Transcript for Vision of Islam   Commentary by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
ABOUT PAYER 'SALAH' IN ISLAM

The second pillar after the shahada is called prayer or salah and again there are different types of prayer. It is interesting that in the Quran and this is brought out here, the thing that is commanded more than other human activity in the Quran is prayer, salah. Also the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said ”the prayer is the imad of this religion”. It is the central pole or pillar that holds the tent up. The traditional bedoium tents had four pegs on each side and then they had a central peg so the idea here is that the four other pillars, the shahada, zakah, fasting, hajj are these other pillars but the prayer is really what is giving this tent its real reality so prayer is at the essence.

 

The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said “prayer is the bone marrow of worship” and it is really interesting from a physiological point of view to describe it as the bone marrow because the bone marrow is the core and that is what it means. The Arabs say the core of something but the bone marrow is really what gives birth to the blood, it generates blood. It also generates the defense system or the immune system. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in another hadith said “prayer is the weapon of the believer” so the idea that the prayer is like the immune system of the body and that is why the Quran says that God does not punish a people that pray, that are calling on God so one prayer is the salatullah, that He prays on you so Allah and His prayer is mercy. His mercy is called salah. It is the same word that is used but it has a different meaning but it is still considered salah.

 

Then there is everything that is in the heaven and earth that is praying so there is this prayer of creation. The Quran says “everything is in a state of glorification”. In verse 24:41, “have you not see that everyone in the heavens and earth glorifies God, the birds spreading their wings, each one knows its prayer and its glorification” so each one of the things in creation has a prayer, a salah and it has a tasbih. When we pray, what do we do immediately after the prayer? SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah and that is tasbih. So we have salah and in the prayer you are doing your tasbih as well “Subhanna Rabbi Ala”.  So salah and tasbih, the idea of having a means to glorify God and that is what essentially the prayer is. It is the means by which we have been given.

 

The third type is the prayer that all Prophets have been given. Every Prophet was given a prayer, it might not look the same. That is why different religions have different outward forms of praying because just like different animals have different forms in which they do worship different communities have been given different forms. Allah says” We gave every ummah its own form, its own law and the way it which it goes”. Obviously things are similar which is one of the reasons why in most traditions there is some form of praying with the hands and these type of things, you will see similarities but they do not have to be the same to be a prayer.

 

Finally there is a specific prayer which is the ritual that the Muslims do and it is the second pillar of Islam. So those are the different types of prayer. That prayer is divided into two. Now that prayer is done five times a day which is interesting also because 5 is an interesting number obviously. We have 5 finger and 5 toes on each side of our hands. You can say why 5 and ultimately those type of things are irrational not that they are crazy but they are not something that our rational minds can arrive at. I am somebody that does not like to go into numerology, it is not because I think numbers do not have a reality but numerology is a kind of path to insanity and that is traditionally the way that Muslim have looked at it. So numbers do have a reality, do not think they are not significant, they are very significant but generally we do not like to go there but I will make a few remarks about 5.

 

There are five pillars in Islam. There are five prayers in Islam. There are five rulings in every action. Every action falls into one of five categories. Five is a very interesting number. It is the first number that occurs as a sum of an even and an odd. So you have after one which is the divine number and belongs to Allah alone. Allah’s number is One. That is why Wahid is the first number and Ahad is not. One is God’s number but if you look at two and three, it is the even and the odd. “By the even and the odd”, Allah swears by the even and the odd. The even and the odd is also represented in the male and female. So the coming together of these two numbers produces five. It is an interesting number and we do pray five times a day.

