opposed him vehemently. Allah says: “So We are the best (of those) who answer (prayers)” – (37/75). How did He do it? “We revealed upon him (the way of) constructing an ark”! (23/27).
When Moses was told to free Israelites from the oppressive slavery of the Egyptians, he prayed for divine help in view of the gravity of the commission. Allah answered: “O Moses, We (hereby) grant what you seek” (20/30). “Go you and your brother (to the Pharaoh), with My word; don’t you be lax with it!” – (20/42). Elsewhere; ‘(Allah) said, “I have answered your prayer. So be steadfast and never follow those who do not know’” (10/89).
Again, when Moses prayed for his people to be granted bounties of Here and the Hereafter, he was told it could happen only if “They follow the last Messenger; Our blessing, although encompassing the entire Universe, can be obtained by men if they are convinced of Our laws, abide by them and provide sustenance for others” ---(7/156-157).
Zakariya’s prayer for a son was granted right away in principal but materialized only when: “We cured his wife for her” --- (21/89-90). It is obvious, therefore, that prayers are answered only when the relevant laws are properly applied. Praying without appropriate action is commented upon in Sura Ra’ad with the allegory of a thirsty person standing inactive on the banks of a river. Such prayers all go wasted (13/14).
A possible comment on the above can be the intriguing question. Does Allah not at all answer prayers of the oppressed? Does anyone? The Quran’s
Prayer of the Oppressed Answered
reply to this is in the affirmative. Yes,
their prayers are answered. Following is how it happens. Look at a leaf from the Muslim history of the early period.
Years of consistent hard struggle had resulted in the Muslims’ own sovereign rule in the town of Yathrib (Medina). In the meantime, Muslims still trapped in Mecca came under increasing oppression at the hands of the Quresh (the ruling tribe of non-Muslims). The oppressed Muslims prayed to Allah for their salvation. Allah said to the Muslims in Medina: “What has come upon you that you do not take up arms in Allah’s way? The weak men, women and children call out to US.: “O our Preserve! Take us out of this town of transgressors. Please sned some helper and friend for us!” – (4/75).
Clearly, Allah does not help the oppressed directly. He does it indirectly
The Quranic State Answers!
through other men. For the first thirteen years
of the movement, the Muslims’ prayers (under the oppression of the Quresh in Mecca) were answered by words of advice, consolation and suggestions of remaining steadfast, etc. Allah said, “Who is the One who answers the call to Him of the desperate and removes their predicament? He (does it when He) makes you the inheritors of Earth!” – (27/26). Please remember that this inheritance is a result of their convinced good deeds (24/55).
Elsewhere, about the Muslims the Quran says: “They are the ones who respond to their Preserver’s beckoning and establish sala (a comprehensive system of adopting Allah’s system), make decisions through mutual consultation, and keep for common use whatever sustenance they have” --- (42/38). This method of ruling through mutual consultation, established to create and sustain a fair and just social order, is the same employed to salvage the Israelites from the shackles of Egyptian bondage. Sura Qasas:
“The Pharaoh had carried transgression to extremes. He operated a policy of ‘divide and rule’ by oppressing and neutralizing the potentially dangerous while promoting the inept and the weak.
Our Law of Returns demanded to bestow upon the oppressed its bounties, i.e., inheritance of, and power in, the land where they could have their own sovereign government.” --- (28/4-6).
Let me ask you to ponder – just for a few seconds – upon the question: why and when do the oppressed need to pray to Allah? They do so in an unjust, unfair and oppressive society which is oblivious to their predicament, abandons
them by neglecting them completely. They see no other recourse
open to them than to plead with the Almighty. But this never happens in a fair
Not so in a Just Society
and just society, simply because they do not need
to. This fact was so very eloquently illustrated by Omar, the second Caliph,
Omar’s Eloquent Statement
when he announced:
“I have been entrusted with the responsibility of the Caliphate so that I stop your prayers on their way out and not let them reach Allah!”
that sums up the purpose and target of the Quranic social order.
