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SIGNIFICANCE OF PHYSICAL POSTURES IN PRAYER Print E-mail
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 Prayer
      Its Significance and Its Benefits
                  Afzalur Rahman
                    Chapter: 3

  SIGNIFICANCE OF PHYSICAL POSTURES IN PRAYER

It is pity that so much effort is being  wasted in
transcendental meditation (TM) to revive human co-
nsciousness (the soul) to the supreme  Reality  of
the Universe. A cursory study of history shows that
this technique was never really effective even  in
the old days and was only confined to a few hermits
and Rishis. It was an intellectual exercise of the
mind which was practised by a very few individuals
of very high calibre to quench their thirst for the
Divine Union and was practically beyond the compr-
ehension of the common man in the street. It is  a
mental exercise which quietens the mind so long as
the person is in that state of meditation but  has
no permanent effect which can give  an  individual
peace of mind in a practical way.

Transcendental meditation (TM) without any consc-
ious objective cannot bring permanent peace of mind
It is a negative approach  to  human problems  and
history bears witness to the fact that such intel-
lectual and mental exercises  have  never  achieved
anything permanent. It has, however,  a  temporary
effect. It is true that one experiences a soothing
effect when in the state of transcendental medita-
tion, but this effect is not confined to this method
alone. Any kind of mental exercise, in TM in Sub-
ud,  or in any other form, will effect the  body's
physiology and thereby cause changes in an electr-
Oencephalogrm (EEG or brain waves)  and  produce
similar effects. But it is yet  to  be proved  that
such changes do produce any effect of a  permanent
nature. The human mind is   affected  by   various
kinds of creative mental exercises (based  on  the
science of creative intelligence) but such exerci-
ses have long been confined  to  intellectuals  or
hermits among Hindus or Christians. They are beyond
the comprehension of ordinary individuals.   More-
over, mental exercises which provide some temporary
comfort to an individual cannot be effectively used
to solve the complicated problems of mankind.

Above all, it is a mental exercise in a vacuum with-
out any conscious objective or goal. One practises
T.M without any clear goal before him  going  from
nowhere to nowhere and such an exercise cannot re-
ally be expected to produce fruitful and beneficial
results of any permanent value. In the olden days,
Rishis and hermits did practice it, but  they  had
a clear vision of their objective. They wanted  to
achieve nearness to their Creator through creative
reflections (meditations)O It was not an  exercise
in a vacuum, like modern T.M. But even this did not
achieve very encouraging results for it remained an
intellectual luxury of the few and was never cons-
idered a recipe for the ills of mankind..

Now the question arises: do we need  such   mental
exercises for fun, or momentary excitement and co-
mfort, or something which may provide a real solu-
tion to our problems? Obviously mankind is in need
of something positive, practical and realistic that
may help to secure peace, and happiness at indivi-
ual as well as at national level. People have lost
peace of mind through over-indulgence in pleasures
and neglect of their celestial and spiritual needs.
A philosophy of life which can bring proper coord-
ination and understanding between the physical  and
spiritual needs of man could solve many of the pr-
oblems that face him today. Man has lost his rela-
tionship with the Creator  and  is  new  wandering
around in the wilderness of abstract  thinking  in
search  of  peace. Surely he can regain his peace
of mind through re-establishing his link with  his
Creator. And the shortest route to renew their re-
lationship is to open dialogue  with  Him  through
prayers.

It seems very likely that there exists every intimate
relationship between the performance of prayer and
Divine favors. Presumably  the  physical postures
and movements of prayer have a deep significance and
important function in re-vitalising and re-igniting
the potential of enlightement and energy  inherent
in every man. Prayer is composed of four main pos-
tures or movements of the body, i.e., qiy'am, ruku,
sajdah and qaadah. It is very important that  these
four movements in the prayer are performed exactly
in the same manner as taught by the Messenger   of
God. We offer our prayer to God because  the  Holy
Prophet told us to do so. It is, therefore, absol-
utely essential that it must be performed  in  its
every detail in the way it was performed  by   the
Messenger of God himself.

