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Moving Beyond Merely Performing Acts of Worship

In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa’illah As-Sakandari says:

Allah diversified the acts of worship for you because He knows how quickly you get bored. And He did not permit you certain acts of worship at certain times so you do not go to extremes. The objective is to perfect your prayers not to merely perform them. Not every performer of prayers perfects them.

This word of wisdom is related to a very important topic in our journey to Allah which is the quality of worship. A believer who is in continuous worship may feel bored at some point. Allah, out of His mercy, knows that we, humans, could naturally feel bored, even from worship. Therefore, He diversified the acts of worship so we can worship Him in a variety of ways.

When Allah opens for you the door of reading the Qur’an, you may wish to read it all the time. But it is not allowed to read the Qur’an while we are kneeling down or prostrating in prayer, in the toilet, or while we are in a state of ritual non-cleanliness.

Because Allah knows our nature, He diversified the acts of worship and made some of them prohibited at certain times.

A Perfect Prayer

Then, when Allah guides you to perform an act of worship, you have to perfect it and ascend in the levels of quality of worship. The Sheikh gives the example of prayer as he says:

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“The objective is to perfect your prayers not to merely perform them. Not every performer of prayer perfects them”.

When Allah talks about prayer in the Qur’an, he asked us to {establish prayers}. (Al-Baqarah 2: 43) Establishing the prayer is different from merely performing it. Establishing a prayer is about concentration and humbleness during the prayer. Allah says:

{Truly, to a happy state shall attain the believers those who humble themselves in their prayer}. (Al-Mu’minun 23: 1-2)

Humbleness is the objective of avoiding the performance of prayer at certain times. Whether one feels bored or goes to extremes and prays non-stop, humbleness cannot be achieved.

According to Sufis, humbleness in prayers (al-khushu`) is a branch of knowledge. This is supported by the prophetic tradition in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) talked about the signs of the Day of Judgment, as reported by Abu Ad-Darda’:

“We were with the Prophet. He looked at the sky and said: “This is a time when knowledge is to be taken away from people until they cannot gain any of it.

`Ubadah ibn As-samit (may Allah be pleased with him) commented on the report and said: If you want, I can tell you about the first branch of knowledge that will be removed from people; it is humbleness in prayers. You may enter a big mosque but you do not see one man in a state of humbleness”. (At-Tirmidhi)

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