What Good is Salaah?
In one of his circulars Sayyidna Umar ibn Khattab, Radi-Allahu anhu, sent instructions to all his administrators saying, “In my opinion, salaah (Islam’s prescribed act of worship or prayer. The word prayer, though, is also used for supplication or dua and is therefore avoided in this article.), is the most important of your obligations. Whoever takes good care of it and safeguards it safeguards his religion and whoever neglects it will neglect other things even more.” He then added instructions about the times for the five salaahs and admonition against dozing off before Isha.
[Muwatta Imam Malik. Hadith No. 5]
This letter from the ruler of a vast empire to the officials of his government — shall we call it Executive Order? — gives us a lot to reflect upon. For salaah is among the most emphasized commands in Shariah.
Unfortunately it is also a grossly neglected obligation in our life today.
Even a Muslim school child knows that salaah is a pillar of Islam. What Sayyidna Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, expressed was that it is true at all levels and in all settings, from the private to the public. One cannot build an Islamic life, an Islamic community, an Islamic institution, or an Islamic government while neglecting or weakening this pillar. It is a measure of its extraordinary status that unlike all other obligations the command for salaah was given by Allah Most High to Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi
wasallam) during his miraculous Ascent to Heaven or Meraj. Very fittingly so, for salaah is the meraj of the believer. One begins the salaah by standing while facing the Ka’ba or the House of Allah, isolating himself from the worldly affairs, and then addressing Allah directly: “Oh Allah, You are sanctified and (I begin) with Your praise. Your name is Blessed and Your Greatness is Supreme. And no one else is worthy of worship except You.”
During salaah a believer repeatedly stands, bows, and prostates to Allah.
This closeness is the most valuable gift for the believer. It is the source of all strength and all goodness in his life. It is the light that shows him the right from wrong in all walks of life. It is the river that bathes and cleans him of all sin and contamination. In the hardships of life, it is the source of solace and strength. It is the regulator of the Muslim life, the daily schedule of a believer being built around the five daily salaahs. It is a source of joy and happiness, of spiritual nourishment and purification.
It is the key to all success. It is the key to paradise.
On the other hand, neglecting the salaah is key to hell. Qur’an says, “Woe to the worshippers who are negligent in their salaah.” Hadith says: “salaah stands between man and unbelief.” Another hadith says: “salaah is the pillar of religion. Whoever destroys it has destroyed the religion.” Another hadith informs us that salaah is the first item about which one will be questioned after death. The person who succeeds in this test, will likely pass through the subsequent tests. The one who flunks this one has little chance of getting through the rest. Yet another hadith warns us that the person who neglects his salaah has walked out of the protection of Allah. We can understand the enormity of missing just one salaah on purpose from the hadith that says that such a person is like one who lost all his family and all his wealth!
In the presence of all the persuasion and all the admonition about salaah in Qur’an and hadith, one wonders how could any sane believer be negligent in this matter. To a person who claims to be a believer yet does not offer his salaah regularly five times a day, we must ask: What is your justification?
The more one thinks about it the more he or she will realize that there is none. Absolutely none.
One cannot plead that he did not know about the obligation or its extraordinary importance. Even if an unfortunate Muslim were never to open the Qur’an or a hadith book in his life, he cannot not notice the call to salaah that comes from every masjid throughout the world five times a day.
It repeatedly reminds him: “Come to Salaah. Come to Success.” The distribution of mosques in the world today is such that the call to salaah can be heard round the clock in a never-ending stream as one moves around the globe. One can begin with Fajr adhan in Indonesia and follow it at small intervals in Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt etc. etc. By that time Zuhr adhan has already started in Indonesia. Twenty-four hours later when the Muezzins of Indonesia are again calling out Fajr adhan, the Muezzins in Africa are calling out the adhan for Isha. How can one plead ignorance in the presence of this massive and continuous universal call?
One cannot plead that the obligation is too difficult or time consuming.
While the obligation remains whether one is healthy or sick, and whether it is rain or shine, Shariah goes to great lengths to accommodate our circumstances. If you cannot stand, you can offer it sitting. Cannot sit?
You can offer it lying down. Cannot move? Use whatever gestures are possible. Traveling? Just offer two units instead of four. Cannot figure out the direction of qibla? Use your best judgment. Can’t use water to purify yourself in preparation for salaah? Perform dry ablution.
As people run out of excuses they sometimes try rationalizations. What good is salaah if one’s mind wanders all over the place? Well our job is to try to concentrate not to achieve concentration. We are doing our job if we are simply making the effort. What good is salaah if one is still involved in other sins, like the proverbial person who steals and prays? The simple answer is that our lives are combinations of good and evil. Our goal is to increase the good and reduce or eliminate the evil. And that won’t happen by putting the good on hold until we can get rid of the evil. It may also be helpful to remember that the greatest theft is that of salaah itself.
By Al Balagh