Prayer is an obligatory duty and mere  performance
of it will no doubt absolve a believer of his duty
to God, but if he wants to nourish and develop his
self and soul, he must perform it in the way it was
performed by the Messenger of God himself. The Ho-
ly Prophet  laid great emphasis on the right perf-
ormance of every act of prayer. Qiy'am   must   be
performed properly; one must not bend  forward  or
backward or lean sidewards but stand straight with
eyes fixed at the place of sajdah and not  looking
around. Ruku must be moderate, neither too low nor
too high but in line with the body  as  taught by
the Holy prophet. There must be a reasonable   gap
between ruku and sajdah and between the two sajdahs,
as advised by the Holy Prophet.

The importance of the proper performance  of  each
part of prayer is emphasised by the Holy Prophet o
Anas reported God's Messenger as saying, " perform
the bowing and the prostration properly, for I sw-
ear by God that I can see you behind me" According
to Abu Masud A1 Ansari the Messenger of God  said,
"A man's prayer do not avail him unless he   keeps
his back steady when bowing and prostrating   him-
self." (1) Abu Qatada reported the Messenger of God
as saying, "The one who commits the worst theft is he
who steals from his prayer." When asked  how   one
could steal from his prayer, he replied,  "By  not
performing his bowing and prostration perfectly".

There are details of qiy'am, ruku and sajdah   in
the hadith to help the believers to offer their pra-
yer perfectly. According to A'isha, "God's Messen-
ger used to begin prayer with takbir and the reci-
tation of Surah Fatiha when he bowed,  he  neither
kept his head up nor bent it down, but kept it be-
tween these extremes; when he raised his head after
bowing he did not prostrate himself until  he  had
stood erect; when he raised his head after prostrati-
on he did not prostrate himself again until he was
in the proper sitting position."

If there is any slackness on the part of a believer
in performance of any part of prayer,  his  prayer
becomes void and he does not gain anything from it.
According to Abu Hurairah, a man entered the mosq-
ue when the Messenger of God was sitting in it and
offered his prayer. He then came and said, " peace
be upon you" and God's Messenger replied,  " peace
be upon you. Go back and offer your prayer, for you
have not prayed." He returned and prayed, then ca-
me and said, "peace be upon you." The Messenger of
God replied, And peace be upon you. Go  back  and
pray again, for you have not Prayed.." On the third
or fourth occasion he said, "Teach me,   Messenger
of good God." So he said, "When you turn to the   qibla
and say, Allah u Akbar, then recite a  convenient
portion of the Quran; then bow and remain quietly
in that position; then raise yourself and stand er-
ect; then prostrate yourself and remain quietly in
that position; then raise yourself and sit  quiet-
ly."

This hadith confirms our assumption that performa-
nce of each part of prayer properly and  perfectly
as taught by the Holy Prophet is essential. Any va-
riation or alteration in the performance  of   any
part of prayer from what was taught  by the  Holy
Prophet renders it a meaningless exercise.

This great emphasis on the proper performance   of
prayer, even in minute details, is a  testimony to
the fact that there is a close relationship between
the various postures and movements in  prayer  and
the acquisition of Divine favours and  enlightenm-
int. The Holy Prophet emphasised again  and  again
the deep significance of the actual performance of
the different parts of prayer. It must therefore be
performed exactly in the way it was taught by  the
Holy Prophet, otherwise it will not be a prayer but
an exercise of the body performed to please  your-
self or just an habitual act.

There seems to be an intimate relationship between
the movements of prayer and Divine blessings. If it
is offered perfectly, then it help man to  benefit
from his inner potential energy in the development
of his self and his soul. In daily prayer, God  has
given man the shortest and the quickest method  of
obtaining His Grace and Blessings. People  in  the
past have spent ages, and sometimes, all their li-
ves, to obtain a glimpse of His Glory and  many have
failed and died in the wilderness of disillusionm-
ent. A very few have received some form of enligh-
tenment after years of hard and strenuous  effort.
People have starved themselves to annihilate their
physical self in order to strengthen their soul and
receive Divine Enlightenment, but without success.
Some have spent all their lives with  very  little
food and water in the jungles and in the valleys of
mountains in the hope of rekindling and rejuvenat-
ing the dying light in their souls but with no, or
only partial, success.

