The Essence of Salah – A Khutbah

The following khutbah was delivered on August 21st, 2015, in Fullerton, California, at the Sayed Jamaluddin Al-Afghani Mosque.

[Direct download]

Imam al-Ghazzali, one of the great thinkers in Islam, said about salah (prayer), that it has four admiral qualities:

فإن الصلاة عماد الدين, وعصام اليقين, ورأس القربات, وغرة الطاعات.

  1. The support center of the Din;
  2. The means of holding tight to certainty;
  3. The foremost means of drawing close to God;
  4. The act amongst the acts of obedience to God;

An ‘imad is like a tent-pole. The pole which makes the rest of the tent a place of habitation. Without it, the tent collapses. Being that the word din is related to dayn, debt, the means of supporting your debt to God is through salah.

Isam, its literal meaning being “a strap”, is a means of tying something down. The way to achieving certainty (yaqin) is not achieved through intellectual endeavors alone. It is achieve through habitual action. The salah is a means of doing that habitual action which “ties us to God”.

Remember, that ra’s is not only the head of something, but also a beginning. The beginning of drawing close to God begins with salah. You will not achieve it through any singular intellectual endeavor, no matter how smart.

The word gurrah refers to a beauty mark that the Arabs would say a horse would have on its face. A white mark. Ghurrah, a mark of superiority, of quality, is what’s being emphasized here. In these two verses, we’re reminded the beautification that salah gives us on the Day of Judgment:

وُجوهٌ يَومَئِذٍ ناضِرَةٌ

إِلىٰ رَبِّها ناظِرَةٌ

“Faces that Day will be radiant, gazing at their Lord.” Qur’an, 75: 22-23

The Craft of Effective Prayer – A Talk At UCR’s MSA

The following audio is from a talk delivered for the MSA at the University of California Riverside on March 31st, 2015. The topic was about improving prayer to make one a more effective believer.

[Direct download]


Extra Resources

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr.

The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal.

Surah al-Fatihah — Points to Ponder, by Nouman Ali Khan.

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.