Rafed English

A Commentary on Prayer

by : Professor Muhsin Qara'ati In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful The invaluable legacy of the Household {Ahl al-Bayt} of the Prophet (may peace be upon them all), as preserved by their followers, is a comprehensive school of thought that embraces all branches of Islamic knowledge. This school has produced many brilliant scholars who have drawn inspiration from this rich and pure resource.

A Commentary on Prayer
It has given many scholars to the Muslim ummah who, following in the footsteps of Imams of the Prophet’s Household (‘a), have done their best to clear up the doubts raised by various creeds and currents within and without Muslim society and to answer their questions. Throughout the past centuries, they have given well-reasoned answers and clarifications concerning these questions and doubts.

To meet the responsibilities assigned to it, the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly (ABWA) has embarked on a defence of the sanctity of the Islamic message and its verities, often obscured by the partisans of various sects and creeds as well as by currents hostile to Islam. The Assembly follows in the footsteps of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and the disciples of their school of thought in its readiness to confront these challenges and tries to be on the frontline in consonance with the demands of every age.

The arguments contained in the works of the scholars belonging to the School of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) are of unique significance. That is because they are based on genuine scholarship and appeal to reason, and avoid prejudice and bias. These arguments address scholars and thinkers in a manner that appeals to healthy minds and wholesome human nature.

To assist the seekers of truth, the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly has endeavored to present a new phase of these arguments contained in the studies and translations of the works of contemporary Shi‘ah writers and those who have embraced this sublime school of thought through divine blessing.

The Assembly is also engaged in edition and publication of the valuable works of leading Shi‘ah scholars of earlier ages to assist the seekers of the truth in discovering the truths which the School of the Prophet’s Household (‘a) has offered to the entire world.

The Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly looks forward to benefit from the opinions of the readers and their suggestions and constructive criticism in this area.

We also invite scholars, translators and other institutions to assist us in propagating the genuine Islamic teachings as preached by the Prophet Muhammad (S).

We beseech God, the Most High, to accept our humble efforts and to enable us to enhance them under the auspices of Imam al-Mahdi, His vicegerent on the earth (may Allah expedite his advent).

We express our gratitude to Hujjat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin Shaykh Muhsin Qara’ati, the author of the present book, and Mansoor Limba, its translator. We also thank our colleagues who have participated in producing this work, especially the staff of the Translation Office.

Cultural Affairs Department
Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) World Assembly
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The Cultural Center of Qur’anic Lessons was established in 1375 AHS (1996) with the aim of compiling, arranging and publishing the written, audio and visual works of Hujjat al-Islam Shaykh Muhsin Qara’ati.

During the many years of its activity, apart from publishing new books by the author, the Tafsir-e Nur {Commentary of Light} in particular, this institute has also presented a book in its edited version, which had been published by other publishers.

Among the works of the writer on the subject of prayer is the book, Tafsir-e Namaz {A Commentary on Prayer}, which was initially published by the Performance of Prayer Headquarters. Pursuant to the view of the honorable officials at the Headquarters, subsequent editions of the said book were supposed to be published by the Cultural Center of Qur’anic Lessons.

It is necessary to note that this book has been edited and earlier typographical errors have been corrected as far as possible. Nevertheless, we look forward to receiving the views and suggestions of our dear readers who we invite to communicate with us at this address:

Cultural Center of Qur’anic Lessons
P.O. Box 14185/586
Islamic Republic of Iran
In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-mercifulأَلْحَمْدُ للهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْنَ
وَ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلىٰ سَيِّدِنَا وَ نَبِيِّنَا مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِهِ الطَّاهِرِيْنَ وَ لَعْنَةُ اللهِ عَلىٰ أَعْدَائِهِمْ أَجْمَعِيْنَ
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and may the blessings of Allah be upon our Master and Prophet, Muhammad, and his pure progeny, and may the curse of Allah be upon all their enemies.
I was glad to be present at the holy shrine of Imam ar-Rida (‘a) and to have started writing this booklet, the drafts of which I had prepared earlier, prior to the beginning of the (Iranian) New Year 1374 AHS (which commenced on March 21, 1995).

In line with the efforts made after the {victory of the} Islamic Revolution in establishing the performance of Islamic prayer {salah} in schools, universities, military garrisons, and other public places, I also decided—after writing the books, Partu-ye az Asrar-e Namaz {Radiance of the Secrets of Prayer}, Hamrah ba Namaz {In the Company of Prayer} and Yeksad va Chahardah Nokteh Darbareh-ye Namaz {One Hundred and Fourteen Points about Prayer}—to write about a commentary on the recitals {adhkar} in prayer such as the takbir {recital of Allahu akbar at the beginning of the prayer} and the recital of Surah al-Fatihah and another surah, bowing down {ruku‘}, prostration {sujud}, tashahhud and salam so that we could understand better what we are uttering to God in this regard, and have a conscious and gnostic involvement in the act of worship.

Before embarking on the subject proper, let us first take a cursory glance at “Worship {‘ibadah} and Servitude {‘ubudiyyah}” which is the soul of prayer as well as all other devotional duties so as to better internalize its sublime station in our lives.

Muhsin Qara’ati
What is worship {‘ibadah}?
Worship {‘ibadah} is the purpose behind our creation. The Qur’an states:
﴿ وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالإنْسَ إِلا لِيَعْبُدُونِ ﴾
“I did not create the jinn and humans except that they may worship Me.” 1
If the work we are doing is for the sake of seeking the pleasure of God, then it is an act of worship. It is so even though it may be a business or professional venture, the pursuit of knowledge, marriage, service to people, or anything that is meant to meet our needs or that of society.

