Monday, January 09, 2012

Soaring to the Only Beloved


In Remembrance of the Only Beloved

Among the various spiritual practices among many different religious or spiritual traditions, Salaat or Islamic mode of prayer of re-orienting to the Divine is quite unique in the sense that it is prescribed as an universal way of prayer incorporating many configurations with which human beings have expressed their longing for the Divine from time immemorial. From the dawn of history, all the physical movement through which humanity bowed himself before the Divine Sun, are to be found inside the Salaat. If one to ask how the Great Messengers and Avatars of God such as Abraham prayed, how Moses prayed, how Jesus prayed or how Muhammad prayed, benediction of God be upon them all - one has only to look at how Salaat is performed and in those movements one can see the reflection of celestial form of adoration reflected on human form.

Through the virtue of Salaat, when two or more Muslims gather for prayer, uniformity is maintained, movements are synced and without any barrier of culture, language, race or every other possible differences of diversity, those individuals can immediately join in unison to tune in into the harmony of prayer. Two Muslims from two different parts of the world might come together and without any exchange of instruction can join into the Salaat or Islamic Prayer which is a gift and a living witness to the unity of humanity, ultimately singing the praise of Divine Oneness.

Salaat is the best Technology for the Heart and Soul for radical spiritual evolution. It is a Way of Prayer, yet it is more than prayer since it carries within it all the necessary modalities and training ingredients for the self. Salaat or Islamic Way of Connecting to the Divine Lord as it is prescribed, contains the quintessential elements of spiritual transformation. But before the effect of Salaat can affect the person who practice it, one has to understand the inner meanings and learn the etiquette of Salaat, the significance and the extent of ability of this gift. This is what the work by Abu Muhammad Zaynul 'Abidin titled "Soaring to the Only Beloved" aims at.

"Real Work of prayer is about changing you!"
- via Suresh's Meditation Photography

Shared below is only a part of this small but beautiful treatise. If the message resonate to your heart, follow the link at the end of the text to access and read it in full text. 

- Editor's Note


Soaring to the Only Beloved 



In the Name of Allah, the All Merciful, the Ever Merciful

From the PREFACE:

The Holy Qur'an says,
O Human being,
Surely you are striving
Towards your Lord
Laboriously,
And you shall meet Him
(84:6)

Rumi in his celebrated masterpiece, Mathnawi metaphorically and in a beautiful style begins by narrating the speech of the human soul who is at pain and yearns to return back to his dwelling of peace:

HEARKEN to the reed-flute, how it complains,
Lamenting its banishment from its home:
"Ever since they tore me from my osier bed,
My plaintive notes have moved men and women to tears.
I burst my breast, striving to give vent to sighs,
And to express the pangs of my yearning for my home.
He who abides far away from his home
Is ever longing for the day he shall return.

The abode of the human being and his true home is somewhere else. He is a stranger in this world in the true sense of the word and his place is the proximity and nearness of the only Beloved. So long as he resides in the straits of this realm, the pain of separation has always to remain. It is by the wings of knowledge and action that the bird of his spirit can leave the cage of material attachment and fly to the realm of the Beloved. But he needs to know the way and style to soar to the abode of peace to which the Beloved himself invites him:

And Allah continually Invites
To the abode of peace
And continually Guides
To the straight path.

The Beloved, who yearned that His lovers return to His neighborhood where their homes lay, sent His messengers so that they may guide the birds of perplexity to their destination.

Among the fundamental methods that these guides of the human being taught was prayer. Salat - a Divinely inspired mode of prayer taught by the Holy Prophet (s)- is a method and an opportunity to fly and soar to one's destination. Why should he allow several opportunities during his life time to go to waste? Doesn't he yearn deep in his heart for the company of the Beloved? Doesn't he realize that it is high time he should go back home and enjoy the neighborhood of the only Beloved who intensely loves his company?

Those who have tried to seek help by this vehicle of spiritual ascent may complain about its ineffectiveness, since it has not yet made them reach their destination. To them must be said that 'No imaginary vehicle can transport you to your destination.' If the human being prays observing the outer as well as inner etiquette of prayer he surely will attain success in comprehending his much longed abode. It is the negligence of the heart in prayer that makes the prayer devoid of its spirit and destroys the opportunity of the human being. As we shall see in this small treatise, the presence of heart (huduru'l qalb) is one of the most fundamental conditions of prayer, without which the prayer lays a negative or no effect on the supplicant. Appreciating its importance, one should try to observe the same and always struggle in this noble venture. Obviously the task is challenging and difficult in the beginning, but with continual struggle and steadfastness in bridling the faculty of imagination of the human being and detaching the human soul from temporal inclinations, one can slowly and gradually attain the state of complete absorption in prayer.