In such a society, no one needs to pray to the Almighty because His representatives on Earth are taking care of them. In such a society there are no individual prayers. That explains the fact that all the Muslim prayers mentioned
Muslim Prayers are Collective
in the Quran are collective. A glance at
those can make clear their purpose. Some of them are:
1. O Preserver of all worlds! Guide us on the right path, the course of those blessed by You! (1/5-7)
2. O our Sustainer! Bestow nice things on us Here as well as in the Hereafter. (2/201)
3. O our Sustainer! Give us steadfastness so that we don’t falter. Save us from the consequences of small errors. Give us triumph over the enemy. (3/146-147)
4. O our Sustainer! Ignore our errors and forgetfulness. Don’t let us slip back into ignorance like nations of the past. Give us strength to carry out our responsibilities. Give us triumph over those who oppose Your system. (2/286); (3/15)
5. O our Preserver! Don’t let us go astray now that we are on the right path. Please keep us provided for. (3/7)
6. O our Sustainer! Keep the promises you have made to us through your messengers. (3/192-193)
7. Let us be among the doers of good deeds (5/83). Not among the transgressors (7/47)
8. Let the Right decide the conflict between us and our opponents. (7/89)
9. O Allah! Save us from the oppressors. (10/85)
10. Prayers to be saved from the punishment in Hell. (25/65)
11. Let our families (wife and children) be the cause of happiness; let us be the leaders among law-abiders. (25/74)
12. O our Sustainer! Take us, as well as our brethren gone before us with conviction, under Your protective fold. O Allah! Keep our hearts free of malice for our brothers. (59/10)
13. (Muslims praying in Heaven to) Complete our light. (66/8)
It is time now to consider the most important question one may ask at this point: Granted that prayers are collective, what do they achieve? This, being a pivotal question, needs careful consideration.
Human action springs from desire. Desire, and the subsequent will, directly influence an action and its performance. It prepares one psychologically for the
What Prayer Achieves
forthcoming action. The verbalization of desire is
prayer. As Iqbal very aptly put it in one of his poems for children:
My desire is on my lips as prayer
Be my life as a candle fairer
Psychological change in a person, and for that matter, in a nation, has far-
reaching effects. One can only wonder at the
linguistic depth the pre-Islamic Arabic had reached. The simple nomads of the ‘jahiliya’ (Ignorance) period used to milk their animals but not quite, leaving a little in there to induce down more. That little amount of milk left was called (الداعية) (the caller; the prayer). This illustrates prayer in the human context, i.e., the condition which spurs emotions into action for subsequent performance. Expression of ones desire is prayer.
It is important to consider two fundamental points regarding desire.
First, the nature of desire. The Quran suggests the standard of a Muslim’s desire as: “and don’t desire but what Allah wants” --- (81/29), i.e., abide by His laws and follow His system. As mentioned earlier, the sole purpose of human endeavor is to develop one’s personality. The standard to measure
Keep your desires in line with Allah’s Will
this development is to see
how much of ‘Allahness’ is reflected in one’s personality. Of course, one kind of divine attributes are beyond humans (e.g., eternity and immortality). But humans can develop in themselves the godly attributes of benevolence, sustenance, kindness, etc. This depends upon having a desire to develop such attributes. So, men should desire what Allah wants them to, which can be found in His Revelation (the Quran), without which: “Man instead of praying for good, prays for bad, in his haste” – (17/11).
Second, the objective of a desire must always be kept in view. The Quran says the Convinced “Keep in view Allah’s law standing, sitting, and lying” – (3/191). Again, in Sura Ha’Meem: “Those who say, ‘Allah is our
What is Remembering Allah
preserver’ , and then stand firm, they have
angels descending upon them to console and comfort them with their support Here and in the Hereafter, and give them glad tidings of Paradise promised to them. There (in Paradise) you will get what you wish and will happen what you pray for” --- (41/30-31). A Muslim, by definition, does not desire (pray) for anything out of line with Allah’s Will. That, therefore, guarantees answering of the Momeneen’s (the Convinced) prayers.
Regarding the ‘help by angels’, the Quran has clearly called it ‘psychological satisfaction’ (8/10) resulting in steadfastness – (8/11).
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
As far as praying for someone else is concerned, it is nothing but the
Prayer for Others
expression of one’s good wishes. It acts as moral
support for others. One such case in point is the practice of praying for the dead (who of course remain unaffected) which is a solace to the bereaved. Such acts are socially desirable to promote gregariousness. That is why the Messenger was told to appreciate and felicitate those who bring in their donations because “Your prayer is satisfying for them” – (9/103).
