Essence of Prayer
In the Quran, Allah unequivocally says: “And [perfect] your prayer; indeed, prayer guards against immorality and evil” (Quran 29:45). This verse promises a moral, victorious life for those who perfect, not just say, their prayers. The pressing question now is how can I perfect my prayers?
Three main factors affect the level of perfection in our prayers:
(1) Feeling the presence of Allah
(2) Understanding the sayings of prayer
(3) Recognizing the rationale beyond the movements of prayer
Learning Humility in Practice
By placing our foreheads on the ground, we are reminded of the origin of our creation: dust. This position of sujud, or prostration, is sufficient for us to leave no room for arrogance or vanity. By placing our foreheads on the ground, we recognize the holiness and perfection of Allah. The natural response to this admission must be true humility. The more we realize Allah’s greatness and our human weakness, the more we are broken 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. Interestingly, a Muslim preacher once said: “Look at your nose during your sujud, and you will learn true humbleness!”
Learning humility through sujud is more practical and effective than reading or listening to hundreds of lectures on the same topic. We practice humility five times a day when we pray, as a religious obligation, including the other prayers we offer as voluntary acts of worship. That is why practicing Muslims cannot be racist or arrogant; otherwise, their prayers will be a witness against them. However, a Muslim has at least five chances to nurture humility and achieve moral maturity and spiritual transformation fully.
Renewing Our Covenant of Obeying God
In sujud, we admit the supremacy of Allah and our complete submission to His Will. Hence sujud, as perceived by the great encyclopedist Muhammad Farid Wajdi, is “the maximum sign man could show to prove his obedience and servitude to the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.” In other words, sujud represents an implicit commitment to obeying Allah and a powerful promise to stay away from the haram. So when we make sujud, we remember our sins and shortcomings and plead for renewing our covenant of obeying Allah. Accordingly, sujud is like saying: “Oh Allah, I am sorry for the sins I committed; so, forgive me.” That is why sujud is associated with crying when the Quran talks about how the righteous servants of Allah perform their sujud. Allah describes righteous people when they hear the Quran: “They fall down on their faces in tears” (Quran 19: 58).
Sujud is a means of ‘daily repentance’—something that protects against the Devil’s attempts to make us despair of Allah’s mercy or to dissuade us from maintaining the level of Ibadah we have, especially when our sins and mistakes trap us. Sujud helps weaken the hold of sin on us.
In a more detailed manner, practicing Muslims who always keep up their daily Salah and recognize the significance of sujud will never be defeated by Satan. If Muslims sin after Thuhr, they have an appointment with Allah at ‘Asr to wash away their sins and renew their covenant with their Lord. If the same person sins after ‘Asr, they will eliminate it at Maghrib and start over a new relationship with Allah. This renewal has the potential to happen five times a day. In other words, Allah gives us five main obligatory chances to start a brand new life, follow His Way, and avoid the paths of the Devil. Thus through Salah, and particularly sujud, you have the chance to wash away your past sins and embrace a new beginning every day.
In this way, Salah is considered the fountain of hope for everyone who tries sincerely to overcome Satan’s whisperings and nurture their spirituality. The late Sh. Muhammad Mutwalli Ash-Sha’rawi, one of Al-Azhar’s prominent scholars, once said—with some modifications and additions—: “Can you imagine that your car might break down if your mechanic checks it out five times a day? It probably will not because if the mechanic notices a problem, they will fix it immediately. By the same token, continues the Sheikh, Muslims present themselves five times a day to check the level of their Iman and character and cleanse the dirt of sins.”
Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim reported, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, that the Prophet ﷺ 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 said: “No trace of dirt will remain on him.” Upon this, the Prophet ﷺ replied: “This is the case with the five daily prayers, through which Allah washes away our sins.”
Turning back to Allah through sujud makes the clear distinction between Muslims who keep their Salah and Muslims who abandon their Salah. In practice, a Muslim who may commit sins but observes prayer will not be considered as ‘insisting on committing sins’ since they frequently renew their covenant of obeying Allah. The Quran instructs us: “And perfect your Salah; indeed, Salah guards against immorality and evil” (Quran 29: 45). Of course, this verse applies to those who concentrate on and understand the purpose of their Salah movements and sayings.
