September 08, 2006

Why Muslims Have To Pray?

GLORY (From Portugal) : Dr Danial. Please, I would like to ask you about your five daily prayers. I see that it is obligatory for Muslims to pray 5 times day. I see Muslims stopping from work, rushing to their prayer room to pray and then coming back to the office to continue with their work.

Can you really pray by rushing like that? To me, prayer should always be there in your heart, not only 5 times a day. Please help me to understand.

DR DANIAL (DD) : I agree with you that prayer is a continuous process. It should always be there in your heart. Actually Glory, this concept of continuous prayer or, more correctly, continous remembrance of God, is taught by Islam.

Islam termed this continuous remembrance of God as zikrullah. Indeed, in an authentic tradition, Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying that, "The best zikir or remembrance is a continuous form of remembrance until one die with his tongue wet due to this remembrance of Allah."

However, zikrullah is not just mere repetition of a mantra. It is more than that. Zikrullah can exist in the form of connecting to the Most High by using words recommended by the Most High, as mentioned earlier. Zikrullah for a scientist exists in the form of analysing the creation created by the Allah to glorify Him.

Thus the mantra for a scientist is his experiment and observation that is done to prove that Allah is the Creator. And, most important, the climax of zikrullah is to follow His Way right from the bottom of your heart

In the West people talk about prayers and meditation by sitting in a room, closing their eyes and repeating a certain mantra. After the session they follow THEIR OWN WAY.

No, in Islam the purpose and indeed the climax of zikrullah is to FOLLOW HIS WAY with a sincere heart, spiritually, physically, and socially. When Muslims follow His Way comprehensively, without forgetting the oral mantra or zikir, they are praying to Him and at that instant they become men and women of integrity where ever they are. They become role models.

Connecting to Him in this manner should be continuous for 24 hours. At that instant Muslims become a group of people who live and work diligently in this world with their heart connected to the next world. It is just like the internet. Your are there staying in your room but you are connected with the world through the internet system.

Muslims are connected not just to this world but also to the next world through their zikir system. This is the prayer system in Islam. A holistic prayer system. Yeah, it is a continuous process.

GLORY : What about this rushing to the prayer room to pray 5 times a day?

DD: Yes sister, but we also see doctors and engineers rushing for their lunch and tea. These professional people are so busy, so much so they had to rush for their meals. And yet we commended them for their commitment.

We do not question about their rushing to the cafeteria. It is their style and this style is created by their working condition. And this style is good because they do not want to waste their time and this is good for the company.

What is important is that they are getting their lunch and this lunch is beneficial for them. They are getting the carbohydrates, proteins and minerals which can be considered as booster for them before continuing with their job. Would you say that their lunch is useless just because you saw them rushing for their lunch? No. The same applies to the Muslims.

When Muslims pray 5 times a day they really pray. Their rushing should be interpreted as an endeavour to save time. Muslims started their prayer by saying that Allah is the greatest and at that instant everything else becomes small.

Their bosses, managers, leaders and superiors become negligible. At that instant they are connected to the Most High after hours of being connected to high-strung people and stress induced situation. If lunch is a booster for the physical, then prayer is a booster for the spiritual.

Muslim prayer is a form of meditation, indeed it surpasses normal meditation. I read many established articles in the internet that explained that one of the ways to reduce stress during work is to set aside a few minutes a few times during work for meditation. Indeed, switching of activity is good because it relaxes the mind.

This is a practical solution to control stress and Muslims had been doing just that through their prayers 5 times a day consistently. Moreover, before praying, Muslims have to wash certain parts of their body especially their hands in a process called ablution or wuduk in Arabic.

And I read in the WHO bulletin that the most important preventive measures that should be practised by everybody to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this decade is to constantly and vigorously wash our hands. This concept is there in Islam through performing the ablutions before the 5 obligatory prayers. This is scientific!

GLORY : OK. But don't you think that a prayer should be limited just to the heart and we do not need to rush to do our prayer?

DD : I agree with you that the heart plays a very important role in a prayer. It can be considered as the main switch. Without it a prayer can be considered as null and void. However, in Islam, a human being is categorised as a complex organism created by God with two very important elements, that is, the soul and the physique.

Since these two elements are created by Allah, both should prostrate to worship Allah because both are created by Him. Thus during performing the 5 obligatory prayers, a Muslim moves his body and heart to worship Him. By the way Glory, what do you think of yoga?

GLORY : To me it is a good form of exercise.

DD: Yes sister, and according to one definition, yoga is a combination of spiritual and physical exercises to encourage ones health and well-being. If you can accept yoga, I think, you can accept the Islamic prayer because, in a way, the Islamic prayer is an act of worship that combines the spiritual and physical beings of a human being.