 

The quintessence is the fifth nature which is the spirit, the ruh, because you have the four elements which we are composed of which is earth, water, fire and air. Then you have the quintessence which was the fifth essence, which is the spiritual essence which permeates the world. So we pray five times a day, three of those prayers are in when the sun is not visible and two of them are when the sun is visible. So they are divided by night and day. They are also done according to the movements of the sun which again is harmonising with the world so the idea of watching the sun. If you get up before dawn, Muslim should do that. You should have been up this morning if you pray, you should have been up before the sun went up just to see that every morning is something spectacular, just to go out and look at that phenomenon of the breaking of dawn, and what that means and then watching that sun move across and becoming aware of this movement that is occurring every day because one of the things about modern human beings is that they are so out of sync with reality just with nature I mean people are completely isolated. Food comes in packages. They do not experience the earth anymore. People live in cities that are all just cement and skyscrapers block out the sky. There a lot of people that do not even know that the sun traverses the sky everyday. They are not even aware of that fact. These astronomical centres get called all the time where people are horrified that they saw the moon during the daytime and they want to know why the moon is out in the daytime. I read that in an astronomy book where people just see the moon for the first time in the daytime and “what is it doing up there in the sky? That is only supposed to come out at night”. So this is the type of detachment that people have and I remember being in New Mexico with a group of inner city youth who had never been outside of new York or New Jersey and that night when the stars came out, they were in shock. They were literally in shock. One of the things that Emmerson said was “if the stars only came out every thousand years how would we even know how to adore God”. That is part of what the stars are about. That is why Ibrahim who is the father of the anbiya, what is the first thing that he does? He was kept according to one tradition in a sirdab for 12 years, he never saw the light of the day. When he was 12, he came out and it was his first experience of the world and he saw the stars and he said “this is my Lord” then he saw the moon and said “no this is my Lord”. They kept setting and then he saw the sun “this must be it” and then it set and he said “I do not love things that set”. In other words he knew that God was the One who did not set. So the ulema say it is using the starts to prove the existence of God that the order of the heavens is one of the ways of understanding that God is real. That is something  guarantee you that studying the stars will increase your imaan. Just going out looking at them, watching them, just thinking about them.

 

So during those prayers and obviously we have a rakah. I am going to show you something and this is not mine, it is one of the Eqyptian scholars Imam Sawhi points it out in one of his aqeedah books. Scholars call this milah. One of the things that he said is the word Ahmad is the form of prayer, that you have a standing position and then a bowing position and then a prostrating position, sitting position. He said also it is in Adam’s name which is the standing, bending, sitting and sajdah. So the letters, the human being has been designed to pray.

 

One of the things you can notice when you do wudu is that you are designed, the wudu works perfectly. I mean if you watch, if you do wudu, you will realise that all of your limbs are made to do this. Each one of these positions of prayer and that is why you do not go down, you stop where it is natural to stop, as you go further down it begins to hurt, if you try to go any further you will feel the pain of that. Then the sajdah, the going down on all seven limbs. This is very interesting as well of putting, everything goes down. Sitting as well, sitting position so each one of these positions, the prayer confirms with the body perfectly and these are natural positions to do. Part of the reason why in Islam you pray is because your body should be sharing in the worship of God so the body itself is participating. You do not just sit and meditate, it is not in your head. Your body is actually worshipping with you and this removes this dualistic mind-body separation. It is very profound and really if you are on a strong path you will spend your life perfecting it and mastering it. You will never reach the ultimate prayer, and that is why the prayer is something that must be done every day five times a day until you die because one of the things about kadas, when you do a kada, the reason why they have to do them everyday is not just to keep on remembering the but to perfect them. Mastery in a martial art is a lifetime experience and every martial art, I don’t care if he has reached, he will admit to you, I am not as good as my teacher, I still have not perfected this. They are always working on that perfection. That is the thing about the prayer. It is a lifetime commitment. So that is why if you are doing it the same way every day. You are missing the point. You have fallen into a perfunctory routine. You have gone to sleep. That the prayer should be a commitment, it is a lifetime commitment to the mastery of the art of communicating with God.

- See more at: http://shaykhhamza.com/transcript/Vision-of-Islam#sthash.Z6GHxnie.dpuf

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