By: Sadruddin Noorani, Chicago, USA
This month we will explore zikr (remembrance), as an important prayer, not only in which we call upon the names of Allah, the Prophet and the Imams, but also one in which Allah also calls out to us.
The Holy Quran also confirms this in the following verses:
“Therefore remember Me (and) I will remember you.” chapter ‘Baqarah’, 2:152
“I am near to answer the call of the caller, when he calls Me…” chapter ‘Baqarah’, 2:186
“And your Lord says: Call upon Me and I will answer to you” chapter ‘al-Ghafir’, 40:60
Perhaps it is this idea that is expressed poetically in a story in the Mathnawi of Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the 12th century poet, in which he recounts the tale of a faithful man who engages in daily prayer. In his prayer the man would call upon his creator by repeating “Ya Allah, Ya Allah, Ya Allah,” as he had done for many years. This daily ritual gave him great comfort. One day, as he was praying, he was confronted by a vision in which satan/devil appeared to him and asked: “Why do you waste your time every day, praying and calling upon God’s name when you receive no reply?” The man had not thought about this before. It was true, while he called upon Allah’s name repeatedly, he never received a reply. He became sad and disheartened and for the next several days he stopped praying. How after all these years could he not have realized this? He began to weep and from his tears arose al-Khidr, the Green One, who is described in the Quran as the “righteous servant of God,” and who some scholars believe to have sipped from the river of eternal life.
Al-Khidr asked the man why was he crying and why he no longer called out God’s name, as Allah missed his voice. Upon hearing his reasoning, Khidr replied, “Don’t you see that in every “Ya Allah” are a hundred replies? Who causes you to recite God’s name in the first place, if not Allah Himself? It is because of God’s mercy and his favor upon you that you call His name in the first place.”
In this story we see that the man’s prayer was in itself a reply from God. While it is easy to get discouraged when at times we face difficulty in our ability to focus on prayers, it is also important to remember that repetitive acts of remembrance such as zikr, calling upon the many beautiful names of Allah, Mohammad and the Imams, and recitation of tasbihs, such as those given to Hazrat Bibi Fatima al-Zahra (a.s.) by the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), can be practiced at any time of the day, and it can consist of saying SubhanAllah (Glorified is God); Al-Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God) and Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest). These prayers not only remind us of Allah, the Prophet and the Imams, but they also give us strength and motivation to seek a balance between the spiritual and the material world that can keep us true to the ethics of our faith.
“Prayer is a daily necessity, a direct communication of the spark with the universal flame” Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (Aga Khan lll) [2 Nov 1877-11 July 1957], in “The Memoirs of Aga Khan” Page 176.
“The day, we no longer know how, nor have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul that He has told us is eternal is no longer of sufficient importance to us to be worthy of an hour of our daily working, profit-seeking time, will be a sunless day of despair”. Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al-Hussaini (Aga Khan lV) at Peshawar University, Pakistan, 30, November 1967.
There are many ways to speak to and communicate with Allah in our daily lives. Prayer can happen in formal spaces of worship such as in the Jamatkhana or other places of worship such as Masjid, Khanqah, Ribāṭ, Tekke, Zawiyah, etc., as well as in moments of reflection scattered throughout the day. It can take the form of inherited words as well as in personal sentiments in a language of our choice. Prayer in the form of rites, rituals and ceremonies allow participation through body, mind and feeling all together. Prayers can be a profoundly spiritual experiences when we find meaning in it, and this meaning can unfold to us in so many different ways throughout our lives, if we allow it to.
Hazrat Bibi Fatima al-Zahra (a.s) daughter of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Bibi Khadija al-Kubra (a.s) were born in the month of Jumadah al-Thani.