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3 Basic Psychological Needs of Prayer

Prayer and Psychological Fortitude

Prayer lifts up the soul to heaven whenever it clings to earth, and connects it with its Lord whenever it is severed from Him through heedlessness or distraction.

About the power that the experience of prayer has, Dale Carnegie narrated: “As I said before, even the scientists are turning to religion.

Take, for example, Dr. Alexis Carrel, who wrote, ‘Man, the Unknown’ and won the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon any scientist, the Nobel Prize. Dr. Carrel said in a Reader’s Digest article, ‘Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. It is a force as real as terrestrial gravity.

As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer. Prayer, like radium, is a source of luminous, self-generating energy.

In prayer, human beings seek to augment their finite energy by addressing themselves to the Infinite source of all energy. When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe. We pray that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs.

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Even in asking, our human deficiencies are filled and we arise strengthened and repaired. Whenever we address God in fervent prayer, we change both soul and body for the better. It could not happen that any man or woman could pray for a single moment without some good result.’” (How to Stop Worrying, 80)

This is best explained by God’s words:

And when My servants ask you (O Muhammad) about Me, (answer them), I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright. (Quran 2: 186)

Giving your first thought upon waking up to God surrounds you with power and protection all day long. Having woken up mindful of God, sought His Refuge, and asked for His Protection, indeed God will not forsake those who seek Him or withhold what they need. The Prophet said:

Anyone who prays Subh is under Allah’s Protection, so do not subject yourself to His Punishment by breaching His Protection (i.e. harming those whom He protects) in any way; anyone who breaches His Protection in any way, Allah will seize, and then throw on his face into Hellfire. (Muslim)

That is how close the connection between God and His devoted servants is. He not only takes them into His Care, but regards them as His Own Self. Any transgression against them is a transgression against Himself (Glorified and Exalted be He).

Anyone who antagonizes a devotee of Mine, I declare war against him. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him.
And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him. (Al-Bukhari)

Such is God’s grace towards those who, with their whole being, live perpetually connected to Him through prayers and other righteous works, and whenever some difficulty comes their way, run to Him as a child runs to the protective arms of his father, for Him to ward off harm and grant them safety. It was reported in a hadith:

Whenever some difficulty arose, Prophet Muhammad would hurry to prayer. (Abu Dawud)

Prayer fulfills basic psychological needs which have their roots in human nature. Dale Carnegie wrote:

“Why does religious faith bring us such peace and calm and fortitude?

I will let William James answer that.

He says: ‘The turbulent billows of the fretful surface leave the deep parts of the ocean undisturbed; and to him who has a hold on vaster and more permanent realities, the hourly vicissitudes of his personal destiny seem relatively insignificant things. The really religious person is, accordingly, unshakable and full of equanimity, and calmly ready for any duty that the day may bring forth.’

If we are worried and anxious – why not try God? Why not, as Immanuel Kant said: ‘accept a belief in God because we need such a belief’? Why not link ourselves now ‘with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe’?”

Even if you are not a religious person by nature or training – even if you are an out-and-out skeptic – prayer can help you much more than you believe, for it is a practical thing.

What do I mean, practical? I mean that prayer fulfills these three very basic psychological needs which all people share, whether they believe in God or not:

1. Prayer helps us to put into words exactly what is troubling us

It is almost impossible to deal with a problem while it remains vague and nebulous. Praying, in a way, is very much like writing our problem down on paper. If we ask for help for a problem – even from God – we must put it into words.

2. Prayer gives us a sense of sharing our burdens, of not being alone

Few of us are so strong that we can bear our heaviest burdens, our most agonizing troubles, all by ourselves. Sometimes our worries are of so intimate a nature that we cannot discuss them even with our closest relatives or friends. Then prayer is the answer.

Any psychiatrist will tell us that when we are pent-up and tense, and in an agony of spirit, it is therapeutically good to tell someone our troubles. When we cannot tell anyone else – we can always tell God.

3. Prayer puts into force an active principle of doing

It is a first step toward action. I doubt if anyone can pray for some fulfillment, day after day, without benefiting from it – in other words, without taking some steps to bring it to pass. A world-famous scientist said: ‘Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate.’”

Caringly and lovingly, God warns people not to trust their own power as sufficient, as this deficient view would deprive them of the blessings of providence and keep them forever imprisoned within the confines of their own weakness and ignorance.

In a sacred hadith God says:

O My slaves, all of you are astray except those whom I guide, so seek My Guidance and I will guide you. O My slaves, all of you are hungry except those whom I feed, so ask me for food and I will feed you.
O My slaves, all of you are naked except those whom I clothe, so ask me for clothing and I will clothe you.
O My slaves, you err by night and by day and I forgive all sins, so ask for My forgiveness and I will forgive you. (Muslim)

Have you felt the sincerity of persistence to lead back strayed humans to God, their Lord, in order to receive provisions, place their reliance on Him, and empower themselves with His infinite power?

Truly, only those who are poor in their hearts and minds live away from such inexhaustible, divine goodness.

Works Cited:

Carnegie, Dale. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990

This article is a translated excerpt from Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali’s book: “Renew Your Life”. It is translated and adapted by Haya Muhammad Eid & edited by Emily Katharine Richardson.

(From Discovering Islam archive)