For Muslims, prayers, specifically Zikr, (a rhythmic repetition of the names of God “Asma e-Husna” or His attributes) are used in many forms to engage with the Divine in our daily lives. We pray for many reasons such as for good wishes, good health, strength to cope with problems, and inspiration to achieve success. Some of us, however, give a higher meaning to prayer. We believe that prayer is not only to ask for things for ourselves, but a way to forget ourselves, where we remember and think of nothing but the names of Allah and His attributes, as often as we can, continuously and perpetually. We engross ourselves in an attitude of love, of devotion, of submission, of awe and wonder. Prayer in this sense is like our experience of beauty. When we admire a natural scene of immense beauty such as the starlit sky, majestic mountains, a rose garden; or when we admire a beautiful piece of artwork, we are not seeking to get anything for ourselves. In fact, at such moments we forget our needs and our worries. They look petty in comparison with what we see in front. At the same time, these moments help us connect with the Divine in the deepest of ways.
This notion of remembrance of God out of admiration, love, devotion, and submission is one of the most important ways to continuously engage with our faith. There are many ways to express our faith, such as remembering God as often as we can, during your free times, while in the gym or while waiting for something, it does not take a lot of time. It can be done easily, discreetly, and those short moments that you spend in remembering God several times a day, will bring you peace and happiness and keep you away from wrongdoing.
These short moments of remembrance of God can bring purpose and meaning to everything we encounter and do. It reminds us of the omnipresence of God and becomes a source of peace in our lives.
In Holy Qur’an, Allah says:
“Verily in remembering God the hearts of believers find peace”
As we get older and get closer to returning back to God, let us think of how we can increase the remembrance of the names of God given and perform more good deeds? Let us think of our own personal ways of incorporating Zikr in our lives. As Mawlana Hazar Imam suggests, remembrance can be done simply and easily using our tasbih by spending only a few moments of our time. We can perform zikr when we are driving to work, or resting at home, or walking. In one Ginan (religious poetry), Pir SadarDin says:
“Sute Bahethe bhai raha chalante, naam sahebji ko liji eji’, which reminds us to always remember the name of our Lord even while sleeping, sitting or walking.”
The Qur’an identifies ibadat as the sole reason for the creation of human beings. “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship [serve] Me.” [51:56]
The notions of tawhid (belief in the Oneness of God) and ibadat are closely related in the Qur’an. Ibadat has an outer and an inner dimension to it. The outer dimension is what is visible to everyone, believers as well as non-believers. In the context of prayer, some of these outer aspects include where a community of believers prays, and the rituals performed before, during and after prayer. However, prayer is also an experience, personal to each believer. It involves aspects such as a person’s beliefs about prayers, the intention and feeling with which a prayer is offered, and the effect prayer has on one’s life.
When the Prophet’s (pbuh) preaching in Mecca began to attract followers, they grew from being separate individuals supporting the Prophet to a community of believers who accepted Islam as their faith. This was the first Muslim community, trusting in One God, following the Prophet, and honoring the ideals of the faith. From its earliest moment, the Muslim community began to express its faith and identity in a shared form. A foremost practice which brought Muslims together as a community, was praying together as a body of worshipers. The collective performance of prayer provided a means to bear witness as a community of worshipers. Through its performance, the Ismaili community of believers present themselves before Allah (swt) as a single body of worshipers and affirms its common faith.
In Muslim communities, prayers are offered daily. However, Fridays are marked as a special day of collective prayer across the world. The Qur’an refers to this practice:
“O you who believe! When the call [adhan] is made for the prayer on Friday [Jumu’a], then hasten to the remembrance of Allah and give up all trading. That is better for you, if you only knew.” [62:9]
Ismaili Muslim community also gathers as a Jamat to offer congregational daily prayers. The regular offering of prayers in Jamatkhana forms as integral part of the practice of faith in the Ismaili tradition and serves to strengthen the common spiritual bond between the murids of the Imam, as well as to collectively bear witness as a Jamat. Our ritual practices, such a partaking of Abe-shafa from a common vessel, participating in rites of passage ceremonies and collective recitations of tasbihs, ginans, qasidas and nasheeds among others, further reinforces and strengthens our communal bond as sisters and brothers who have offered their allegiance to the Imam of-the-Time, while at the same time allowing each murid the space and opportunity for intimate personal exchanges that form part of our own special conversation with the Divine. For example, in Jamatkhana when we recite our Du’a as a congregation, we also plead, “O Allah, O our Lord, from You is my help, and I rely upon You” in the 2nd part. Here the conversation is distinctly between “You and I”, as compared to the first part where we appeal to God to “Guide us on sirat al-mustaqim” (right path).
Mawlana Hazar Imam has regularly emphasized offering of collective and personal prayers. He reminds us not to forsake deen for dunya, attend Jamatkhana regularly for prayers, continuously try to understand faith and the principles of faith. He insists that faith must be part of our everyday lives. He also reminds us that physical life is not eternal. It is after physical life that one enters eternity. He also reminds us not to compromise in regular attendance in Jamatkhana and regular prayers.
As we reflect on our history, tradition and practice of communal and personal prayers, let us derive inspiration from words attributed to Hazrat Ali (a.s.), reminding us that by simply granting us the privilege of praying for His Favors and Mercies, God has handed over the keys of His treasures to us.
Let us make a commitment to find our own ways of increasing the remembrance of our faith in God in our daily lives. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) has said that zikr is a ‘polish for the hearts’. Let us use zikr to purify our hearts so we can be ready to receive the utmost blessings from Allah (swt) in life hereafter.
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