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Ritual Prayer: Its Meaning and Manner
Ritual Prayer: Its Meaning and Manner
Ritual Prayer: Its Meaning and Manner
Prayer is one of the central elements of Islamic practice and worship. Indeed, it is the second of the Five Pillars of Islam and, along with the testimony of faith, the pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting the month of Ramadan and paying the poor tax, forms the essential framework of religious life for Muslims. More than that, the observance of the ritual prayer forms the framework of each Muslims day, from the pre-dawn morning prayer to the night prayer that precedes sleep.
Prayer, in the ritual sense, is an obligation of the faith, to be performed five times a day by adult Muslims. According to Islamic law, prayers have a variety of obligations and conditions of observance. However, beyond the level of practice, there are spiritual conditions and aspects of prayer which represent its essence.
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me.
Thus, prayer first and foremost, is the response to this Divine directive to worship the Creator. Prayer represents the individuals affirmation of servanthood before the Lord of Creation and submission to His Omnipotent Will. It also represents a willing acknowledgment of our weakness and neediness by seeking Divine Grace, Mercy, Abundance and Forgiveness. Prayer, then, is a willful, directed action by the believer, seeking direct, unmediated communication with Allah, for Muslims believe that every human being is of interest to the Divine. It also represents a concrete manifestation of the Islamic conception of freewill, in that the decision to pray is one that must be made by each individual. In this way, prayer is a uniquely human form of worship, for all other creatures submit without question to Allahs Will and are engaged in His praise, glorification and remembrance, as the Holy Qurn asserts:
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّمَاوَاتُ السَّبْعُ وَالأَرْضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّ وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلاَّ يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدَهِ وَلَـكِن لاَّ تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise.
Prayer, by its very nature, is a form of request or entreaty, and thus requires the full conscious participation of the one praying, with will, intellect, body and soul. The one engaged in prayer is in direct connection with the Creator Who hears everything the supplicant says and responds though not necessarily in the affirmative to each request. This is the concrete manifestation of Allahs role as The Hearer, The Aware and The Responsive, which represent three of the ninety-nine Holy Names and Attributes of Allah that form the basis of the Islamic conception of the Divine.
In Islam, there are two forms of prayer. One has ritual, formal requirements and manners, which are essential to its correct observance. This is called šalt. The other form is supplicatory prayer, and in its more general sense, represents an open-ended conversation with Allah, which may occur at any time or place, with few restrictions or requirements. It is called du¿a.
The term du¿a is derived from the Arabic verb meaning to supplicate or to call upon. Other similar terms for such prayer are munjah, nid, and aļ-ļaru¿a.
Munjah means a secret conversation with Allah, usually with the intention of seeking delivery and relief. Referring to this form of prayer, Allah says in the Holy Qurn:
قُلْ مَن يُنَجِّيكُم مِّن ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ تَدْعُونَهُ تَضَرُّعاً وَخُفْيَةً لَّئِنْ أَنجَانَا مِنْ هَـذِهِ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الشَّاكِرِينَ
Say: Who delivereth you from the darkness of the land and the sea? Ye call upon Him humbly and in secret, (saying): If we are delivered from this (fear) we truly will be of the thankful.
Nid means to call upon Allah while withdrawn from people. The Holy Qurn relates the story of the prophet Zachariah who, having no son, beseeched Allah in his old age to give him a successor to inherit his prophetic knowledge and duties:
ذِكْرُ رَحْمَةِ رَبِّكَ عَبْدَهُ زَكَرِيَّا إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ نِدَاء خَفِيًّا قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَهَنَ الْعَظْمُ مِنِّي وَاشْتَعَلَ الرَّأْسُ شَيْبًا وَلَمْ أَكُن بِدُعَائِكَ رَبِّ شَقِيًّا وَإِنِّي خِفْتُ الْمَوَالِيَ مِن وَرَائِي وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا فَهَبْ لِي مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا
A mention of the mercy of thy Lord unto His servant Zachariah. When he cried unto his Lord a cry in secret, Saying: My Lord!… give me from Thy Presence a successor who shall inherit of me and inherit (also) of the house of Jacob (It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; We have given the same name to none before (him).
