Issue 42 / April - June 2003
Time To Pray
M. Fethullah Gulen
We use prayer to turn to the Eternally Merciful God, present ourselves to Him, and ask Him to meet all of our needs. We entreat Him humbly and submissively, fully aware of our status as weak, poor, and needy servants who are not self-subsistent. Thus prayer is a necessity arising from our belief, trust, and full confidence in the Lord, as well as our understanding of Divine Unity.
Within this framework, servants become engrossed in a combined feeling of fear and hope. Away from the sight of others, we supplicate from the heart only to God, and pray in secret. This sentiment, which is reflected in The Qur'an 7:55, describes an essential element of prayer that we must observe while praying. However, only the Legislator can permit and encourage this attitude at various times, and only He can determine the degree to which it is allowed.
God enjoins us to pray to Him only, in fear as well as full of hope and to know that His Mercy is with those whose hearts beat with the consciousness of His constant supervision over them. (7:56) He even shows us the door toward which we should walk, and teaches us the rules and principles of how to wait in front of it.
Turning to God all the time and in every condition, opening our hands in supplication, and revealing our concerns and problems to Him are all an honor and an initial prize. In addition, they are very significant initial steps taken to earn a favorable response from Him. He states: If my servants direct their wishes to Me, they must know that I am closer to them than anything else. I respond to the prayer of those who turn to Me with prayers. (2:186) However, there is a condition: All of these prayers and supplications are to be performed as indicated in: You pray from the heart with utmost sincerity and seeking God's pleasure. (7:29, 40:14, 65) Instead of praying when among people, as if showing off to others, we should entreat the All-Knowing God, Whose hearing and seeing is worth far more than any person's, by sighing in secret and with utmost sincerity, in complete privacy so that we are closed to others but open to Him. Meeting these conditions will enable us to implore Him with the alchemy of secrecy, and will prevent our voices and sighs from being fouled with the sparks of irrelevant thoughts.
No one returns empty-handed from His court. In fact, those people who pour out their deepest needs and desires, and present such personal grievances about themselves only to Him, are drawn closer to Him. They have to ask the One Who can meet all of their needs, just as they have to complain to a doctor who can heal their illnesses.
Each servant who enters the Nearest One's Presence is required to be in possession of his or her self and in full control of his or her speech, vocal vibrations, and groaning. Moreover, each servant's mind, intelligence, and senses must be in a receptive state.
Loyal servants frequently filter their thoughts and supplications through their intentions and sincerity, for they strive to keep their expressions and feelings free of any disturbance. They become like mute people so that no one can hear them, to such a degree that they even become jealous of their own voice and words.
In addition to being sincere while praying, servants should search for moments and seconds during which their pulses beat with the remembrance of God. They should make full use of holy days and nights, for these are the times when divine blessings pour forth. Especially when it is time to pray and to break the fast, all prostrations and bows should be performed in such a way that not even one second is wasted. Loyal and sincere servants are expected to fulfill these obligations, for doing so is essential for the prayer to be accepted. As all such servants know, a prayer may be answered either positively or negatively, or circumstances may 'become' favorable or unfavorable.
Believers in God do not mind if summer is as cold as winter, if spring seems to resemble autumn, or if days become as dark as blind graves. Who cares about darkness when God reminds us of His All-Encompassing Power: Who saves you from the darkness of the land and the sea when you pray in destitute?! (6:63) Who cares about such things when God makes His Existence known in their conscience by saying: Who else, other than God, accepts the prayers of the poor and takes care of their problems?! (27:62)
The Qur'an is the Divine Book that guides us through existence, interprets events, and interprets both the macro- and micro-worlds. It is the language of the World of the Unseen in this life; a contract of divine blessings for humanity; and the essence, essential nature, glory, and light of Islam. As if that were not enough, it is also the map for the worlds of the afterlife, a means of happiness for believers, and a book of prayer.
The Qur'an introduces a prayer by glorifying Him, and then asks to be set on the straight path as it sets off, sprinkling its most brilliant jewels with Surat al-Fatihah. Next comes Surat al-Baqarah, which calls us to pray by means of implicit expressions of prayer, raising its voice with the tune of its explicitness, and teaches us what to ask from God: Our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the Hereafter (2:201). After a few pages, it shows us the greenhouses and shelters in which we can shelter while facing difficult conditions and asking for help: Our Lord, pour down upon us patience (endurance), make our steps firm (make our foothold sure), and help us against the unbelievers (2:250).
