Islam considers a great significance for health and a meaningful life. Quran and the Infallible Imams have uttered ways, other than the life program, by which one can avoid and encounter the predicaments in the way of a spiritual life. One of the most beautiful religious programs to form the spiritual life is praying and worshipping God. Praying is escaping from solitude and reaching and accompanying God. Praying is a glass of pure spirituality in the course of a sweltering life. Praying is a shimmering light of hope at the end of life’s tunnel. Prayer is the call of a lonely soul for help in the trap of life; it’s like a cool wind that is blown from the gardens of heaven and a grace of God which flourishes the barren land of heart.
Praying means calling and seeking help. In dictionaries, the word prayer is defined as follows : Calling for eating food, verbally showing the willingness to do something, intention, craving for God, and seeking help. The word, “praying for” means benevolence and the word “praying against “means malevolence.
According to the different meanings of the root “دعو” we can understand that praying means asking and requesting and not just merely a call. Sometimes the word is used for seeking help, sometimes for eating, sometimes for doing good deeds and sometimes malevolence is implied.
Praying, in the exact sense of the word, means seeking help from God. However, we should add a condition to that term, which is seeking help because of one’s needs, and humbleness. Ibn Fahd Helli defined praying as follows:
طَلَبِ الْأَدْنَى لِلْفِعْلِ مِنْ الْأَعْلَى عَلَى جِهَةِ الْخُضُوعِ وَ الِاسْتِکَانَةِ
An inferior person asks with humbleness something from a superior person due to his needs.
Deilami has also defined praying as follows:
“Praying is showing one’s need for God which is expressed with comfort of heart and humbleness.”
Praying is when a weak person asks a strong person and demands something from him which is done in a humble fashion. Asking a powerful and strong man is intrinsically formulated in man. The little child asks his or her mother when he or she is faced with insecurity, and one who is faced with the attack of a beast or the oppression of a man will automatically seek help from strong people.
According to religious teachings, especially Islam, everything is under God’s control. God’s power is above all matters; with his will the predicaments and evil will fade away in one’s life and in one word there is no other effect other than God’s influence upon the world. Thus, everything belongs to him and will eventually return to him and there is nobody out there to solve people’s problems but God.
Therefore, Man is a weak creature and cannot tolerate the difficulties in life and thus he should take shelter in God and get help from Him who has the ultimate power and who owns all goodness. God has generally announced that:
وَ قَالَ رَبُّکُمُ ادْعُونىِ أَسْتَجِبْ لَکُمْ
“And God has said: Pray for me so that I realize your demand.”
2) The status of praying
Every school of thought provides methods and ways to facilitate the path of salvation for its followers. The divine school of Islam has stated that worship is the ultimate purpose of creation and has incorporated training different aspects of human existence in its programs. Attending to human feelings and affections and orienting them is one of the educational characteristics of Islam.
Recent studies in psychology shows that since religious rituals such as prayers and praise have positive effects on one’s lifestyle, they can guarantee physical and mental health. By praying hope will be achieved in life and positive thoughts are formed. With comfort being formed, the ground for physical and mental as well as higher education of human being are achieved.
The significance of prayers can be traced to the teachings of Sinless Imams because the best and the most fundamental issues of monotheism, education, politics, ethics, spiritual and individual and social needs can be found there. They have learnt the material well-being and spiritual development through praying. Books such as Al-Zariat, Sahifeh Alavi, Sahifeye-Sajjadie and Sahifeye Razavie are witness to this fact.
Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the efficiency of praying in our religious society. This has also made problems in the scientific-religious communities. Being negligent toward praying and its creative aspects has made only one issue worthy of attention and thus recommended: although saying prayers enthusiastically for solving one’s problems is strongly effective and has rewards per se, the real effect of praying is in changing one’s mental states and getting him to pay close attention to its spiritual, educational and instructional aspects.
Praying has a significant role in religious teachings. The Sinless Imams have strongly emphasized on this issue. The Last Prophet (P.B.U.H) has stated that praying is the best kind of praise and the opportunity of praying is a blessing bestowed upon Man by God:
“The best praise of God is prayers. Whenever God has granted a blessing to man, He has then opened gates of mercy for him.”
Prayer is the truth and the end of being a servant . The weakest person is the one who is unable to pray. Praying is a ladder by which the truth-seeker moves up to the skies. Because praying indicates that the servant has recognized his own status and has realized the grandiosity, the mercy, the power and His adequacy. Praying has a status no one can underestimate it. Imam Reza (A.S.) said:
“Do not underestimate anyone’s prayers; because the prayers of the Christians and Jews for you will too be answered, while your own prayers may not.”