Aļ-ļaru¿a means a loud entreaty to Allah for safety, as mentioned in the Holy Qurn:
وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلنَآ إِلَى أُمَمٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَأَخَذْنَاهُمْ بِالْبَأْسَاء وَالضَّرَّاء لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ
Before thee We sent (apostles) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might submissively entreat (Him)!
Ritual prayer in Islam, is called šalt, a word whose full meaning is best understood by examining its linguistic roots. One of the origins of šalt is the root word šilat which means connection or contact. One of Islams most renowned philosophers, Ibn Rushd, said:
It derives from the word connection (šilat) in that it connects the servant with his Creator, meaning that the prayer brings him near His Mercy and connects him to His Generosity and His Heavenly Paradise.
This word is also used in the context of close relations (šilat ar-raħim) whose connections with an individual are due to blood ties and are therefore imperishable in the eyes of the Divine. In this sense, prayer is seen as the unseverable bond between the individual and his or her Lord.
Commenting on this, another renowned Qurnic exegete, Al-Qurtub said:
The word šalt derives from the word šilat, one of the names of fire as when it is said, The wood is burned by fire.
Al-Qurtub attributed six different meanings to the word šalt in his commentary of the Holy Qurn:
Prayer is the invocation of Allah; it is mercy, as when one says, O Allah, bestow prayers on Muhammad; it is worship, as when Allah says, صَلاَتُهُمْ عِندَ الْبَيْتِ And their worship at the (holy) House; it is a supererogatory prayer, as when Allah says, وَأْمُرْ أَهْلَكَ بِالصَّلَاة And enjoin upon thy people worship; and it is Allahs praise, as when He says, فَلَوْلَا أَنَّهُ كَان مِنْ الْمُسَبِّحِينَ And had he not been one of those who glorify (Allah)… Prayer is also recitation.
Ritual prayer is bound by detailed obligations and structure. It encompasses both obligatory (farļ) prayers, which are observed five times daily at specified intervals, as well as voluntary prayers, which are performed by the worshipper before or after the obligatory prayers as well as at other times.
Prophet Muhammad (s) called prayer the pillar of religion. No fundamental element of Islam has been stressed as much as prayer in the Holy Qurn. Indeed, Allah mentions it in over 700 verses of the holy text. Among those that define its role in the religion of Islam are:
إِنَّ الصَّلاَةَ كَانَتْ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كِتَابًا مَّوْقُوتًا
Worship at fixed hours hath been enjoined on the believers.
حَافِظُواْ عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ والصَّلاَةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُواْ لِلّهِ قَانِتِينَ
Be guardians of your prayers, and of the midmost prayer.
وَأْمُرْ أَهْلَكَ بِالصَّلَاةِ وَاصْطَبِرْ عَلَيْهَا لَا نَسْأَلُكَ رِزْقًا نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُكَ وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلتَّقْوَى
Enjoin prayer on thy people, and be constant therein. We ask thee not to provide sustenance: We provide it for thee. But the (fruit of) the Hereafter is for righteousness.
اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاء وَالْمُنكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ
Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book, and observe Prayer. Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil, and remembrance of Allah indeed is the greatest virtue. And Allah knows what you do.
فِي جَنَّاتٍ يَتَسَاءلُونَ عَنِ الْمُجْرِمِينَ مَا سَلَكَكُمْ فِي سَقَرَ قَالُوا لَمْ نَكُ مِنَ الْمُصَلِّينَ
(They will be) in Gardens (of Delight): they will question each other, and (ask) of the sinners: What led you into Hell Fire? They will say: We were not of those who prayed
عن بن عمر رضي الله عنهما قال : قال رسول : بني الإسلام على خمس : شهادة أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمداً رسول الله ، وإقامة الصلاة ، وإيتاء الزكاة ، والحج ، وصوم رمضان
The Messenger of Allah made ritual prayer the second of the five pillars of Islam:
Islam is built on five: testifying that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing ritual prayer, paying the poor-due, pilgrimage and fasting Ramadan.