The last verse of this surah points to the following prayer, which is a gift from the Prophet's Ascension and which should be repeated constantly: Our Lord, do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord, do not lay on us a burden as You did on those before us. Our Lord, do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us protection, and have mercy upon us. You are our Patron, so help us against the unbelievers. (2:286)
The next surah, Surat Al-i 'Imran, also starts with and reminds all believers of a very significant prayer: Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate now after You have guided us. But grant us Mercy from Your Presence, for You are the Grantor of bounties without measure. (3:8) A few verses later on, we are invited again with an allusion to the prayers of the pious, who supplicate with the following cries: Our Lord, we have indeed believed. Forgive us, then, our sins, and save us from the agony of the Fire (3:16) and: Our Lord, we believe in what You have revealed and we follow the Messenger, so write us down with those who bear witness. (3:53) These draw our attention to the supplication of Jesus' apostles, who also are filled with a sense of responsibility.
Right after this comes a gift of prayer from the mouths of the devout ones, the scholars who gathered around the Messengers and strived: Our Lord, forgive our sins and anything We may have done that transgressed our duty. Establish our feet firmly, and help us against those that resist faith. (3:147) The section of contemplation toward the end of the surah ends with a wish for a good end: Our Lord, lo, we have heard a crier calling unto faith: 'Believe in your Lord!' So we believed. Our Lord, therefore forgive our sins, blot out our evil deeds, and make us die the death of the righteous (3:193). Those who shake fearfully, thinking that they have treated themselves unjustly, pray: Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves. If You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, surely we are of the lost (7:23) and remind us through a distinctive cry that unleashes tremors into our souls. Our Lord comprehends all things in knowledge. In God do we put our trust. Our Lord, decide with truth between us and our folk, for You are the best of those who decide (7:89) whispers a unique style of entreaty of a submissive Prophet who murmurs 'establishment of justice' with full confidence, asking for God's action against an extremely impertinent disbelieving society.
In accordance with the context, the Qur'an frequently presents examples of the Prophet's supplications, sighs, and pleas for help. For example: You are our Guardian, therefore forgive us and have mercy on us (7:155); O our Lord, do not let us be subjected to the persecution of the unjust people (10:85); and There is no god but You, glory be to You. Surely I am of those who make themselves to suffer loss. (21:87) Hundreds of Qur'anic verses call us to interrogate ourselves, plea, and complain about our evil features. Such verses reveal that prayer is a source of strength for those in charge, a fountain of absolution for those who have committed sins, a solution for the needy, a hand extended to help those struck by disaster, a key to a treasure for the poor, a doctor for the sick, a breeze of hope for the desperate, and a dispatch order of a gift for the oppressed and the victim. The Qur'an always points out that prayer and humble supplications lead to salvation from worldly problems and concerns with the Hereafter, and that those who see (the Book) with the heart and murmur with the soul are traveling toward and praying to God.
In parallel with the Qur'an's prayer-colored horizon, the life of Prophet Muhammad, the sultan of prayer, is a lacework adorned with entreaties and supplications. He would open hands, turn to his Lord, overflow with thanks and glorification, bow and double himself up in prayer, and constantly supplicate to Him. He did this throughout his life: when he woke up in the morning, lived until the evening, and stood in God's Presence at night; while performing the ritual ablutions and daily prayers, observing these prayers (each a heavenly ascension), listening to the call for prayer, and during and after each prayer as a means for getting closer to God; while eating, going to bed, traveling, returning from a campaign, confronting an enemy; and while experiencing worldly or heavenly disasters and surprising events, witnessing miraculous events, suffering from illnesses or troubles, and when concerned or pleased with something. Prayer books give more details about all of his prayers and supplications.
Prayer is a mysterious key to His everlasting treasures, a point of support for the poor and hurt, and the most secure shelter for those in distress. Those who step into this shelter are considered to have obtained this key, and the poor, weak, and needy who join this governance attain that for which they had hoped.