That which makes an action an act of worship {‘ibadah} is the sacred motives behind its performance and in the parlance of the Qur’an, it has the “divine baptism” {sibghat Allah}.2
Natural disposition {fitrah} and worship {‘ibadah}
Some of our actions or activities are based on worship {‘ibadah} while others are anchored in natural disposition {fitrah}. A habit can be meritorious such as sports or not meritorious such as smoking. But if an action was anchored in natural disposition—that is, if it was done based on the natural disposition and pure mold which God has bestowed on the constitution of every human being—then it would always be meritorious.

The merit of natural disposition compared to worship is that time and place, gender and race, and age and condition have no effect on it, and every human being, on account of his being a human, possesses it. An example of this is the affection given to one’s child that is not true only to a particular generation and period rather, it is common for every parent to do so.3 Issues such as form and style of dress or food are governed by habit and they vary in different times and places. In some regions, a certain thing is a custom while the same is not regarded as such in other places.

Worship and devotion are also among those actions that pertain to the natural disposition of man, and thus, the most ancient, beautiful and durable buildings constructed by man are related to worship such as temples, churches, mosques, and fire-temples.

Of course, many differences can be seen with respect to forms and types of devotion. One difference pertains to the objects of worship extending from stone, wood and idols to the Beloved Lord, and another difference is in the form and style of worship, which varies from dancing and singing to the most profound and subtle litanies {munajat} of the awliya’ {saints} of God.

The objective of the prophets (‘a) has not been to create the spirit of devotion in man but rather to reform worship in terms of its object and form.

The large sums of money spent on the construction of churches, synagogues, Hindu temples, and mosques; considering as sacred the national flags and heroes; and praising the excellences and values of individuals and even objects are all manifestations of the spirit of devotion which exists in man.

Even those who do not worship God worship their spouses, children, credentials, ideology, creed, or path and they are ready to move forward along this way even to the extent of sacrificing themselves. Worship has a deep natural root in man although he may be unaware of it, as Mawlawi (ar-Rumi)4 says:
همچو ميل كوداكان با مادران
سرّ ميل خود نداند در لبان
Just like the children’s fondness of their mothers,
He regards not the satisfaction of his desire in frankincense.
God, the All-wise, has endowed man with all desires and instincts while also creating outside of man the means to satiate and meet these desires. If man ever becomes thirsty, water is created (to quench it), and if there is hunger, food also exists. If man is endowed with the sexual instinct, spouses have been created for him, and if the sense of smell is created, things to smell have been created too.

Among the profoundest feelings of man are the desire for eternity, love of perfection and the yearning for immortality. A relationship with God and worshipping Him guarantee the fulfillment of these natural inclinations. Prayer and worship are the relationships of man with the Fountainhead of Perfections, familiarity with the Real Beloved, and seeking refuge in the Eternal Power.
The Root of Worship
Who could recognize God with all His perpetual qualities and perfections without resorting to subservience and obeisance to Him? Through stories and historical accounts, the Qur’an expresses the signs of His power and grandeur.

It states that God gave a child to Maryam (Mary) without her having a husband; He split the Nile River for Musa (Moses) (‘a)5 and drowned Fir‘awn (Pharoah) therein; He made the prophets (‘a) victorious while being empty-handed, against the superpowers of their respective times, and rubbed the nose of the taghuts 6 in the ground.7

It is He Who created you out of lifeless clay, and your life and death as well as honor {‘izzah} and humiliation {dhillah} are in His hand. Is there anyone who could perceive his own weakness, impotence, ignorance, and limitation as well as predictable and unpredictable perils and mishaps, but could not sense the need for the Power of Salvation and for him to submit to It?

In various verses, the Qur’an reminds man of his weakness, saying: At the time of birth, you had no awareness of anything; you were utterly in a state of weakness such that after acquiring strength, you shall also be heading toward weakness again.

In every moment, you are under the threat of different types of dangers.

If the movement (both rotation and revolution) of the earth should slow down or should the day stand still, who could expedite its movement and change it?
﴿ قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَصْبَحَ مَاؤُكُمْ غَوْرًا فَمَنْ يَأْتِيكُمْ بِمَاءٍ مَعِينٍ ﴾
“Say, ‘Tell me, should your water sink down {into the ground}, who will bring you running water?’”8
﴿ لَوْ نَشَاءُ جَعَلْنَاهُ أُجَاجًا فَلَوْلا تَشْكُرُونَ ﴾
“If We wish We can make it (water) bitter. Then why do you not give thanks?”9
﴿ لَوْ نَشَاءُ لَجَعَلْنَاهُ حُطَامًا فَظَلْتُمْ تَفَكَّهُونَ ﴾
“If We wish, We surely turn it (plant) into chaff, whereat you are left stunned (or regretful).”10
﴿ إِنْ نَشَأْ نَخْسِفْ بِهِمُ الأرْضَ أَوْ نُسْقِطْ عَلَيْهِمْ كِسَفًا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ ﴾
“If We like, We can make the earth swallow them, or let fall on them a fragment from the sky.”11
The Qur’an mentions these and tens of other examples so as to take man out of his negligence, obliterate his pride and invite him toward worship and submissiveness to the Creator.
The profundity of worship
Worship is an act, which we outwardly consider as a type of humility, but it has deeper profundity. Worship stems from the soul; it springs from gnosis {ma‘rifah}; it emanates from cognition; it originates from piety {taqaddus}; it radiates from adoration; it derives from admiration; it comes from seeking refuge and assistance; and it arises from the love of the perfections {kamalat} of the Worshipped Being {ma‘bud}.

