The following article is transcribed by an internal student, based on a lecture series “Praying with Presence: Practical Advice for Improving Your Prayer.” This is the first lecture of the series: “The Virtues of Prayer” delivered by Imam Tahir Anwar, which expounds on the virtues of praying and its benefits to believers beyond being the foremost obligation of the servants of Allah.
The Obligation of Prayer
“Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, genuine prayer should deter one from indecency and wickedness. The remembrance of Allah is an even greater deterrent. And Allah fully knows what you all do” [Quran, 29:45]
Allah Most High reminds us about our obligation of prayer in various verses in the Quran. In this specific verse, Allah Most High reminds us to recite verses from Quran during prayer and affirms that our recitation will increase the quality of our prayer. The verse goes on to mention that the greatest virtue of prayer is that we are fulfilling an obligation from Allah, while also protecting ourselves from the self-inflicted evil caused by our egos.
Prayer and Committing Sins
It can be commonly seen that many individuals who fulfill their obligation of prayer continue to commit sins. Of the catalysts, in this case, maybe that the individual is not performing prayer in the proper method and with the appropriate mannerisms taught by the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace.) Thus, it is vital for Muslims to learn the proper manner in which prayer should be offered, fulfilling all necessary obligations for it to be effective against both the inward and outward evils of human beings.
Rewards of Prayer: Forgiveness of Sins
The Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) has stressed the importance of prayer in many hadiths. Of these hadiths, states: “He who performs ablution like this ablution of mine and then stood up for prayer and offered two rak’ahs of prayer without allowing his thoughts to be distracted, all his previous sins are expiated.” [Muslim]
It was also narrated that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by a tree with dry leaves once, so he struck it with his staff, making the leaves fall. Then he said: “Indeed, praise be to Allah, glory be to Allah, there is no god worthy of worship except for Allah, Allah is the Greatest, for the sins to fall from the worshiper, just as the leaves of this tree fall.” [Tirmidhi]
Although we don’t necessarily physically see or feel our sins falling away, we should remain certain and aware that Allah, Most High, rewards us when we fulfill the obligation of prayer properly, that slowly and surely our sins are being forgiven by Allah Most High.
Virtues of Ablution: Physical and Spiritual Purification
Similarly, prayer and spiritual purification are interlinked. This is evidenced in a conversation that occurred between the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his Companions when he posed a hypothetical question to them. He asked if there was a pool in front of someone’s house, and that person had jumped into the pool five times a day, whether any dirt would remain on him. The Companions answered, “O Messenger of Allah, no dirt or filth would stay on that individual,” to which the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied and said that this is the state of an individual who performs his prayers. So, in addition to rewarding us for fulfilling our obligation, Allah is purifies us externally and internally. [Bukhari]
Additionally, it’s important to realize that the devil often attempts to promote ill thinking to prevent Muslims from praying consistently. Of this ill thinking, Muslims may grow avoidant of prayer due to believing that their inability to focus is hindering the quality of their prayer. We need to actively avoid such thoughts from creating distance in our relationship with Allah, and realize as soon as we fulfill this obligation, we will become cleansed and elevated spiritually.
The Significance of Nafl Prayers
It has been narrated that when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would face any difficulty, he would resort to praying. These additional prayers would be kept spare to fulfill any deficiency in the obligatory prayers. And in another hadith, it is narrated that on the Day of Judgment when every soul will meet Allah Most High, the first thing they will be asked about is whether they fulfilled their obligatory prayers. However, if there is any deficiency in the obligatory prayers, their Nafl and Sunna prayers will be accounted for. Therefore, its important to ensure that we understand the significance and benefit of both obligatory and Sunna prayers.
Prostration and the Presence of the Divine
When an individual is in prostration, although physically they are at the lowest point on the face of this earth—the ground, they remain at the highest status spiritually. You are in service to Allah—the Mighty, the Majestic. This is prayer.
We should understand the true significance in our prayer as we begin by affirming the Greatness of Allah, as we praise Allah as we recite al-Fatiha, and then with our hearts and mind present, we say “O Allah, guide us to the straight path” and affirm “Ameen.” There is no way that Allah Most High cannot guide a sincere individual who is asking Him to guide him or her to a straight path in the form of ritual prayer.
Affirming Presence During Prayer
The prerequisite for Allah’s guidance is that our minds and hearts be present during worship. When they are fully present, Allah will grant us all the rewards and benefits of prayer, and that begins by understanding the magnitude of prayer; once we are able to grasp it’s magnitude, we will become inclined to do it without struggle or excuse.
We pray to Allah Most High to guide us, protect us, and grant us the guidance to realize the significance of prayer and it’s virtues. May He enrich, fulfill and grant us all those rewards, Ameen.
Imam Tahir Anwar is an American Muslim scholar and preacher. Born in London, England, he has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1983. After completing his religious studies, Imam Tahir has served the Bay Area Muslim community since 2000. He also teaches Islamic Law at Zaytuna College. In addition, he is the founding board member of Averroes High School, the Bay Area’s first Muslim high school. He is currently the chairman of the board of NISA, North-American Islamic Shelter for the Abused, an organization that works towards alleviating issues related to domestic violence.