All life is prayer for those who really know the secret of prayer
One of the greatest tragedies of modernity is that we have forgotten how to live because we have forgotten how to pray. We don’t know how to understand seemingly disproportional sawab vs. gunah calculus mentioned in traditions regarding offering or missing a prayer. So much is our ignorance of what prayer is or how it defines human state ( the argument so forcefully put forth in Prayer Fashions Man: Frithjof Schuon on the Spiritual Life) that we know only the binary of farz vs. qarz while discoursing on prayer. Post-flood there were reports that azan was given at 12 p.m and more people began to offer nimaz out of fear of God. If people knew how to go to mosques they would forget the need to gossip in market place or cafes or intoxication of taverns.
With Ghalib’s “Maloom hae sawaabi taaet-o-zuhd/Per tabiiyet idhr nahi jati” and the sentiment “Ham mawwahid haen hamara kaesh hae tarki rasoon” shared by many, especially those who claim some spiritual orientation, “bay rooh nimaz” syndrome all around us, and a lot of those who struggle to pray and such skeptics as Josh Mailahabadi failing to find meaning in prayers and a lot of drop outs and those taking Ramzan or Eid offers only, khushu and khuzu escaping not only ramzan nimazees but five timers as well, I wonder if it is not the consciousness of symbolism of prayer that is missing in all the camps. This symbolism needs attention of both nimazees and baynimazees and occasional nimazees. And it teaches us one thing: focus on perfecting prayer especially prayer of the heart. None of us can claim to truly pray. We have not been taught how to pray. So many sermons and books in market notwithstanding, we are badly in need of learning how to pray – neither schools nor madrassahs seem to have really succeeded in the job of creating motivation or awareness regarding prayer. ( If they had, we would not even think of need to enforce prayer in the Islamic state). Have we ever experienced prayer as m’iraj? In a slim but insightful book Islam Enlightened the argument from activating subtle centers or latiyif is made to see how this can be done.
Today we refer to certain texts that should be enough to dissolve all criticisms or charges of ritualism. One may cite Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jeelani’s Sir al-Asrar, Ibn Arabi’s scattered commentaries on parts of prayer, a dense wonderful text Sirr us-Salat by Imam Khomeni, comments on it in Martin Lings' classic A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century and crisp summary of deeper symbolism in Taelimi Gausia. But the text we read today is a small essay by R. Blackhirst freely available on religioperennis.com that presents mystical or symbolic view in contemporary idiom. Prayer or nimaz is ritual enacting of fana. This annihilation of the ego is “symbolized in sajda by the fact that the face of the worshipper is hidden from view in this position; the surrendering of all selfhood is expressed, throughout the Islamic tradition, in the veiling of the face.”
Very few know that prohibition on portraying the Holy Prophet's face is “because the Prophet is submitted to God paradigmatically and is, as it were, always in sajda.” Ask anyone regarding mystery of length of prayers and one can see guesswork. Our author suggests that the difference in length of briefer prayers of the dawn-dusk axis compared to those of the noon-night axis are reflects the difference in the relative velocity of the Sun at the equinoxes compared to the solstices and also the varying lengths of the Four Ages.”
Why faithah is said in plural? Because it “is a collective prayer and standing in this position, symbolically facing his Lord, the Muslim represents not only himself but all mankind and even all Creation as khalif.” Man, the praying animal, can’t escape being man and thus representing the whole creation. “In prayer, the Muslim moves from the vertical position, signifying man as khalif, to the horizontal, signifying abd.” In the prostrate posture “the Muslim is Adam returned to the passive clay from which he was created.” “The cycle of standing and prostration in a single rakas illustrates a vegetative cycle; it enacts the birth of Adam and ritualizes his dual status as deputy and slave, but the same gestures and movements also rehearse the death and rebirth of the resurrection of the sons of Adam.” The prayer mat symbolizes the grave and for this reason the traditional and symbolically correct design for the prayer mat is a stylized Eden of four rivers with the Tree of Life, the destination to which the believer aspires and for which his soul yearns. The standing posture of the prayer, the author notes, symbolizes the waking consciousness, the bowing posture the dreaming mind, and sajda the mind in deep sleep.” “Deep sleep is analogous to the prophetic state - to the Unlettered purity of Muhammad(SAWW), in Islam - in its pure passivity.”
Night prayers, especially voluntary prayers like tahajjad are connected to lunar symbolism of Islam. (Tahajjad is universal wazeefa for initiates and may be tried by anyone and one can attest for oneself intimations of the higher worlds and how sweet is the experience of “talking” to God during solitude of night). Lunar symbolism explains use of lunar calendar in Islamic ritual and many other thins of Islamic culture.
“The worshipper, plunges, as it were, into the depths of the sleeping mind, namely that part of ourselves that is perpetually in submission to Allah and offers no resistance whatsoever to His Will. The method of Muslim prayer is just this: to consciously identify oneself with this deepest stratum of oneself that is, by nature, in perennial submission, to find in ourselves again the very "clay" of which we are made. This is the deeper and a specifically Abrahamic dimension of the Muslim rite. “
Why the prescribed prayer timings? Any guesses? The author notes that “the prayer times are nevertheless arranged around the two axes of the Sun's diurnal movement - the horizontal and, in the greater cycle, equinoctial, axis of East-West and the vertical, solstitial axis of Up-Down…. The fifth prayer time in this arrangement, asr, represents a projection of the centre of this cross (the quintessence) and thus is marked for special attention: it is the "middle prayer" that the Qoran specifically yet cryptically adjures Muslims not to neglect, the designation "middle" referring to its centrality, not to it being in the "middle of the afternoon" as externalists will commonly explain.” Salat-al –wusta (middle prayer) is a subject of great debate and I think Sufi exegesis of it as involving attention to breath needs attention.
To those who ask how does it matter to God if one doesn’t pray I recall Mansoor who was asked why he offers prayers if he considers himself God and he replied that it is because of great majesty or dignity of theomorphic or divine nature of spirit in us that man is worthy to be offered prayer. He meant that he offered prayer to the Self in him. But the best answer to all those who pray or don’t pray or dispute about either is all of us fall short of offering salati-dayimi, perpetual prayer that Sufis have been pleading for. It requires constant attention to breath or its incoming and outgoing movements – and midpoint between them – Indicating birth and death resulting in serenity. And it is this serenity that saves not ritual as such. In fact this prayer results in what the Prophet called Mi’raj. We can’t be sure who has attained such a station and can never rest complacently with our five time prayers thinking we have done our job and cleared our account with God. The prayer that saves is this prayer of perpetual attention, perpetual waking state, perfect devotion to one’s work. All life is prayer for those who really know the secret of prayer.