The Greatest Act of Worship
“Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest, and Allah knows what you do.” (29:45)
The word worship has a very comprehensive meaning in Islam; it includes all the acts done resulting in nearness and pleasure of Allah. Worship is a goal in itself. It’s an educational program coined to groom mankind to salvation in both worlds. Worship brings about perfection in man and leads to proximity to God.
The Holy Qur’an as quoted in the above verse states that prayer keeps one away from indecency and evil. Worshiping God revives the holy spirit of man and reinforces his faith and thus it prevents him from committing evil acts. There are several examples from history when a person who committed a sin sought to be penalized. We know the story of the woman who committed adultery and then presented herself to the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (peace be upon him), and confessed her sin and requested him to implement the Islamic penal code against her. Similarly, a man who committed adultery once came to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) confessing his sin and seeking punishment. Miracles like these happen when once faith is living and vibrant, and we know that remembrance of Allah is the source of life for hearts. In our present world we witness so many people with knowledge of laws of land, but we often find that such knowledge does not lead them to go to courts and confess their crimes and urge the authority to execute punishment against them. Rather on the contrary, we see that those who know the law most, are often the most manipulative. The fear and love of God prevents a man from doing sins. The more one remembers Allah sincerely, the more he is away from sins and the more one forgets His lofty status , the more such a person is given to falling prey to evil acts.
Sometimes we find two extremes with respect to worship: one group does nothing but prayers only, and the other group looks down at prayers and argues that social service and humanity are more important. Both of these groups are deviant. Those who make prayers their soul aim become negligent about their duties towards justice and truth, and those who think social service is everything and neglect the prayers lead their souls to become weak and gradually slip into sins.
The required conditions for prayers – like cleanliness, the dress used for prayer is purchased with legitimately earned money, the place of prayer is not usurped or forcefully obtained, facing the Ka’ba and the avoidance of unnecessary bodily movements – and the lofty incantations and dhikr during prayers which enliven the spirit, all instill in us the spiritual loftiness and respect for social obligations. Ayatollah Mutahhari while discussing the different aspects of prayers and their effects in purifying, training and guiding us both individually and socially says about spiritual aspects:
“Now we come to other parts of the prayer which means attention to God only, and we utter the phrase, ‘Greetings to all worthy servants of God.’ This is a declaration of peace and goodwill towards all good beings. This means mingling worship of God with educational matters. In spiritual matters, the more one forgets one’s self, the better it is, but from a social viewpoint, one should never forget others.
In the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an which we recite as part of the ritual prayer, ‘We worship only You, O God, and beg only Your help’ – here we do not use the word ‘I’ but ‘we’ to show that all Muslims are inter-related in an Islamic community. In Islam, ‘I’ is always replaced by ‘we’. All these are lessons to learn. When we say “Allahu Akbar” are we expressing our fear of God? It is natural for the human being to be afraid of anything which is great, whether it is a mountain, a sea or a powerful person. But when we say “God is Greater” in a convinced manner, nothing else and no one can frighten us by their greatness, for God is Greater than anything we may imagine and all other things are trivial in comparison to Him.
Imam Ali says: “God has manifested Himself in the spirit of the true believers and thus everything else unrelated to God seems small in their eyes.”
When you utter the phrase “God is Greater” in all sincerity, His greatness is personified before you and thus nothing else finds enough significance to be flattered or feared or shown humbleness. In this way, devotion to God brings freedom: you become God’s servant but free in relation to everything else. Each of the following words in the ritual prayer has a meaning illustrating God’s greatness: “God is great. Glory be to God. Praise belongs to God. Glory be to my Great Lord and I am praising Him. Glory be to my Great Lord and I am praising Him. Glory be to my Lord the Most High and I am praising Him.”
A true believer never forgets Allah and never forsakes His remembrance. The busy and tight schedules of life do not divert his heart from His remembrance: “Men whom neither merchandise nor selling diverts them from the remembrance of Allah and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of the poor-rate; they fear a Day in which the hearts and eyes shall turn about.” (24:37)
Islam wants to create in man the consciousness of God, to feel His presence everywhere, at every time. It does not matter what we are doing, we must remember Him and glorify Him.
The prayer is the foundation of our religion; those who forsake it demolish the structure of religion. The sin of neglecting prayers is certainly the fire of Hell:
“About the guilty
What has brought you into hell?
They shall say: We were not of those who prayed;
And we used not to feed the poor;
And we used to enter into vain discourse with those who entered into vain discourses.
And we used to call the Day of Judgment a lie;
Till death overtook us.
So the intercession of intercessors shall not avail them.” (74:41-48)
Imam Ali in his last words emphasized the importance of prayers and Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) too in his last will emphasized that the Ahlul Bayt’s (peace be upon them all) intercession will not reach those who take their prayers lightly.