On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.
Islam is a straight path with an aim of the closeness of Allah and guidance as a means to achieve that goal. How this journey is to be undertaken by engaging one’s heart with gratitude, steadfastness, and patience on the way to Allah? Ibn Ata’illah states, “prayer is a purification for hearts from the vileness of sins, and a seeking of the opening of the doors of the unseen.” So, understand its potential to open the gates to presence with Allah.
Our Sense of Presence
How does prayer cultivate our sense of presence with Allah Most High? Allah says in the Qur’an:
Truly, prayers prevent shamelessness and wrongdoing. And the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows, and you do not” [29:45]
The first part of the aya touches on the expiatory component of prayer. The second part on the role of prayer as a means of closeness to Allah Most High. Prayer is a material medium to connect to the transcendental realm and a mode of communication between creation and the Creator. It has purificatory potential and acts as a reminder to turn to Allah. It acts as a means of remembrance of Allah and it opens the doors of closeness to Allah Most High. Reminding ourselves of Allah’s remembrance of the servant through prayers is greater than the remembrance of the servant of his Lord.
Shaykh Siraj tells us: “Several aspects of prayer give us this elevation and presence before Allah Most High.” In the Qur’an Allah says:
Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me. [2:152]
Allah Most High mentions His reciprocation of our actions in the first part: when we remember Him (in praising and supplicating), He will remember us (in bestowing upon us His blessings and mercy). Thus, it is our right to reciprocate His blessings and favors with thankfulness and appreciation, just as He remembers us when we call on Him. We must thank Him for His favors without disacknowledging their significance, and we must do so on a regular basis.
He, Allah Most High, the Lord (Rabb) of the worlds, comes to us when we seek Him. He does not ignore or overlook us calling upon Him, despite His greatness and supremacy. So we too, as mere humans, cannot ignore or overlook His favors to us, and we cannot deem ourselves above acknowledging and appreciating them. Realize then that by every act of remembering we are drawn closer to Allah Most High.
Remembrance and Closeness
Let us look at the role of the establishment of prayer as a means of remembrance and closeness to Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Prostrate and draw near.” [96:19]
Here Allah Most High gives us very clear guidance on how to get near to Him. Through prostration. In prayer, we move our bodies, we move our lips. But do we move our hearts in prayer? Are our hearts in the state of utter humility before Allah? We need to feel the pull of our hearts in prostration and humble ourselves completely before our Lord as we place the most dignified part of our body onto the ground in submission to Allah Most High.
In this light, our beloved Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, said: “The closest the servant is to their Lord is when they are in prostration.” Another aspect is to rise in ranks by praying until one ‘reaches’ Allah (wusul). Allah’s Messenger in one of the hadith mentioned, “hold fast to much prostration because with every prostration Allah Most high raises you a degree, and lifts from you an error.” [Muslim]
Intimate Address and Engagement
Prayer is also intimate address and engagement with Allah Most High. There are many beautiful hadith discussing this phenomenon. In a hadith from Tabarani, Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, said: “Don’t be distracted, for you are in intimate address of Allah as long as you are in prayer.” It is to remind ourselves of prayer as a moment of truth and engagement with the one true Lord of this world.
Abu Dharr may Allah be pleased with him relates that Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, said: “Allah continues to turn towards His servants in their prayer as long as the servant doesn’t turn away.” [Nisai] It is a way of lifting the veil of distance from Allah Most High. All we have to do is to drop the veil of distraction. That is, shift your focus from a quantitative, ritualistic understanding of prayer to a qualitative sacred interaction with the transcendental.
The important question at the end is to identify ways to achieve this closeness to Allah Most High. You need to put things in that order and start it from your heart and put it in practice through your prayer to achieve the goal of closeness to Allah Most High.
Prayer, then, is time spent with the One you love and seek closeness to – raising you in rank, remembrance, and intimate address.