Yes, worship is outwardly a simple act, but if it is other than the above, worship will not be entertained by man. Worship means emptying the heart of material things, letting the spirit fly, and allowing the feet to make steps beyond the seeable and hearable things. Worship guarantees the love of man whose politeness in relation to his Lord is sometimes expressed through eulogy and adoration; at other times through glorification {tasbih} and sanctification {taqdis}; and yet at some other times, through gratitude and gestures of submission.
Indifference toward worship
Hadrat12 ‘Ali (‘a) says:
قَرَّتْ إِذاً عينه إذا ٱقتَدى بعد السنين المتطاولة بالبهيمة الهاملة و السائمة المرعيّة.
“May I get blind if after having passed so many years of my life (and with the possession of all talent, capabilities, facilities, intellect, knowledge, and inspiration), I now turn into an animal in human form!”
Yes, civilization, technology and the progress of new instruments have made life more comfortable, bestowing comfort and welfare as a gift (to us), but does the perfection of man lie in attaining such material comforts?

If this is so, then the animals are more advanced than man in food, clothing, habitation, and the satisfaction of carnal desire!

In terms of food, they eat better, are more comfortable, and have no need of cooking and preparation!

In terms of clothing, they have no need for sewing, washing and ironing!

In terms of carnal desire, they satisfy it without difficulty and predicament.

In procuring a place for habitation, there are so many birds and insects whose technique in making nests and dens astonishes man.

In essence, has this technological advancement brought about progress in our humanness as well?

Have individual and collective corruptions lessened?

Has this comfort also brought tranquility?

In any case, just not placing the hand of man in that of the infallible and just leaders would be an injustice to humanity, if the heart of man is not linked to God, an insult would have been made to the station of humanity.
The pleasure of God as the axis of worship
Just as heavenly bodies and the earth always have a fixed axis though they make diverse rotations and revolutions, worship, with all its various forms and appearances, is also anchored in a fixed axis, which is the pleasure of God. This is in spite of the fact that spatial and temporal as well as individual and collective circumstances determine the type of movement along this axis.

For example, travel makes (a four-cycle {rak‘ah}) prayer a two-rak‘ah prayer; illness may necessitate changes in the form of the prayer. Yet, the two-rak‘ah or shortened prayer is still a prayer and it is based on the axis of remembering God, seeking His pleasure and performing His command:
﴿ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلاةَ لِذِكْرِي ﴾
“And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.”13
The spirit of worship
Worship is the nourishment of the soul and the best food is that which is absorbed by the body. Similarly, the best act of worship is that which is internalized by the soul; that is, if it is performed with enthusiasm and presence of heart. Eating too much food is not beneficial. What is important is eating useful food.

The Holy Prophet (S)14 said to Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari:
إِنَّ هٰذَا الدّينَ فَاَوْغِل فيهِ بِرِفْقٍ وَلا تُبَغِّضُ إِلىٰ نَفْسِك عِبَادَةَ اللهِ.
Indeed this religion is firm. Therefore, act moderately in relation to it (and when you have no spiritual readiness for worship, do not impose it on yourself) so that the worship of Allah would not be detested by you.15
In another hadith, we also read that the Holy Prophet (S) said:
طُوبىٰ لِمَنْ عَشِقَ الْعِبادَةَ وَ عانَقَها.
“Blessed is he who loves worship and is always fond of it.”16
Moderation in worship
The spirit of worship and devotion remains alive when man is moderate in its performance. This has been narrated in the books of hadith under the heading, bab al-iqtisad fi’l-‘ibadah {section on moderation in worship}.17

Man is healthy when there is proportionality in his bodily limbs, and if a certain body member is bigger or smaller than the normal size, it is considered deformed (or defective in general). In spiritual affairs, man should also harmoniously nurture all that is valuable in himself.

It was reported to the Holy Prophet (S) that under the pretext of worship, a group of his ummah {community} had abandoned their spouses and children and had secluded themselves in the mosque. The Prophet stated in a loud voice: “This is not my way and method. I myself am living with my spouses and reside in my house. Anyone who acts contrary to this does not belong to me.”18

Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) narrates the story of a Muslim who had a Christian neighbor that embraced Islam. That Muslim had awakened the former Christian during the first dawn (prior to the time for the dawn prayer {salah as-subh}), brought him to the mosque and said to him: “Perform your supererogatory night prayers {tahajjud} till the time for the dawn prayer and thereafter, engage in supplication {du‘a’} till the sunrise.

Then, read the Qur’an up to the time for the noon prayer {salah az-zuhr}.” In this manner, the Muslim urged the former Christian to engage in prayer, recital of the Qur’an and supplication day and night. When the new Muslim returned home, he abandoned Islam and did not go to the mosque anymore.19

Yes, such extremism and lack of moderation in worship will drive people away.

The martyred professor, Murtada Mutahhari,20 narrates that ‘Amru ibn al-‘As had two sons. One was a votary of Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) while the other was a supporter of Mu‘awiyah. One day, the Prophet (S) said to the good son of ‘Amru ibn al-‘As (named ‘Abd Allah): “I have heard that you spend your night in worship and your day in fasting.” He said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (S) said: “This way is not acceptable to me.”21

We read in the traditions:
إِنَّ لِلْقُلُوبِ إِقْبالاً وَ إِدْباراً.
“Indeed, there is inclination and disinclination in the heart (of man).”22
You have to take advantage of wherever it inclines and leans to. And whenever it is not ready, do not exert pressure on it otherwise it will unconsciously show a negative reaction.
In the Islamic instructions it is mentioned that you have to divide your time into four parts, and allot time for entertainment and enjoyment, for if you do so, you will also have enthusiasm for other activities.23
The Holy Qur’an gives the title of “violators” to the Jews who engaged in work and went fishing during the Sabbath Day:
﴿ وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ الَّذِينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنْكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ ﴾
“And certainly you know those of you who violated the Sabbath.”24
In any case, keeping zeal and ardor in worship is a principle which comes into being through moderation.
Management in worship
Management is confined not only to social, political and economic issues. In fact, devotional affairs are also in need of management.