More than that a Muslim has to clean himself or herself before praying by taking ablution which is not done in yoga. And earlier you mentioned about Muslims going to the prayer room to pray. In the prayer room Muslims meet their fellow Muslims and they pray together. In Islam this is called the jemaah.

While praying together they learn the basics of teamwork, yeah, teamwork. They know the importance of having a shared vision in life, that is worshipping of God. They also learn the importance of choosing and obeying a competent leader, that is the Imam.

Besides that, thay learn the importance of standing in unison, that is the saf, while performing an important job. These are the basics of a teamwork and its essence is there in the Islamic prayer. This aspect is also not found in yoga. Besides that, the 5 obligatory prayers taught Muslims about the importance of discipline and time management.

Everyday Muslims have to wake up early to perform the dawn or fajr prayer. They are the early birds. Waking up early does not affect their health negatively. According to a six-year study, those who sleep for eight hours or more tend to die a bit sooner.

It is evidently very safe to sleep only seven, six, or even five hours a night. The scientists come to this conclusion after analysing data from the American Cancer Society. At night Muslims end their day by performing the night or isya prayer.

I read a book written by Dr Bob Arnot titled The Biology of Success. He mentioned that those who stick rigidly and consistently to the teachings and routines of their religion are more contented and are more able to look at life positively.

He singled out Islam as one of the religions that has definite routines and procedures which is capable of inducing the biology of the Muslims positively towards attaining peace and tranquility.

Having said all these, I come back to the most important aspect of a prayer, that is the heart, which you mentioned earlier. So in Islam the most important prayer is in your heart but it should not be limited only to the heart, because the heart and physique is interconnected.

But I do agree with you about the importance of the heart. Indeed in Islam, one have to khusyuk while performing a prayer. Khusyuk means focus and deep concentration of the mind and heart. Without that ones prayer comes to nothing. This is the essence of the Islamic prayer.

GLORY : OK.... I felt perturbed when I saw Muslims praying to a stone in Mecca. I understand that you called this stone Kaba. Isn't this idolatrous?

DD : Yes sister, when Muslims pray they turn their faces towards the Kaabah. Turning ones face towards the Kaabah doesn't mean that one worships the Kaabah.

When a battallion of soldiers march in front of their King and turn their faces and salute towards him, we don't say that this is idolatrous, do we? No, we say that this is a salutation of honour.

Kaabah is not God. You can ask any Muslim, Glory, concerning Kaabah, and I can assure you that they will tell you that, "Kaabah is our qiblat."

Yes, Kaabah is our qiblat, not our God! What is a qiblat? It is an Arabic term which means direction. It is just a landmark. That is why when you go to the mosques, you won't be able to see images of the Kaabah inside the mosques. Why? Because its image is not important to the Muslims. In other words, what is important is not the stone but the direction.

If Muslims really worship the Kaabah you would expect to see its images everywhere especially inside the mosques. Moreover, when Muslims go to Mecca to perform the Haj, thay come face to face with this landmark, the Kaabah.

Do you know what do Muslims recite at that instant, in front of the Kaabah? They say, "Labbaika La Syarikalak," which means "We come to worship you oh Allah and there is no partner besides you."

"No partner besides Allah" means there is only one God, the Creator, that is Allah, and everything else, including the Kaabah, are just His creatures. I have to say that, Glory, actually, this concept is understood even by a young Muslim primary school kid.

In addition to that, without this landmark as a direction, it will be chaotic when Muslims pray in a congregation. Why? Because some would be facing towards the west, some towards the east and so on and so forth and for an outsider this will be a joke.

To make an analogy, let's come back to that battallion of soldiers who march in front of their king. What would you say if some of the soldiers turn their faces towards the king and some towards something else? You would want to question their discipline, and worse, their loyalty. I hope now you understand why Muslims turn their faces towards the Kaabah during praying.

GLORY : Yeah, I can see the logic. But why turn towards the Kaabah?

DD : I hope you would not suggest that we turn towards Las Vegas. (Smile).... Kaabah has a beautiful history because it was built by prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.

Indeed the Bible did mention about the Kaabah, the House of God. It is mentioned in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, chapter Isaiah, verses 6 and 7: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house.”

And we should not forget that the lineage of Muhammad and Jesus Christ were connected to Abraham. Thus when we face the Kaabah we are connected to this beautiful history of the prophets of Allah who built the glorious house of God.

GLORY : OK. I thank you very much for your explanation. Now I am beginning to understand.

(Dr. Danial bin Zainal Abidin (M.B.Ch.B. University of Alexandria) is the Managing Director of Danial Zainal Consultancy based in Penang Island, Malaysia. This Consultancy focussed on education and research. He is also a Medical Practitioner based in Penang Island, Malaysia. Besides that he is also an author who, until now, has written altogether ten books. As a motivator, he gives motivation weekly through Mutiara FM (Penang Island Broadcasting Station). He is also a columnist for i-Magazine in Malaysia)

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