Prayer is a wonderful gift of God. There is no  need
in Islam to go to the mountains or jungles to  kill
your physical self in order to obtain dhyan (unbro-
ken concentration) and through these forms of self-
annihilation to reach for salvation. Prayer provides
all the essential requisites for preparing the mind
and transforming it into an extraordinary state ca-
pable of receiving the Divine Light.  It   provides
physical as well as mental exercise in such a bala-
nced way that neither is ignored orover-emphasised.
This harmonious functioning of body and mind at the
correct level and in the most balanced way is achi-
eved only through prayer. All the movements  of the
body from the standing position to the  prostrating
position, are the expression of the extreme humility
of the body before the Supreme Being. It is, in fact,
total submission of the physical  self  before  the
Supreme Authority. Recitation of Divine words   and
praises of God in prayer have a cumulative   effect
on the mental powers of man, And in this process of
submission of the body and the mind to  the  Divine
Will through the synchronisation of  movements  and
recitation of the Qur 'anic verses in prayer, the sp-
iritual power of man becomes stronger and gains full
control over the physical self and gradually  lifts
it up to the Supreme Being.

This process of the total submission of the body and
the mind before the Ultimate Authority is explained
in the words of the Holy Qur 'an: "When you threw (a
handful of dust), it was not your act, but God's. "
(8:17) The action of the Holy Prophet  in  throwing
stones at his enemies was entirely in obedience  to
the Command of God and there was no personal motive
or any realisation of his own physical self. In fact
every action of the faithful servants of God, perf-
ormed in obedience to His Command, can be  ascribed
to God Himself.

According to Abu Hurairah, the Holy Messenger said:
"God says, 'My servant becomes closer to Me by pe-
rforming those deeds which are obligatory on  him
And he gets close to Me through constant observance
of optional (nafila) prayer until  he  becomes  My
beloved. When he becomes My beloved, I become  his
ears through which hears, his eyes through whi-
ch he sees, and his hand with which he holds,  and
his feet with which he walks." This hadith sh-
ows that all the powers of his body and mind  come
under the Guidance of God and  man  attains   very
close relationship with his Lord.

This harmonious working of the body and  the  mind
helps in concentrating and thereby activating the
latent energies of the physical self. This process
gradually transforms the centrifugal ( out-going )
forces operating in mind and body into centripetal
(inward-going) and unifying forces which  lift man
from the world of matter into the world of  spirit
and show him glimpses of the boundless spiritual
world. In the course of the transformation of  the
concealed energies of the physical self into active
unifying forces, the mind is slowly but surely re-
leased from the limitations of the  physical  self
and is then able to conceive and grasp the meaning
of the manifestations of the Supreme Being.

At this stage, man is fully prepared and ready, pr-
ovided he maintains the standard of performance of
his prayer, to receive the Blessings and Favours of
the Supreme Power. In other words, he  has reached
the stage where he is in a position to   establish
close communion with God. And why not? After  all,
man represents the two important aspects of  God's
Creation, as stated by the Holy Quran in   these
words   "That which I have created  with  both  My
Hands." (38:75)

"Both hands" refers to the two aspects  of   God's
Creation. He has a physical body, which makes  him
one of the animals, and he has a soul, which makes
him supreme over all other creation, including an-
gels. When he is at his best in prayer,  he  leaps
towards his spiritual world and establishes  close
contact with his Lord. And this is confirmed by  a
hadith, according to which a Muslim achieves audie-
nce with God (hudhur) in prayer. "Prayer is  Miraj
of the believers" Muslim jurists have taken  this
hadhur to mean the presence of angels in prayer.

---

This may be explained in another way. The harmoni-
ous working of body and mind helps to  awaken  the
Spiritual or super-sensory powers in man. The gre-
ater the harmony between the former two forces  of
man, the stronger the awakening of the super-sens-
ory power in man. The proper balance between the tria-
ngular forces of body, mind and spirit acts like an
electrical wire, which transfers the necessary elect-
rical current from the main generating station to the
electrical lamp. Just as it is unthinkable to  trans-
fer electricity direct from the main power house to a
small electric lamp, similarly it is  inconceivable
to receive Divine Light or communion with God without
proper harmony between the afore said forces.

