Du’a, which in Arabic is to ‘call out’ or to ‘summon’. Du’a takes many forms. It can be a prayer of obedience, submission, and piety; it can be a blessing or salutation; it can be a supplicatory prayer as in a prayer for rain or prayer for safety during the time of uncertainty or prayer for good health when in sickness, etc. Thus Du’a can be informal personal prayers or they can be more formal and communal.
Verses from the Holy Qur’an on Prayers
“And keep up prayers at the two ends of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deed take away evil deed; this is a word for remembrance to those who remember (their Lord).” (Surah Hud, 11:114)
“O Mankind! Worship your Guardian-Lord, Who created you and those who came before you, that you may learn righteousness.” (Surah Baqarah, 2:21)
“Therefore, remember Me, I will remember you. Give thanks to Me, and reject not Me.” (Surah Baqarah, 2:152)
For Ismaili Muslims, under the authority of the Imam of the time, we have the “Du’a”.
Our Du’a is a multi-dimensional prayer. It is not only a prayer of invocation, but also encompasses prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, blessing, submission, obedience, petition, and remembrance. At the beginning of our Du’a we invoke the name of Allah, “Bismillah, – In the name of Allah“. We also praise, glorify, and remember Allah through expressions such as “Al-hamdu lillah” (Praise be to Allah). This expression is said to incorporate remembrance of all the attributes of Allah (swt). The Du’a also seeks blessing on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the final Prophet, and on his progeny, the Imams.
In addition, the Ismaili Muslim Du’a reflects our constant submission and obedience to Allah when we state, “O Allah to You is our prostration and obedience.” It is also supplicatory. The following are some important petitions and supplications we make in our daily Du’a.
* We recite: “hayyina rabbana bis-salaam wa ad khilna dar as-salaam”, which means, O our Lord, grant us life of peace and enter us in the abode of peace.
* We also recite: “rabbanagfir lana, zunubana, wa-sah-hil umurna, warzukna, warhamna,” which means, O our Lord, forgive us our sins and make our talks easy and give us our livelihood and sustenance, and have mercy upon us.
Thus, not only is it important for us to say our prayers, but it is also essential for us to understand its deeper meaning. Since prayer is an intimate communication with the Divine and the means to bring us closer to the Divine, understanding the meaning and significance of this important prayer is crucial for our journey. True understanding should transform and provide us with appropriate attitudes, emotions, and feelings such as humility, sincerity, dependence, repentance, clarity of intention, and absorption in prayer.
Our entire formal Du’a is in Arabic, therefore, it is important not only to memorize the Du’a but also to know the meaning, particularly of the Qur’anic verses.
We can only participate completely in, and be cognizant of, our Du’a or supplication when we understand the meaning of Du’a. Indeed, Allah assures us in the Qur’an that He listens and responds to our supplication, as confirmed by Surah 2, ayat 186, Wherein Allah says:
“… I answer the call of the suppliant when he cries to Me. So let them hear My call: let them trust Me that they may be rightly led.“
The Spirituality of Our Daily Du’a
While there is great diversity amongst the Ismaili community around the world, there is one practice that unites all Ismailis regardless of where we live or our cultural background. That essential element is the recitation of our du’a. But like any ritual, the value, importance, and power of the du’a in our lives can be easily forgotten. When reciting our daily prayers simply becomes a habit – a set of phrases that we repeat over and over in a rush to finish because something else is awaiting us – a task that we check of on our to-do lists, or a text that we neglect to recite in the midst of our busy days – we strip it of its value.
For the du’a is a prayer brimming with spirituality. This is true not only of its words, but also in the way we speak to Allah through it. When we recite our du’a with respect and with true intention, we open our hearts to His Mercy and the du’a becomes akin to a key through which the Lord may choose to reveal Himself to us in more intimate ways. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, “If you know God as He is, you will move the mountains with your supplication.”
The word du’a is an Arabic term meaning “to call upon” and it is referred to 159 times in the Qur’an. In verse 60 of Surah Ghafir, (The forgiver), Allah tells us, “Call upon Me. I will respond to you.” Throughout the Muslim world, the word du’a is applied to prayers of supplication and invocation and should be approached and recited with feeling, understanding and intent. While the du’a is recited in congregation, at its heart it is a personal prayer. And through it, we are invited to share with Allah our desires and wishes that are often kept secret within our hearts and minds.
