In life, generally, we’re very good at asking for things, but not so good at saying thank you when we get what we want.
The same is true in our dealings with Allah.
Not having given Him a thought, we turn to Allah as soon as we want something. Maybe an exam is drawing close or there is a bill to be paid or we are going for a job interview. It is then that we pray with all our hearts, offering anything to please Allah.
We tell Him that we’ll give up smoking or that we will never look at certain sites on the internet again if only we can get what we are asking for.
When we do get what we want our thanks is brief and we soon go back to what we promised to stop doing.
The problem is that most of the time, most of us look at Allah as some kind of Santa Claus who will give us gifts when we ask for them. Being childlike and trusting in prayer is one thing, but often our attitudes are not childlike, but childish.
Surely we all know that Allah Almighty is the creator “of the heavens and the earth and everything in between.” He doesn’t need our prayers or our praise and He certainly doesn’t need us to give up sweets in return for good health or a new job!
So what is prayer for? Why do we do it?
Let us just remind ourselves about some basics. If Allah didn’t need us at all, the only reason for His creating us must be something to do with it being for our own benefit, not His.
Just as the angels find their complete happiness in worshiping Him night and day (even though He is in no need of their worship or their praise), so we find our complete happiness in doing His will. That’s right, we are the ones who benefit from doing Allah’s will, not Him.
In asking us to pray five times a day, then, Allah is blessing us. We are the ones who benefit from prayer, not Allah. And outside the prayer times, Allah already knows what we want to say to Him, even before we say it. So the prayers we make must be to our benefit, if they are not to His.
Prayer does make a difference. It is not that in praying we get to change Allah’s mind. If that were the case it would imply that Allah was not certain in His decisions and that would show some sort of lack. Since He is infinite in all His perfections, He lacks nothing.
Praying, then, changes us. In asking Him, in begging Him, we become more trusting and we truly become what Muslims are meant to be: those who submit to Allah in all things.
Prayer helps us to realize that we are not in control of things, but Allah is in control. When our foreheads are touching the ground in prayer, we realize the important fact that we are nothing without Him and that all our efforts are as nought without His help.
We should never forget the important truth that the aim of all of our prayers is to connect with our Creator. Some of these prayers may be the formal prayers (Salah) required of us as Muslims. Others may be the informal prayers we make at different times. But the purpose of them all is to make a connection.
A Muslim is one who “submits” to Allah. In our modern world, submitting to anyone or to anything is not very “politically correct.”
The world teaches us to be in control. Being Muslim teaches us to let go and to submit. The extraordinary truth is that when we do submit, far from diminishing us in any way, we become more fully the people we are meant to be.
Submitting to Allah gives us a peace in our lives that cannot be found in any other way. Prayer is the thing that keeps us close to Allah and helps us to carry on despite all the things life can throw at us.
Apart from the proved physical benefits of adopting the gestures Muslims use to pray, such as bowing, prostrating and placing our foreheads on the ground, prayer teaches us what life is really about.
If we take our prayer seriously, we can’t fool anyone. Most of the time we are quite good, aren’t we, at fooling those around us to believe what we want them to believe?
Sometimes we can even fool ourselves and believe our own propaganda! But Allah is not to be fooled. He knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He is “closer to us than our own jugular vein” and “He knows every leaf that falls from every tree.”
No matter how we portray ourselves in this world, there is nothing very dignified about prostrating on the ground. And yet, in that very act of prostration we become most truly ourselves. There is no need for pretending or for putting on masks.
Setting aside the wrong actions that we do in life, in prayer we can be fully ourselves and rest secure that what we are is acceptable to Allah. There is no hiding from Him or hiding from who we are. Allah made us. We are His creatures and we find our complete happiness in doing His will.
This is why prayer makes a difference. This is why it is essential to take time out from our busy lives, as Muslims are required to do, and to focus on Allah alone from time to time.
Our lives are indeed very busy, but so often we fill them with busy-ness and worry and fret over this or that, when all we need to do is to relax and trust in Him. In that way, our prayer will put all our actions into their proper context.
When the prayer is finished we can go back to our daily life, Insha’Allah, renewed and refreshed, knowing that by holding firm to the rope of Allah we can tackle anything.