To Understand the Significance of Prayer One Must Understand One’s Insignificance

I have often had young (and not so young) Muslims come and ask me about the significance of prayer. Often this inquiry is triggered by doubt and skepticism in their lives as the result of sins they’ve committed. But what is most curious about this line of questioning is the trajectory its taken to get here: it’s backwards. To understand the “why” of prayer, one must first understand one’s insignificance. What do I mean?

We are all sinners. While not born that way, we get to committing them with an uncanny natural talent. However, not only do we  routinely and severely underestimate God’s power of clemency but we often have no inkling of its scope. Hence, from this perspective, we can come to see a glint of God’s wisdom in prescribing five mandatory prayers on His creation. Take for example this encounter as related by Anas bin Malik:

A man came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and said, “O Messenger of God!, I have committed a sin worthy of Divinely-ordained punishment! So execute the punishment on me”. The Messenger of God did not ask him about it  and then came time for prayer (salah). So [the man] performed the prayer with the Messenger of God صلى الله عليه وسلم. When the prayer was finished, the man stood up and said again: “O Messenger of God! I have committed a sin worthy of Divinely-ordained punishment, so execute the punishment on me”. He صلى الله عليه وسلم asked, “Did you pray (perform salah) with us?” To which the man replied, “yes”. The Messenger of God صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Assuredly God has forgiven you” (al-Bukhari and Muslim).

جاء رجل إلى النبي، صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال‏:‏ يا رسول الله أصبت حداً، فأقمه علي، وحضرت الصلاة، فصلى مع رسول الله، صلى الله عليه وسلم، فلما قضى الصلاة قال ‏:‏ يارسول الله إنى أصبت حداً، فأقم في كتاب الله‏.‏ قال “هل حضرت معنا الصلاة‏؟‏‏”‏ قال‏:‏ نعم ‏.‏ قال‏:‏ قد غفر لك‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏متفق عليه‏)‏‏)‏‏

We often attribute to ourselves what ought to only be attributed to God. If we took a step in the direction of trying to grasp God’s magnanimity and all-encompassing mercy, we might equally be capable of understanding our own insignificance, for who are we to adjudicate in His Place? After all, God says Himself: “And God forgives all sins” (Qur’an, 39: 53). If we could begin that process that we just might begin to get out of our prayer what we ought to be getting out of it: expiation. So pray, and let prayer do its thing.

Khatm Reflections #2: Juz’ 24

The following are reflections from my Qur’an reading circle, a khatm, where each of us reads a juz’/30th of the Qur’an every month. These reflections, I hope, are intended to be somewhere between anecdotal and aphoristic. They are not intended to be scholarly. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I (will) enjoy writing them, God willing.

بِسْمِ الله الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“When harm touches man he calls on Us. Then when We grant him a blessing from Us he says, ‘I have only been given this because of my knowledge.’ In fact it is a trial but most of them do not know it.” Qur’an 39: 49.

فَإِذَا مَسَّ ٱلْإِنسَٰنَ ضُرٌّۭ دَعَانَا ثُمَّ إِذَا خَوَّلْنَٰهُ نِعْمَةًۭ مِّنَّا قَالَ إِنَّمَآ أُوتِيتُهُۥ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍۭ ۚ بَلْ هِىَ فِتْنَةٌۭ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Technology. It’s supposed to save us; make our lives better. And while I do not deny that technology aids us, it also creates a number of problems, many of which we never saw coming. Sometimes when I read the above verse I am led to think of the environmental crisis we’re facing. A number of experts point to human-related uses that created this crisis. No doubt that we have played a major part but when we face disasters how often do we attribute our safe passage through it to this or that thing? How often to we give direct thanks to God for bringing us through. And in those instances where we are subject to devastation, we seldom see it through the lens of fitnah, or being “tried” by God. These passage, and others like it in the Qur’an, point to an inclination of man’s to be ungrateful after great hardships have been inflicted.

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

Despair. It is amongst the most powerful human emotions. It can compel us to give up entirely on ourselves, our loved ones and our lives. I see not only anger and depression when I look at the world (Muslims included), I see it in myself. Shaytan goads us into giving up on God’s clemency as this is a sure path to the Hell-fire. This is why God describes Shaytan as a clear enemy/عدو مبين. I struggle with wanting to see the results of my own desires and my own hands and when those do not materialize in ways that I can validate (or validate myself), I become susceptible to despair. The most obvious consequence of despair is rejecting God’s message (i.e., becoming kafir) or tumbling down a long hole of sin and transgression. This is why optimism is so important as a believer, not as a slogan, but as a mode of operation. For anyone’s Islam to be successful they must operationalize what God said in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah:

“When God made creation, while established on The Throne, decreed: ‘My mercy proceeds My wrath’.”