This concise treatise is a humble attempt aimed at making us realize the necessity, possibility, and methodology of attaining this vital spirit of prayer. May Almighty Allah enable us achieve the same, so that we can join the flocks who are busy soaring to the realm of their Beloved and are very anxious to meet Him.

All praises solely belong to Allah-the Absolute Perfect Being,
The Lord of the World of Dependent Existence. 


From the INTRODUCTION:

Attention is the concomitant of conversation. Every sound human being enjoys attention when transmitting his thoughts to his addressee. Such attention neither requires laborious thought processes nor any kind of exertion for the control of the movement of the mind. When one wishes to convey something, the mind translates it to its respective words and the tongue reveals the same.

Most of the speech in prayer is from a Divine source, and hence bridling does not make any sense. Instead, the worshiper is required to ensure that his attention is continuously focused on the act of worship or the Worshipped One, and that the words of his prayer originate from the depths of his heart and the heights of his mind. This is where many are overcome by the bird of imagination, which has habituated itself to fly from one branch of the tree of material attachments to another. Consequently, the worshipper gets deprived of the progress and spiritual development he could acquire through this most effective means of attaining God's proximity.

It is difficult for one to immediately achieve and maintain this praiseworthy and necessary state of attention in prayer. One has to cross certain levels of attention before enjoying a natural conversation with the Beloved.

In the present treatise we shall briefly try to discuss the following vital issues concerning attention in prayer:

1. The necessity of attention in prayer
2.The possibility of attention in prayer
3. Levels of attention in prayer
4. Hurdles on the way to attention in prayer and their removal.
5. Suggested methods of achieving attention in prayer.
6. The effect of maintaining one's attention in prayer.

The Necessity of Attention in Prayer

Prayer is a kind of worship taught to the human being by his Lord through Revelation to enable him attain His proximity. It consists of a set of actions and expressions, most of which clearly declare the immaculate nature of God.

A set of expressions, therefore, form an important part of the daily prayer. And clearly, the act of expression cannot really be known to be so if the heart is oblivious of what the tongue utters. Therefore, attention is a necessary concomitant of expression, and hence is also necessary in prayer.

Mawla al-Naraqi in his ethical opus, Jami' al-Sa'adat says:

How can the presence of the heart and the expression of humility not be the spirit of the prayer and (how can) the perfection of prayer not depend upon them, while the worshipper in his prayer and supplication whispers to his Lord? There is no doubt that speech along with absent-mindedness is not the act of whispering. In addition, speech is an expression of what is in the heart or mind, and this is impossible save by means of the attention of the heart; for what (really) does the supplicant ask when he says: 'Guide us on the straight path' while the heart is inattentive? And there is no doubt also that the purpose behind Qur'an-recitation and invocations (adhkar) is the act of laudation, praise, the expression of one's humility and supplication while the addressee is the Almighty Allah. If the heart of the servant, therefore, was veiled from Him by the curtain of inattentiveness, and did not see or witness Him, but rather was inattentive of the addressee, and he moved his tongue out of (mere) habit, how remote then, is this, from the purpose behind prayer¬ which was legislated for the refinement of the heart and renewal of one's remembrance of God...

Qur'anic Evidence

In addition, the following verse implies that the reason behind the prohibition of prayer in the state of intoxication is the worshipper's ignorance of what he utters:

O you who believe,
Do not near prayers in the state of intoxication
Until you know what you say. (4:43)

Hence were he to pray in that state, he would utter statements the meaning of which he is oblivious.

The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: "O mankind surely when the worshipper prays, he whispers unto his Blessed and Almighty Lord. Therefore he must know that with which he whispers." There is subtle point implied in this holy narration. The musalli 'whispers' and not merely engages in any kind of communication with His Rabb (Lover, Creator, Possessor, Sustainer and Trainer). The act of 'whispering' refers to a special kind of conversation, where the secretive feelings of the heart are expressed near the beloved, and a sense of amity is experienced. Who is this Omnipotent Beloved to Whom every element is dependent at every moment of its existence, and who knows all the misdeeds of His sinful slave, yet He permits him to whisper to Him several times a day?


The late mystic-scholar Sultan 'Ali, in his Qur'an commentary Bayan al- Sa'ada Fi Maqamat al-'Ibada says:

The word 'sukr' (not to mistake with 'shukur') stems from the word 'sakr' meaning 'encumbrance;' and the state gotten by taking an intoxicant is known as 'sukr' because it encumbers and closes the channels of the intellect's influence on the other faculties of the human being and [hinders] the paths of their subordination to it. And intoxicants do not specifically relate to the well-known brandy [for example]; rather, all those things through which the state of intoxication is attained, whether by means of drinking, eating, smoking or other than that, are called the intoxicants of the nafs, no matter whether the common intoxication that comes about through the intake of beer and extracts gotten from other than grapes and the usage of narcotics and opium, is attained thereby or not; an example of the latter is when intoxication comes about through overwhelming greed, hope, love, desire, anger, jealousy, stinginess, sorrow, happiness, slumber or laziness, such that the requisites of these characteristics overpower the dictate of the intellect; rather (any) state gotten that hampers the execution of the intellect's command and control is sukrun nafs, regardless of its entity and cause ...