In contrast, abandoning Salah, which has the protective sujud, will result in being easily trapped by the Devil and following our whims and desires. Reading the Quran carefully, we will find a close connection between abandoning prayers and following our lusts and desires. Allah says: “There came after them an evil generation that neglected their prayers and followed their whims; so, loss awaits them—except those who repent and have faith and do good deeds. Such will enter Heaven and will not be wronged at all” (Quran 19: 59-60). In his Tafseer, Imam al-Razi compares this verse to the one before. He said: “Neglecting Salah was mentioned in contrast with ‘fall on their faces and ‘following the whims’ was mentioned in contrast with ‘in tears’ because weeping indicates fear while following the whims indicates lack of fear.”
Attaining Closeness to God
Why does sujud make us closer to Allah? It seems that there are three main reasons. First, sin and pride usually move people away from Allah. We learned how sujud teaches us repentance and humility. That is why the more sujud you make, the closer you are to Allah. Second, sujud draws us near Allah because through it, we express our ultimate submission to Allah and declare our absolute humility. Third, in sujud, we express our need for Allah. You will always be closer to Allah when you feel weak and needy simply because you can easily recognize Allah’s sovereignty and greatness and your inability and weakness at moments of need and hard times. That is why the Prophet ﷺ taught us that there are types of people whom Allah answers their prayers:
- The fasting person, who usually feels hungry and thirsty
- The patient person, who usually feels feeble
- The oppressed person, who usually finds hope in none but Allah
- The traveler, who usually suffers from tiredness and fatigue
Not only is the supremacy of God acknowledged through the physical act of sujud but also a verbal act. In each sujud, we must say:
سبحان ربي الأعلى
Holy be my Lord, the Highest
Repeating this statement slowly and thoughtfully, with frequent periods of silence, allows the meaning to sink in and take hold.
Because sujud marks a moment of feeling very close to Allah, the Prophet ﷺ recommended frequent prayers or duas during sujud. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Nothing brings you closer to Allah than sujud; so, offer more duas.” Therefore do not make your sins a barrier to saying more duas. Sufyan-uth-Thawri said: “Do not let what you know of your sins impede you from saying duas since Allah 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. He [Allah] said: ‘You are granted respite till the appointed Day.”
Moreover, the Quran tells us that Allah answered the polytheists’ prayer; yet, they will have no rewards in the Hereafter. “And when they sail in a ship, they purely pray to Allah alone [to save them]. However, when He brings them safely to land, they quickly commit Shirk [ascribing partners with Allah]” (Quran 29: 65).
Here are some of the duas the Prophet ﷺ taught us to say during sujud:
اللهم اغفر لي ذنبي كله دقه وجله وأوله وآخره وعلانيته وسره
My Lord, forgive me all my sins: small and great, first and last, apparent and hidden.
اللهم لك سجدت ، وبك آمنت ، ولك أسلمت ، سجد وجهي للذي خلقه وصورة ، وشق سمعه وبصره ، تبارك الله أحسن الخالقين
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 the creators.
Enjoying the Gift of Stopping
We need some moments every day to pause from the noisy world in which we live to embrace silence and devote time for prayers. Five times a day, we have this opportunity to refresh our inner thoughts and recharge our spirit to connect with Allah continuously. Understanding prayer in this way will help us eliminate the stress resulting from work, home, relations with others, and all the challenges and expectations we face daily. We are not only a body like a machine! We have a soul that needs spiritual nourishment. Salah, especially sujud, helps you make the balance between the requirements of the body and the soul. Your Salah is not a waste of time. It is the spiritual energy and the commitment to excellence you get five times a day to renew your mind, relax your brain, refresh your moral responsibilities, and thereby help you manage the pressures of life.