The principles discussed in management are: Planning and work design; selection of an efficient workforce; discipline and supervision; encouragement and control and the like. In the domain of worship, these principles should also be observed in order to engender advancement and perfection.

Prayer has a specific design; it starts with takbir {utterance of Allahu akbar} and ends with salam or taslim {salutation}. Its number of rak‘ahs {cycles}, ruku‘ {bowing down} and sujud {prostration} is specified. Its time of performance is determined and its direction is toward the qiblah {the Ka‘bah in Mecca}.

The mere design, however, is not enough. Its performance also necessitates the selection of a competent and socially oriented congregational prayer leader {imam}. Through good manners, morality, supervision, and enthusiasm, the people encouraged and persuaded to perform prayer and attend the mosque.

Order and arrangement in the lines of the congregation as well as in following the Imam should be observed. In any case, it requires perfect management for it to be conducted in the best possible manner.
Worship as a 24-hour pharmacy
Anyone can have communion with God at any time, under any circumstance, and without any prior arrangement and mediation. Although special times such as the time of dawn, sunset on Friday, after the deliverance of the Friday prayer sermons, when it is raining, and the Night of Power {layla al-qadr}25 have particular importance for supplication {du‘a’} and worship {‘ibadah}, supplication and devotion are not confined to these periods.

Worship, at any rate, is the medicine for negligence, oblivion and disobedience: “And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.”26 It is the source of tranquility and serenity and the effacer of anxieties and worries—“Look! The hearts find rest in Allah’s remembrance!”27
Worship as the source of tranquility
You know of ruffian taghuts, big capitalists, and possessors of knowledge, industry and technology, but do you know anyone among them who has peace of mind and tranquility of heart?

Do Western societies today have peace of mind and tranquility of heart?

Have the possession of power, industry and wealth brought about serenity, friendship, tranquility, and peace of mind?

Yet, worship and obedience to God bring about such a state for the saints of God that under no circumstance whatsoever would they experience anxiety. At this juncture, it is appropriate for me to narrate two recollections of the Great Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (q):28

After the escape of the Shah from Iran, even though his subservient puppet, Shapur Bakhtiyar was ruling, Imam Khomeini decided to return to his country after 14 years in exile. A reporter in the airplane asked him: “What do you feel now?” He replied: “Nothing!”

This is while millions of enthusiastic Iranians were worrying for the safety of the Imam. Having peace of mind, the Imam was busy in the night supererogatory prayers and remembrance of God.

This tranquility was only because of his constant remembrance of Him.

The other recollection, which I heard from the son of the Imam, the late Hajj Sayyid Ahmad Khomeini, is this: “On the day of the Shah’s escape from Iran, tens of reporters and photo journalists from around the world gathered in the house of the Imam in Paris in order to relay his speeches to the world. The Imam stood on a chair and uttered a few statements.

Then, he turned to me and asked: ‘Ahmad, has the time for the noon prayer {salah az-zuhr} arrived?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ Without any delay, the Imam concluded his speech and came down from the chair for the performance of prayer at its initial (and best) time. All were perplexed as to what had happened. I said: ‘The Imam performs his prayer on time’.”

What the Imam did in Paris was a lesson he had learned from his leader, Imam ar-Rida (‘a). It has been recorded in history that the chief of the group of Sabeans, a group that has been mentioned in the Qur’an,29 was an arrogant and fanatic scholar.

Whenever he would sit down in a dialogue with Imam ar-Rida (‘a), he would not surrender and concede until when, during a certain intricate discussion, his mind became so confused that he said: “Now, my heart has softened and I accepted your logic.” At that time, the call to prayer {adhan} was recited. Imam ar-Rida (‘a) left the assembly in order to pray.

Although the companions of the Imam (‘a) insisted that if he continued the discussion for some moments, the chief of the Sabeans and all his followers would become Muslims, he (‘a) said: “To perform the prayer at its earliest (and best) time is more important than discussion. If he really deserves it, he can also accept the truth after the prayer. The Sabean scholar, who saw this dignity, decisiveness, obedience and love for the truth in the Imam (‘a), became more interested.30
Worship and acquisitions
Worship is a means to acquire divine help and graces.
﴿ وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ ﴾
“And worship you Lord until certainty (or death) comes to you.”31
Hadrat Musa (Moses) (‘a) engaged in worship and litanies for 40 days and nights on the Mount of Tur for the acquisition of the heavenly book, Tawrah (Torah). The Holy Prophet of Islam (S) was busy in the performance of acts of worship in the cave of Hira for a long time before the acquisition of divine revelation. It is thus stated in the traditions:
مَنْ اَخْلَصَ الْعِبادَة للهِ اَرْبَعينَ صَباحاً ظَهَرتْ يَنابيعُ الْحِكْمَةَ مِنْ قَلْبِهِ عَلىٰ لِسانِهِ.
“He who sincerely worships Allah for forty days, springs of wisdom shall appear from his heart to his tongue.”32
Yes, sincere worship is an academy that trains in the course of forty days the sage who would acquire wisdom from the divine fountain and share it with others.
The reciprocal effects of faith and worship
Just as faith draws man toward worship, worship is also effective in strengthening faith. Their similitude is that of a root which delivers water and food to the branches, and in turn, the branches transfer heat and light to the root. Yes, whenever worship improves and increases, man’s enthusiasm toward the Object of Worship is also enhanced.
The philosophy of worship according to the Qur’an
The Qur’an regards the remembrance of God as the philosophy of prayer:

“And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.”33

And the remembrance of God is the source of tranquility of the heart:

“Look! The hearts find rest in Allah’s remembrance!”34

And the consequence of tranquility of the heart is soaring to the celestial realm:

“O soul at peace! Return to your Lord!”35

In other cases, the Qur’an considers gratitude to God as the reason behind worship:
﴿ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذي خَلَقَكُمْ ﴾
“Worship you Lord, who created you.”36
﴿ فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هذَا الْبَيْتِ ٭ الَّذي أَطْعَمَهُمْ مِنْ جُوعٍ وَ آمَنَهُمْ مِنْ خَوْفٍ ﴾
“Let them worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them {and saved them} from hunger, and secured them from fear.”37
In some verses, the educational function of prayer has been pointed out:
﴿ إِنَّ الصَّلاةَ تَنْهى‏ عَنِ الْفَحْشاءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ ﴾
“Indeed the prayer prevents indecencies and wrongs.”38
For the sake of the authenticity or acceptance of prayer, the performer of prayer has no option but to observe the religious precepts as a whole, the observance of which is itself a strong foundation for abstaining from sin and indecency. Yes, anyone who would wear a white garment will naturally not sit on a dirty and polluted ground.
After enjoining prayer, the Qur’an states:
﴿ إِنَّ الْحَسَناتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئاتِ ﴾
“Indeed good deeds efface misdeeds.”39
Thus, prayer is a practical repentance for past sins, and through this verse, God gives hope to the sinner that if he would perform meritorious acts such as prayer and worship, his misdeeds will be erased.
Prayer in the words of Imam‘Ali (‘a)
Hadrat ‘Ali’s (‘a) many references to prayer and the remembrance of God as recorded in Nahj al-Balaghah40 have been compiled in a book entitled, Namaz dar Nahj al-Balagheh {Prayer in Nahj al-Balaghah}. Here, I shall quote a statement of the Imam (‘a) concerning the philosophy of glorification and the remembrance of God whose most important manifestation is prayer:
اِنَّ الله عَزَّ وَ جَلّ جَعَلَ الذِّكْرَ جَلاءً لِلْقُلُوبِ تَسْمَعُ بِهِ بَعْدَ الْوَقَرَة وَ تُبْصِرُ بِه بَعْدَ العَشوة.
Certainly, Allah, the Glorified, the Sublime, has made His remembrance the light for hearts which hear with its help despite deafness, see with its help despite blindness and become submissive with its help despite unruliness.41
Then, concerning the blessings of prayer, the Imam (‘a) said:
قَدْ حَفَّتْ بِهِم الْمَلائِكَة وَ نُزّلَتْ عَلَيهِمُ السَّكينَة وَ فُتِحَتْ لَهُم اَبْوابَ السَّماءِ وَ اُعِدَّتْ لَهُم مَقاعِدَ الكِرامات.
The angels have surrounded them (performers of prayer) and peace is showered upon them. The doors of heaven are opened for them and abodes of blessedness, of which He had informed them, have been prepared for them.42
In another sermon, the Imam (‘a) says:
وَ انَّها لَتَحُتُّ الذُّنُوبَ حَتَّ الْوَرَق وَ تُطلِقُها اِطْلاقَ الرَّبَق.
“Certainly, prayer removes sins like autumn strips leaves off from trees, and it liberates you from the rope (of sins) tied around your neck.”43
In continuation, he narrates an interesting comparison from the Holy Prophet (S):
“Prayer is like a hot spring situated at someone’s door. If he takes a bath in it five times a day, will then any dirt remain on him?”44
In Sermon 196, the Imam (‘a) enumerates some of the moral vices such as pride {kibr}, disobedience and oppression {zulm}, and then he (‘a) says: “It is on account of these perils that God has encouraged His believing servants to perform salah and zakah,45 to fast during the days when it is made obligatory.” Then, concerning the effects of prayer, he (‘a) says:
تَسْكيناً لاَطْرافِهِم، تَخْشِيعاً لاَبْصارِهِم، تَذْليلاً لِنُفُوسِهِمْ تَخْفِيضاً، لِقُلُوبِهِم، اِزالَةً لِلْخَيْلاء عَنْهُم اِنْ اَوْ حَشَتْهُم الْوَحْشَة آنَسَهُمْ ذِكْرَك.
{This act of worship} gives their (God’s believing servants’) limbs peace and rest, casts fear in their eyes, softens their spirits, cultivates a sense of humility in their hearts and purges them from pride. At the time of fear, anxiety and loneliness, remembrance of You gives them enthusiasm and intimacy.46
Of course, it is obvious that everyone does not receive such benefits from prayer; rather, it is only that group which is enamored by prayer and the remembrance of God. This group will not exchange them for the entire world.
The effects and blessings of servitude and submission

1. Sense of honor and esteem
Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘a) says in his litanies {munajat}:
إِلٰهِي كَفٰى بِي عِزّاً أَنْ أَكُوْنَ لَكَ عَبْداً.
“O Lord! It is already enough of an honor for me that I am Your servant.”47
Which honor is more sublime than that man could talk to his Creator and He in turn would listen to the words of man and grant them?!

In this fleeting world, if a person speaks with a scholar or a great man, he feels a sense of honor because of his presence and the opportunity to be in conversation with him, and that a person who was once a student of a certain distinguished professor also gives him self-esteem.
2. Sense of strength
So long as a child is holding the hand of his strong and kind father, he feels a sense of strength, but if he is alone, he experiences fear and apprehension lest others annoyed him.

A person who is linked to God feels a sense of strength vis-à-vis the superpowers, taghuts and arrogant (powers).
3. Sense of dignity
Dignity {‘izzah} means not to come under the influence of others. In the school {maktab} of the prophets {anbiya’} (‘a), all dignity belongs to God just as all power belongs to Him. Thus, the Qur’an criticizes those who incline to other than God, saying: “Do you want dignity from other than God?”48

It is natural that linking with the Absolute Beloved and Eternal Power gives dignity to man, just as words such as “Allahu akbar” {Allah is greater} humiliate the taghuts in the eyes of man and make him dignified in comparison to them.