Thus, the ritual prayer is an obligation from Allah on every sane, adult Muslim.
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( أول ما يحاسب به العبد يوم القيامة عن الصلاة ، فإن صلحت ، صلح سائر عمله ، وإن فسدت ، فسد سائر عمله
The first thing about which a person will be questioned on the Day of Judgment is prayer. If it is found to be sound all his other actions will be sound as well. If his prayer is not sound all his remaining actions would be spoiled.
قال رسول بين الرجل والكفر ترك الصلات
Between a man and unbelief is giving up of ritual prayer.
من فاتته صلاة العصر فكأنما وتر في أهله وماله
The one who missed Šalt al-¿Ašr, just one of the ritual prayers, is as if he has lost all his family and property.
And he said:Ritual prayer in its proper time is the best of deeds.
وكان آخر وصايا النبي قبل انتقاله إلى الرفيق الأعلى: الصلاة الصلاة وما ملكت أيمانكم
It is reported that the Prophets last words were:
Prayer! Prayer! And fear Allah regarding those who you are in charge of.
Among the wisdoms in the implementation of prayer is that it purifies and welcomes the worshipper to converse with Allah and His Messenger, and, while he or she remains in the material world, brings him or her into proximity with the Divine in the next life and wards off indecency and manifest evil.
مثل الصلوات الخمس كمثل نهر عذب غمر بباب أحدكم يقتحم فيه كل يوم خمس مرات فما ترون ذلك يبقي من درنه قالوا لاشيء قال صلى الله عليه وسلم فإن الصلوات الخمس تذهب الذنوب كما يذهب الماء الدرن
Allahs Messenger Muhammad (s) said:
The simile of the five prayers is like a flowing river of sweet-water in front of the door of one of you, in which he plunges five times a day. What dirt will remain on him? They said, None. He said, Surely the five prayers eliminate sins just as water eliminates dirt.
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَانَ يَقُولُ الصَّلَوَاتُ الْخَمْسُ وَالْجُمُعَةُ إِلَى الْجُمُعَةِ وَرَمَضَانُ إِلَى رَمَضَانَ مُكَفِّرَاتٌ مَا بَيْنَهُنَّ إِذَا اجْتَنَبَ الْكَبَائِرَ
The five prayers and from one Friday prayer to the (next) Friday prayer are expiation [for what occurred between them] and Ramadan to Ramadan are expiations for the (sins) committed in between if one abstained from the major sins.
One of the primary aims of prayer is to prevent iniquity and vice.
من لم تنهه صلاته عن الفحشاء والمنكر لم يزدد من الله الا بعدا
The one whose prayer does not prevent him from iniquity and vice, gains nothing from Allah except remoteness.
While the five prayers are an obligation, Muslims are also enjoined to perform other prayers in accordance with the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (s). These include:
All the above are termed established traditions of the Prophet (s). Other than these are what are classified as voluntary (at-taţaww¿u) worship.
In addition, there are a number of supererogatory prayers (sunan) which were part of the normative practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s), and which remain part of the everyday worship of many traditionalist Muslims.
After the Prophet Muhammad (s) was commissioned with prophethood in his fortieth year, the first order he was given by Allah was to pray. It is related that the archangel Jibrl came to him, and a spring of water gushed out from the rocks in front of them. Jibrl then showed the Prophet how to perform the ablution that is a prerequisite of the ritual prayer in Islam. Jibrl then showed the Prophet how to offer the ritual prayer to Allah. The Prophet (s) then went home and showed his wife Khadj what the archangel Jibrl had taught him.
After that, the Messenger of Allah began to pray two cycles (raka¿ts) of ritual prayer twice a day once in the morning and once in the evening. From that time forward, the Prophet never went through a day without praying. In the ninth year of the Prophets mission, he was taken by the archangel Jibrl on a miraculous journey by night to Jerusalem and, from there, ascended to the heavens and the Divine Presence. During this tremendous journey, Allah commanded the Prophet and his followers to observe the ritual-prayer fifty times a day. Returning from the Divine Presence, Prophet Muhammad (s) met the prophet Moses who said, Seek a reduction for your people can not carry it. The Prophet did so and it was granted. After many such dialogues the command was reduced to observe five prayers, which would be the equivalent of the original command to observe fifty. For this reason, Muslims feel a great debt to the Prophet Moses for this intercession on their behalf.