Trusting Allah in Hard Times
Since genuine sujud reflects our faith in Allah’s worthiness to be worshiped and trusted, Salah can be a suitable means for alleviating our pains, removing our worries, and developing our trust in Allah and His decrees. Salah was always a true refuge from all the trials and problems of our daily life for righteous people. When faced with the polytheists’ mockery and persecutions, Muhammad ﷺ was instructed in the Quran: “Nay, never obey them. Prostrate and get closer” (Quran 96: 19). In another position, the Quran comforts the Prophet ﷺ: “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” (Quran 15: 97). That is why whenever the Prophet ﷺ faced a difficult time, he would rush to prayer and say: “Give us comfort through prayer, Bilal.”
Harmony Between Muslims and the Universe
One of the most excellent teachings of the Islamic Faith is embodied in the word Islam itself, which means ‘submission’ and ‘peace.’ The Quran teaches that all righteous people and prophets were Muslims because they submitted their will to the One God: Allah. Moreover, the Quran teaches that the whole universe submits to Allah and follows His commands. In the Quran, countless verses talk about the universe’s submission and sujud. The Quran provides: “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….” (Quran 37: 18). Only humans have free will to obey Allah or disobey Him, bearing the consequence of their decisions. However, when humans submit to Allah, they form a universal sujud with the whole universe. True Muslims do not feel alone when they worship Allah, even if all people abandoned them; they share the universe of worshiping the true God.
Teasing the Devil
Sujud differentiates between the faithful and the Cursed Satan. When Allah asked him to make sujud for honoring Adam, the Devil refused out of arrogance. That is why Satan is cursed till the Day of Judgment. Consequently, when the believers accept Allah’s call to pray and prostrate, Satan stays away and starts weeping and says: “The son of Adam was ordered to make sujud, and he did; so, for him will be Heaven. However, I was ordered to prostrate, and I refused; so, for me will be hell.” Unfortunately, those who abandon their Salah follow Satan’s way and reject Allah’s command.
Raising our Level in Heaven and Removing our Sin on Earth
On the authority of Ma’dan ibn Abi Talhah, Imam Muslim reported that he said: “I asked Thawban to tell me of something divinely beneficial. Upon this, Thawban said: “I heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Whoever makes a Sajdah [prostration] for Allah, Allah will surely elevate their degree in Jannah one more level and wipes away one of their sins.'”
Moreover, Ibn Hibban reported on the authority of Abi-l-Muneeb, that ibn Umar saw a young man making his prayer long. So ibn Umar asked: “Who knows this man?” “I know him,” answered a man. Upon this ibn Umar said: “Were I to know him, I would tell him to make his ruku’ and sujud long, for I heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: “Whenever a man rises up for Salah, all his sins would be placed on his shoulders and, thereby, fall down whenever one kneels or prostrates.”
Gaining the Companionship of the Prophet ﷺ in Heaven
On the authority of Rabi’ah ibn Ka’b al-Aslami, Imam Muslim reported that the latter said: “I used to stay with the prophet ﷺ and bring him the water for Wudu’. Then the Prophet once asked me: “Make a wish!” “I wish I would be in your company in Heaven.” “Nothing else?” asked the Prophet ﷺ. “That is [all that I need].” Then the Prophet ﷺ said: “Assist me in that by your frequent sujud.”
Experiencing the Joy of Freedom
When you choose to be a servant of Allah, you decide to be free. Failure to make this essential choice will cause us to fall into the trap of being servants to many other objects; such as money (by seeking it without distinguishing between its legal and illegal ways), women (by following our lusts and desires immorally) and ourselves (by being selfish and self-centered). The Quran gave a parable to compare a person with many conflicting bosses and another with one pure boss. Of course, the first person with many conflicting bosses cannot please all of them. Such is the case with that who refused to be a servant of Allah. Such a person will lead a confusing, frustrating life as they fail to please many bosses or objects.
Understanding the spiritual values of sujud will significantly improve our prayer and kindle our hearts. Moreover, this new understanding of sujud can turn prayer from a burden into a tool that contributes to our spiritual growth and enlightenment. May Allah ﷻ give us the ability to know the true essence of prayer and appreciate this opportunity to gain closeness to Him and attain his satisfaction.
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat