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3 weeks ago

Ahmad Javid

Prayer of Love: Coming Home

Those who are perpetually in prayer
—Quran 70:23
Both the prayer and the answer are from thee,
At first thou givest desire for prayer,
And at the last thou givest likewise the response for prayer.

Prayer is a divine gift. It is said in a tradition, “To Me belongs the giving: if I had not answered thy prayer I would not have made thee seeking it.” It is an idea well-known in Christian tradition, where it found its most famous expression in the words of Pascal: “You would not seek Me if you had not found Me.” Much earlier it became a cornerstone of Sufism and was poetically expressed by Jalal Uddin Rumi:
Not a single lover would seek union
If the beloved were not seeking it
In salat (prayer) you have the great honor and privilege of coming into the very presence of the great lord of the universe—Allah. You have been invited not only to stand in His presence but also to hold a conversation, an intimate dialogue, with the One Who cares about you the most. It is your opportunity to seek understanding from your Creator, your chance to ask the Lord of all that exists to deliver you in areas where you cannot help yourself, and your privilege to know Him better. God the Most High says in the Quran, “I have created men and jinn but to worship Me.” The basic concept of worship is found in the term Abid, meaning “devotee” or “pious worshiper.” This term is derived from Abd, meaning “slave,” and has a connotation of total obedience and dedication to God. In other words the above verse can be rephrased to state, “I created humans to live perpetually in My presence.”
Prayer is the core of religious life and the basis of the inner relationship of the lover with the beloved on the mystical path. In this way the mumin or worshipper seeks to realize the truth in his or her life, and God reveals Himself within the hearts of those who pray. The mystical experience of God is a state of oneness (nearness) with God. This union mystica is the goal of all as in this world. The traveler begins the journey with a longing for this intimate relationship. This longing is born from the soul’s memory that it has come from God. The soul remembers that its real home is with God. We have come from Him, and we return to Him. The spiritual journey is a journey back to home. This journey is inward, to the very center of our being, where the Beloved is eternally present.
Prayer or salat is the time of connection, the moment of proximity to God. Mystics regarded prayer in accordance with the prophetic tradition, as a kind of ascension to heaven (miraj) that brought them into the immediate presence of Allah. Does not the Quran state specifically that all creation was brought into being for the purpose of prayer (worship)? Thus those who want to gain special proximity to the Lord, and prove their obedience and love, are those who attribute the most importance to the ritual prayer.
Most of the Sufis agree with Najmuddin Kubra’s definition: “Prayer according to shariah is service, according to tariqah, proximity and according to haqiqah, union with Allah.” Sufi Master Abu Ali ad-Daqqaq has said, “Servitude (ubudiya) is more perfect than worship (ibadat). So first comes worship, then servitude and finally adoration.” He further added, “Worship is the practice of common people, servitude is the practice of elect, and adoration is the practice of elect of the elect.” He also said; “Worship is for the one who possesses knowledge of certainty, servitude is for the one who possesses the eye of certainty, and adoration is for the one who possesses the truth of certainty.” He also commented, “Worship is for those who strive, servitude for those who excel in bearing hardships, and adoration is for the people of witnessing. So one who does not begrudge God, his soul is in the state of worship, one who does not begrudge God, his heart is in a state of servitude, and one who does not begrudge God, his spirit is in a state of adoration.” The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) stressed about prayer, “Pray as if you see Him.”
Salat should be prayed, slipping quietly into the presence of Allah. This can be so exotic and fresh that it delights the spirit enormously. When a believer stands in prayer and utters the Niya (intention to perform prayer), he or she expresses the intention to turn away from everything created. During salat he feels as if he were standing before Allah. Mahisibi has eloquently described this feeling of overwhelming awe:
What predominates in the heart of a mystic while he is at prayer is his sense of the mystery of Him in Whose presence he stands and the might of Him Whom he seeks and the love of Him who favors him with familiar dialogue with Himself, and he is conscious of that until he has finished praying, and he departs with a face so changed that his friends would not recognize him, because of the awe that he feels at the majesty of God. It is so that one who comes into the presence of some king, or someone for whom he yearns and whom he fears, stands in His presence, with a different attitude from what was his before he entered and goes out with a an altered countenance. And how should it not be so with the Lord of the world, who has not ceased to be nor will cease to be, He Who hath no equal.