In Divine Law (Shari¿ah), there are a number of requirements for valid ritual prayer:
In addition to these essentials, there are a number of normative practices of the Prophet which are strongly recommended as part of the ritual prayer, known as sunnah:
The practice of the Prophet (s) is essential to understand the Holy Qurn. Allah said:
وَأَقِيمُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتُواْ الزَّكَاةَ
Establish prayers (salat) and pay the poor-due (zakt).
From this, it is clear both prayer and the poor-due are obligations. However, to find the necessary details to complete the prayer, i.e. the manner and timing of the prayer and upon whom it is obligatory, etc., we must turn to the practice of Prophet Muhammad (s). Islamic doctrine states that for every single event in his lifetime Allah revealed to the Prophets heart what to say and what to do. The Qurn and the Prophetic Narrations (aħdth) both derive from revelation and are thus inseparable sources for understanding and implementing Islams divine guidance.
The Prophet (s) said, Pray as you see me pray. What is meant here is to follow the method of observing prayer, both in form and in its inward composure and states.
The Prophet (s) used to practice the ritual prayer constantly, outside the obligatory times. In doing so he was observing Allahs recommendation:
وَاسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلاَّ عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ
Nay, seek (Allahs) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit.
According to the scholars of Divine Law recommended acts are divided into three categories: those acts whose demand is confirmed, known as the confirmed normative practice of the Prophet (sunan al-mu¿akkadah). According to Aħmad Ibn Naqib al-Masri, Someone who neglects such an act … deserves censure and blame. Second are those acts that are rewardable in Divine Law, but the one who neglects them deserves no blame. These are called the extra sunnah (sunnah nfilah). The third category is the superlatively recommended, meaning those acts considered part of an individuals perfections. These are called the desirable acts (mustaħab) or decorum (adab).
A precondition of ritual prayer in Islam is that the worshipper be in a ritually pure state and perform his or her prayer in a ritually pure location.
There are two levels of ritual impurity, each with its own remedy:
1) Major impurity. This occurs as a result of menstruation, childbirth and sexual intercourse or emission. Its remedy is ritual-bathing, as prescribed in the Holy Qurn:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تَقْرَبُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَى حَتَّىَ تَعْلَمُواْ مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلاَ جُنُبًا إِلاَّ عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىَ تَغْتَسِلُواْ
O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (Except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body.
2) Minor impurity. This occurs due to answering the call of nature, bleeding, vomiting and sleeping. Its remedy is ritual ablution. This, too, is mentioned in the Holy Qurn:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فاغْسِلُواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُواْ بِرُؤُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَينِ
O you who believe! When you get ready for ritual prayer [šalt], wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles.
عن جابر قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم مفتاح الصلاة الوضوء ومفتاح الجنة الصلاة.
Ablution is the key to prayer as prayer is the key to Paradise.
The various schools of Islamic jurisprudence differ slightly in the precise details of ritual ablution and bathing. Emphasized in all, however, is the need to use pure water, free from all contamination, for pure water contains the secret of life and of revivifying what is dead. Allah says in the Holy Qurn:
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاء كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ
We made from water every living thing,
وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مِن مَّاء فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الأرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا
In the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead
If water is unavailable, extremely scarce or its use would harm the worshipper, it is permitted to perform substitute ablution using dry earth. The Holy Qurn says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فاغْسِلُواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُواْ بِرُؤُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَينِ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُواْ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَى أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاء أَحَدٌ مَّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لاَمَسْتُمُ النِّسَاء فَلَمْ تَجِدُواْ مَاء فَتَيَمَّمُواْ صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُواْ بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ مَا يُرِيدُ اللّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَـكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهَّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks.
Besides cleansing the body, the worshipper must also take care to ensure that his or her clothes are free from impurities that would nullify the prayer. Traditionally, shoes are removed before the prayer because of their tendency to retain impurities.