`Abd al-Razzaq Qashani in his Qur'an commentary presents the following explanation for the verse under discussion:

(Do not near prayers): Do not near the station of presence and secret conversation with Allah when you are (intoxicated) by the sleep of negligence or the intoxicants of mundane desire and love of the world, (until you know what you are saying) in your whisperings and do not occupy your hearts with the occupations of the world and its insinuations...

Other verses of the Holy Qur'an also reveal, although implicitly, the necessity of attention in prayer. For example, verse 14 of chapter Taha clearly tells us that prayer is a means of remembering Allah:

Keep up prayer for remembering Me. (20:14)

Can remembrance ever be possible when there is no attention and concentration in prayer? Obviously not.

Evidence From The Sacred Traditions

The following traditions too prove the necessity of the presence of heart in prayer:

The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: "Allah does not accept the prayer of that servant of his
Whose heart is not present along with his body."

The Ahlul bayt (a) are reported to have said: "You have no share from your prayer save that portion in which you maintained the attention of your heart."

Imam al-Baqir (`a) is reported to have said: "When you stand up in prayer, you should pay attention towards it, for verily only that portion of it shall be taken into account in which you paid attention."

What The Muslim Jurists Hold

According to Muslim jurists (fuq'aha), however, the presence of heart is not obligatory in prayer. For not all can achieve and maintain attention throughout their prayer. It would also require time before one has complete control over his imaginations in prayer. Hence, according to the Islamic jurisprudence the state of continual concentration is not a condition the absence of which invalidates prayer. Nevertheless it is considered as highly recommended, such that some jurists allow the prayer to be delayed within the framework of the prayer time for the sake of achieving the state of the heart's attention (iqbal).

Therefore although the prayer of one who does not observe attention is correct and sufficient in absolving him from his obligation, it would not transport him spiritually. The overt actions of prayer would only relieve him from disobedience. For him, however, to soar to the Divine and undergo a transformation would require attention and concentration.

The Possibility of Attention in Prayer

Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:

Allah does not charge a soul except to its capacity. (2:286)

The stereotype that concentration in prayer is impossible is one of the greatest hurdles that hamper man from wayfaring towards the Divine proximity and attaining his perfection. It is indeed, according to some, a Satanic ruse inculcated to hinder man from attaining his felicity and happiness in both the worlds.

The human being, therefore, should be extremely cautious before accepting any unestablished notion without convincing proof and evidence. He should never be deceived with statistical data and inductive reasoning to conclude that huduru'l qalb (the presence of heart) is impossible or next to impossible.

Akin to physical training that requires continuous exercise and practice, mind control too can be achieved with time and struggle. Man should realize that his faculty of imagination is habituated to flit to different places all the time. Therefore he should strive to curb this habit and bridle it so that it is directed by his will.

The late Imam Khumayni says: "And of the faculties that accept orientation and training are the faculties of imagination (khayal) and estimate (wahm), for surely, before orientation, they resemble a bird that frequently escapes and perpetually moves; it flies from one branch to another and moves from one thing to another, such that, if the human being was to evaluate the movements it has made in one minute's time, he would find that it has moved continuously to (different) things on extremely trivial instances and irrelevant occasions. This [trend] made many scholars conjecture that maintaining the bird of imagination and rendering it obedient are among those matters that are beyond the realm of possibility and adjacent to natural impossibilities. However, this is not the case, for it is possible to make it obedient by means of spiritual mortification and training and spending time, to the extent that the bird of imagination is in his hold and does not move except by his will and choice, and (thus) he suppresses it whenever he wants to, wherever he wishes to, and in whatever instance he chooses to do so- such that it is held in the location (said instance) for hours."

One cannot deny the possibility of attaining concentration in prayer. The task being difficult cannot be taken as a reason of its impossibility. If man struggles and is orderly in his venture, he would achieve his objective. The Holy Qur'an says: "And that a man shall have to his account only as he has labored." (53:39)

Therefore, Allah does not enjoin that which the human being cannot bear, and Allah has enjoined us to pray for His Remembrance. Therefore, His Remembrance is a possible phenomenon.

And Remembrance without attention is no Remembrance. Therefore attention in prayer is a possible phenomenon.


