Prayer is often performed in a purely ritualistic and robotic way, this isn’t how it should be.
Timothy Winter, Islamic scholar and academic has described the prayer as having three levels: 1) being a form of worship for beginners 2) a form of purification for the wayfarers and 3) communion with the Divine for the saints.
The prayer, or Salah – which means connection – begins with the worshipper saying Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest. By saying this, the worshipper, recognises that there is nothing greater than his or her Creator. One therefore begins by affirming the ontological argument, propounded by Christian philosopher, Anselm of Canterbury, which says:
- Our understanding of God is a being that which no greater can be conceived.
- The idea of God exists in the mind.
- A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
- If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
- We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
- Therefore, God exists.
The worshipper than recites the opening chapter in the Quran, Fatiha, which means The Opening. The first verse is: Praise be to the Lord of the worlds – therefore the belief in the multiverse or parallel universes cannot be denied, as there is, according to this verse, more than one world.
The next two verses are: “The Compassionate, The Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgement” – but it is the next verse when the worshipper is suppose to realise that he or she is no longer speaking to a God that is absent, but to a God that is present. This is because one moves from third person to first person: “You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help.” This verse is really suppose to make the worshipper realise he or she is entering into the Presence.
The prayer consists of three main movements: standing, bowing down and prostrating. This is similar to the three main phases in life: youth, middle-age and old-age. It is during our youth and younger years when we are at our pinnacle of health; during middle age, our health starts to decline and when we become old, we become helpless or, often, require others to look after us.
Standing is also good for us, it increases our metabolic rate. Sitting down or lying down causes our metabolic rate to be at its lowest but by praying, in which one performs different movements, it has health benefits.
A growing body of evidence also suggests that sleeping in two segments is much better for us than sleeping in one eight hour block. According to a BBC study, called The Myth of 8 hour sleep, waking up during the night has been found to be better for us than sleeping the night through, it is also believed to reduce stress.
So what? Well, Muslims are required to pray in the early hours of the morning, when light starts to emerge in the night sky. Muslims therefore go to sleep at night, after they have prayed Isha, the night prayer, and then wake up to pray Fajr, the morning prayer.
There is also a belief in the Islamic tradition that if one prays Fajr, for each hour sleep one gets during the night, it is equivalent to getting two hours sleep, so praying the morning prayer is not of a detriment to the body.
During prostration, when one prostrates his or her head on the ground, there is particular significance: one is elevating the heart above the head. Our head is the home to our ego and by submitting it, we are disempowering it and recognising that there is something higher than us, our Creator.
HeartMath.org has conducted a lot of research and they have found that the heart is also an organ of cognition, not just the brain. In other words, we can think with the heart.
Our brain often becomes corrupted and, more often than not, we use the reptilian part of our brain, which is the part which makes us react instinctively. Religion is essentially about drawing us out of our reactive mode and making us proactive. So instead of us using the reptilian part of our brain all the time, we should use our heart, which is the centre of love.
The act of prostration is also believed to be the closest one can be to the Divine, not physically but spiritually.
This is a reminder for everyone, including myself.