Ibn Rushd states that the word for ablution, wuļ, derives from the word for light in Arabic, ļaw, signifying the resultant spiritual light that accrues to the one who performs it.
عَنْ نُعَيْمٍ الْمُجْمِرِ، قَالَ رَقِيتُ مَعَ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَلَى ظَهْرِ الْمَسْجِدِ، فَتَوَضَّأَ فَقَالَ إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ إِنَّ أُمَّتِي يُدْعَوْنَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ غُرًّا مُحَجَّلِينَ مِنْ آثَارِ الْوُضُوءِ، فَمَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ مِنْكُمْ أَنْ يُطِيلَ غُرَّتَهُ فَلْيَفْعَلْ .
On the Day of Resurrection, my Community will be called those with the radiant appendages because of the traces of ablution. Therefore, whoever can increase the area of his radiance should do so.
عَنْ أَبِي حَازِمٍ، قَالَ كُنْتُ خَلْفَ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ وَهُوَ يَتَوَضَّأُ لِلصَّلاَةِ فَكَانَ يَمُدُّ يَدَهُ حَتَّى تَبْلُغَ إِبْطَهُ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ يَا أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ مَا هَذَا الْوُضُوءُ فَقَالَ يَا بَنِي فَرُّوخَ أَنْتُمْ هَا هُنَا لَوْ عَلِمْتُ أَنَّكُمْ هَا هُنَا مَا تَوَضَّأْتُ هَذَا الْوُضُوءَ سَمِعْتُ خَلِيلِي صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ تَبْلُغُ الْحِلْيَةُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِ حَيْثُ يَبْلُغُ الْوَضُوءُ .
I heard my intimate friend (the Messenger of Allah) saying, The radiance of the believer reaches the areas that the water of ablution reaches.
Ablution signifies spiritual purity, which the Prophet was granted when the angels washed his heart, both in his youth and again, later, when angels washed it with the water of the holy well Zamzam on the Night of Ascension.
To gain the full benefit of ablution, the worshipper must perform it with the realization of its inner aspects, washing away the burdens and darkness of worldly life that distract him or her from Divine service. By removing both the physical and mental filth that accumulates through the day, one ignites and seals the latent spiritual energy of ones being by means of the special attributes of water. The extremities washed during ablution are the primary means of interacting with the worldly life, and these must be cleansed of the taint left by that contact.
Ablution begins with washing the hands, signifying that the first level of spiritual energy is in the hands. Human hands contain a Divine Secret, for they are a reflection of the Divine Attribute of Power, which Allah has bestowed in a limited degree on humankind. They provide the means for the outward manifestations of humankinds will to change its circumstances. Thus, hands are a source of change, control and healing. No other creature has been endowed with so great an ability to manipulate its surroundings, and the hands are the main physical instrument of that ability.
The hand can act as a receiver of positive energy. The circle of the body, so clearly illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci, is reflected on a smaller scale in the circle of the hand. Energy can be drawn in through the hands and channeled throughout the body. When one rubs the hands together during ablution, one activates a spiritual code that Allah has given us within our hands: the power of the ninety-nine Beautiful Names and Attributes that Allah has inscribed on every persons palms. The friction between the two hands creates energy in the form of heat and rubbing them together under water locks in that energy, preventing it from escaping. The water keeps the energy that is generated by rubbing the hands together within the body, where it can be released later.
During the process of ablution the hands are used to convey the water to each other limb and organ, thereby functioning as a dispenser of that divine energy. As the limbs and organs are washed in ablution, each undergoes similar spiritual alterations based on the water, the hands and their energy, and the various movements and recitations that are part of the ablution. For the believer to benefit from the water, it must be pure and clean, otherwise its secret blessings do not reach the body.
On an esoteric level, ablution becomes a metaphor for purifying the heart. Water is always clean in its essence, so the degree of spiritual reception is dependent on keeping the water free from external impurities. If we expand the spiritual metaphor, the water symbolizes the remembrance of Allah. That remembrance is pure, in and of itself, but can be tainted by the darkness of negativity which derives from wrong intent, wrong will and wrong action.