Levels of Attention in Prayer

...the level of the heart's conviction is extremely different from intellectual comprehension. There are many things man has grasped intellectually, but has not attained the heart's conviction, and his heart does not confirm what his intellect says... - Imam Ruhullah Khumayni


All have degrees
According to what they have done. (6:132)

In order to determine the steps one must pursue to achieve attention in prayer, we must try to define the kind of attention we aspire. According to scholars of ethics and gnosis attention is of different levels and degrees. Clearly, not all who aspire to realize attention in prayer immediately possess the ability to ascend to the most recommended of all the levels of attention.

You may continue to read the Levels of Attention in Prayer by Selecting Section 4 of the book and access the full content @ Soaring to the Beloved via al-Islam website.


The Effect of Maintaining Attention In Prayer 

If his disposition has not been eclipsed by his misdeeds, the desire to attain perfection never ceases, and the wayfarer continues on his journey towards his Beloved. Almighty Allah molded the human being in a manner that he yearns and is able to soar forever and achieve the higher levels of perfection... His aim is the Infinite. Examples of such a drive is manifested in the human being's craving for infinite knowledge, power, and beauty... The beauty here lies in how the Creator designed the human being: although man has nothing of his own, not even existence to own his finite perfection, the Infinitely Perfect continually welcomes him to Himself: "To Allah is the homecoming"

O Man!
You are striving
Unto your Lord
Laboriously,
And you shall encounter Him. (84:6)

The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said:

Verily prayer is
A means for the believer to attain God's proximity.

One of the most sublime effects of observing attention in prayer, as indicated in the above narration, is Allah's nearness and proximity. The above mentioned verse of the Holy Qur'an also tells us that man is a traveler in thus world and that his destination is the neighborhood of his Beloved Creator. Again, in chapter 35, verse no. 18, we read:

And whosoever purifies himself, purifies himself only for his own soul's good. To Allah is the homecoming (destination).

Almighty Allah prescribed a set of devotional acts for man to enable him to soar to His Proximity and attain knowledge of His Exalted Presence. It is this sacred aspiration wherein lies the true happiness of the human being. To understand this reality does not require one to search for intellectual proofs. The innate nature (fitra) of the human being itself is a proof of this reality: the human being innately aspires to attain infinite perfection, which exists in none other than his Creator. If his innate nature has not been eclipsed by his misdeeds, the desire to attain perfection never ceases, and the wayfarer continues on his journey towards his Beloved. Almighty Allah molded the human being in a manner that he yearns and is able to soar forever and achieve the higher levels of perfection. He naturally does not aspire for limited perfection. His aim is the Infinite. Manifestations of such a drive are the human being's craving for infinite knowledge, power, and beauty. Independent Infinite perfection, however, solely belongs to God, since He alone is the Necessary Existent. His near servants, however can enjoy His proximity and perpetually soar and progress, since the journey is endless. The beauty here lies in how the Creator designed the human being: although man has nothing of his own, not even existence to own his finite perfection, the Infinitely Perfect continually welcomes him to Himself:

And Allah continually Invites
To the abode of peace
And continually in His Will Guides
To the straight path (10:25)

To Allah is the homecoming. (35:18)

The process of getting closer to God should not mislead us to believe that God is at a higher physical plane and we would reach him if we observe attention in our prayers. Rather, the distance is not physical but metaphysical and spiritual.

The human being through a continual process of inculcation of truth in his prayer, undergoes a spiritual transformation: the prayer teaches and orients him. It ignites his heart to repent and wake up. It forces him to seek forgiveness of the sins that he has committed; it teaches him to be an obedient servant of God; it perpetually transforms him and transports him towards true monotheism. Therefore if concentration is always maintained therein, the true aspirant of perfection can purify his inner self and obey all whatever Allah has commanded him. It is the sense of indifference in man that creates doubt in the possibility of attaining the higher levels of human perfection that the gnostics (awliya') speak about. If one were to painstakingly contemplate and understand even the overt and outer meaning of what he expresses in prayer, he can surely undergo spiritual change.

How can the worshiper always have the audacity to declare the immaculate nature of God, when he manifests in his practical life actions that are incongruous with his declaration? To rely on people's wealth, for example, is an extension (misdaq) of such incongruity: how can one pin his hopes on a human being like himself who (in reality) neither possesses anything of his own, nor has knowledge of his next moment? How can one show respect to another due to the wealth and affluence of the latter, while he always declares that all praises belong to God, which finally means that every entity is His property? If one were to carefully ponder over what he expresses in prayer and understand the essence of their meaning, his actions would shine with the spirit of Unity of God and transport him to the hometown which his heart naturally aspires.

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