Prayers of supplication, such as our du’a, are seen by our fifth Imam, Mawlana Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s.) as an opportunity to be open and share with our Lord our desires and wishes as if He was an intimate friend, but also being mindful of what we ask for and how we ask for it. He says:
“Keep to the morals of supplication… Preserve the greatness and highness of God and see with your heart that He knows what there is in your conscience. And He knows your secrets whether good or bad… Think much about what you ask for, how much you ask and why you ask. Supplication is you submitting to the truth, being devoted to see the Lord, leaving your choice and entrusting all the affairs, whether apparent or hidden, with God… God knows the secret, and what is yet more hidden, so that you may ask Him for something but He knows that there is something else in your heart.”
The Du’a, while a part of our daily routine, is also a prayer which is infused with spirituality. This is true not only of its words, but also in the way we speak to Allah. For when we recite our du’a with respect, with true intention and open our heart to His Mercy, the du’a becomes akin to a key by which the Lord may choose to reveal Himself to us in more intimate ways.
The Ismaili Du’a consist of six parts with Ayats from the Holy Qur’an and the Tasbihaat
Part one: (1) AL-HAMDU LILLAHI… WALAZ-ZAAL-LEEN (Sura al-Fatiha, 1:1-7)
Part two: (2) YA AYYUHAL-LAZEENA AAMANOO… WA ULLIL AMRI MINKUM (Surah Nisa, 4:59)
Part two: (3) WA KULLA SHAI’IN… IMAMIM-MUBEEN (Surah Yaseen, 36:12)
Part three: (4) YA AYYUHAR-RASOOLU… MINAN NAAS (Surah Maaida, 5:67)
Part four: (5) IN-NAL-LAZEENA YUBA-YI-‘UNAKA… AJRAN ‘AZEEMAA (Sura Fatah, 48-10)
Part five (6) YA AYYUHAL-LAZEENA AAMANOO… WA ANTUM TA’LAMOON (Surah Anfal, 8:27)
Part six (7) QUL HU’WALLA’HU AHAD… KUFUWAN AHAD (Surah Ikhlas, 112:1-4)
The Du’a begins with ‘Bismillah’. The invocation Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate) is said six times at the beginning of each part of the Du’a.
The opening lines of our du’a are also the opening lines of the Holy Qur’an. Surat al-Fatiha is often spoken of containing the essence and symbolic message of not only the entire Qur’an, but also of all the revelations before it. It consists of seven verses: three concerning God, three concerning man and one concerning the relationship between the two. When recited together, these verses are a prayer in which humanity asks for Allah’s guidance. This theme of guidance, and our need for it, is an important and overarching theme in the du’a.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once asked a companion: “Should I teach you a surah that has no other comparison to it in the whole Qur’an?” Upon agreeing, the Prophet taught him Surat al-Fatiha and said, “It is a cure for every ailment except death.” Its meaning is so plentiful that Hazrat Ali (a.s.) has said, “If I wished, I could load [the backs of] 70 camels with the interpretations of Surat al-Fatiha of the Qur’an.” There are many ways in which we can read and understand Surat al-Fatiha. Here is one such way:
MEANING: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Right from its opening, bismillah helps us to focus our minds on the Divine Essence – the source of Compassion and Mercy. The Qur’an and the du’a do not open with judgement or punishment. Instead, we are faced with Compassion and Mercy, a message shared by all of the rightly guided prophets.
Alhamdu Lillahi Rabbil-Alamin, Ar-Rahmanir-Rahim
MEANING: Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds; The Beneficent, the Merciful
Here we are encouraged to recognize the existence of multiple worlds, because we live in a universe where there are things visible to our outer senses and those that are visible to our inner senses. Mystics and spiritually blessed people are ones who are able to develop the skills to navigate these worlds, by shifting their focus of awareness between them, in mentioning the worlds between these two sentences, we are reminded that Divine surrounds us. He blankets and frames our worlds.
Successful mu’mineen (believers) who are able to access these worlds through practices such as ibadat, are able to feel God’s Grace, Beauty, and Harmony both in the material and spiritual world.
