Concentration and humbleness in Prayers

By Mohammad Qasim*

Although the main prayer in Islam (known as salat in Arabic) is ostensibly made up of some physical movements, indeed it should be performed with reverence, concentration and humbleness which can only be reached at the end of a spiritual education process.

We are going to touch upon and comment on two important and basic words which are ‘salat/prayer’ and ‘khushu/reverence, concentration and humbleness’. As stated in a hadith narrated by al-Baihaqy, from Umar (ra), the Messenger of Allah said, prayers are the pillar of religion. Prayers are very important in a Muslim’s life. Before the demise of the Prophet (PBUH), he delivered his last wish regarding the importance of prayers. As narrated by Ahmad (ra), Ummu Salamah (ra) once said: the final wish of the Prophet was: “Look after your prayers and the children”.

Another hadith from Anas bin Malik, narrated by at-Tabarani on the good and bad of the prayers explained that the first thing to be counted on the Judgment Day is prayers. “If the prayer is good, all of the practices will be good, and if the prayer is ruined, so will be all the practices”. The scholars considered the prayers as the soul in one’s body. Prayers without khushu (concentration and humbleness) are just like a body without a soul; a dead and useless body.

There have been many books on the subject of prayers since the period of the Prophet and the companions. In this article, we will briefly discuss matters regarding prayers in the eyes of the religion of Islam. Hopefully, this article will bring benefit and open our minds to this life in order to get His blessing (SWT), and thus to achieve happiness in this world and the hereafter.

The definition of khushu

The definition of khushu will be explained under this sub-topic. The majority of us already comprehend the meaning of prayers in a wider scope. Many of the scholars lay down the definition of khushu. As for an example, Prof. Dr. TM Hasbi Ash Shiddieqy in his book ‘Prayer guidelines’ provides many definitions of khushu given by the scholars, including the one given by Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) and other companions.

As a result, he concludes that, khushu can be defined as follows: ‘It is when you bow and become humble with calmness of the heart and the whole body to Allah (SWT)’.

Even though there are many differences on submission and khushu in prayers, it can be distinguished via a hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), narrated by Tirmidhi and Abu Hurairah, it means: “If a heart is devoted, so will be the person’s soul and the whole body”.

The issue of khushu in prayers

Prof Dr. Hamka in his al-Azhar noted while he was interpreting al-Mu’minun (23: 1-2), this verse elucidates that successful indeed are the believers. The word ‘qad’ before a past verb (fi’l madhi) (here ‘aflaha’), according to the grammar of Arabic, shows certainty. That is why the word ‘qad’ is translated “indeed”. He further stated that if all the six conditions have been fulfilled, for sure the believers will prevail over all their difficulties, to the extent that they will inherit the Firdaus, the highest heaven. (23: 1-8)

The six conditions are as follows:

1) Those who offer their prayers with all solemnity and full submission. Hamka identifies khushu as: “a heart that complies and a body that always bows”.

2) Those who turn away from the false vain talk that Allah has forbidden

3) Those who pay the zakat

4) Those who guard their chastity

5) Those who are faithfully true to their trusts and to their covenants

6) Those who strictly guard their five congregational prayers at their fixed stated hours.

On the other hand, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi in his book “Based on the Priority Fiqh al-Quran and the Sunnah” strictly spells out that all of the conditions must be in line with knowledge. According to him, knowledge should come before the practices, as knowledge is the indication of the practices.

There is a hadith by Mu’adh which says : “knowledge is the leader while the practices are the followers”. This hadith can be further supported with verses from the Quran (47: 19) and (35: 28), and another hadith of the Prophet: “Whoever wants a good thing from

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Allah must understand his religion’s practices first”.

This can be clarified by saying that whenever a person acknowledges his religious practices, he will do them confidently and perform them well. Without knowledge, a person cannot progress, because faith which is based on knowledge leads to the feeling of fearing Allah, and feeling the greatness of Allah, and motivates a person to act according to the commands of Allah. There are five things to be recognized in order to acquire a submissive heart:

1) Al-Tafahhum : Knowledge and comprehension

2) Al-Takhzim : Feeling the greatness of Allah

3) Al-Haybah : Feeling fear of Allah

4) Al-Raja : Hope that Allah will accept all his deeds

5) Al-Haya’ : Feeling ashamed before Allah

Quoting Imam Al-Ghazali’s words in his book “Errors in Prayer” (2009:47), the inner heart can help a person to perform his prayers well if its need is fulfilled before, during, and after the prayers. Other than the five things above, Imam al-Ghazali added another requirement which is “hudhur’ul qalb (presence of heart)” after gaining knowledge and comprehension (tafahhum).

There are other things which also need to be given serious attention, since the issues regarding khushu are not dependent only on the internal factors in the prayers. Some of the external factors, such as, for example, the matter of a person’s nutrition and other things, must also be considered because these can have an inspiring psychological effect on the soul of the one who performs the prayers. Furthermore, other practices before the prayers such as making the ablution are also included. After making the ablution, the attention must be centered on Allah (SWT), knowing that He sees us, without doing anything than could lessen one’s concentration, as was shown by the Prophet to his family, or shown by other companions whenever the time for the prayer was called.

Dato’ Dr. Siddiq Fadzil’s foreword to Sa’id Hawwa’s book entitled “Spiritual Education” (2010: x-xiiv) stressed the importance of ‘soul treatment’, for the reason that the way of spirituality is the way to be closer to Allah (SWT). That is why the main issue in this book revolves around how to purify and cure one’s soul. According to him, a soul treatment means to be freed from the influence of the devil. Spiritual education gives strength to the human being to fight against the devil. For example, when Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) was able to struggle with the devil due to his strong faith in Allah.

According to Siddiq Fadzil, spiritual education is a process of actualizing the meaning of the Qur’anic verse Ra’d, 28: “Those who have believed and whose hearts are made tranquil by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are made tranquil.” In this context, it shows the importance of spiritual education in acquiring the khushu that can lead a person to be on the straight path throughout his life.

The issues of prayers and khushu amongst the Muslims

One of the figures of contemporary Islamic movement Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat in his foreword to the book “Prayer and its Miracles”, a work by the late of Dato’ Hj. Ishak Baharum (2008: ix & x), submitted a hadith of the Prophet: “Perform the prayers as I did”. According to Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, this hadith urges us to perform our prayers by copying exactly what the Prophet did. This is to train ourselves to do our prayers well, and to strive to do well even when we are doing something other than prayers, including the aspects of our moral life, business, household, mixing with neighbors, political life, and even ruling a state. The aim is to practice Islam as a whole.

It is important for us to welcome the concept of ubudiyyah (servitude to Allah SWT) since we are addressed as the creatures of Allah, and it is compulsory upon us to perform our prayers well. This can be related to the questions of prayers and submissiveness, in which it may be said that the key to being successful Muslims or believers is that everything they do must be in line with the Sunnah of the Prophet, in accordance with the verse (30: 21). Every Muslim is encouraged to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet because this is one of the reasons which will lead to their success, especially when they perform the congregational prayers in a mosque whenever the adhan (call to prayer) is called. This kind of reminder has been stressed in many hadith of the Prophet and the companions. The best example is that of the Prophet himself. Even his final illness did not stop him from performing congregational prayers at the mosque. With the help of the companions, he was able to do so, until one day, he was unable to be the imam, and his place was taken by Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra).

Even though there are many views pertaining to the compulsion of congregational prayers at the mosque, some are of the view that it is a compulsory fardhu kifayah (a compulsory duty which, when it is done by some, is no longer compulsory for the others), while some are of the view that it is a fardu ain (compulsory for everybody). In “Encyclopedia of Prayer according to the Quran and the Sunnah” by Dr. Sa’id bin Ali Wahf al-Qahthani (2006: 21), Imam Ibnu Qayyim rahimallahu ta’ala said: “whoever applies the sunnah wholly, will know that performing the congregational prayers at the mosque is fardu ain, except for those who are unable to do so and they are allowed to leave both the Friday prayer and the congregational prayer. Thus, when you are not coming to the mosque without any reason, it is equal to the people who are unable to do so with a reason. This can be seen in many hadiths of the Prophet. The gist of this teaching is that we are not allowed to leave the congregational prayers at the mosque, unless with a reason. In this case, it is important for the scholars in Islam to uphold this teaching in a variety of ways which will encourage people to follow them.

The Matter of Khushu in Prayer in Risale-i Nur

When we examine Risale-i Nur closely, we see how it helps us to gain spiritual khushu (reverence) and peace in prayer. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi explains the meaning and importance of khushu, and its worldly and spiritual benefits with examples, and directs us to perform the prayer by comprehending it. In these treatises Imam Bediuzzaman shows us the way to perform prayer with reverence (khushu); how to comprehend its meaning by explaining what worship and prayer mean, and the wisdom in the specified times of the five daily prayers; what are the true situations of a Muslim performing prayer and a Muslim not performing prayer, and how great the benefit of prayer is to the soul and the heart. In the second part of the Twenty First Word particularly, he expounds in an excellent way upon the doubts which can harm khushu (reverence) in prayer and explains the ways to get rid of this illness, and directs us to perform prayer with khushu. In fact, this treatise eliminates all the doubts that man can suffer from, because it shows the character of the doubts and where they come from, and it shows the way to remove these diseases that man is heir to.

Imam Bediuzzaman explains how to achieve spiritual peace and khushu in the Treatise on Sincerity as follows:

By attaining a sense of the Divine presence through the strength of certain, verified belief, and through the lights which proceed from reflective thought about the creatures which leads to knowledge of the Maker; thinking that the Compassionate Creator is All-Present and All-Seeing; not seeking the attention of any other than He, and realizing that looking to others in His presence or seeking help from them is contrary to right conduct in His presence, one may be saved from such hypocrisy and gain sincerity.

When we look at the whole of Risale-i Nur, verified faith, sincerity and obeying the Sunnah, all of which Risale-i Nur tries to help us attain, lead us to perform worship with khushu and peace. The book provides a person with an awareness of the meaning of his worship, he knows what he does and why, and thus turns towards his Lord in sincerity and free of worldly thoughts.

A Recommendation

All those involved in Islamic associations and Islamic education institutions from the primary level, through the secondary level, up to university level, should follow the practices of the Prophet and his companions in performing the congregational prayers at the mosque whenever the adhan is called. As well as giving many benefits, this is one of the reasons why the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was able to lead the first Islamic state in Medina. This story begins with the migration of the Prophet and the companions from Mecca al-Mukarramah to Medina al-Munawwarah. Upon reaching Medina, the first thing the Prophet did was to build a mosque named Quba, and he stressed the importance of maintaining the congregational prayers, and this led to the great expansion of Islam into other territories.

*Mohammed Qasim is a member of the Society for the Enlightenment of the Ummah, Malaysia.

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