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Worship in Islam: Three Elements

In his Friday Sermon of October 14, 2011 Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib of Mauritius explains the spiritual purpose of Creation- the worship of the Almighty Allah-by looking at the deep meaning of the various elements and postures involved in the Islamic prayer- Azaan, Wudu and Salat

The unique character of the Islamic call to prayer- Azaan, the external purifying impact of Wudu for active and awakened participation in worship and the spiritual and physical benefits that arise out of performing the Salat through its various prescribed postures are explained in the sermon. The Khalifatullah offers illuminating insights on the structural design of human personality and the benefits it may derive by engaging in Salat. 

Read the extracts from the Sermon:

Allah says in the Holy Quran: 

“I have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship Me.” (51: 57). The purpose of creation, according to the Quran in Surah Az-Zariyat (51:57), is but that of worship, and the Salat is the most important worship in Islam. There are three elements to worship in Islam:

(i)                 the preparation or call (Azaan).
(ii)               The purification or Wudu and
(iii)             Salat, the prayer itself.

Each of these elements coalesce and overlap and no exact demarcation is possible, as the Azaan proclaims: Come to prosperity, while the Salat itself is described in Surah Ash-Shams (91: 10)Those who purity their souls will make progress.

Azaan is the unique call among all religions in that it does not consists of tolling bells or the sounds of the Shofar (Jewish horn) or trumpet. The Azaan proclaims in a language which everyone can comprehend, the cardinal principles of Islam, the witnessing of the existence of one sole God, and the apostleship of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

This beautiful call echoing in the early dawn, which requires repetition after the Muezzin according to the Sunna, evokes far greater reaction than the musical tones of the bell or trumpet which requires an aptitude for musical perception, something not granted to all. The tolling of mournful bells or fear-instilling blasts of the trumpet represent a wrathful divinity compared to the Beneficent and Merciful God of Islam; calling people to progress and prosperity both in this world and the next.

This is the reason for the repetition of the words: Come to prosperity and come to prayer, each call signifying the separate worlds of existence. The early morning call signifies the awakening of the inner soul of all. Creation as is proved by the wakening of all nature, the lifting of darkness, the chirping of the birds and the emergence of the radiating fingers of sunshine.

The act of the Wudu, with the splashing of water on the most sensitive aspect of the human being, his face, further awakens and refreshes the intellect. Islam requires an intellectual response as distinct from a ritualistic one to worship. 

The first word of the Quran is Iqra or Read, which is an involved intellectual process of recognition and evocation. In Surah An-Nisa (4: 43) it is stated: “O you who believe, approach not prayers with a befogged mind, until you understand all that you say…” This further proves that Salat in Islam has to be associated with a clear mind and active participation of the entire body, flesh and spirit.

It is a common misconception that the removal of shoes is for purity. Whereas it is based on the episode of Hazrat Musa (as) who, while journeying through the desert had his first encounter with the divine presence in the form of a burning bush and was commanded to remove his shoes as he was standing on holy ground. (Taha, 20: 13)

The removal of shoes denotes the putting off of the two worlds, the Dunya (the visible present and temporal life) and the Ghayb (Hereafter, the Invisible world), to enter into the presence of Allah (through the forsaking of the present world to enter into the forever world of felicity). This points to the immense symbolism contained in the entire rituals of the Salat which would also include the Wudu, as every action has an appropriate dua (invocation to Allah) to be read. The meaning of the Massah (cleansing) of the neck (with wet hands), this action symbolises the casting off of the chains which will be placed on the neck of the sinner on the Day of Qiyamah (Resurrection).

The Wudu is an act of external purification which was mentioned in the second revelation (chronologically) – Surah Al-Mudathir (74: 5); the Salat (the internal purifications) in Surah Ash-Shams (91: 10), it is stated: Truly he succeeds that purifies it (that is, the soul)”.

The terms Zakat and Salat are often conjoined in the Quran, the former signifying growth or purification while Salat has various meanings ranging from prayer to burning away of sins. For an intellectual response to the Salat, an appreciation of its immense symbolism is essential, for example, strengthening the Saff (ranks or ranges in congregational prayers) not only means to discipline oneself in a straight line, but also that one should straighten out all differences between believers standing united for a common purpose; the Salat for upholding the cardinal pillar of Islam.

Prayer usually follows the Kalima (Shahada – Attestation of faith in Islam) as the second pillar of Islam. Prayer has a legalistic basis, the Shariah, which determines the rules and regulations. It has a physical basis in that various postures are prescribed and it has a spiritual reaction. It also has personal and societal values, all combined in elevating man from an animal status to an angelic one that is nearer to divinity.

On the other hand, the Creator, Almighty Allah is in constant contact with His creation, which is mentioned through the supra-conscious layer of the mind. The structure of the human personality derived from Qur’anic sources is tri-dimensional. There is a psychic component, a physical and a transcendental part. Each of these divisions are mutually interactive, interdependent and co-existent.

Praying is a natural act, being both a psychological and physical exercise. For it contains within itself bowing, standing, prostration as well as pauses, tranquillity, pity, worship, submission, self-humiliation, among other things. By all these, the joints will be moved and relaxed. Additionally, most of the organs, especially the stomach and bowel, will benefit as well. Strong is the power of all of these to void of the two impurities (stools and urine) and to hasten the exit of food from the stomach. 

There is a saying of the Holy Prophet (sa), “Digest your food with the name of God and with talk of Him”. This is stated to be the reason for the Tarawih prayers. From prayer one derives the best of this world (food which is a blessing) and other advantages which one shall derive in the next world, the Akhirah.

The different postures of Salat – the Takbir: The act of raising hands is present in all ancient Semitic traditions, and is an act of greeting, which is still prevalent in modern times. This act exercises the arm and shoulder muscles.

The Qiyam or standing: Results in better tone of the spinal muscles, as well as those of the legs and abdomen.

The Ruku or inclination (or bending): stretches the thigh muscles and the spinal muscles while contracting the abdominal muscles. This leads to compression of the contents of the abdomen, resulting in the shifting of the diaphragm. This assists increased return of blood to the heart. It is not surprising that the earliest of medical Ulama (scholars) were familiar with this reaction when it was stated that the Ruku straightens the heart, referring to the increased return of blood causing an increase, in cardiac output.

The Ruku was also recommended for those with large stomachs, and he states that the Ruku toned the abdominal muscles. The prostration (Sijda): further compresses the contents of the abdominal cavity, which benefits the digestive processes; it also increase the blood supply to the brain and head (face, ears) and clears the head.

Prostration also opens up the nostrils and is a cure for headaches. This is an allusion to postural drainage for sinusitis still advocated today. 

The Taslims (Salams): “[A]ids hearing and cures dizziness”, which are borne out by modern findings, that increased circulation in the cervical muscles (neck) leads to better circulation in the middle ear (housing the organ or balance) and in the case of cervical spasms which lead to diminished circulation to the Medulla when we have the symptoms of dizziness (vertigo), loss of balance, deafness and even mental confusion.

Prayer drives out all that is in the body of sickness and infirmity and discovers to a man his own character so that he strives to make perfect what is good and to abandon what is evil. From prayer descends the power emanating from the vision of God, the Creator. Prayers bring pleasure to the individuals and remove bad thoughts and put out the fire of anger. Just as the body is recommended for the treatment of anger on the basis that anger is created from the devil who is of fire and which needs the antidote of water, prayer also puts out the fire of anger, frustration and conflict…

May Almighty Allah give all of us the Tawfiq to understand and also know the very import of Salat be it spiritually and for our physical benefit. Ameen.


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