MEANING: Lord of the Day of Judgement
Islam, like many religions that came before it, teaches us that one day the world will end. And on that day, we will face the throne of the Lord.
Iyyaka Na’budu Wa-Iyyaka Nastaeen
MEANING: You alone we worship and You Alone we pray for help
Here we are brought in to face the Spirit of Compassion and Mercy, and call upon Him for assistance. Worship of our Creator can take many forms – from our formal prayers to acts of kindness towards our fellow human beings and His Creation.
Ihdinas Siratal-Mustaqim, Siratal-Ladhina An’amta ‘Alayhim Ghairil-Maghdubi ‘Alayhim Walad-Dalin
MEANING: Guide us to the Straight Path, the path of those upon whom you have bestowed Your Grace, not of the ones who have incurred your wrath, nor those who have gone astray.
We stand at the crossroads of making choices: there are two paths before us. The first is that of Divine Union and doing things that pleases God and provide peace to our souls. In our earthly path, each one of us, as humans, constantly struggle and wander between the Straight Path and that of anger. Therefore, we seek Divine help and guidance to tread the path of those upon whom Allah has bestowed Grace.
In Surat al-Fatiha, the opening verse of the du’a, we find both richness and wisdom. Many of us may know the meaning of the Fatiha but may not have spent time exploring its depths. In doing so, we lift the Fatiha and all our prayers into the inner realm – something extremely important for ourselves and our children.
The relationship with spirituality of Du’a and its structure
The du’a has six parts, each beginning and ending in the same way. At the start of each verse, we recite Bismillah and we also end with Allah’s name when we say, “Allahuma la-ka sujood-i wa ta’ati” “O Allah, to You is my prostration and obedience.” In both of these phrases, we acknowledge God’s Mercy, Compassion and Generosity as well as the humility we should have in facing our Creator.
This humility is underscored at the end of each and every part of the du’a when we also bow our heads in prostration. When we bow down, our bodies are not just performing a simple action. As Muslims, we recognize that Allah is everywhere. He is within us and also surrounds us. When we are in the presence of Allah, we should act in a manner that is appropriate and befitting. Eighteen times a day, or even more during other supplicatory rituals, we not only have the opportunity to demonstrate this humility, but also to truly speak to Allah and share with Him our thoughts and desires. Allah reminds us in the Qur’an (Surah Baqarah, ayat 156) “surely we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.” Our relationship to Him is one of worship (‘ibadat) and servitude. However, it is also one of the expressions and acts of love. We should yearn to return to our Master and be united with Him. Each part of du’a concludes with this idea.
Similarly, the bismillah also shows the relationship we have with our Creator. Through it, we express our wonder, awe and thankfulness to Allah while also expressing our innermost desire that we may have the blessing of another breath, another moment of life and that we may walk on a path of truth and understanding (Sirat Al-Mustaqeem). To say bismillah is to humbly offer oneself to the majesty of Allah. While we usually translate ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim as Compassionate and Merciful, they also have within them the meanings of tenderness, protection, and nourishment – that we wish God to graciously bestow upon us. To do so, we must aim to follow His guidance.
A saying attributed to Hazrat Ali (a.s.) reminds us of this relationship. He says:
“know that all the wisdom of the Heavenly Scriptures is in the Qur’an. And whatever is in the Qur’an is in the Fatiha. And whatever is in the Fatiha is in the Bismillah. And whatever is in the Bismillah is in the ‘Ba’ of Bismillah. And whatever is in the ‘Ba’ of Bismillah is encapsulated in the dot under the ‘Ba.’ And I am that dot under that ‘Ba’.”
What does it mean to be this dot? How are we to understand the words of Hazrat Ali in relation to the Bismillah? The Bismillah cannot stand without the ‘Ba’ and the ‘Ba’ needs the dot underneath it to gain its identity to distinguish it from other letters which are similar in shape. It is through the analogy of the ‘Ba’ and the dot under it, that as Shi’a Muslims we are able to better understand the Imam’s essential role in linking the Creator to His creatures through Mercy, Compassion and Guidance.
Central themes of the Du’a
On a number of occasions Mawlana Hazar Imam has reminded us about the importance of learning the du’a and its meaning. But learning its meaning does not stop at memorizing its translation or understanding the gist of its Arabic words. Learning the du’a also means internalizing it, impressing it upon our hearts and truly knowing its importance and value. Attending congregational prayers regularly, fulfilling religious duties, and serving God’s creations will provide us the strength to face adversity and courage to face difficulties, so that we will have humility and not become vain in success.