إن الله لما قضى الخلق ، كتب عنده فوق عرشه : إن رحمتي سبقت غضبي

It takes courage to tackle one’s inner demons, so to speak. Often that courage comes in the form of choosing to obey God versus acquiescing to what popular opinion may think of us. As Jamaal Diwan put it in a recent tweet:

“If you do something good or right even when your faith is low it is NOT hypocrisy, it’s actually a sign of piety.”

So as advice to myself and to whomever may read this: do for self. Believe, for your own sake. Do good, for your own sake. Turn your back on the despair that Shaytan wants you to wallow in. And know that your Lord forgives all sins:

“Say: ‘My slaves, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Truly God forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” Qur’an 39: 53.

قُلْ يَٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

And God knows best.

Between Hope and Fear: Training the Soul to Seek God’s Pleasure

إن الذين يتلون كتب الله و أقاموا الصلوة و أنفقوا مما رزقنهم سرا و علانية يرجون تجرة لن تبور

“Those who recite the Book of God and establish prayer and give of what We have provided for them, secretly and openly, hope for a transaction which will not prove profitless.” [Surah Fatir, 35: 29]

What does it mean to hope for God’s mercy and to fear for His wrath? And how can we use these two forces to seek God’s pleasure? We’ll look at these two aspects as a means for the believer to draw closer [qurbah] to God. Join me as I host a Lamppost Productions webinar for an inspirational, online session, God willing.

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Lamppost endeavors to awaken the dormant potential of the American Muslim community by challenging them to take ownership of their collective destiny. That is by instilling within them the confidence needed to steer themselves toward a genuine Islamic renewal that takes into consideration the myriad social challenges faced by all peoples of all races and classes.

Mercy – Is It The Same As Rahmah?

Gnadenstuhl, in the Blutenburg chapel in Munich from 1491, by Johannes Polonus

In the late 12th century, mercy was used in the approximation of “God’s forgiveness of his creatures’ offenses,” from the Old French “mercit/merci”, a “reward, gift, or kindness”, from Latin, mercedem (nominative merces) a “reward, wages, or hire” (in Vulgar Latin it was thought of as “a favor” or “pity”), continuing to merx (genitive mercis) meaning “wares” or “merchandise.” By the 6th century, in the Latin Church, it had come to be applied as a heavenly reward for those who showed kindness to the poor and misfortunate. The meaning “disposition to forgive or show compassion” is seen in use as early as the 13th century. It also had uses as an interjection, as is corroborated in its use during the mid-13th century. In French, it was largely succeeded by miséricorde, except as a word of thanks (this is still apparent in modern French when one says “thank you” once says, “merci”. The Seat of Mercy, also know as the “golden covering of the Ark of the Covenant” (circa 1530), hails from William Tyndale’s  borrowed translation of Martin Luther’s Gnadenstuhl 1 (gnaden/grace + stuhl/stool), an approximation of the “kapporeth” (an object which rested upon the Ark of the Covenant, and was connected with the rituals of Yom Kippur), perhaps best rendered as “propitiatory.” Continue reading “Mercy – Is It The Same As Rahmah?”

Gratitude In Islam: An Exposition

First Khutbah – Main Points

الله الذي خلق السموت والأرض وأنزل من السماء ماء فأخرج به من الثمرت رزقا لكم – وسخرلكم الفلك لتجرى في البحر بأمره – و سخرلكم الأنهر
وسخر لكم الشمس والقمر دائبين – وسخرلكم الليل والنهار
وءاتكم من كل ما سألتموه – وإن تعدوا نعمت الله لاتحصوها – إن الإنسن لظلوم كفار

“God is the one Who created the heavens and the earth and sent down rain from the sky, bringing forth from it fruits as a provision. And He has made subservient to you the ships so that you may sail on the open sea by His command. He has also made subservient to you the rivers. He has also made the sun and moon subservient to you, holding steady on two courses. And He has made subservient to you the night as well as the day.

He has given to you everything you have asked for – if you were to count the blessings that God has bestowed, you could never do so. Truly man is wrongdoing, ungrateful.” [Q: 14:32-34]

Let’s open today’s discussion on gratitude by looking at the Majesty of God.

Thankfulness leads to perpetuation of favors already received and also fosters the hope of obtaining what is desired:

وإذ تأذن ربكم لئن شكرتم لأزيدنكم

“And when your Lord proclaimed: ‘if you are give thanks, I will increase you in it!” [Q: 14:7]

وما بكم من نعمة فمن الله

“What ever good you have if from God.” [Q: 16:53] Continue reading “Gratitude In Islam: An Exposition”