When we are distressed or when we need sudden help, we often call on our Lord. Non-believers sometimes do, too. There seems to be an innate disposition within the human psyche telling us that we are not alone and that there is something above us. However, what we don’t realise is that we tend to call upon our Lord only when we need help, not when times are good.
The reasons behind praying are multifaceted and can be understood on many levels. Indeed at the heart of all the major world religions is the act of prayer, whether it be in the form of mediation or otherwise.
Praying can be seen as an act of gratitude for the blessings we continually receive; or an act of praising our Creator, simply because He is worthy of praise and, in doing so, we fulfill a primary function as human beings; or simply because we, as the creation, feel the innate tendency to worship that which is above us. Simply put: prayer is natural to us.
For Christians, there is no standardised prayer that one must perform but the purpose — like all the other dispensations — is to gain an awareness and closeness to God.
Buddhism — unlike the Abrahamic faiths — does not propound the body/soul dichotomy but teaches us about focusing the mind through deep meditative practises to attain ‘peace of mind’ – quite literally. Meditation is now used by the religious and the non-religious alike and is widely believed to help the human mind find peace and relieve worry and anxiety.
The Islamic tradition is arguably the only dispensation that has a formalised pattern of prayer that one must follow. While it may come across as a mere ritual, the perfunctory nature that many Muslims treat it as is actually abhorrent to God. The prayer, or Salah, is all about having a connection with one’s Lord, attempting to gain experiential knowledge of the Divine and cleansing oneself spiritually in the process.
Salah should begin by one emptying the mind so that full concentration can be given to one’s Lord. The prayer consists of standing, kneeling and prostrating and is therefore a physical activity as well as a spiritual one.
The prayer begins with Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest – reminiscent of the ontological argument propounded by the Christian philosopher Saint Anselm. One is immediately reminded that there is none greater than He, and while in the state of prayer, is in the complete protection of his or her Lord.
The prostration — an act also performed by Moses (see the book of Numbers chapter 16 verse 4 in the Old Testament) and Jesus (see the book of Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 in the New Testament) — is one of deep symbolic significance. By putting one’s head on the ground, the most important part of the body and the home of the ego, we are effectively disempowering the ego – forcing ourselves to become humble and freeing our mind from the pride that often permeates it. Furthermore, it is believed that when one is prostrating, it is the closest one can be to the Divine – not physically but spiritually.
Hamza Yusuf, intellectual and Muslim scholar, says that has been mentioned in the Islamic traditions that when we prostrate ourselves before our Lord, we are symbolically (and literally) elevating our heart above our mind.
It is never too late to start praying.