There is great merit in reciting the du’a with intent and understanding. For in the du’a success is defined not through material gains in our lives. Rather, success comes from acknowledging, accepting and coming to a state of knowledge about the main tenets of our faith. These concepts can be found throughout the du’a and include recognizing the Tawhid or Oneness of Allah, the centrality and guidance of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the special role of the Imams that succeed him. Every part of the du’a mentions these three fundamental Shi’a Muslim concepts in some way. At their heart, lies our relationship with each of them and their relationship with each other. These ideas and concepts are further highlighted by verses of the Qur’an which appear in every part of the du’a.
Throughout the entirety of the du’a, we praise Allah and ask Him for guidance. We recognize His Mercy and also ask Him to bestow favors on the Prophet, Hazrat Ali and the progeny. This praising of Allah and knowledge of the Prophet and the Imam’s stature is a reference that repeats itself in different ways in every part of the du’a . However, knowledge is one element, belief is another, and true recognition is yet another form of acceptance.
One way to think about the du’a, is to look at each part as a level on a staircase, a progression and journey of understanding and knowledge. In its introductory part, the main concepts are introduced. In Surat al-Fatiha, Allah’s nature is introduced to us as is our relationship and orientation to Him. We are introduced to the world: Allah at the helm and human beings demonstrating both their reliance and gratitude to Him. In its second and third parts, our relationship to Allah is developed and His attributes are slowly revealed to us. In addition, the Prophet, and the Imam, whom we ask Allah to bless and shower His favors upon, are allocated their special status amongst all of creation. In the fourth part, we affirm our allegiance to Allah and recognize the special status of the Prophet and our Bayyah to the Imam-of-the-Time. We also seek forgiveness from Allah and recognize Him as The Provider. In the fifth part of du’a, we make the commitment and promise to not betray Allah’, nor His Prophet or Imams and through them, ask Allah for forgiveness and for the mistakes we have made; thus recognizing the role and purpose of these spiritual guides in our lives. In the sixth and final part of the du’a, we acknowledge Allah’s true nature through Surat al-Ikhlas, and also accept the ahl al-bayt and the institution of guidance through the lineage of ahl al-bayt/panjetan-paak.
In each recitation of the du’a, we mirror our own journeys of faith – from acknowledging the Creator, the final and last Prophet, and the Imams in our lives to offering them our allegiance, and finally accepting them unconditionally when we realize their inner essence.
“And we have vested everything in the Manifest Imam”
Reflecting on the second half of the verse 12 from Surah Yasin which we recite as the second of two verses or ayats in the second part of our Du’a, we recite it immediately after Surah Nisa, Verse 59 where we reaffirm our Shahadah, our foundational beliefs as Shi’a Muslims. In the Qur’an, Allah distinguishes muslimeen – those who submit – from mu’mineen – those who truly believe. In Verse 59, Allah addresses the true mu’mins and commands them to obey three sources of divine authority:
Ati-ullah, wa atiur Rasool, we oolil amr minkum
MEANING: O ye, who believe Obey Allah And obey the Apostle And holders of authority from amongst you.
We then continue with the second half of Verse 12 from Surah Yasin which reads:
Wa kulla shayin ahsainahu Fi Imamim-mubin
MEANING: And we have vested everything in the Manifest Imam
Mawlana Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.), our 4th Imam, explaining this verse, said that when this verse was revealed, Hazrat Abu Bakr (r.a.) and Hazrat Umar (r.a.) asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “Is imam-im mubin, “the clear guide” the Tawrat given to Hazrat Musa (a.s.)? The Prophet’s answer was: “No”
Again, they asked: “Is it the Injeel, given to Hazrat Isa (a.s.)?” And his answer was: “No” again.
Then they asked: “Is it the Holy Qur’an?” Once again, he answered “No”.
Then turning towards Amir al-Mu’minin Hazrat Ali (a.s.), the Prophet said: “Verily this is the Imam in whom Allah has deposited the knowledge of everything.” Then, addressing the people present there, the Prophet said: “O people, there is no branch of knowledge Allah did not teach me and I have not conveyed it to Ali. Verily Allah has given me wisdom and I have given it to Ali. I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.”