The most powerful energy we carry as human beings is our spiritual energy. Second to that is the physical energy of creativity, which manifests during the act of procreation. In the course of physically expressing this creative energy Allah has placed within us, we enter into a state similar to the spiritual state of annihilation, but not related to the Divine Presence, on the contrary, it is related to the lower self. When this occurs, it is essential to wash the body completely, with the intention to restore the spiritual state of purity lost during the act.
Purification of the heart blocks the influence of Satan on the believer. For this reason, the Prophet is reported to have said:
Ablution is the weapon of the believer.
Ablution protects the believer from four enemies of the soul: the lower self or ego (nafs), worldly desire (ħubb ad-duny), lust (haw) and Satan. However, only through the remembrance of Allah can the believer maintain this defense throughout the day. When the heart begins to beat with Allahs Holy Name, Allah, Satan is prevented from entering, and the gossips and insinuations of the lower self are gradually reduced until they are no more than a whisper.
At an even higher level of understanding, ablution signifies the state of dissolving the self in the Divine Presence. According to the Sufi master Al-Jil:
the requirement of using water signifies that purity is not achieved except by the emergence [in the worshipper] of the manifestations of the Divine Attributes, which is the water of life, for water is the secret of life. Dry ablution (tayammum) as a substitute [for ablution with water] is the station of purity by necessity, and is thus a symbol of purifying ones self by opposing ones lower-self, combating the tyrannical selfish ego and spiritual exercises. However, even after someone is purified, there is still a chance for him to exist. This is what the Prophet alluded to when he supplicated, O my Lord give my self its piety and its purity, for You are the best one to purify it. His saying Give my self its piety, is an indication of [the need for] combating the lower-self by means of spiritual exercises. His saying and its purity, for You are the best one to purify it, is an indication of the hearts attraction to the Divine, for this [attraction] is far more effective than purifying by means of action and opposing the lower-self.
The five times of obligatory ritual prayer are:
Dhuhr: From noon until mid-afternoon;
Maghrib: From sunset to early evening;
¿Ish: From early evening to the middle of the night.
These times coincide with the significant temporal changes that are part of each days cycle on earth as this planet moves through its various stations in relation to the Sun. The Sun, which is the focal point of the solar system, thus becomes a guiding light for the worshiper, indicating the beginning and ending of each prayers interval. In this way, Muslims are reminded of the story of Abraham, as mentioned in the Holy Qurn.
In his yearning and seeking for Allah, Abraham holds a metaphorical debate within himself. His first inclination is to bow before a bright star that shines forth at night, taking it as his Lord. However, when that star sets, his intellect rejects it, seeking something greater as Lord. Seeing the Moon, he determines it to be his Lord until it too sets and he seeks something greater still. Seeing the Sun rise, he supposes it must be his Lord, but despite its blazing glory, it too sets. Finally, Abraham concludes that none of these heavenly bodies and by inference, no created thing could be his Lord, and thus sets himself firmly on worship of the Unseen Lord:
فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا أَنَاْ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
when [the sun] set he exclaimed: O my people! Lo! I am free from all that ye associate (with Him). Lo! I have turned my face toward Him Who created the heavens and the earth, as one by nature upright, and I am not of the idolaters.
Muslims consider the day to begin at sunset, with the evening (Maghrib) prayer. This holds tremendous significance on an esoteric, or spiritual, level. The masters of the science of Islamic spirituality, Sufism, see the cycles of prayer as symbolic of the cycles of creation itself. The sunset prayer represents the station of leaving existence. The night prayer, which follows it, represents the station of darkness and death, annihilation and nonexistence.
In some Islamic traditions, funeral prayers for those who have passed away during the preceding day are read immediately after the sunset prayer, indicating this times correlation with death and the afterlife.
اللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَى عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَى إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: Those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed.
Awakening to pray just before dawn represents the return to life, the descent through the darkness of the womb to emerge into the light. Metaphorically, the worshipper moves from the station of nonexistence and annihilation back to the station of existence and rebirth. A new day has come, and with it the worshipper is reborn.
The apex of existence is marked by