The inhabitants of the heavens carry along the sincere prayers of such needy people, who are deprived of any other solution. These destitute people, who are in a state of desolation and demise, know what they are asking for and are aware of what they are doing. They turn to Him and unburden themselves of all thoughts. Such prayers would make the heavens burst into tears; hurricanes threatening the world would change its course, waves overturning everything would calm down, and peace would rise on the horizon. Broken fault lines would surrender to unexpected rulings, and released gases would easily evaporate into the atmosphere. The breeze of such a prayer enlivens Earth and brightens the skies. Hearts beat with exhilaration, and nature rises in order to dance and to send forth smiles.
Through prayer, people offer their sacred requests, which are beyond causes, to the Most Glorified One, and acknowledge that God see whatever is hidden or open. Humanity, as well as the jinns and the angels, pray to Him, especially about issues that subjugate their strength and control, and expect a remedy from Him. However, such a remedy is forthcoming only if we take all of the required measures and fulfill all of the necessary conditions.
O Remedy for all in need! Send a light from Your presence for those suffering in darkness, especially these days, when there is no means left to resort to, social circumstances are in complete disorder; when only the tyrants' voices are heard everywhere and the people sway and bump into obstacles. Extinguish the fires of tyranny and injustice with Your Infinite Power, destroy the Devil's homes, and place inescapable collars around the necks' of the evil ones.
We are not exposed to the winds of inspiration any more, the enthusiasm in our hearts has been subdued, and a stammer has started to appear upon our tongues. Send us a reviving breeze from Your land of mercy. Raise our hopes and goodwill for You to the borders of Your Mercy, give us faithful excitement, and accept us as hopeful supplicants thereof. Untie our tongues so that we do not commit another sin.
We are wronged, fallen, and devastated. Never have we been so far from You. Never have we entered such depths of failure. Never have we been so without You.
O Shelter for the miserable, Power Source for weak, Physician for the ill, and Truthful Guide for the lost! Once more we take refuge in You and unburden ourselves to You. We have been chasing after useless things and longing for the fulfillment of ridiculous dreams. Those whom we approached with hope and in whom we trusted never even looked at or paid any attention to us. No one but You have heard our voices and caressed our heads. Our feelings have been mocked, and our thoughts have been regarded as crimes. So many places have been sabotaged, fires of mutual separation have been inflamed, and all of what has been committed now hurts the purity of the faith.
Broken-down feelings, clumsy behaviors, souls in the dirt, feeble feet, paralyzed hands ' most of us have lost all hope ' the weather is foggy-gray ' people in the West are filled with longing ' people in the East are in need of Your blessings. We have come to You in such chaos. We are neither the first nor the last to come. Your Mercy is the door of hope for those who regret, and we are pitiful beggars in front of this door. Until now, all who have waited by Your door have returned with a blessing, and no fugitive or repentant person has ever been rejected. It is Your door, and thus it differs from others because only it opens upon the forgiveness that You bestow upon all those who wait by it. Strengthen us with Your mildness and peace. Make Your Existence heard by the tyrants.
O the Sultan of the exalted throne Who answers all prayers! Thousands, hundreds of thousands of us stand in Your Presence now. Opening our hands to You and knocking upon Your door of mercy, which is always open or at least ajar, we sigh. We believe from the depths of our hearts that You see and watch over everyone and everything, that You show compassion for every praying voice and person. Therefore, we ignore our disobedience for the time being, imagine our sins washed away in the falls of Your Mercy, and disregard our faults while regarding Your forgiveness. If You exist ' You are the only One who exists on its own ' we cannot be deserted. If You are our companion, then who cares about the wilderness that surrounds us on all sides?! As long as You are together with us, it does not matter even if Satan and his followers are everywhere. You are the one and only Sovereign over everything, and Your ruling cannot be overthrown. You see the smallest thing, hear the most silent sound in the domain of Your Sovereignty, and do not discard anything or anyone without a reply.
Yet again do we present ourselves at Your door, which is as large as Your Mercy, with the capacity that You have given us to ask from You, and with the belief that You will grant us our wishes. You know our situation, and so what we are going to tell You is just a small part of Your Knowledge. Give us a remedy for all the troubles that we have suffered from for centuries. O Most Merciful, Most Compassionate, accept our prayers!