It may, therefore, be said that an harmonious fun-
ctioning of the triangular forces in man is absol-
utely necessary before any progress can be made  in
this direction. Unless body, mind and spirit  ( or
the soul) are properly functioning in harmony,  it
is not possible for man to rekindle his soul  from
the Light of the Power of God or to achieve any sort
of close communion with Him. People  have  in  the
past adopted various methods to achieve this harm-
onious functioning of the triangular forces  within
the self but have often taken years for very litt-
le or partial success.

Islam has given man  a  very short  but  effective
recipe in  the form of prayer to achieve the requ-
ired harmony between the triangular forces  within
him. Just study the form and the words of the prayer
and how it is performed, and you will  notice  the
wonderful combination it provides  for  body, mind
and soul which no other religion or system has yet
suggested. This process of the activation of spir-
itual or super-sensory powers in man  can also  be
explained in this way. Man is a psychosomatic org-
anism- he has a body, which is the external part of
him and a mind, which is the internal part of him
His body is composed of matter which, in the ulti-
mate physical analysis, consists of atoms. His mind
represents the entire world of ideas, beliefs, ho-
pes, fears and aspirations. All these belong to the
world of consciousness, ie, the inner side of man.
This consciousness (mind) of man play a vital  role
in relating the soul of man to his environment. In
other words, it is a vital factor in relating spi-
rit to matter.

There are thus two worlds in man:  the   physical,
represented by body and, the spiritual, represent-
ed by mind. The latter belongs  to  the  invisible
world which exists side by side with  the  visible
world disclosed by sense perception. The latter is
dimensional while the former is extra-dimensional.
Internally man belongs to the invisible world, that
is to say, his soul or spirit belongs to that wor-
ld, externally he belongs  to  the visible  world,
that is to say, his body belongs to that world, but
through consciousness man is related to  both  the
Worlds. If a man looks within his  self  he  moves
towards higher levels  of consciousness and a dee-
per understanding of spiritual values. If, on  the
other hand, he devotes himself to the external wo-
rld of matter, he tends to move away from the higher
Spiritual values to the lower values of the visib-
le world.

Regular prayer helps to attain the right equilibrium
between the spiritual and the material  worlds  of
man. He lives in the world of matter, works in  it
for his livelihood and satisfies all his  material
needs, but, at the same time,  he  keeps his  link
with the spiritual world and  further  strengthens
it. Prayer enables him to develop  and widen   his
perception of the extradimensional spiritual world
to such an extent that he is able to perceive  and
understand the things of a higher level of consci-
ousness which he could hardly visualise before. Es-
tablishment of prayer will strengthen  the  extra-
dimensional powers of man to such a degree that he
will be able to establish close relationship  with
the Ultimate Power.

It must, however, be emphasised that this link can-
not be maintained without the establishment of re-
gular prayer. Prayer is the means as well as the
end. It helps man to establish  and  maintain  his
link with God. If the institution of prayer or its
proper performance is lost, the link with the spi-
ritual world will automatically be cut off. Man has
not yet known any other effective means of establ-
ishing  and then maintaining his relationship with
God. It is like a wire, as explained before, conn-
ected with the main Generator. As soon as the wire
is disconnected from the main source of power, the
light goes off, and all is darkness again. This wire
is prayer.

Thus prayer, through multifarious ways beyond human
comprehension, acts and reacts on the  human  mind
until the latter is enlightened spiritually   with
the Nur (Ultimate Light) of the Universe.  As  all
men do not possess similar or equal power,   their
personal experiences may very considerably.   Each
man gains this experience according to his own in-
ternal as well as external powers. But regular pr-
ayer does provide opportunities to every  believer
to develop his latent energies within his self ac-
cording to his potentialities and thereby establish
his link with God. The greater  the  perfection in
the performance of prayer, the closer the relatio-
nship with God.

