Understanding Sujud (Prostration)
To revive our prayer, we need to recognize the spiritual and moral implications of what we do and say during Salah. Failing to recognize the meaning of what we say and do will turn our Salah into a series of machine-like movements that do not lead to spiritual maturity or moral growth. In this part of the series, I will shed some light on the most significant movement in our prayer; that is, Sujud. The following are several moral and spiritual lessons, which should be gained from performing Sujud. During your prayer, focus on one of them and try to internalize it in your life.
1- Developing Humility
By putting our foreheads on the ground, we are reminded of the origin of our creation: clay. This position is sufficient for us to leave no room for arrogance in our hearts. By putting our forehead on the ground, we recognize our human weakness and admit Allah's majesty. The more we recognize Allah’s greatness and our human weakness, the more we are rid ourselves of pride and self-centeredness. Accordingly, Sujud has a clear message for every Muslim: all people are equal in the sight of Allah, regardless of their color, race or language. On a related note, I once heard a Muslim preacher once say, “Look at your nose during your Sujud and you will learn true humbleness!”
In actuality, learning humility through Sujud is more practical and effective than reading or listening to many lectures on the topic. Moreover, we are trained to practice humility thirty four times during the mandatory five daily prayers and as many as we can during voluntary prayers. This helps to explain why a practicing Muslim can never be a racist or an arrogant person; otherwise, his prayer will be a witness against him.
2- Renewing our Covenant of Obeying God
Sujud represents an implicit commitment to obeying AllahU and a serious promise to stay away from the haram. So when make Sujud, we remember our sins and shortcomings and plead to renew our covenant of obeying AllahU. It is like saying, “Oh Allah, I am sorry for the sins I committed; so, forgive me.”That is why Sujud is often associated with crying in the Quran when speaking about the Sujud of the righteous servants of AllahU. For example, AllahU described the righteous when they hear the Quran as, “They fall down on their faces in tears,” (19: 58).
Accordingly, we should perceive Sujud to be a means of "daily repentance"—something that really helps us to be protected against the Devil’s attempts to make us give up. In this way, Sujud helps us weaken the hold sins can have upon us. If a Muslim commits a sin after the dawn prayer, he has an appointment with AllahU at the noon prayer to wash away his sins and renew his covenant with his Lord. If the same person committed a sin after the noon prayer, he will get rid of it in the afternoon prayer and start a new relationship with AllahU and so on. Therefore, through Salah, AllahU gives us five main, obligatory chances to start a brand new life and follow His Way and avoid the paths of the Devil.
For this reason, Salah should be considered as the fountain of hope for everyone who tries sincerely to overcome Satan’s whispers and nurture his or her spirituality. The late sheikh Ash-Sha’rawi, once said, “Would you imagine that your car could break down if your mechanic checks it out five times a day? Most probably it will not, simply because if the mechanic noticed a problem, he would fix it right away. By the same token, a Muslim presents himself five times a day before AllahU to check the level of his Iman and character and to cleanse the dirt of sins.”
Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim reported, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, that the Prophet (S) once asked his companions, “What do you think if one of you had a river running past his door and he bathed in it five times a day, would there be any trace of dirt left on him?” They replied, “No trace of dirt will remain on him.” Upon this the Prophet (S) replied, “This is the case of the five daily prayers, through which AllahU washes away our sins.”
3- Attaining Closeness to Allah
How does Sujud make us closer to AllahU? There appears to be three main reasons. First, there are two things that typically move people away from AllahU: sin and pride. Pride is a barrier to surrendering to AllahU and sinning could lead to despair. We just learned how Sujud teaches us how to enhance both our sense of humility and repentance. Second, Sujud draws us near to Allah, because through it we express our ultimate surrender to Allah and declare our absolute humility. Third, in Sujud we express our need of AllahU. When you feel weak and needy, you will be closer to AllahU, simply because at moments of need and hard times you can easily recognize Allah’s sovereignty and greatness and your inability and weakness. Which is why Prophet Muhammad (S) taught us about the types of people that AllahU answers their prayers: the fasting person, who usually feels hungry and thirsty; the patient person, who usually feels feeble and weak; the oppressed person, who usually finds hope in none but AllahU; and the traveler, who usually experiences tiredness and fatigue.