Interestingly, the approach of Ahl al-Bayt (P.B.U.T.) with regard to prayers is not confined to verbal encouragement but they present samples and examples for people to continue saying prayers so that praying is entwined with spiritual states and becomes their characteristics. Imam Sadeq f described Imam Ali (A.S.) as follows: “Imam Ali (A.S.) was a man of prayers.”
Imam Hassan (A.S.) spoke of his mother Fatemeh Zahra (A.S.):
“On a Friday night, I saw my mother Fatemeh during her prayers, constantly prostrating and moving up again. I heard her praying for Muslim men and women and praying for them by their names.”
More interestingly, compared to other religious rituals, praying is more valuable and in fact outweighs them. Muawie, the son of Ammar, said that he had told Imam Sadeq (A.S.): “Two people start saying prayers at the same time and afterwards, one of them begins to pray and the other begins to read Quran, which one is more valuable in the eye of God?” Imam (A.S.) said that both deeds are valuable but praying is more virtuous and said:
“Praying is superior. Haven’t you heard God saying: and Lord has told you: call on me so that I will answer your [prayer]… and for God’s sake worship is praying.”
Interpretations by Imam Reza (A.S.) about prayer are very beautiful and worthy of consideration. Eighth Imam of Shiites thinks of prayer as the light of heavens and the earth, the pillar of religion, and the weapon of prophets and believers.
A) The light of the heavens and the earth
Qur'an has raised very interesting issues regarding light: God is light of the heavens and the earth. The earth is bright with the light of God , all God's saints are light , all the scriptures and the Quran are light , faithful people under the guardianship of God are submerged in light , the one who has patience rides light ; in short, the world, regarding both development and legislation is all light. Darkness is only expressed about the creatures with determination who misuse the authority at their disposal; that is, a pagan and an infidel person not stepping in the path of light.
If we place these Quran interpretations beside the beautiful words of our eighth infallible Imam who said, "Prayer is the light of the heavens and the earth," it is understood that prayer is one of the great truths of the world of creation that is akin to God and the saints of God and is of light matter. Thus, if someone uses this light truth and is familiar with it, he can obtain an illumination whose origin is God, the light that saints of God and developmental and legislation truths enjoy. Thus, as a result, he can be as angels full of light.
B) The pillar (support) of religion
In Islamic accounts, some moral propositions or religious orders are stated as pillars of religion. Truth , piety , Salat (prayer) , jihad and fight in the cause of God and being a follower of Imams are of cases, which are titled as “Imad al-Din” or pillars of religion.
Pillar means the column of tents and homes. That is what the tent or home is based on, thus practices such as prayer and piety have a role like that of the pillars of tents or homes. If this pillar becomes weak, the house or tent shakes and if this pillar falls down, the tent of religion is detached from its place and will raze to the ground. Thus, the interpretation of "Imad al-Din" for the above-indicated points shows their essential role in maintaining the tent of religion. Interestingly enough, Imam Reza (A.S.) has used the interpretation of the pillar of religion for prayer:
الدُّعَاءُ عِمَادُ الدِّینِ
Prayer is the pillar of religion.
C) Believers' weapons
There are nice interpretations from infallible Imams about prayer. In Imam Baqer (A.S.)'s terms, prayer is the highest manifestation of worship. There is nothing for God better than a hand raised in prayer asking for his generosity, and the worst person is the one who has pride and refuses to worship Him and does not ask for His blessings.
Imam Reza (A.S.) has likened prayer to a weapon and used it for two groups: the first group consists of the true prophets of God to whom prayer is the weapon and tool of their defense. Imam said to his companions: May God give you the prophets’ weapon! People asked him: What is the prophets’ weapon? Imam replied:
The other group who has these weapons are believers who use the weapon of belief against attacks and the difficult:
الدُّعَاءُ سِلَاحُ الْمُؤْمِنِ
Prayer is a believer's weapon.
The one who looks for a weapon at the time of difficulties to defend himself, his best instruments is prayer. For someone who has been attacked by the armies of ego and demons, the best way to crush the forces of evil is the use of sword of prayer. Prayer is the best weapon for anyone looking for tearing the curtains of darkness to see the light of truth. Thus, praying tears veils apart, crushes the armies of evil, and finds a safe path for the journey on the path of truth.
