In our previous video, we talked about the first pillar of Islam, the shaadah. The testimony. God’s Oneness and God’s manifestation. God wants us to know about God through revelation, through holy scriptures as well as many many Prophets. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam being the last one.
The second pillar of Islam is an invitation to be in relationship with that One God. Love of God or being in relationship with God in Islam is not a theoretical, abstract, esoteric, intellectual journey. It is incomplete. Of course what you believe and deepening in your faith, in your belief system is very very important. But you have to make an action. As anything, you have to take on certain, physical, practical disciplines to prove your love to God and to do things that you can work with yourself to deepen your relationship with God Almighty.
This action, this act of worship is symbolized and crystallized in the second pillar of Islam which is salah, prayer. Muslims pray many many many times. But the prescribed, mandatory prayers as it’s been modeled and exemplified in the example of Prophet Muhammad is five daily prayers of Islam.
And in five daily prayers of Islam, there are pre-prayer preparations that every Muslim go through that they mentally, spiritually and emotionally prepare themselves to this incredible journey. Before Muslims pray, they take a ritual bath as we often refer to it in English, wudhu. Muslims, they go to the water taps, and they wash their hands, their faces, their hands up to their elbows and they clean the dust from their head and they wash their feet.
But as they do these rituals, I really hope for those of us who do this five times a day, we will go beyond the habits of doing this, rushing this through. But as Prophet Muhammad exemplified it, we will slow down and take this ritual bath as an opportunity to prepare ourselves emotionally, mentally, intellectually to our appointment with our Lord, with our Maker who has blessed us with these infinite gifts.
If you look at the prayers that Prophet Muhammad suggested us to pray before we do every step of that wudhu, it is incredibly beautiful and it’s meant to pump sparks of joy and love of God. As Muslims wash their faces, they remember and they try to feel grateful for the healthy eyes, noses, mouth that God has blessed to them. And they ask forgiveness for the mistakes and the wrongdoings that they have done with that mouth, eyes and the tongue. And as they wash the hands, the same thing, they say
“Thank you God for these healthy organs and I ask forgiveness for the wrong things that I have done with them”.
If you do this five times a day, not only you physically purify and clean yourself, but you purify yourself, you cleanse yourself emotionally and spiritually as well. Imagine five times a day, you wash your feet and you thank God for these healthy feet and you ask forgiveness for the wrong steps that you have taken in life both figuratively as well as literally.
So five times a day, God doesn’t need our prayers but we need this discipline to remember God, slow down, center ourselves in the heavily moments of life. We try to go internally and grow internally and deepen in our sole search with ourselves.
Imagine doing this five times a day so intention and deliberately and check yourself between each and every prayer. That person inevitably be very ethical, moral, loving, caring, merciful ad gracious person.
After completing this pre-prayer preparation, Muslims turn towards Mecca. Not because Muhammad was born there, not because Islam was historically came into the scene of history there. It’s because of a promise that God has given to Abraham many many thousands of years ago.
In the journey of Abraham, after Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael in the deserts of Mecca and keep visiting them from the house of Sara in Jerusalem, God orders Abraham and Ishmael and Hagar, all three of them to build a house of worship. And Abraham respectfully asks
“Who will come and worship here? Who will come and remember your name, O God?”
And God says
“Build me a house of worship. My believers, my servants will remember and serve for me”.
And five times a day, five times a day, believing, practicing Muslims, as they purify themselves, as they clean themselves physically and metaphorically, turn their faces towards that direction and say “Heenani” “Here I am” “Labbayk” “You invited me to come and worship towards that direction five thousand years ago. And five times a day, millions of, hundreds of millions of Muslims by turning faces into that direction, they respond to God’s invitation. You invited and Here I am to remember you, to glorify your names.
And five daily prayers like any other rituals in Islam, if you look, there is nothing unique as far as Islamic theology and Islamic history is concerned, it is nothing unique. In other words Islam has not invented these rituals per se.
According to Muslim understanding and tradition, early Jews, early Christians, as Islam sees itself as the continuation of Judaism and Christianity, these acts of worship in its final form, it’s crystalized by the Prophet of Islam in early seventh century, during his lifetime. But it’s inspired and they are the continuation of the same monotheistic message for humanity and these kinds of acts of worship in its physical form can be seen in Christianity and Judaism as well.
Muslims pray five times a day. An hour and half before the sunrise is the first prayer. And the noon time is the second prayer. And hour and half, two hours before the sunset is the third prayer. Immediately after the sunset is the fourth prayer. And the last one is before you go to bed.
I will not go in detail the physical forms and shapes of this five daily prayers. But I will invite myself and all of us who are listening this video to go beyond the physical movements of these prayers and look the deep, the deep spiritual invitation that each acts, and each step of this prayer is inviting us to do. So after wudhu, after turning yourself to a direction where for thousands of years monotheistic religions turned towards and glorified God’s name. You stand before God as you would always do for any authority, any respect. And you consider God as the attained, ultimate authority worthy of worship but no one alone. And you read certain parts of the Quran. First opening chapter Fatiha and other parts of the Quran that you have memorized.
But again the invitation is, you are in the presence of God, remember God Almighty, remember the endless blessings that God has bestowed upon you and remember the long list of things that you should be asking forgiveness for and you stand before God. And then you bow before God. Again a ritual, a form, a physical worship as a sign of respect and glorify God’s name. And then as Prophet Muhammad says
“The closest moment of a servant, men and women, to God is the one when you put your face down on the floor, sajdah, prostration as we call it. And then you say Glory be on to you, I seek refuge in your mercy and compassion”.
As you do say the prescribed Arabic phrases and prayers that Prophet Muhammad told us but you go beyond and try to feel the presence of God in your life by doing this five times a day.
For those of us who do this for long time, it becomes so central the way you understand religion. One of the most spiritual moments of my life, wherever I go, I try to find out of course the prayer times, but few minutes before, the call to prayer is spoken from the loud speakers or the minarets of mosques. I position myself next to a mosque and I watch what happens. I watch what happens for those who do this five times a day. Five times a day, those who stop their life, whatever they’re doing, and remember their Lord. And try to connect with physical action. And I watch the rush of those worshipers to the prayer spaces, to the mosques and look into their urge to be in relationship with God, to be in commune with God five times a day.
And if you try to pump spirituality, ethical, moral messages that these five daily prayers teach us five times a day, there’s no way you will leave this five times of going to a spiritual gym with so many impressive spiritual muscles. And at the end your ability to see and feel the presence of God in your life as a result of these five daily prayers will be incredibly rich and beneficial.