The Spiritual Power of Prayer
The Qur’an connects prayer, which is our duty to Allah (swt), to the moral standard and the good deeds of the believers, i.e. their duties to fellow members of society (29:45): “Recite (O Muhammad) what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish regular prayers, for prayer restraints from al-fahisha (shameful and unjust deeds); and the remembrance of Allah is, without doubt, the greatest thing in life. And Allah knows all what you do.”
Prayer has a powerful spiritual impact on the believer. It helps to purify his/her soul of evil intentions (e.g. arrogance, envy, hypocrisy, desire for revenge, etc.) and rectify his/her bad deeds.
With this in mind, let us reflect on the purpose of prayer; why do we pray? Do we pray in order to receive the promised reward from Allah (swt) or to elevate our personalities and grow in spirituality and commitment to faith? The answer is for both reasons but the second reason is probably more relevant. Prayer is not a goal in itself but rather a means to elevate the spirit and the behavior of the believer. And that is precisely what determines our fate on the Day of Judgment. Prayer reinforces our relationship with Allah (swt), but the strength of this relationship should be manifested through our relationship with others: our families, neighbors, fellow workers, etc.
So the spiritual power of the prayer, not just the mechanics of it, should be emphasized. This power was articulated beautifully in a conversation that took place between an eight year old girl and her father who is an author and a Muslim convert. Dr. Jeffery Lang relates this account in his book “Even Angles Asks”. As the story goes, the girl posed an innocent question to her father: “dad, why do we pray?” The father did not have a ready answer, so he told her what most Muslim parents would tell their children in this situation, which is that we pray because God wants us to – and because God rewards us when we do it.
The young girl did not seem to be satisfied with the answer, so she continued with an even more persuasive question “but what does prayer do to us?” This is a hard question to answer but the father’s answer held some key ideas that shed light on the purpose of praying.
He told his young daughter: “you see; God is the source of all love, mercy, kindness, and wisdom. He is the source of all good things we enjoy in life; much like the sun is the source of the light we enjoy. So, the love I feel for you, your sister and your mom is given to me by God. But we have to do something in order to be able to feel it.”
The example of this is like when you know that your parents love you by the way they take care of you, but you still have to do something to feel it. And that is when you hug and kiss them. It is only then that you feel this love at a much higher level and you draw the most from it. In a similar way, we know that God loves us and is very kind to us by the way He takes care of us. But when we pray, we can feel his love in a very real and special way and we can draw the most from it.
The girl then seemed to be interested in the answer, so she continued to ask her father: “does prayer make you a better daddy?” The answer was really revealing. He said: “I hope so and I would like to think so, because once you are touched by God’s love and kindness in the prayer, it is so beautiful and powerful that you need to share it with those around you, especially your family.”
The father then continued to describe how he sometimes feels so exhausted that he just wants to be alone. But when he goes to prayer and draws from Allah’s love and mercy and remembers what a great gift his family is to him, then he forgets his exhaustion and becomes willing to share this love and mercy with his family again. He concluded the conversation by saying: “so, I am not saying that I am the perfect father, but I believe I would not be as good a father without the prayers.”
This insightful conversation highlights the strong connection between prayer and our struggle to be better believers and better members of society. It shows how prayer makes a better father. But the same theme can easily be extended to show how prayer can make a better student, teacher, leader, manager, soldier, neighbor, friend, son, daughter, husband, wife, colleague, Imam, president, etc. When we draw from Allah’s Wisdom during prayer we may become better leaders; when we draw from His Courtesy we may become better friends and neighbors; and when we draw from His Patience we may become better students and teachers, and so on.
Allah (swt) is the infinite source of all the virtues that we are supposed to acquire and demonstrate in life: love, mercy, courtesy, honesty, tolerance, patience, etc. And we gain and reinforce those virtues in ourselves only when we enter into a relationship with Him. And that is precisely what prayer is all about. Prayer is mainly about our relationship with Allah (swt), we know that very well. But when we enter into this relationship (i.e. when we pray) we should keep in mind that we are doing so not only for the purpose of getting a reward /or seeking forgiveness from Him, but also for the development of these beautiful attributes in ourselves.
Only then, by the Grace and Mercy of Allah (swt), may those qualities start to flow into our souls and boost our personalities. At that point we can feel the real benefit from the prayer. It is true that we pray to seek forgiveness from Allah (swt) and earn His promised reward but it is equally true that the reward is granted based on our good deeds, not just the mechanical actions in the prayer.
Prayer brings joy, strength and moments of intimacy with Allah (swt). It reminds us that we are moving closer to Him, not only spiritually but also physically. That is because in prayer we switch the focus from this life to the hereafter so it becomes an opportunity to remind us that we are moving closer to the next life. Having this mindset can allow us to feel better prepared for the decisive moment when we meet our Lord.
By Mohammed Shokr