13th August 1999
Establish salat at each end of the day and in the first part of the
Good actions eradicate bad actions.
This is a reminder for people who pay heed. (11:114)
When you are safe again do salat in the normal way.
The salat is prescribed for the muminun at specific times. (4:103)
Seek help in steadfastness and salat. But that is a very hard thing, except
for the humble:
those who are aware that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him. (2:44-45)
We have a great treasure, a gift which Allah has given us which is beyond any price and yet it is something which, because of our familiarity with it, we tend not to give the rank and respect it deserves. That jewel beyond price is our daily salat. Look at how it came to us. It was what the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, brought back for us from the Lord of all the worlds when he was taken up through the seven heavens on his Night Journey and then went on into the very presence of Allah. We know that on that occasion he was given fifty daily prayers which were gradually reduced to the five we now perform five which by the generosity of Allah receive the reward of the original fifty.
So our salat, which we all but take for granted and frequently treat in a most haphazard fashion, embodies the secret of the absolute pinnacle of all possible human experience, the face to face meeting of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, with Allah tabaraka wa ta'ala, and many people do not realise that the words of the tashshahud, which we recite in the sitting position at-tahiyyatu lillahi az-zakiyyatu lillah at-tayyibatu's-salawatu lillah as-salamu 'alayka ayyuha'n-nabiyyu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh are a record of the communication which took place between the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and his Lord during that awesome encounter. Each time we do the prayer, therefore, we are in a way reconnecting with that supreme human possibility and opening ourselves to the highest potential of our own individual consciousness.
It is the greatest of the means which Allah ta'ala has given us to ensure that we remain on the path of Islam, the path which leads to His mercy and forgiveness and to every good thing in both the worlds. It is quite literally our lifeline, that which connects us to the Living who never dies, and the fact that He has made it obligatory on us five times every day guarantees that it will never be broken. The Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, likened salat to a river in which someone bathes five times every day and asked whether any dirt would remain on their body after that? The Companions present answered that of course none would. So our regular performance of salat prevents the connection between each of us and our Lord from becoming clogged up. They wipe out all minor wrong actions committed between them. It is the greatest of the pillars of our deen after the two shahadas. Allah has made it obligatory for us so that our ranks may be elevated by it, our good actions multiplied, our wrong actions, mistakes and evil deeds falls from us, and by it He admits us to the Garden and saves us from the Fire.
However, like every blessing, salat is a double edged sword. If we safeguard it it will give us light in our hearts, in our graves and on the Day of Rising. It will provide us with the evidence and proof we need to save us from painful punishment on that Day because as we know from Yahya ibn Sa'id in the Muwatta: 'The first of the actions of a person to be considered on the Day of Rising is their salat. If it is accepted from them, the rest of their actions are considered, if not, then none of the rest of their actions will be considered.' But if we neglect it or devalue it, it will correspondingly count against us on the Day when we need it most. We must beware of being those people Allah is talking about when He says in Surat Maryam:
"An evil generation succeeded them who neglected the salat and followed
They will plunge into the Valley of Evil." (19:59)
and truly take to heart the words of the Prophet:
"Abandoning the prayer stands between a man and kufr."
The position it holds in our deen is comparable to the main pole in a tent if it is there the tent can be used and all the other poles, guy ropes and pegs will find their place; if it is not there then the whole structure is collapsed and useless.
In this context it is important to remember that Allah ta'ala does not merely command us to do salat but rather instructs us to establish it, which, as all the mufassirun are agreed, implies much more than simply performing the necessary number of rak'ats at a given time. It firstly includes all the preconditions of purity, place, dress, direction etc. But it also includes the social and political dimensions which are integral to the performance of salat. These are, of course, most evident today on the day of Jumu'a when it is an obligation for all the men of the community to attend the prayer and, indeed, it could be said that the political dimensions of a given community are defined by the attendance at its jumu'a salat. It is, however, clear that the early Muslims considered doing the prayer together in the mosque an essential part of establishing salat.
The well-known hadith of the Prophet, makes it clear that salat in jama'a is twenty-seven times better than salat alone and, in spite of later interpretation, it is clear that the original understanding of this statement took it as referring to the communal prayer done in the mosque behind the imam of the community. This is why Imam Malik, following the actions of the salaf in Madina, forbade people to form another jama'a prayer in the mosque after the jama'a behind the imam for a particular prayer time had been done.
As we have acknowledged on many previous occasions, there is now nowhere on the earth where Allah's deen is established and it has, therefore, become obligatory for every Muslim to struggle to the utmost to see Islam re-established in its totality. This task falls on us as Muslims in Norwich as much as any other Muslims anywhere. The Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, informed us that our deen could only be put right by what made it right to start with and there can be no doubt that establishing salat in the way it was established by the first community is the essential first step to establishing the deen and without it no further step is possible. Unless we erect the main pole it is wishful thinking to suppose that the rest of the structure of Islam can be put into place.
The position of the first community on this matter is made very clear to us by the uncompromising words of the great Companion, 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, who said, 'Whoever desires to meet Allah as a Muslim tomorrow should safeguard these five prayers when the call for them is given. Allah prescribed for His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, all the sunnas of guidance, and the establishment of salat is one of them. If you do salat in your houses, as someone who fails to come to salat in jama'a does, you have abandoned the Sunna of your Prophet. If you abandon the Sunna of your Prophet, you will never be guided. You have seen us and not one of us failed to come to salat in jama'a other than hypocrites whose hypocrisy was known, or people who were ill. People used to come to salat supported between two men until they were stood upright in the row.'
We ask Allah to make us people who follow in the footsteps of our glorious forebears regarding the establishing of salat so that we may then have the chance of following them in seeing Allah's deen victorious in our time as it was in theirs.
Al-Bara' ibn 'Azib said, "The Messenger of Alla, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, used to go between the rows from one end to the other, pushing our chests and shoulders. He would say, 'Do not be disunified or your hearts will become disunified.' He used to say, 'Allah and the his angels bless the first row.'"
Ibn 'Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Make the rows straight, stand shoulder to shoulder and close up the gaps. Give way to your brothers and do not leave any openings for Shaytan. Allah will connect with anyone who connects up the row and Allah will break off from anyone who makes a break in a row."
These hadiths and a number of similar ones do not only tell us how to behave in salat although they certainly do that but also clearly indicate that the way we do salat is a kind of benchmark for our lives as a whole both as individuals and as a community. Our salat is a reflection in miniature of our lives as a whole. As we pray so we live. This is, in fact, a vital aspect of salat for us, because if we really reflect honestly on our relationship with our salat we can learn a great deal about ourselves.
We should look at whether we do it on time and if not why not; at our physical comportment in it, whether we are too rigid or too sloppy; at our level of concentration in it and what tends to distract us most; these and other things we might notice will tell us a lot about our lives as a whole. And more than simply giving us insight into our own state and, indeed, that of the whole community, it also gives us the chance of doing something about things which are not as they should be. It works the other way round as well. If we correct any defects or imbalances we have noticed at the microcosmic level of the prayer, not superficially but by going to the source of the problem and addressing it, we will inevitably find that at the macrocosmic level of our daily lives that same defect or imbalance which manifested itself in salat will fade away there as well. This is yet another benefit among innumerable others we derive from this incaculably precious gift Allah has given us.
There is no end to the things which might be said about salat and many lengthy books have been devoted to it but I would like to end this brief look at some aspects of it by quoting a little of what three of our illustrious ancestors have had to say about it.
Shaykh Ibn Ata'illah al-Iskandari, may Allah have mercy on him, says in his Hikam:
Since Allah knows that you easily become bored,
He has varied the acts of obedience he demands of you.
Since He knows that overeagerness exists in you,
He has forbidden you to do them at certain times.
This is so that your aspiration will be for the establishment of the prayer,
not just for the prayer itself.
Not everyone who does the prayer establishes it.
Prayer is purification for the hearts,
a means of opening onto the unseen worlds.
Prayer is the place of intimate conversation,
a mine of mirrored purity.
The fields of the secrets stretch out into the vastness within it.
Lights rise in it and beam out their radiance.
He knows you are weak,
so He has made the prayers few in number.
He knows that you have need of His overflowing favour
so He has multiplied His blessings to you in them.
Shaykh Moulay al-'Arabi ad-Darqawi, may Allah have mercy on him, says in one of his letters:
Whoever desires to save himself, to make himself happy, to have his faults veiled, to gain the pleasure of his Lord, to have his inner eye opened, to have gifts given to him and have his heart brought to life should show proper regard for his Lord and not delay salat from its proper time and not permit himself any indulgence in doing so. Nor should he perform salat alone when he is able to join a jama'a prayer. Yet we see many people delaying their salat and praying by themselves when they are able join a jama'a. How evil is what they do. . .
We see them immersed in anxiety, sorrow, hardships and adversity. By Allah the source of what afflicts them is their laxity in the deen. We also notice that they see no difference between prayer in the first row and and prayer in the last row. This is not because they do not know; it is just their lack of concern for the deen. They are not scrupulous about purity either. But the truth is that if anyone has any impurity on him, he has no wudu. If he has no wudu, he has no prayer. And if he has no prayer he has no good at all.
Finally Shaykh al-Akhdari says in a moving passage in his small treatise on salat:
There is an immense light in salat which shines in the hearts of those who establish it and only comes to those who are humbly concentrated during it. So when you come to salat, free your heart of the dunya and everything in it and busy yourself with concentrating on the presence of your Lord to whom your salat is addressed. You should know that the essence of salat is humble concentration and submission to Allah by standing, bowing and prostrating before Him, and esteem and exaltation of Him by takbir, tasbih and dhikr.
So safeguard your salat. It is the greatest of all the acts of 'ibada. Do not allow Shaytan to play with your heart and distract you from it so that your heart is devasted and you are deprived of the sweetness of the lights of salat. You must always strive to be humbly concentrated in it for it keeps you from indecency and wrongdoing according to the extent of your concentration in it. And ask Allah for help. He is the Best of Helpers.
We ask Allah, tabaraka wa ta'ala, to make us people who fully appreciate the treasure He has given us in the great gift of our daily salat. We ask him to increase our humility and concentration in it so that we become people who plumb its depths and experience its lights. We ask him to bring us together in it and multiply the number of our rows and strengthen us by it so that we may go out from it nourished by it determined to see the whole of Allah's deen established in our time.
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