In this verse of the Qur’an, in the second part of our Du’a, the Prophet speaks about the source and nature of the Imams’ knowledge. Imam al-Baqir tells us that this special knowledge of all things was passed from Allah to Prophet Muhammad and from Prophet Muhammad to Hazrat Ali. This knowledge then continues in an unbroken line from our first Imam to our present Imam.
While the first ayat in the second part of our Du’a, commands those who believe to obey Allah, the Prophet and the Imams, this second ayat shows us that it is necessary to do so not only because of their divine authority, but also because our beloved Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali, and by extension all of our Imams, are linked together through the thread of special knowledge which carries us through “the gate of guidance” into the “reservoir of Allah’s Ilm“.
Recited at the beginning of the sixth and final part of our du’a. The word ikhlas can be translated as “sincerity” or “purity” and declares Allah’s Absolute Oneness through a brief declaration. The importance of this chapter is attested to in a hadith attributed to the Prophet (pbuh) who asked, “isn’t every one of you able to recite one third of the Qur’an during a night?” They thought it very difficult, so they asked, “Who is able to do that, O Apostle of God?” He responded: “Hu Allahu Ahad, Allahu Samad” is one third of the Qur’an.
Surat al-Ikhlas is said to have been revealed when two of the Prophet’s tribesmen, not yet Muslim, asked him to describe the “lineage of his God.” Allah revealed and described Himself through the words of Surat al-Ikhlas. In four short verses, the nature of Allah’s essence is described in His own words. It reads:
Bismillah-hir-ramanirraheem; Qul-hu wallah hu ahad, Allah hus samad, lam yalid, wa lam yulad, wa lam ya qullahu kufuwan ahad
MEANING: In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful
Say, it is Allah (who is) the One Allah is absolute, Independent
He did not Beget, Nor He was begotten, and there is none like unto Him.
As Muslims, we echo the sentiments of this Surah, every time we recite the first part of the shahada – la ilaha illa Allah, There is no God but Allah. Just as Allah has no partner in dominion, he also has no partner in worship. The first words: la ilaha, there is no God, deny all things that are worshiped instead of Allah – whether they be false Gods such as money and wealth, human beings, or idols of all kinds. The remaining words: illa Allah, except Allah, affirms that all kinds of worships are for Allah alone. It is also a reminder that everything in the universe happens through the power and will of God, from the orbit of the planets and the brightness of the sun to the creation of life itself and beyond. When observed in this way, the world truly becomes enchanted with awe and mystery, unraveling itself to our senses, eyes, and intellects, so that we may appreciate it and fathom Allah’s bounty and grace. Surat al-Ikhlas is a daily reminder of God’s being and its recitation is a prayer echoing and affirming His true nature.
Also, in the name of this short surah lies something else. One’s sincerity is a secret, known only to the human soul and to Allah. Not even the angels can determine one’s sincerity. There is no one watching the secret place in one’s heart except for Allah. Ikhlas then means that one has no motivation beyond bringing oneself closer to Allah.
The eleventh century Sufi, al-Qushayri wrote of Surat al-Ikhlas:
“Ikhlas is to give one’s obedience, with firm intention exclusively to the Truth – that is above all, one wishes one’s good works to bring one closer to God. One does not engage in them to impress someone, to acquire a good reputation in society, out of the love of people’s praise, or for any other reason than to come closer to God Most High. It is truly said that ikhlas is the purification of action from the consideration of created beings…”
Here ikhlas, or sincerity, purifies one’s actions, in the same way that zakat, sadaqah, or dasond purifies one’s wealth. In sincerity lies both the intent and the reward, the action, and the thought. And in reciting Surat al-Ikhlas, we are reminded of true sincerity that comes from recognizing Allah’s Oneness.
In this article, we have explored how du’a, in different ways in which we recite every day, can speak to each of us. We have seen that in its words and actions, there are layers of meaning and understanding. As we continue to say our daily prayers, we should reflect upon the paths which the du’a lays before us. We should also make a concerted effort to recite it with humility and devotion to be able to receive the blessing it brings into our lives. To do so, however, we must make efforts to truly understand the du’a with meaning and its real value.