Salat takes us back home, from separation to union. We have come from God, and we return to God. We are exiles and aliens until we can come home into God, the heart’s true home. Pride and fear have kept us at a distance from Allah, but when the resistance within us is overcome by the operation of faith, hope, and love, we begin moving upward into the divine intimacy. When we communicate and reply to Allah in a most direct way (prayer), it becomes the prayer of adoration—for all true prayer (salat) is saturated with it.
We should know that neither our words of praise nor our silent worship is sufficient to express the gratitude and adoration that we owe to our creator. According to Rumi, “The darkness of the night and the brightness of the day, the beams of sun and the light of the moon, the murmuring of the waters and the whispering of the leaves, the stars, the sky and the dust of the earth, the stones of the mountains, the sands of the desert and the waves of the oceans, the animals of water and land praise Thee.”
Salat is a believer’s response to “the perpetual outpouring of love by which Allah lays siege to every soul.” Notwithstanding their eagerness to perform salat regularly, some Sufis have reached a state of absolute absorption or rapture.
Kharraz, a Persian Sufi, has given a touching description of this state of the believer’s attitude required in his prayer:
When entering on prayer you should come into the presence of Allah, as you would on the day of resurrection, when you will stand before him with no mediator between, for He welcomes you and you are in confidential talk with Him and you know in whose presence you are standing, for He is the king of kings. When you have lifted your hands and said, “God is great” then let nothing remain in your mind in the time of glorification, than the glory of God Most High, so that you forget this world and the next while glorifying Him.
Salat is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with Allah. This way of prayer, this simple relationship with Allah (the eternal Beloved), requires one thing—love. When we hunger for Allah, our desire for salat in itself is a prayer. The desire leads to practice, and practice will increase the desire. The prayer will soften our hearts and lift the veils. Slowly and mysteriously Allah moves from the periphery of our salat experience to the center. A conversation of the heart takes place; a transformation of the spirit begins. This is the work of divine grace.
Allah is closer to us than our awareness. With this kind of presence, we bore down deeper and deeper—by constantly turning inward in a special way. It is a journey through ourselves so that we can emerge from the deepest level of the self in Allah. We are drawn to the divine center through Allah’s grace rather than by our own efforts. The soul, once it begins to turn inward, gradually enters the presence of Allah. The soul needs no other force to draw it than the weight of love. The best method for turning inward is meditation on the “names of Allah.” Its full doctrine is given in my book Sufi Light: The Secret of Meditation. Before offering salat one should meditate for ten to fifteen minutes on the name of God, Allah, to understand the deeper working of Allah in the heart, both in the morning and at night. The goal of meditation is to become conscious of Allah’s presence. One should firmly declare, “O Allah, I want to give you every minute of my life. I shall try to keep you in my mind every moment of my working hours.” Feeling the presence of God include ecstasy and joy, or withdrawal and silence; they always include mystery.
Today, we Muslims experience the agony of prayerlessness. We live in a world that constantly calls faith into question. What holds us back? Of course we are very busy with work or family responsibilities. We do not carry our duty regarding salat honestly and conscientiously. In matters of daily prayer, we deceive ourselves. As a matter of fact, people usually do not enjoy praying anymore. We easily experience boredom, embarrassment, unwillingness, or even hostility. Everything else in the world appears more attractive, exciting, and important to us than standing in prayer. We convince ourselves that there are more urgent matters that need our attention and we simply don’t have time to pray. No sooner do we quit praying than we suddenly have all the time to spend in useless pursuits. We should stop making excuses like “I don’t feel like praying.” We should honestly discharge our duty in matters of praying, and if it proves to be hard, we should not hesitate to be a little stern with ourselves. Without salat, faith becomes weak, and religious life dwindles. We need salat to remain spiritually healthy. Prayer is not merely an activity that one may practice or leave without faith being affected.
Our attitude toward religious obligations is full of contradictions. We all need God, and we know it. We seek our Creator, by Whose power we live. However, we do not like to deliberately confess this and try to evade and resist God. This behavior reflects itself in our attitude in devotion. As soon as we submit to the prayer (salat) duty, we experience the truth and find peace and joy. It is human nature to rebel and evade prayer as far as possible. There are some obvious reasons for this attitude—the main one being that we cannot perceive God in our daily chores. To be more precise, we cannot perceive Him in the manner in which we perceive objects and people. God is always present, more real than anything else, and yet He is hidden. He can only be seen by the inner eye of faith. He is known by the heart that loves Him. But our inner vision is often clouded, and the heart is dull; thus we have no immediate experience of Alla Allah. It is a mystery that one whose life comes from Allah should have such difficulty in communicating with Him.