Communion with the Divine Being is attained   when
prayer is performed perfectly and properly inbody,
mind and soul as instructed by the  Holy  Prophet.
This is why the Holy Prophet said that prayer  was
a miraj for believers. It provides an opportunity
to believers to have a direct and close relations-
hip with God as did the Holy Prophet  during   the
night of the mi raj. This is also explained by an-
other hadith when the Holy Prophet said  "When you
perform prayer, think that you  are  standing   in
front of God and seeing Him with your eyes. And if
it is not possible for you to see Him,  at   least
think that He is seeing you" When one achieves this
miraj in prayer, he is bound to rise far above the
physical barriers of this ethereal world and enter
into the world of the unknown, experiencing new and
wonderful things which he could never think of  in
his ordinary state of mind. The Companions of  the
Holy Prophet often experienced this in their pray-
er.

Anas used to perform long ruku and sujud;   people
often thought he had forgotten that he was  offer-
ing his prayer. Abdullah bin Zubair often stood  in
qiyam like a lifeless pillar and spent  so   much
time in sajdah that pigeons of Baitullah sat on his
back taking it to be an inanimate object. once two
Companions of the Holy Prophet were on night sent-
ry duty on the battlefield. One was sleeping   and
the other stood in prayer. One arrow  struck   him
while he was in prayer. He was bleeding but he co-
mpleted prayer. After completing  his  prayer,  he
woke up his colleague on duty and told him that he
was reciting one surah of the Holy Quran when the
arrow struck him but he did not want to finish pr-
ayer without completing that surah. Once an  arrow
struck Ali; It was very deep and could not be pul-
led out. Ali asked his companion to pull   it  out
while he was in prayer. He offered two rakat pray-
er and the arrow was pulled out of his leg, but he
continued his prayer without feeling any pain.

Dr. Iqbal recognises the human quest for a  Divine
mission in these words. "But as I have said before,
religious ambition sees higher than  the  ambition
Of philosophy. Religion is not satisfied with mere
conception; it seeks a more intimate knowledge  of
and association with the object  of  its   pursuit.
(God) . The agency  through which this association
is achieved is the act of worship, ending in a sp-   
iritual illumination. The act of worship, however,   
affects different types of consciousness differen-
tly. In the case of the prophetic   consciousness,
it is mainly  creative, ie, tends to create a fresh
ethical world wherein the Prophet,  so  to  speak,
applies the pragmatic test to  his    revelations
Thus you will see that, psychologically  speaking,
prayer is instructive in its origin.  The  act  of
prayer, aiming at knowledge, resembles reflection
Yet prayer at its highest is much more than abstr-
act reflection. Like reflection it too is a process
of assimilation, but the assimilative process   in
the case of prayer draws itself closely   together   
and thereby acquires a power unknown to pure thou-
ght. In thought, the mind observes and follows the
working of reality; in the act of prayer it ceases
to be a seeker of slow-footed universability   and
rises higher than thought towards Reality  itself,
becoming a conscious participator in its life. The-
re is nothing mystical about it. Prayer, as a means
of spiritual illumination, is a normal, vital act by
which the little island of our personality sudden-
ly discovers its situation in a larger whole."

"Do not think I am talking of auto-suggestion. Au-
to suggestion has nothing to do with the opening up
of the sources of life that lie in the depths   of
the human ego. Unlike spiritual illumination which
brings fresh power by shaping the human personali-
ty, it leaves no permanent life. Nor I am speaking
of some occult and special way  of  knowledge. All
that  I mean is to fix your attention  on  a  real
human experience which has a history behind it and
a future before it. The quest of nameless nothing,
as disclosed in Neo-Platonic mysticism- be    it
Christian or Muslim-cannot satisfy the modern mind
which, with its habits of concrete thinking, demands
a concrete living experience of God. And the hist-
ory of the race shows that the attitude of the mind
embodied in the act of worship if a condition  for
such an experience. In fact prayer must be regarded
as a necessary complement to the intellectual act-
ivity of the observer of Nature. (5)

