One of the inherent beauties of Islam is its structure. The times for prayer are seamlessly integrated with our changing days and nights. There are guidelines for maintaining ritual purity. Beyond acts of ritual worship, there is structure in economy to maintain balance of society, through khums (obligatory alms on savings), zakat, sadaqa (charity) etc. There are etiquettes which put respect and sanctity in various interpersonal dynamics; marriage, family, business, etc.
Tests in this life are a part of this life, just as exams in school are designed to show who has gained the knowledge and is worthy to move to the next phase. Therefore, in order to qualify for becoming a ‘certified’ believer, we too must be cognizant and prepared for the tests that shall lie before us. Of course, it is not uncommon to hear people complain about the results they experience in any of the various aspects of life and sometimes that can be attributed to not taking the proper steps to observe the proper etiquette and mannerisms. When a person goes to a job interview, if they have even the slightest inclination to actually want to be hired and if they know even the most minimal information about interviewing etiquette, then they will follow these important protocols as they know it can have significant impact on the outcome. So, they will show up on time or early. They will dress professionally. They will bathe beforehand and groom themselves nicely. They may also research about the company, and anticipate interview questions. They will be mindful of their body language and articulation and they will probably also remember to bring an additional resume to the interview. All of this because they understand that in order to get the best results, we must put our best foot forward.
Is this no different in any other aspect of life? One who does not put forth the effort and etiquette in properly performing ritual acts or worship should not be surprised at the results, or lack thereof.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Supplication is the weapon of the believer, the pillar of religion, and the light of the heavens and the earth.
سِلاحُ الْمُؤْمِنِ وَعمودُ الدِّينِ وَنُورُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ الدُّعَاءُ
When we consider the term ‘weapon’ used to describe supplication, then we should also consider the context of this world, which is as a battlefield where one must be vigilant to survive and one must rely on the best of strategies and artillery to combat enemy forces. Of course, we must keep in mind that these forces attack from all angles, including within. Thus, the great jihad being overcoming the ego and lower soul.
Here we will mention some of the etiquette which helps the powerful weapon of du’aa to become a viable asset for the believer facing the tests and obstacles of this world:
Nearly every Sura of the Qur’an begins with the powerful verse: بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful
Seeking help from God also requires that out of His grace and mercy, He answer us. It also is a reminder for us as to put God before all else and to realize that what is achieved is achieved only through Him.
Our traditions have taught us:
لا يُرَدُّ دُعاءٌ أَوَّلُهُ بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحمنِ الرَّحيمِ
The supplication which starts with ‘Bismillahe Rahmane Rahim’ is not turned away
When we look deeper at the meaning of this phrase we can better comprehend how important our own faith (iman) and sincerity (ikhlas) is in the process of doing du’aa. Rahman and rahim have been translated often to express very similar meanings of all-encompassing mercy, compassion and benevolence. When we dig deeper we also come to realize that the former is expressing an abundance of mercy and the latter a consistency in being merciful. Moreover, books of tafsir (exegesis) have explained that there a general mercy that God has for all companions, but a special mercy specific to believers! So when we raise our hands in prayer to ask from Him, we must consider if we have attained such a status of a true believer? How has our perspective of things which Islam has deemed unlawful and our action in respect to them affected our level of faith? Clearly, the one who is closer to Allah in purity and good deeds will have a more effective du’aa.
 al-Kafi, v. 2, p. 468, no. 1
Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host a series on “Refinement of the Self” by esteemed guest columnist and scholar from Qom, Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki. His column will focus on interrelated topics ranging from akhlaq, ethics and morality as an all-comprehensive approach for character refinement based on Islamic teachings. For past articles in the column see here.