By Siddiq Bazarwala
Why do Muslims pray so often? Why is there such a heavy emphasis on worshipping Allah ? Why does Allah need people to worship and praise him all the time?
These are among some of the most frequent questions often raised by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
This was the case during the early years of Islam when the religion first emerged; as well as during the Islamic Golden Age between the eighth and twelfth centuries for almost 400 hundred years when Christian Europe was comparatively in the dark ages while the Arab world became an intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education. This was also the case before and after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
Put another way, from the time when there were less than half a dozen Muslims supporting Prophet Muhammad almost 1500 years ago, to the over 1.6 billion Muslims today, whether Muslim-majority countries were economically weak, emerging or strong, the role of prayer in a Muslim’s life has been central.
From the air we breathe, to the water we have access to, to the food, comfort and abundance we enjoy, as well as the good health we take for granted around the clock. Without Allah’s protection and blessing, Muslims believe we have absolutely nothing.
Fundamentally, Muslims believe that everything in this universe is created by and controlled by the Almighty God, Allah . From the daily rising of the sun, to the direction of each of the waves in the ocean, to the blood flow in every vein of every living thing, to every atom-sized development in the tiniest of micro-organisms, to everything that happens in earth and outside earth within the universe, known and unknown to mankind today.
This is the power of God, Allah . He is not and does not need to be everywhere but can see everything from above the heavens. Not only is He is the source of energy of every living being but elements far beyond the imagination of science and mankind today are within His control, within the tiniest part of the palm of His metaphorical hands, somewhat like a small finger ring in a vast desert (Earth vis-à-vis Allah).
This is why – practicing Muslims pray to show their gratefulness to Allah by acknowledging Him in their prayers. The act of praying is also like a tap on the shoulder to remind us Muslims to get rid of our arrogance and submit to Allah who alone has the power over absolutely everything.
This is especially true since practicing Muslims believe everything would stop in an instant, if He decides to take His blessings away, or if He decides to bless part of His mankind with what He gives to some and takes from others – so that Muslims that have, can try and share with those that do not have just as much or nearly enough.
Monetary wealth is however just one example. Some consider children to be the greatest form of wealth – while others may consider physical mobility, not living in a war zone, recovering from a fatal disease, etc., as further examples of what may be indicators of wealth.
The entire purpose of praying therefore, is to express a small token of thanks for all the innumerable bounties bestowed by the Creator, Allah – even for those that do not have enough to eat, clothes and shelter for their children or living in a state of persecution, etc., A practicing Muslim however destitute, never forgets to pray to thank Allah – for everything he has, and not whinge about all he doesn’t have. For a true, practicing Muslim believes that Allah is the only source that will help create avenues for relief – physical, mental and spiritual.
There are many among us fortunate enough not to be living in a war zone or not having challenges feeding and clothing our children, and having easy access to schools, hospitals, electricity, clean water, a full-time job with relative comfort, etc. Yet we spend our days drifting from one task to the other, immersing ourselves in the routine of our lives, from the time we wake up in the morning till the last minute before we fall asleep, failing to prioritize prayers over our daily lives.
What most of us remain unaware of is the act of prayer at regular intervals actually helps us pace ourselves from the “slave pits” lifestyle we humans are increasingly getting used to; i.e. waking up at 7am in the morning in order to make it to work on time, forever impressing our insatiable bosses in this world – and not so much impressing the boss-in-this-world-and-the-next, who sees and knows everything.
The rationale behind the creation of these so-called “speed-stoppers” through these regular prayer intervals is to enable Muslims to take stock, review and prioritize what is important and what isn’t. Similar to a gym, yoga, meditation, coffee or lunch break, which we often use to recharge ourselves, the act of praying is in fact the best form of reinvigoration there is. Like a relaxing resort holiday, unless you try it you will never know what it feels like.
Some questions therefore to ask those of us who aren’t yet regular with our prayers, are: What are you afraid of? What is keeping you from taking that leap of faith? What if you are right and in the afterlife there is no God and therefore there’s no point of praying and giving your mind and body a chance to reboot, but then, what if you are wrong and there is a God, Allah , in the afterlife? How will you justify ignoring His signs, miracles, books as well as blessings he has bestowed upon you, with not an iota of gratitude from you?
It may also be worth asking how it is that we can be forever thankful to a person who has helped us somewhere along our lives, however fail to find less than 40-60 minutes in a day to thank Allah , the ultimate Provider of everything, who gives us as much as He does? Everything that is, from beautiful children, to job opportunities, to food on the table, physical mobility, health and access to proper education, etc., or all of the above and more?
The Trick To Praying Well
This of course does not however mean that a person that outwardly prays (i.e., physical movement of the body as part of the prayer) is less likely to sin or is a better person -especially if he seemingly completes his prayers and yet fails to concentrate in his prayers if his mind just as regularly is distracted elsewhere while praying.
Although prayer is a form of repentance and should be offered with a true desire to amend one’s character, this is perhaps the single hardest challenge when it comes to the act of praying. Most people pray with their tongues and less so with their hearts, when it desperately needs to be the other way round. In fact, praying without proper concentration is like sending spam emails to Allah , and we all know where spam ends up. The junk folder, ignored for eternity.
Making the effort to understand what is recited in Arabic during the entire act of praying no doubt helps enhance the ability to concentrate in your prayers. This is without an iota of doubt, guaranteed.
Another creative way to ensure you concentrate is to perform your prayers after convincing yourself that this might just be the very last prayer of your life (since death may occur any time and is beyond anyone’s control) therefore it may be best to use the final prayer as an opportunity to submit to Allah , by seeking his forgiveness, repenting for past sins, and pledging to become a better person -a mental trick that is impossible to fail.
But why does Allah , the most Gracious and the most Merciful need us insignificant beings to pray to Him? Why can’t He just keep giving? Why can’t we keep shamelessly taking from His treasure of blessings? Why pray for forgiveness and safe passage away from hell when we can all go to heaven? Why can’t heaven be filled up with both good and bad people who were honest and just, as well as evil and unfair?
Why should we feel sorry for having done wrong? Why repent and pledge to reform? Why pray at all? Why practice thanksgiving five times a day for all the blessings we take for granted twenty-four hours a day? Why should we influence our children into believing that there is someone high up in the skies watching us and therefore it is best they behave themselves even when their parents are not around? In fact, should we only obey the law when the police are around or regardless of whether they are around?
The irony that is often lost on most people (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) is that Allah , the Master of the universe – does not need man’s prayer because He has zero needs. Instead, the act of prayer is for the sole benefit of intelligent people that partake in it. People that are grateful for all the bounties we have and not constantly whining for all that we don’t have.
Therefore it is important you understand there can be no better way of hedging your bets in this life and the next, except through regular full-concentration based disciplined prayers, without which (in the private opinion of the author) we are no more like an utterly ungrateful, unappreciative and ignorant child.
Siddiq Bazarwala, is the founder of Ordinary Muslim Productions, whose goal is to act as a catalyst so that millions of Muslims will rise up to the challenge and become eloquent activists for themselves and their faith. He is author of the book, Q&A with an Islamophobe that features some of the most vile, widely debunked, and yet variedly repeated Islamophobic comments by renowned Islamophobes and anti-Muslim hate groups in an easy-to-reference Q&A format. He has written columns for Newsweek, SCMP and US-based Islamic Monthly.