While discussing the real object of prayer, Dr, Iq-
bal says," prayer, then, whether individual or ass-
ociative, is an expression of man's inner yearning
for a response in the awful silence of the universe.
It is a unique process of discovery   whereby  the
searching ego affirms itself in the very moment of
self negation, and thus discovers its own worth and
justification as a dynamic factor in the life   of
the universe. True to the psychology of mental at-
titude in prayer, the form of worship in Islam sy-
mbolises both affirmation and negation. Yet, in view
of the fact borne out by the experience of the race
that prayer, as an inner act, has found expression
in a variety of forms, the Quran says: "To  every
people We have appointed ways of worship which they
observe. Therefore let them not dispute this matter
with you, but invite them to your Lord for you are
on the right way, but if they dispute  with   you,
then say, God best knows what you do; He will judge
between you on the Day of Judgement, in the matters
wherein you differ. (22:66-69)."

"The form of prayer ought not become a matter   of
dispute. Which side you turn your face is certainly
not essential to the spirit of prayer. The  Quran
is perfectly clear on this point: ' The  East  and
West is God's, therefore whichever direction   you
turn, there is the face of God (2:109). And again,
'There is no piety in turning your faces   towards
the East or West, but he is pious who believes  in
God, and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Books
and the Prophets, who for the love of  God   gives
his wealth to his kindred, and to the orphans, and
to ransom the slaves; who observes prayer and pays  
zakat, and fulfils the contracts which he has made;  
and is patient in pain and hardship, and in time of  
trouble; those are they who are just, and those are
they who fear the Lord (2:177).'  " Yet  we cannot
ignore the important consideration that the posture
of the body is a real factor  in  determining  the
attitude of mind"

To sum up, prayer is the key which opens the  gate
of the kingdom of God. And, according to Ibn 'Arabi,
creative prayer becomes a dialogue between man and
God and provides an opportunity to the earthly cr-
eature to open up his heart before his creator. It
is creative because it is at once God's prayer and
man's prayer.  Such an effective prayer opens up
new horizons for man beyond the comprehension   of
an ordinary being. Surah Fatiha in the prayer pro-
vides this opportunity to man to enter into such a
dialogue and enjoy the excitement and ecstasy   of
Divine vision.

According to the hadith reported by Abu  Hurairah,
the Holy Messenger said, "God says that I have di-
Vided the prayer between Myself and Myservant  into
two parts. Half of it is for Me and half  for   MY
servant and I give whatever he asksme for. When the
servant says 'All praise is for the Lord of the un-
iverse,' God replies, 'My servant is grateful to me'
When he says, 'Most Gracious, Most Merciful,'   God
says 'My servant has praised Me.' When   he   says
'Master of the Day of Judgement, 'God says, "My ser-
vant has exalted Me' When the servant says, 'You do
we worship and Your help do we seek,' God says This
portion is shared between Me and My servant. I be-
stow whatever he asks.' When he says,' Guide   me
to the straight path, the path of those  whom  You
blessed, not of those who earned Your anger or went
astray.' God says, 'This is for My servant  and
bestow what he has asked for."

This hadith throws some light on the unusual grea-
tness and effectiveness of this prayer. First, no-
thing can be better and more exalted than what  is
demanded in the prayer: the servant is asking from
God guidance to the right path  to  reach  Him In
other words, he is requesting God to show him  the
way to get closer to Him. Second, it  starts  with
thanks-giving and those attributes  of  God  which
entitle him to His blessings Third, by saying, 'We
obey You and ask Your help alone' he  puts himself
completely in the hands of God. He has put his en-
tire trust in Him and thrown himself at His  door.
He has cut all his relations and  come  to  build
only one relation, i.e., with God. There is no reason
why his request should not  be  granted. The final
words of the prayer provide the best intercession.
The servant prays for guidance to God and requests
to be granted the ability and power to tread  that
path which leads to Him. In these words,  God  has
Himself taught man how to reach Him, get  near  to
Him and open a dialogue with Him.

Reference:

1. Mishkat
2. Forty hadith
3. Reconstruction of Religious Thought, Iqbal
4. Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin
5. Tadabbur e Quran.