So, the Qur’an orders us to seek power and strength from prayer and worship when we face difficulties and adversities:
﴿ وَالصَّلَوٰةِ بِالصَّبْرِ وَاسْتَعِينُوا ﴾
“And take recourse in patience and prayer.”49
During critical moments, the saints of God also used to strengthen themselves through prayer. On the afternoon of the ninth day of Muharram in Karbala’, the army of Yazid made an assault on the camp of Imam al-Husayn (‘a). The Imam (‘a) said: “Postpone the battle for one night as I am fond of prayer and I would like to engage in worship tonight till morning.”50

The righteous servants of God are not only fond of the obligatory {wajib} prayers but also of the recommended {mustahab} prayers. The recommended prayer is a sign of fondness for prayer. There are many people who perform the obligatory prayers due to fear of divine wrath for missing them. With respect to the recommended prayer, however, love rather than fear is not the issue.

Yes, anyone who loves somebody likes to talk with him more and does not want to separate from him. How could man claim that he loves God when he has no enthusiasm for speaking with Him?!

Of course, this distaste for prayer and recommended acts is not without reason. In fact, according to the traditions, sins take away the opportunity for the night and dawn supererogatory prayers.51

In any case, the one who does not perform the optional prayers is not worthy of expecting virtues from God, just like someone who is waiting for the advent of the Reformer {muslih} (Imam al-Mahdi (‘a)) while he himself is not reformed or righteous {salih}.

The recommended prayers also compensate for the defects and shortcomings of the obligatory prayers.52 A certain person asked the Imam (‘a): “My heart is not in my prayer and I do not benefit from the blessings of prayer. What should I do?” The Imam (‘a) said: “After the obligatory prayers, perform the optional prayers as they compensate for the shortcomings of the former and lead to the acceptance of the obligatory prayers.”

It is on account of these effects and blessings that the saints of God paid much attention not only to the obligatory prayers but also to the optional prayers, and they used to keep aloof from those things that obstruct and disturb this religious wayfaring and spiritual ascension such as excessive eating, excessive talking, excessive sleeping, eating unlawful or unlawfully earned food, debauchery, and worldly engagements, which keep man away from worship and make prayer heavy for him. As the Qur’an says:
﴿ وَ إِنَّها لَكَبيرَةٌ إِلاّ عَلَى الْخاشِعينَ ﴾
“And it (prayer) is indeed hard except for the humble.”53
4. Training agent
Although prayer is spiritual and religious communion whose aim is the remembrance of God, Islam seeks to implement this spirit (of communion) under the framework of a set of educative programs, and thus, it has set many requirements for it—i.e. requirements for the correctness of the prayer, requirements for its acceptance and requirements for its perfection.

Cleanliness of the body and clothing, facing the qiblah, correct recital of the words, permissibility {mubah} of the place and clothing of the performer of prayer are some of the factors necessary for the correctness of prayer, which are related to the body of the performer and not his soul.

However, Islam has framed this prayer in this manner so as to give lessons to the Muslims about hygiene, cleanliness, independence, and the observance of the rights of others.

Just like concentration, complete devotion, acceptance of the leadership of the infallible Imams (‘a) and payment of those financial obligations such as khums54 and zakat are requirements for the acceptance of prayer, so too are the performance of prayer at its earliest time, in the mosque and in congregation, that the performer of the prayer wears clean garments, applies perfume, brushes his teeth, and observes the order of the lines and the like are among the requirements for the perfection of prayer.

A keen scrutiny of these requisites makes it clear that each one of them plays a key role in training human beings.

Whichever direction we stand in prayer is toward God, as the Qur’an states:
﴿ فَأَيْنَما تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللّهِ ﴾
“So whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”55
However, in order for Muslim society to understand that it must have a single direction and learn the lesson of unity and solidarity, everyone is ordered to face a single direction. But why is that direction toward the Ka‘bah?
It is because the Ka‘bah is the first place to have been selected as a place for the worship of mankind:
﴿ إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنّاسِ لَلَّذي بِبَكَّةَ مُبارَكًا وَ هُدًى لِلْعالَمينَ ﴾
“Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah,56blessed and a guidance for all nations.”57
On one hand, the founder and custodians of the Ka‘bah throughout history have been prophets (‘a). Thus, standing facing the Ka‘bah is a sort of ideological solidarity throughout the ages.
On the other hand, the Ka‘bah is the source of independence. It is because when the Muslims were still facing the Bayt al-Muqaddas, the qiblah of the Jews and Christians, the latter taunted the former, saying: “You are standing while facing our qiblah; why do you have no independence?” The Qur’an thus states with utmost explicitness:
﴿ فَوَلّ‏ِ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرامِ وَ حَيْثُ ما كُنْتُمْ فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ لِئَلاّ يَكُونَ لِلنّاسِ عَلَيْكُمْ حُجَّةٌ ﴾
“Turn your face toward the Holy Mosque, and wherever you may be, turn your faces toward it, so that the people may have no argument against you.”58
In sum, the Ka‘bah is the source of independence, unity and solidarity, and these are the educative lessons of prayer.
5. Summoning up spirits!
The market for hypnotism and summoning up spirits has flourished nowadays in the world, but our point is not those things. Our point is that we have to summon up our runaway soul toward the Creator through prayer and let this truant pupil be present in class. One of the blessings of prayer is the summoning up of the rebellious and runaway soul to the Presence of God.

In the Munajat ash-Shakkin, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘a) complains in the Presence of God against his own soul, saying: “O God! I am complaining to You against a soul which is inclined toward carnal desires and is escaping from the truth.”