Not only is the supremacy of AllahU clearly acknowledged through the physical act of Sujud but also through a verbal act. In each Sujud, we must say: “سبحان ربي الأعلى” “Holy be my Lord, the Highest.” It is best to repeat this statement slowly and thoughtfully, with frequent periods of silence, allowing the meaning to sink in and take hold in our hearts.
It is because Sujud marks a moment of feeling very close to Allah, the Prophet (S) recommended making more du’as during Sujud. The Prophet (S) teaches, “Nothing brings a servant closer to Allah than Sujud; so, offer more du’as.” When you consider Salah to be an opportunity for true repentance and a means of getting close to Allah, you will not abandon offering du'aas due to some sins you know you committed. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri said, “Do not let what you know of your sins keep you away from saying du’as since AllahU answered the prayer of the Devil, the worst of all creations, when the latter said, “My Lord, grant me respite till the day when they will be raised up. He [Allah] said: ‘You are granted respite till the appointed Day.” Moreover, the Quran tells us that AllahU answered the polytheists’ prayer: “And when they sail in a ship they purely pray to Allah alone [to save them]. However, when He brings them safe to land, they quickly commit Shirk [ascribing partners with Allah],” (29: 65).
It is of relevance to mention here some of the du’as the Prophet (S) taught us to say during Sujud, " اللهم اغفر لي ذنبي كله دقه وجله وأوله وآخره وعلانيته وسره " which means, “My Lord, forgive me all my sins: small and great, first and last, apparent and hidden.” Another du’a the Prophet (S) used to say is
" اللهم لك سجدت ، وبك آمنت ، ولك أسلمت ، سجد وجهي للذي خلقه وصوره ، وشق سمعه وبصره ، تبارك الله أحسن الخالقين " which means, “My Lord, before You I prostrate, in You I believe and to You I submit. My face prostrated before the One Who created and fashioned it, made its hearing and sight. Blessed be Allah, the best of creators.”
4- Trusting Allah in Hard Times
Since genuine Sujud reflects our faith in Allah’s right to be worshipped and trusted, Salah can be a good means for alleviating our pains, removing our worries and developing our trust in AllahU and His decrees. For righteous people, Salah was always a true refuge from all the trials and problems of their daily life. To face a polytheist's mockery and persecutions, Muhammad (S) was instructed in the Quran, “Nay, never obey him. Prostrate and get closer.” (96: 19) In another instance, the Quran comforts the Prophet, “We do indeed know how thy heart is distressed at what they say. But celebrate the praises of thy Lord, and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration,” (15: 97). That is why it is reported that whenever the Prophet (S) faced a difficult time, he would rush to Salah and say, “Give us comfort through prayer, Bilal.”
5- Harmony between Muslims and the Whole Universe
One of the greatest teachings of the Islamic Faith is embodied in the word Islam itself which is derived from the root SLM which means "surrender" and "peace." The Quran teaches that all righteous people and prophets were Muslims in the sense that they totally submitted their will to the One same God: AllahU. Moreover, the Quran teaches that the whole universe submits to AllahU and follows His commands. In the Quran, we find countless verses which speak about the universe’s submission and Sujud, such as,“Have you not seen that before God prostrate whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the hills, and the trees, and the beasts, and many of mankind…?” (22: 18)It is only humans who were given free will to obey AllahU or disobey Him bearing the consequences for their decisions. However, when humans submit to AllahU, they become in harmony with the universe in its entirety. A true Muslim does not feel alone when he worships AllahU, even if all people abandoned him; he actually aligns himself with the entire universe which is worshipping the true GodU.