The Nature of Prayer

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The Quran speaks of two great worlds: the unseen and the visible (Q, 59:22); the world of matter and the world of spirit. We often refer to them as things visible and invisible – putting are sight as the main criterion for differentiating between the two great worlds. Yet, this is far from the truth. Indeed, the world of matter is all things made known to us by all our senses – the air we breathe, the sounds we hear, the things we touch, the food we taste; by the world of spirit we mean all those things our bodily senses cannot sense, perceive, feel, or make known to us.

Just as senses put us into connection with the material world, so to does our Faith put us into connection with the spiritual world. Faith is to the spiritual world what sense perception is to the material. Thus, Faith is often called the eye of the soul. But this is only partially true: Faith is not only the eye by which the soul can see, it is also the ear by which it can hear, the hand by which it can touch, the nose by which it can smell and the tongue by which it can taste that which the body cannot. Our senses realise the world of matter by making it real, substantial and evident. The work of Faith is to realise the world of spirit; to make it real, substantial and evident. This work of Faith is plainly described in the words, “This is the Book, wherein is no doubt; a guide to the God-fearing, who have Faith in the Unseen” (Q, 2:2-3).  Its task is to draw us out of the physical and material and place us before the presence of the unseen, invisible and spiritual.

The unseen world is infinitely greater and more momentous than the visible.  Yet the visible, by its mere presence and closeness to our bodily senses, is always shutting out from us the invisible; just as a tiny finger held close to the eye can block out the mighty sun. Faith has to conquer the power of the visible. This world allures and subdues not only by its amusements and attractions, but by its simple, inevitable, presence. It forces upon us all day long. The senses are ever active, and never cease to make themselves and the things they perceive known to us. It will be seen, heard and felt. And so this world gets the victory. Yet our Creator describes the successful and fortunate as those who have overcome the subjugation of the bodily senses through Faith. Faith overcomes this world by making the unseen as consciously present as our senses make the seen. He that lives in the abiding consciousness of the eternal realities behind the veil is not dazzled, nor distracted, by the gaudy figures painted upon it. Faith is the one true conqueror of the bodily senses.

Among the realities of the unseen world the one great being that is distinctly marked out by its overwhelmingly majestic presence, is God. Faith beholds God. Not through tricks of the mind, nor through hallucinations, delirium or illusions, but through the power of Faith and the contingency of our own being. The majesty, eminence, awe, love and grandeur of God occupy and rivet the eye of the soul. But Faith also has a voice. The voice of Faith is prayer.

Prayer here is used in its widest and fullest sense, as equivalent to worship, and as thus including every act by which the spirit of man goes forth consciously towards, and converses with God. It is the voice which goes forth from the soul of man into the world behind the veil. Faith beholds; prayer speaks. Faith without prayer is a wild, empty inflation. Prayer without Faith is the empty clatter of a cymbal. If Faith is real it must worship. If worship is real it must behold. Neither is the eye anything without the voice, nor the voice anything without the eye. It follows then that prayer is the greatest reality of our lives. It is the truest spiritual act of our being – the one act which puts our spirits in direct interaction with the spiritual world behind the veil.

‘Prayer is the kernel of worship’ as the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, has said. Faith is the igniting light that kindles prayer. Faith makes us feel the reality and presence of the unseen world, so that we are sure God is with us, and that we ourselves have within us a spirit that belongs to this spiritual world. Moreover, we have within us a power to speak with God – a power that takes into that spiritual world, so to speak, and converse with it. And that power is prayer. So we see that prayer is Faith speaking with God; it is the kernel, essence, and quintessence of our worship of our Lord Most High.

Oh wondrous, mystery and blessedness of prayer!

It is hardly conceivable that a being so small, so weak, so fallen, so sinful, so earthly should be able, or is even granted access, to speak to God!

Yet, it is TRUE. God is the one that heareth the prayer. In His own Majestic Words:

‘When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them); I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me’ (Q, 2:186).

It is indeed true that God is the one that heareth the prayer. He despiseth not the prayer of the poor, meek or sinful. Is this not then a most wonderful kindness?     

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