Those of us who grew up in Muslim families know the story of Isra’ since the age before we could even offer our prayers. Our parents did a good job in narrating stories of our faith. That is how most of us established a connection with our Creator and the beloved Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. While we remember the story of Isra’ as good as our alphabets, how many of us actually reflect on the gifts of this miraculous journey?
In Saheeh Muslim it has been recorded that when the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam went on to the Isra’ journey, he ascended to the Sidrat-ul-Muntaha in the sixth heaven, where whatever ascends from the earth ends at, and whatever descends from above it ends at. There the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was given three things: the five daily prayers, the last two ayaat of Surah al-Baqarah and forgiveness for whoever did not associate anything or anyone with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala from his Ummah.
Pause for a moment. The entire Qur’an was revealed on earth but for the last two Ayaat the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was called to the heavens. While the Qur’an was revealed on earth, the Salah was gifted on a miraculous journey up above in the heavens. That is the journey when he met all the Prophets ‘alayhim salaam, who came before him, who were older than him, and he led them in prayer. That is the journey where after some distance Angel Jibreel ‘alayhi salaam, the carrier of messages from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, who was with the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam during all the times, requested parting. For had the angel continued he feared his wings would burn. Consider these honorable details and then reflect on how we treat Salah – the gift that was presented in the heavens.
When one looks in the Arabic dictionary, one learns that the root letters of the word Salah/Salat, ‘saad-laam-wau’ mean to bring forth, follow closely, walk/follow behind closely, to remain attached. Precisely, we can say it indicates establishing a ‘connection’. Connection with whom? The One Who created us, planned our lives, provides provision and remains by our side in good times and bad.
The stories conveyed to us through our parents tell us that initially Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala had ordained 50 prayers for the Muslim Ummah. As Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam descended he passed by Prophet Musa who inquired what had been ordained. Upon learning that 50 prayers have been enjoined in a day, Musa ‘alayhi salaam said, “Go back to your Lord and ask for a reduction.” The Prophet (saw) looked up at Angel Jibreel and he acknowledged Musa’s advice.
Being a Prophet himself, Prophet Musa knew from his followers what people could and could not handle. Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam accepted the advice and went back to ask for a reduction. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reduced the prayers from 50 to 40. When Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam descended, Musa ‘alayhi salaam again inquired what had happened. Upon learning that only ten prayers have been reduced he advised Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to go back and ask for reduction. Each time Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam would ascend and request for a reduction, the prayers would be reduced by ten. This continued until the number of obligatory prayers reached five. Prophet Musa suggested further reduction but Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam declined. He said, “I feel ashamed to ask for further reduction.” From a count of fifty the number had reached five, how much more could he ask?
Reflect again on this statement: from a count of fifty the number had reached five. Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam felt ashamed to ask for further reduction. What should be our attitude? We should be grateful that we have been relieved of hardship by the intercession of our Prophets ‘alayhim salaam. But what is our attitude? We spend hours in the kitchen cooking and garnishing our food that will be gone within minutes; we spend hours before the mirror enhancing every feature or getting the most perfect hairdo, yet when it comes to Salah we speed through it as the pecking of a crow. So many of us find Salah such a heavy burden that when the call to prayer is given we move lazily to our prayer mat as if carrying a mountain above our heads. At Fajr time, sometimes we just roll out of our beds, perform ablution and start praying in whatever clothes we had been wearing. Yet when we are invited to a wedding or a party we rush to it; getting ready in the best and the most beautiful outfits. We so long for a get-together with friends or a companion to share our joys and sorrows with, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala invites us five times a day and we turn away or respond sluggishly.
We forget that which we treat as a burden was an honored gift given up high in the heavens on a miraculous journey. Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam felt ashamed in asking for further reduction, we feel no remorse in missing our Salah.
We are searching for a way out of our problems, something that could free us of our troubles and worries, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “seek help through patience and prayer,” [al-Baqarah 2:45]. The first instruction is to remain patient, then in case you are unable to keep your composure ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to grant you patience. When one intends to offer prayer he would have to perform ablution, and that is one of the cures that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam recommended for getting rid of anger.
What else does Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala say in the ayah quoted above? “…and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive,” [2:45]. The prayer is a strenuous task except for the humbly submissive. The Arabic word used to denote humbly submissive is khashi’een derived from the word “khushu,” which means such state of the heart whose signs are also apparent on the outside. If we were truly fearful of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, signs of this fear would also have been evident in the way we conduct ourselves in prayers and other routine matters of life. Who are these khashi’een? Qur’an itself explains it in the next ayah, “(They are those) who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.” [al-Baqarah 2:46]
Do we have the yaqeen (certainty) we will be returning to our Lord? If we have this firm conviction what is the condition of our prayers?
Ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrated that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “The place of prayer in religion is like the place of the head in the body.” [Majmau’l-Awsat, Imam Tabarani, Mu’jamu’s-Saghir]
It has been narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn Qurt radhiAllahu ‘anhu that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallamsaid, “On the Day of Judgement, a slave will be questioned about his prayers first. If his prayers are good, his other deeds will be good, too. If his prayers are bad, his other deeds will be bad, too.” [Tabarani]
In Surah al-Muddathir it appears that the dwellers of Paradise will ask the dwellers of Hellfire, “What put you into Saqar (blazing fire)? They will say, ‘We were not of those who prayed.’” (74:42-43)
Not offering prayer led them to the Hellfire. Some of us tout our humanitarian side but what about the Haq of Allah? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala does not need us, it is us who are in need of Him and His blessings. Of the many things that the prayers offer us, let’s read one hadeeth:
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
“If a person had a stream outside his door and he bathed in it five times a day, do you think he would have any filth left on him?”
The people replied, “No filth would remain on him whatsoever.”
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam then said,
“That is like the five daily prayers: Allah wipes away the sins by them.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
When one reflects on Prophet’s life one sees him performing prayer at every occasion: when he feels burdened by life’s stresses he asks Bilal radhiAllahu ‘anhu to give athan; when he wants to talk to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala he wakes up at tahajjud and prays until his feet swell up; going on a journey he offers the prayer of a traveler, during battle he offers the prayer of a warrior, under eclipse he offers the prayer for eclipse, for rain he invokes Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala through the prayer for rain, and when a dear one passes away he bids him farewell with the funeral prayer.
In every moment of his life, he is turning his attention to the One Who can provide for him. On the contrary, we further busy ourselves with self-created rituals and celebrations, and debates and discussions.
As we talk about the incident of Ma’iraj during this time of the year, let us not forget the main purpose of this journey: an honorable meeting of the Creator with His beloved servant salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam presenting him the most precious gift that we take for granted.
[Adapted from the talk of Brother Shujauddin Sheikh, Qur’an Academy]