It is this soul that considers sin to be sweet and light to man, justifying it thus: “You will repent afterward anyway,” or “Others have also done these deeds.” The soul is like a wanton child. If his father is not watchful of him, he will separate from his father and go wherever he wants, and in every moment he is susceptible to every kind of danger.

The best way of controlling this rebellious soul is for man to summon it several times a day to the Presence of God and thereby remove its negligence and save it from drowning in the quagmire of material things.
6. Guardianship {wilayah} over creation!
Among the blessings of prayer and worship is that gradually man acquires dominance over the universe.

First step: The Qur’an says:
﴿ إِنْ تَتَّقُوا اللّهَ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ فُرْقانًا﴾
“If you are wary of Allah, He shall appoint a criterion59 for you.”60
In another place, it states:
﴿ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ ﴾
“And give you a light to walk by.”61
So, God-wariness {taqwa}—the most important aspect of which is servitude to God and prayer—is a step toward the acquisition of light {nur} and insight {basirah}.
Second step: Those who accept divine guidance and are within the orbit of truth, God will enhance the guidance they possess:
﴿ وَ الَّذينَ اهْتَدَوْا زادَهُمْ هُدًى ﴾
“As for those who are {rightly} guided, He enhances their guidance.”62
Hence, their light and guidance shall not cease; rather, on account of the submission and servitude, they are always in a state of advancement and proximity {qurb} (to God), and the radiance of their existence shines brighter.
Third step: Since these individuals are exerting effort in the way of God, God will show them many paths leading toward perfection:
﴿ وَ الَّذينَ جاهَدُوا فينا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنا ﴾
“As for those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them in Our ways.”63
Fourth step: Whenever Satan makes an insinuation to them, they will immediately be reminded and ask forgiveness from Allah:
﴿ إِذا مَسَّهُمْ طائِفٌ مِنَ الشَّيْطانِ تَذَكَّرُوا ﴾
“When those who are God-wary are touched by a visitation (or insinuation) of Satan, they remember {Allah}.”64
Fifth step: Prayer is the best means for self-building and keeping aloof from indecency and evil:
﴿ إِنَّ الصَّلاةَ تَنْهى‏ عَنِ الْفَحْشاءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ ﴾
“Indeed the prayer prevents indecencies and wrongs.”65
After following these steps, man will acquire dominance over his soul. He harnesses it and will not be entangled by insinuations and desires. As a matter of fact, whenever the pressure of inner insinuation {waswasah} and outer taghut is intensified, he will again seek assistance through prayer and patience:
﴿ وَالصَّلَوٰةِ بِالصَّبْرِ وَاسْتَعِينُوا ﴾
“And take recourse in patience and prayer.”66
Sixth step: God-wary {muttaqi} individuals, whose existence is illuminated with the divine light move a step forward with every prayer, for prayer is not repetition; it is an ascension. The stairs of a ladder are all similar, but every stair brings man to a higher stage. It is like someone who digs a well. Apparently, he is doing a repetitive task and is always digging, but in reality, with every strike that he makes, his well is becoming deeper.
The rak‘ahs {cycles} of prayer are apparently repetitive, but in reality, they are stairs in climbing the ladder of perfection and for deepening gnosis {ma‘rifah} and faith {iman}.
The performer of prayer does not allow his life to become a grazing land for Satan or to be dominated by him. In the Du‘a’ Makarim al-Akhlaq, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘a) asks this from God: “O Lord! If my life is a meadow for Satan, terminate it!”
Satan not only gives illusion and fancy but also crushes the soul of man under his feet and makes man negligent of the truth and the reality.
Yes, the Holy Prophet (S) was awake even when he was asleep whereas we are asleep while awake and even while we are praying our souls are the victims of Satan and the imagination. As Mawlawi says:
گفت پيغمبر كه عَيناىَ ينام
لا ينام القلب عن ربّ الاَنام
چشم تو بيدار و دل رفته به خواب
چشم من خفته، دلم در فتح باب
The Prophet said, “My two eyes are asleep while my heart doesn’t sleep and forget the Lord of the creatures.
Your eyes are awake and the heart fell asleep. My eyes are asleep while my heart is looking for the opening door.”
In another place, he says:
گفت پيغمبر كه دل، همچون پرى است
در بيابانى اسير صَرصرى است
باد، پَر را هر طرف رانَد گزاف
گه چپ و گه راست با صد اختلاف
The Prophet said that the heart is like a feather, which is captured in a desert by a wind.
The wind shoots away the feather to every corner vainly. Sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right with a hundred difference.
If this soul is not bridled, every moment it can draw man toward corruption:
﴿ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ َلأَمّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلاّ ما رَحِمَ رَبّي ﴾
“For the {carnal} soul indeed prompts {men} to evil, except inasmuch as my Lord has mercy.”67
For this reason, the Qur’an regards paradise as exclusive for those who have no desire for dominance and corruption not only in words but also in the heart.68 And for those who prevent their souls from following their desires, paradise shall be their abode.69
The saints of God are the rulers {hukama’} over their minds and thoughts and not condemned {mahkumin} by them. As a result of their servitude to God, they have such guardianship {wilayah} and dominance {sultah} over their souls that they do not allow even an insinuation {waswasah} to enter their hearts.
من چو مرغ اوجم، انديشه مگس
كى بود بر من مگس را دسترس
I am like a bird, He is like Jamshid, and the thought over the fly.
When can I have access over the fly?
After man attains light, cognition and awareness; controls the soul through gnostic, zealous and conscious prayers; sets his soul toward the pleasure of God; and acquires guardianship and dominance over his soul, he will also acquire dominance over creation. His supplications will be effective and he can perform divine works.
The miracles of the prophets (‘a) are the same authority over creation and mastery over nature, which they performed with divine permission.
They are thus saying:
العُبوديّةُ جُوهِرة كُنهها الرّبوبيّة.
“Servitude {‘ubudiyyah} is a gem that brings about lordship {rububiyyah}.”
It refers to the dominance over the creation which results from servitude to God.
It is recorded in the hadith that God says:
“Through optional and recommended acts, man gets nearer to Me step by step until such a time that he becomes My beloved {mahbub} and once he attains this station, I will become his eyes, ears, tongue, and hand, and all his actions will become divine and purposeful. He will reach a point where like Hadrat Ibrahim (Abraham) (‘a), he will say:
﴿ إِنَّ صَلاتي وَ نُسُكي وَ مَحْيايَ وَ مَماتي لِلّهِ رَبّ‏ِ الْعالَمينَ ﴾
“Indeed my prayer and my worship, my life and my death are for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”70
The visage of prayer
Whatever can be said and written about prayer would still not be enough to fully describe it. How could it be possible to express in a few words the pillar of religion, the banner of Islam, the reminiscence of religions and prophets, and the pivot of the acceptance of all deeds?

