The Five Levels of Prayer
In this article, Shaykh Irshaad Sedick elucidates the five levels of prayer believers can find themselves in.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “A person may offer a prayer, and nothing of it is recorded for him except one-tenth of it, one-ninth of it, one-eighth of it, one-seventh of it, one-sixth of it, one-fifth of it, one-quarter of it, one-third of it, or half of it.” [Ahmad]
Allah Most High says: “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]
It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The first thing among their deeds for which the people will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be prayer. Although He knows best, our Lord will say to His angels, ‘Look at My slave’s prayer; is it complete or lacking?’ If it is complete, it will be recorded as complete, but if it is lacking, He will say, ‘Look and see whether My slave did any voluntary (nafl) prayers.’ If he had done voluntary prayers, He would say, ‘Complete the obligatory prayers of My slave from his voluntary prayers.’ Then the rest of his deeds will be examined similarly.” [Abu Dawud]
In the following extract from his monograph explaining the virtues and merits of dhikr–God’s remembrance and invocation, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H/1350CE) takes us through the ascending degrees of prayer (salah).
Concerning Prayer (Salah), People Are of Five Levels:
The first [degree] is of he who wrongs his soul [Quran, 35:32]; who is negligent [concerning it], and who falls short in his ablution as well as in the times, limits, and essential pillars of the prayer.
The second is he who safeguards the times, limits, outward pillars, and ablution but is taken away by the devil’s whispering and stray thoughts, which he lacks the inner strength to resist.
The third is he who keeps the limits and essential pillars and inwardly strives to repel the whisperings and stray thoughts. This person is busy striving against his Foe [the devil], lest he robs him of his prayer. In prayer, he is engaged in jihad.
The fourth is he, who stands in prayer, perfecting its rights, limits, and pillars. His heart is engrossed in safeguarding its limits and rules lest he misses them. Indeed, his entire focus is on performing the prayer as it should bring out, entirely and perfectly. Concern for the prayer and devotion to his Lord absorb his heart through this.
The fifth degree is he who stands in prayer and establishes it as the fourth, but this places his heart before his Lord. He beholds his Lord (naziran bi qalbihi ilayhi), is vigilant before Him, and is filled with His love and glory, as if he sees and witnesses Him. Thus all whisperings and stray thoughts vanish as the veil lifts between him and his Lord. In his prayer, the difference between this person and everyone else is as vast as the distance between heaven and earth. For he is occupied solely with his Lord, where he finds his source of sheer delight. [Of the five], the first kind of person is punished; the second admonished; the third redeemed; the fourth rewarded; and the fifth drawn close to his Lord, for his source of delight has been placed in prayer. Whoever is delighted by the prayer in this world will be glad by nearness to his Lord in this world and the next. And he who finds delight in God delights and gladdens others. Whoever does not leaves this world a loser.’ [Ibn al-Qayyim, Al-Wabil al-Sayyib]
Al-Hasan al-Basri said: “If a man who met the righteous predecessors of early generations were to come back to life today, he would not recognize anything of Islam.” This he said at that time, and if we look around now, we are in a worse condition; our salah is mechanical movements or exercise, and our heart is full of desires and waswasa.
Abu Al Aliyah said: “I would travel for days to meet a man and the first thing I would notice about him is his prayer. If he would establish the prayer perfectly and on time, I would stay with him and hear the knowledge he had. If I found him careless concerning the prayer, I would leave him and say to myself that he would be even more careless for things other than the prayer.” Here we are so heedless of our prayer, where we see a person who is just offering prayers five times a day to be righteous; as the famous quote goes – Praying five times a does not make you honest it makes you a Muslim! We have to offer them on their time, show them properly, not just rush through them to get it over with. And that will be the prayer that will keep us away from sins as Allah has promised. As Allah says, “Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds.” [Quran, 29:45]
Nadwi has described this effect in the following eloquent way; it aims to generate within the subliminal self of man such spiritual power, the light of faith and awareness of Allah so as to enable him to strive successfully against all kinds of evils and temptations and remain steadfast at times of trial and adversity and protect himself against the weakness of the flesh and the mischief of immoderate appetites. [Nadwi, p. 24]
Impact of Prayers
The impact of prayers on humans is in other verses of the Quran: “Verily, the man was created impatient, irritable when evil touches him and niggardly when good touches him. Except for those devoted to prayer, those who remain constant in their prayers…” [Quran, 70:19-23]
As for the Hereafter, Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure are closely related to the prayers. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Allah has obligated five prayers. Whoever excellently performs their ablutions, prays them in their proper times, completes their bows, prostrations, and khushu’ has a promise from Allah that He will forgive him. And whoever does not do that has no promise from Allah. He may either forgive him or punish him.” [Ahmad; Abu Dawud; al-Nasa’i, and others., authenticated by Albani]
Perfecting the Prayer
So how do we get better? How do we offer Salah properly? How do we get to higher levels of Salah?
We do so by learning and understanding the importance and virtues of Salah, by learning the Sunnas, and by implementing and alternating between different Sunnas. Hence, our hearts are alive, and we are not on auto-pilot; we do so by understanding what we are reciting, by making Dua to Allah in prayer, by getting the feel of each action and position we take, but above by knowing that who are we facing, The King of the Worlds!
Narrated Talha bin ‘Ubaidullah (Allah be pleased with him):
A bedouin with unkempt hair came to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger: Inform me what Allah has made compulsory for me regarding the prayers.” He replied (Allah bless him and give him peace), “You have to offer perfectly the five compulsory prayers in a day and night (24 hours) unless you want to pray Nawafil.” The bedouin further asked, “Inform me what Allah has made compulsory for me regarding fasting.” He replied, “You have to fast during the whole month of Ramadan unless you want to fast more, as Nawafil.” The bedouin further asked, “Tell me how much Zakat Allah has enjoined on me.” Thus, Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) informed him about all Islam’s rules (i.e., fundamentals). The bedouin said, “By Him Who has honored you, I will neither perform any Nawafil nor decrease what Allah has enjoined on me.” Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “If he is telling the truth, he will succeed (or he will be granted Paradise).” [Bukhari]
May Allah facilitate our journey in this world and accept our efforts.
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.