“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. This person asked me why Muslims pray in a certain way, i.e. our movements in prayer.
I remember asking this very same question to the Wise Old Man many years ago and his answer blew me away but I wasn't sure if this person is willing to accept the same explanation.
Since this person works in journalism, I decided to try to explain in a way that perhaps she can relate to:-
Whenever we want to see a King, there are certain protocols that we need to adhere to which includes the way we walk, the way we speak and even the way we sit. Each bow and salute has its own purpose and meaning. Each king has his own ways and protocol. Whether we like it or not, it's something that we just need to follow if we want to speak or see the king. The King sets his rule and we follow it with respect.
To me, similarly with prayer.
"Narrated Abu Dhar:
Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "While I was at Mecca the roof of my house was opened and Gabriel descended, opened my chest, and washed it with Zamzam water. Then he brought a golden tray full of wisdom and faith and having poured its contents into my chest, he closed it. Then he took my hand and ascended with me to the nearest heaven, when I reached the nearest heaven, Gabriel said to the gatekeeper of the heaven, 'Open (the gate).' The gatekeeper asked, 'Who is it?' Gabriel answered: 'Gabriel.' He asked, 'Is there anyone with you?' Gabriel replied, 'Yes, Muhammad I is with me.' He asked, 'Has he been called?' Gabriel said, 'Yes.' So the gate was opened and we went over the nearest heaven and there we saw a man sitting with some people on his right and some on his left. When he looked towards his right, he laughed and when he looked toward his left he wept. Then he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious son.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' He replied, 'He is Adam and the people on his right and left are the souls of his offspring. Those on his right are the people of Paradise and those on his left are the people of Hell and when he looks towards his right he laughs and when he looks towards his left he weeps.' Then he ascended with me till he reached the second heaven and he (Gabriel) said to its gatekeeper, 'Open (the gate).' The gatekeeper said to him the same as the gatekeeper of the first heaven had said and he opened the gate. Anas said: "Abu Dhar added that the Prophet (ﷺ) met Adam, Idris, Moses, Jesus and Abraham, he (Abu Dhar) did not mention on which heaven they were but he mentioned that he (the Prophet (ﷺ) ) met Adam on the nearest heaven and Abraham on the sixth heaven. Anas said, "When Gabriel along with the Prophet (ﷺ) passed by Idris, the latter said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious brother.' The Prophet (ﷺ) asked, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Idris." The Prophet (ﷺ) added, "I passed by Moses and he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious brother.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Moses.' Then I passed by Jesus and he said, 'Welcome! O pious brother and pious Prophet.' I asked, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Jesus. Then I passed by Abraham and he said, 'Welcome! O pious Prophet and pious son.' I asked Gabriel, 'Who is he?' Gabriel replied, 'He is Abraham. The Prophet (ﷺ) added, 'Then Gabriel ascended with me to a place where I heard the creaking of the pens." Ibn Hazm and Anas bin Malik said: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Then Allah enjoined fifty prayers on my followers when I returned with this order of Allah, I passed by Moses who asked me, 'What has Allah enjoined on your followers?' I replied, 'He has enjoined fifty prayers on them.' Moses said, 'Go back to your Lord (and appeal for reduction) for your followers will not be able to bear it.' (So I went back to Allah and requested for reduction) and He reduced it to half. When I passed by Moses again and informed him about it, he said, 'Go back to your Lord as your followers will not be able to bear it.' So I returned to Allah and requested for further reduction and half of it was reduced. I again passed by Moses and he said to me: 'Return to your Lord, for your followers will not be able to bear it. So I returned to Allah and He said, 'These are five prayers and they are all (equal to) fifty (in reward) for My Word does not change.' I returned to Moses and he told me to go back once again. I replied, 'Now I feel shy of asking my Lord again.' Then Gabriel took me till we '' reached Sidrat-il-Muntaha (Lote tree of; the utmost boundary) which was shrouded in colors, indescribable. Then I was admitted into Paradise where I found small (tents or) walls (made) of pearls and its earth was of musk."
Prayer was made compulsory on us on the day of isra' mikraj. The movements in prayer was taught by our beloved teacher, Prophet Muhammad pbuh.
We came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and stayed with him for twenty days and nights. We were all young and of about the same age. The Prophet (ﷺ) was very kind and merciful. When he realized our longing for our families, he asked about our homes and the people there and we told him. Then he asked us to go back to our families and stay with them and teach them (the religion) and to order them to do good things. He also mentioned some other things which I have (remembered) The Prophet (ﷺ) then added, "Pray as you have seen me praying and when it is the time for the prayer one of you should pronounce the Adhan and the oldest of you should lead the prayer.
The way I understand it, God has decreed that if I want to talk to Him specifically in prayers, then I have to perform certain movements as taught by our beloved Prophet pbuh. That's the protocol. At any other times, I can still talk to Him through my dua.
But prayer is not just a means of communication between us and Allah SWT but it's also a way to show our love and gratitude for the blessings that He has given us. Each of the movements in our prayer has its own meaning and purpose.
When we love someone, we would bend over backwards trying to please them so if we have fallen in love with Allah SWT, prayer will not be something we do because we are forced to by commandment but rather something we love to do in order to please Him. It doesn't become a task but a pleasure.
The Wise Owl once told me that if a person has fallen in love with his/ her Creator, all acts of worship will be easy to perform as it's done out of love. It will come naturally.
Also, when we do sujod, that is when we are closest to God.
" Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “A slave becomes nearest to his Rubb when he is in prostration. So increase supplications while prostrating.” [Muslim]
So, my advice is, check how you approach your prayer. Is it with love and devotion or as a reluctant servant?