Customs for Praying
Praying is the sign of attachment and a confession of devotions to the Creator; issues that emphasize on its meaning should be included in praying. Due to the importance of praying, Islam has stated conditions and customs of praying so that its usefulness and effectiveness can be revealed. In such conditions, one can observe the outstanding examples of discipline, planning, foresight, repetition and practice, individual and spiritual differences as well as scheduling.
In other words, praying is not merely restricted to stretching hands toward the worshiped Lord and demanding one's needs; but it has its own terms and conditions which should be respected for obtaining a proper result.
Customs and praying conditions can be divided into four parts, one of which is about the worshiper and his characteristics that should be regarded during worshiping, the second part encompasses the praying situation, the third part is about the time of praying, the forth states is the place of praying and the fifth is related to the content of praying.
One, who is seeking the source of all goodness should comply with the praying customs by holding fast to the tight rope of praying.
The related worshiper's customs have two parts: internal and external or inward and outward appearance.
. Polishing the inner life
Anyone who prays to the Lord should cleanse his heart of all impurities. For praying to be accepted, it is necessary that some internal changes occur in human, some of which Imam Reza (A.S.) has thoroughly mentioned.
Faith and true belief
One of the most important praying customs is acknowledging the Lord and true faith to Him as well as acting completely on His orders. One, who wants to communicate with the Lord through praying and feels himself in His presence must have accurate and consistent faith and belief in the Lord.
Having an accurate belief entails obeying and submitting to divine commands and orders. Someone came to visit Imam Sadeq (A.S.) and complained of his wishes and praying which were not accepted. Imam replied:
You call the One whom you do not fear. You disobey His commands! Thus, how can your praying be accepted?
One of the signs of having an accurate belief and faith is reliance and trust in the Lord. If one's heart is filled up with belief in His greatness and infinite power and with certainty he realizes that everything is in His hands, and whatever exists around him is the creature of the Lord and moves on His willing; in this case, he focuses his attention toward the Almighty and bows down toward His endless power. The last divine Messenger narrates the Lord's message as follows:
There are no other creatures other than humans who resort to another creature instead of Me; unless, I stop the blessings of Heavens and Earth for him. [Even] if he asks Me, I do not grant him anything and if he calls on Me, I do not accept his praying; and if any creature instead of another creature resorts to Me, I will guarantee him the blessing of Heavens and Earth. If he calls on Me I will answer his praying and if he demands Me I will grant him and if he asks My forgiveness I will forgive him!
It has been narrated that the Lord addressed to Jesus Christ:
“O Jesus! Call Me like a man who is drowning in sorrows and who has no helper. O Jesus! Ask Me instead of others, so do praying to Me and I answer your praying well.”
Imam Reza (A.S) reminds us of trust in the Lord in all our prayers in a nice narration. Abu Nassir said: I had some wishes that were not answered for many years and that made me feel doubtful. I raised the subject to Imam Reza (A.S.). After pointing out the advice, Imam said to me:
If I tell you something, will you trust me? I answered: I am your devotee! If I do not trust you to whom should I trust; while you are the Lord's sign for people? So he replied: The more you trust in the Lord, the more the Lord will accept your praying. The Lord says:
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close [to them]: I listen to the praying of every suppliant when he calls on Me : And said: Despair not of the Mercy of Allah .
One of the most important spiritual customs in praying is sincerity, it means that the worshiper only calls on the Lord and believes that any profit or loss and deficiency or superabundance is merely in His hand:
وَ بِیَدِکَ لَا بِیَدِ غَیْرِکَ زِیَادَتِی وَ نَقْصِی وَ نَفْعِی وَ ضُرِّی؛
O Lord, my deficiency or superabundance and any profit or loss is only in Your hands not the others.
Imam Ali (A.S) also expresses the sincerity in praying when one demands his needs:
Be pure in demanding and calling the Lord, because forgiveness or depriving is only in His hand.
The holy Quran demonstrates another aspect of sincerity in worshiping in which the worshiper calls on the Lord out of respect and in a specific time in all occasions; but only at the time of need and misery should he confess that the ultimate sovereignty and supremacy are only for the Lord. He should also know that Lord's authority and domination over the world particularly belongs to the Lord Himself; when he is away from danger, he shall not come back again to his previous position and become atheist:
فَإِذَا رَکِبُواْ فىِ الْفُلْکِ دَعَوُاْ اللهَ مُخْلِصِینَ لَهُ الدِّینَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاهُمْ إِلىَ الْبَرِّ إِذَا هُمْ یُشْرِکُون؛
Now, if they embark on a boat, they call on Allah, making their devotion sincerely [and exclusively] to Him; but when He has delivered them safely to [dry] land, behold, they give a share [of their worship to others]!