• Prayer is the program for every morning and evening. In the morning the first obligatory word is prayer and in the evening the last obligation is prayer. So, the beginning and the conduct of every day is through remembrance and for the sake of God.

• Prayer is the secret of the one who—wherever he is and whoever he is, whether traveling or not, on the ground or in the air, whether in poverty or in affluence—is subservient to Him and not to other than Him.

• Prayer is the practical ideology of the Muslim in which he expresses his beliefs, ideas, aspirations, and models.

• Prayer means strengthening values and preventing the disintegration of the personality of individuals and members of the society in the same way that if the materials of a building are weak, the building will collapse.

• The call to prayer {adhan} is the clarion of monotheism {tawhid}, which summons the scattered soldiers of Islam in a single line and under a single banner, and places them behind a just leader {imam}.

• The imam of the congregation {jama‘ah} is one person so as to serve as a clue that the imam of the society {jami‘ah} should also be one person so as to have centralization in the conduct of affairs.

• The imam of the congregation is supposed to attend to the weakest among the people, and this is a lesson that in decision-making, the deprived class of the society must be attended to. While praying, when the Messenger of Allah (S) heard the cry of a child, he hurriedly performed the prayer so that in case the mother of the child had ever participated in prayer, she could quickly attend to the needs of her child!71

• The first command after the creation of man was the command for prostration addressed to the angels: “Prostrate before Adam (Adam)!”72

• The first place on earth that surfaced and became dry was the site of worship (Mecca and the Ka‘bah).73

• The first task done by the Messenger of Allah (S) after his emigration {hijrah} to Medina was the construction of a mosque.

• Prayer is both the enjoinment of what is good {amr bi’l-ma‘ruf} and the forbiddance of what is evil {nahyi ‘ani’l-munkar}. We say every day in the adhan and iqamah: “Come to prayer; come to (the means of) success; come to the best of deeds.” That is, of all affairs, the best deed is prayer. Also, prayer keeps man away from corruption and indecency:
﴿ إِنَّ الصَّلاةَ تَنْهى‏ عَنِ الْفَحْشاءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ ﴾
“Indeed the prayer prevents indecencies and wrongs.”74
• Prayer consists of movements which have emanated from consciousness and cognition. It is through the cognition of God that by His order, for His sake and because of zeal for Him, we stand in prayer, and thus, the Qur’an has prohibited us from praying while in a state of drunkenness75 and indolence76 so that whatever we recite in prayer must be with consciousness and attention.
• Prayer gives awareness. The Jum‘ah prayer is held every Friday of the week and prior to it two sermons {khutbahs} are delivered. These two sermons are made in lieu of two rak‘ahs of prayer, and in a sense, are part of the prayer. According to Imam ar-Rida (‘a), the sermons must inform the people of all the issues in the world.77 Listening to the sermons and then praying means being informed and then praying.
• Prayer means exit from one’s self and soaring toward God. The Qur’an says in this regard:
﴿ وَ مَنْ يَخْرُجْ مِنْ بَيْتِهِ مُهاجِرًا إِلَى اللّهِ وَ رَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ يُدْرِكْهُ الْمَوْتُ فَقَدْ وَقَعَ أَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللّهِ ﴾
“And whoever leaves his home migrating toward Allah and His Apostle, and is then overtaken by death, his reward shall certainly fall on Allah.”78
Imam Khomeini says: Migration {hijrah} from the abode of the heart to God is one of the manifestations of this verse. Migration from self-admiration, self-centeredness and self-conceit toward worship of God, love of God and God-wariness is the greatest of migrations.79

• Prayer is in the rank {manzilah} of the Greatest Name of Allah {ism al-a‘zam}, nay it is the Great Name of Allah itself!

• In prayer, the honor {‘izzah} of the Lord {rabb} and the lowliness {dhillah} of the servant {‘abd} is manifested, and this station is already sublime.

• Prayer is the banner of Islam.

Just as a banner is a symbol, prayer is the symbol and the emblem of Islam. Just as a flag is respected, and insulting it is tantamount to insulting a nation and country, insulting and neglecting prayer also means insulting and neglecting the religion as a whole. Just as hoisting the flag is a sign of political vitality and military prowess, performance of prayer is also the same.
Prayer and the Qur’an
In many cases, the Qur’an and prayer have been mentioned together such as in this verse:
﴿ يَتْلُونَ كِتابَ اللّهِ وَ أَقامُوا الصَّلاةَ ﴾
“Indeed those who recite the Book of Allah and maintain the prayer.”80
And in another place, it states:
﴿ وَ الَّذينَ يُمَسِّكُونَ بِالْكِتابِ وَ أَقامُوا الصَّلاةَ ﴾
“As for those who hold fast to the Book and maintain the prayer.”81
Sometimes, one attribute has been mentioned for prayer and the Qur’an, just as the word

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