Prayer and Concentration – Part 1

The Significance of Prayer:

Know that freedom from other preoccupations for the sake of absorption in worship (`ibadah) is obtainable through possessing unoccupied time and an unoccupied heart. And this is one of the most important points regarding worship, without which the presence of heart cannot be realized, and a worship performed without an attentive heart is devoid of value. That which brings about attentiveness of the heart consists of two matters. The first of these lies in possessing unoccupied time and an unoccupied heart, and the second lies in making one’s heart understand the importance of worship. That which is meant by `unoccupied time’ is that one should set aside a certain time out of his day and night hours exclusively for the sake of worship wherein he should devote himself solely to worship without engaging in any other preoccupation. If one were to understand that worship is an important thing whose significance is greater than any other activity, or, rather, that it is something of incomparable significance, he would allocate a certain time to it and be careful to observe its timings. In the following we shall try to cast some light on this matter.

A devout person should be observant of the times of his worship under every circumstance. Of course, he should observe the timings of salat, which is the most important of the acts of worship, and carry it out in the most meritorious part of its time, refraining from engaging in any other work during those times. In the same way as he assigns a certain time to making an earning and for study and debate, he should do the same in respect of these acts of worship, in whose time he must be free from other preoccupations, so that he can achieve concentration of the heart, which makes up the quintessence and kernel of `ibadah. But should he, like this author, offer his prayers out of compulsion and consider the performance of the worship of the Lord as a superfluous matter, he would, of course, delay it as long as it can be delayed and when he offers it offer it in a perfunctory manner, considering it as an impediment in the way of what he imagines to be important tasks. However, such a worship has not only no spiritual brilliance, it deserves Divine wrath, and such a person is one who makes light of salat and neglects it as something trivial. I seek refuge in God from making light of salat and not giving it its due importance. These pages cannot contain all the traditions that exist in this context, and sere we will mention a few of them for the sake of lesson.

Muhammad ibn Ya’qub (al-Kulayni) reports with his isnad from Abu Ja’far may peace be upon him-that he said to Zurarah-may God’s mercy be upon him: “Don’t be negligent in regard to your prayers. Verily, the Prophet may God’s benedictions be upon him and his Family-said on his death-bed: ‘The one who makes light of his prayers does not belong to me, nor the one who takes intoxicating drinks, and, by God, he will not return to me at the Pond (of al-Kawthar).’ ” [2]

Al-Kulayni reports with his isnad from Abu Basir that Abu al-Hasan al’Awwal (al-‘Imam al-Kazim)-may peace be upon him-said: “At the time of his death my father said to me, ‘My son, the one who makes light of salat will not receive our intercession.’ ” [3]

There are a large number of traditions concerning this matter, but these that have been cited are sufficient for those who will take a lesson. God knows what a great calamity it is to be separated from the Noble Messenger-may God’s benedictions be upon him and his Family-and to be deprived of the support of that master! What a great humiliation is it that is entailed by deprival from the intercession of that master and his majestic Household! Don’t imagine that anyone will receive Divine forgiveness and enter the promised Paradise without the intercession and protection of that noble personage. Now see for yourself whether preferring every trivial matter, or rather something which is of imaginary benefit, to prayer, which is the apple of the eye of the Noble Messenger-may God’s benedictions be upon him and his Family-and a great means of Divine mercy, and treating it with negligence, delaying it without any excuse until the end of its time and not observing its prerequisites is not equal to-slighting it and making light of it. If it is, know that you have, in accordance with the testimony of the Noble Messenger-may God’s benedictions be upon him and his Family-and that of the immaculate Imams-may peace be upon them-gone out of their wilayah and will not attain to their intercession. Now if you stand in need of their intercession and wish to belong to the ummah of the Noble Messenger-may God’s benedictions be upon him and his Progeny-then treasure this divine trust and give it importance, or face the consequences of your neglect. God, the Most Exalted, and His awliya’ have no need of the works of yours and mine, but it is feared that if you fail to give it its due importance, it will lead you to abandon it altogether and that will ultimately lead you to deny it as duty, bringing you to certain damnation and everlasting wretchedness.

More important than finding free and unoccupied time for salat is possessing a free and unoccupied heart. Rather, the former is a prerequisite for obtaining the latter. Having an unoccupied heart means that at the time of worship one must disengage himself from mundane engagements and cares and turn his heart away from all kinds of matters and cares and make it entirely empty and unencumbered for attending to worship and supplication with God Almighty. As long as one cannot purge his heart of these matters, he cannot obtain the necessary state of extrication for himself and his worship. But our misfortune is that we store up all the various kinds of stray thoughts and cares for the time of worship.

As soon as we say the takbirat al’ihram of salat, it is as if we have opened a shop or a ledger of accounts or an album. Our heart wanders away to other matters and we become totally oblivious of worship. When we come to ourselves, it is when we have reached the moment of salam, having passed through the salat as a matter of habit! Truly, this kind of worship is a disgrace and this mode of supplicating with the Lord is shameful.

My dear, consider the prayers you offer to God by comparing them with talk and conversation with one of His insignificant creatures. When talking to a stranger-to say nothing of a friend you attend to him with all your attention and are oblivious of anyone else as long as you are engaged in conversation with him. But why is it that while engaging in communication and prayer with your Provider and the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds you are totally heedless of Him and attentive to other matters? Is the station and worth of creatures greater than that of the Sacred Essence of the Lord? Is conversation with them more valuable than supplication with the Fulfiller of needs. Yes, I and you do not know the significance of supplication with God. We consider these divine duties as a cumbersome burden, and, of course, a matter that is a cumbrous weight on one will not be significant for him.

Hence that which needs correction is the source of this stream. We must obtain faith in God and the exhortations of the prophets so as to reform our sorry state. All our misfortunes arise from the weakness of our faith and the shaky character of our conviction. The faith of Sayyid ibn Tawus-may God be pleased with him-had brought him to such a point that he used to celebrate every year the anniversary of the day of his becoming mukallaf, for on that day God had bestowed upon him the permission to engage in His worship and had dressed him in the robes of taklif. Really, just imagine, what purity and brilliance that heart of his had!

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