So the worshiper should turn to the Lord, he should know everything is in the Lord's hands and prays to Him, he should ignore other creatures and believe that only the Lord is the Creator and Originator.
If someone follows the wrong path, he should expect the result from others whom are needy and weak just like him.
Imam Reza (A.S.) says to Muhammad Ibn Arafa:
Woe to you, O son of Arafa! Do your affairs without hypocrisy. You should know that anybody works for anyone else rather than the Lord; the Lord will lead him to the same man, and whoever does anything the Lord will return it to him whether it is good or bad!
Think Good of God
God has promised the supplicants that if they call Him, He shall answer them.1 Certainly, the realm of God's Glory is clear and pure of lies and dishonesty. Thinking good about God is one of the rituals of prayer and supplication. One who raises hands of need to pray must believe that He hears our voice, that He cares for our needs and requests, and He will bring about what is good for the servant. If a supplicant turns to God with this belief, then his prayers shall be answered. Imam Baqir (A.S.) said:
"No servant had reached hands for the Almighty, unless God Almighty Shamed to return them empty-handed, until He has bestowed them with what He wants from His Grace and Mercy."
One of the glorious names of God is Rahman (beneficent). God's Beneficence has four components: First that God only bestows and does not take anything, because He absolutely needs nothing. The second component is that God gives all and beyond and without any prerequisites. It might be thought that Rahim (Merciful) is different from Beneficent and the Beneficent bestows under conditions and the condition for that is being a true believer and heavenly; but with precision, one would realize that the difference between Merciful and Beneficent is based on the receiver and not the subject; which means that some will increase their capacity and the amount of receiving Mercy by good deeds and thereby receive more blessings. Therefore if we just consider the Subject, He is only Beneficent.
The third component is that God Bestows with no expectations, and finally that God gives when needed. God has a way and that is, wherever there is need, the first One who is standing over and who seeks to fulfill it is God. He is "Rafi al-Hajat (The Fulfiller of needs)" and "Ghazi al-Hajat (The Judge of necessities)".
Accordingly, it can be said that:
The Beneficent God only bestows, He bestows with no conditions, He gives with no expectations and when in need He is the first One who bestows.
Now, if God is as such which He is, is there any place for being suspicious of and distrusting God? Does someone with no beautiful thought of God deserve receiving His grace and mercy? We will explain the answer according to Imam Reza (A.S.). His highness said:
"Have the best beliefs about God, because God Almighty says: "I am at the belief of the believing servants. So if they think of me as good, the result is good; and if they think of me as evil, then the result is evil.""
Therefore God is sitting next to our own belief. Everyone can reach a beautiful result with positive thoughts, since God had tied the result with our own thoughts. Imam Reza (A.S.) said:
"Think the best about God, since my great grandfather Imam Sadiq (A.S.) said, "Whoever who thinks good of God, God is where you think of Him.""
Not to Belittle Supplication
As stated supplication has a significant status. It is not appropriate for one to look at this great worship with contempt. Sometimes belittling prayer comes from a person not believing in the supplication. Prayer must come from a heart that knows God properly. The supplicant must believe from the depth of one's soul that God has power over everything, His mercy is endless and He is informed of the whispers within people. Furthermore the supplicant must believe that every prayer, though small, can turn into a great miracle. As such, our view about supplication is just. God's last Messenger said:
"Call for God while you are assured of His Blessings."
Another way of disparaging supplication is related to the supplicant. No one should count anyone's prayers small, there is no difference between great and small, Muslim and non-Muslim. Imam Reza (A.S.) said:
"Do not disparage anyone's supplications; perhaps a Jewish or Christian's prayer for you would be answered; while their prayers might not be answered for themselves."
In Islamic narrations, another form of respecting supplication is stated and that is observing the apparent rituals of it. Ghusl is one of the rituals of supplication, which has external aspects besides its internal and divine aspects. One of the philosophies of suggesting Ghusl for special occasions and particular activities is for honoring them. Imam Reza (A.S.) talks about the philosophy and wisdom behind Ghusl on Fridays, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr and states:
"Ghusl is suggested on these days for honoring and acknowledging the greatness of the day and for emphasizing their superiority over the rest of the days."
Imam Reza (A.S.) had explained rituals of supplication and one of them is Ghusl. If the philosophy of Ghusl on Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr or the wisdom behind Ghusl on Fridays is commemorating those days, it is could be concluded that one of the wisdoms behind performing Ghusl for supplication and asking for needs is for commemorating this worship.