The Quran reports some individual prayers of divine messengers. Job
Individual Prayers of Messengers
(Ayyub) prayed to Allah in his
predicament and He salvaged him (3/83, 84); Jonah (Younis) called out to Him and his calamity was alleviated (31/87,88). In the first place, the Quran reports not details as to how such help was given. Secondly, and fundamentally, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the mechanism of divine Revelation and the nature of the Allah – Messenger relationship. Therefore, it is better left at that. The Messenger Mohammed’s individual prayer mentioned in the Quran is ideal for everyone: “Say, ‘O Preserver! Give me knowledge aplenty!’” (20/114).
A commonly held belief is that rejecting the mechanism of prayers makes one deny the benevolence (رحمة - traditionally translated as mercy) of
Prayer is Blessing and Denying Blessing is Denying Allah
Alllah, which is denying Allah and His powers. Let us see what رحمة (rahma)
really is in the Quranic context. For that, we must recall the concept of ‘tauba’ (repentance) mentioned earlier in this book.
The ancient Judaic jurisprudence had no place for ‘tauba’. Every little error had to be punished. The Hindu concept of ‘Karam yoge’ (reincarnation) held a similar position. The Christians believe in ‘the original sin’; Christ went to the cross to absolve Man of sins; anyone believing in the Christ’s being the Savior, gets salvation; that is the basis of the ‘God is Mercy’ belief.
The Quran holds a view different from both of the above. Allah’s Law of
Returns contains both justice and clemency, the latter having a
concept different from the Christian. The Quranic concept of clemency may be illustrated by the example of a person putting his / her hand in a flame. The burning which results naturally in pain is justice. At the same time, Nature has created cure and treatment of burns. That is Allah’s clemency (rahma). This fact can be useful only to those who know and utilize it. This, in the Quranic sense, is tauba (repentance), i.e., efforts to rectify a mistake. This point is aptly illustrated in the figurative story of Man’s creation. Both Man and the Devil erred but whereas Man repented and was willing to rectify his error, the Devil refused to confess, standing defiant. Nature (Allah) was clement to Man but not to the Devil.
The Quran elaborates it in Sura AzZumr: “Say (O My Messenger) to those who have done wrong to themselves, ‘Don’t lose hope of Allah’s clemency. Verily, He has created means of recovering all falterings. He certainly is the Protector and Clement!’ Come back to your Preserver and submit to Him before your error bears result, after which no one will be able to come to your aid” --- (39/53-55). Elsewhere, it is clarified thus: “When they, who are convinced of Our laws, come to you (My Messenger), say to them: ‘Peace be upon you as your Preserver has bound upon Himself to be clement, i.e., anyone of you who unknowingly falters, then repents and rectifies it, shall find Allah protecting and clement’” --- (6/54).
This is not to be taken as a license to commit wrongs. It says: “This is how your Preserver shall be clement to you. But if you return (to your ways), Our system ( of punishment) shall return to you. – (17/8).
Tauba (repentance), therefore, is only for those who are convinced of the natural Law of Returns. The disbelievers, on the other hand, have been said to be hopeless of divine clemency. Sura Ankaboot says: “Those who reject Allah’s Law and its Principle of Returns, are the ones hopeless of My clemency” --- (29/23).
Elsewhere, the Quran says: “That who loses faith in his Preserver’s clemency, has surely lost his way” --- (15/56). Contrary to this: “Verily, those who are convinced and abandon (everything for Allah) and struggle in Allah’s way, seek Allah’s clemency. Certainly, Allah is Protector and Clement” --- (2/218). Allah’s clemency (rahma), therefore, is for those who strive. Says the Quran:
“Even among the Convinced, the lethargic – save the invalid – can never be at par with those who strive with their selves and wealth in the way of Allah. He holds the strugglers in a higher status than those who shirk action. The system benefits all but the endeavoring are graded higher than the passive ones – Higher status and protection and clemency. Certainly, Allah is Protector and Clement.” (4/95-96)
Finally, consider Sura Al’Araaf where Moses prayed for His blessing for Israelites and got this reply: “Surely, My clemency encompasses everything. But among men, only those merit it who abide by His laws, work for universal sustenance of mankind, are convinced of the validity of Our laws, and follow the illiterate Messenger in the future, who they find mentioned in the Torah and the Bible – he will promote good and forbid wrong, allow nice things and disallow bad, break their unnatural yoke of slavery, lighten them by relieving them of slabs. That is the only way to obtain Allah’s clemency, covering the entire universe in its benevolent clouds!” (7/156-157).