Certainly, we must prepare ourselves for salat. The same applies to all worldly matters. No one with a serious goal before him or her will approach it unprepared but will instead concentrate on all aspects of that job. The same applies to salat—all the more so since Allah, as we know, is hidden and must be found in prayer. Prayer is a serious religious obligation that needs full attention—not merely that of thought and action but that of the inmost inwardness of the soul. Therefore, preparation is necessary. This preparation includes dhikr (remembrance) and meditation on the names of Allah (Tassawur Isme Dhat). These two acts of devotion are the mainstay of Sufism and will be discussed later on. Remembrance (dhikr) and meditation are done for one thing—to achieve recollectedness, so that one becomes composed and concentrated. Humans are restless beings easily disturbed by all sorts of things, agitated by friendly and hostile contacts, driven by desires, fears, cares, or passions. Humans always want something; this has been so ever since they have existed and is even worse today. Humans are restless, incapable of standing still or of concentrating, and have lost contact with their own center.
Can restless people pray? It is only possible if they compose themselves and step out of the stream of restlessness. They should discard all desires and concentrate on that one thing alone that matters most. They should say to themselves, “My mind and heart is set on Allah. There is nothing in the world that concerns me, except prayer (salat). The next twenty to thirty minutes are reserved for this task. I am free and completely dedicated to the Lord of the universe.” They must be completely honest with themselves and get rid of every thought that is irrelevant. They should hold themselves at the disposal of Allah, Who alone matters now. Unfortunately, as soon as they start to pray, all sorts of things clamor for attention: a conversation with a friend, a job to do, news on TV, a Bollywood song, a scene from a movie or a book. All these suddenly take precedence and appear most important, while salat seems a mere waste of time. But no sooner do they stop praying than there is plenty of time and they waste it away in useless activities. The reason for this is that we are not present. The inner unrest drives us away from prayer and from the place we should be. The place where things really matter, the place where the living God calls to the self—the place of servitude or obedience. We may say that humanity is rooted firmly in the world and not in things that really matter. If we really want to pray, we must withdraw ourselves from everything and everywhere and become present. Everything depends on the ability to stand still and be present with full inner awareness. It is, therefore, in the state of awareness that the divine presence becomes manifest. To approach this divine reality is thus the main task of salat. In prayer, most of us are in a state of distraction; our thoughts jump from object to object, and our senses are unfocused and ineffective. In this state we are a bundle of uncoordinated thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Presence on the other hand means that those who pray gather themselves together and focus all their attention on what they are doing, so as to dedicate themselves to prayer as a unified whole. In this way a composed person, who is able to concentrate, to become still, and to withdraw into himself or herself, is inwardly awake. It is not easy to be present in prayer. As soon as we make the attempt and try to compose ourselves, our unrest doubles in intensity. When we want to be truly present, we are pulled away by powerful forces, and we experience the full impact of distraction. It is Allah Who by His presence awakens that which He has endowed humanity with so that humanity may respond to Him.
In our contemporary world, prayer is difficult. Prayer is often forgotten. God’s call to us to turn to Him in prayer (salat) goes ignored or unheard. We live chaotic and hectic lives that keep us rushing from one job to another; our days are filled with constant confusion and often unimportant activity. Our lives are taken over by mobile phones, the web, and text messages with meaningless chatter, from which we find no escape. The call of God is drowned out by the incessant noise of the world.
In true prayer, guided by His call, our spiritual consciousness seeks Him. Once the reality of God becomes manifest, it may happen that one experiences it suddenly and is overcome by its grandeur and flooded by awe. If this happens, one knows that one is receiving the great and intimate mystery of salat—union. He is only before Him and through Him. In a state of true presence, one experiences this truth. When one knows that one is before Allah, and in reality only before Him, it is overwhelming, frightening, and at the same time blissful.
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6 months ago

Ahmad Javid

Wonderfully inspired, thoroughly explained guide for wayfarers and sojourners seeking Truth within themselves
BySkip Masellion April 24, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Dr. Javid conveys a beautifully thorough treatise on Sufism with gentle authority and a command of self-understanding. In a world imbued with dogma everywhere we turn, he embraces the importance of love, prayer, meditation, and remembrance to the legacy and future of Sufism. Sufi Prayer and Love transcends the true intentions of the spiritual quest into the spiritually infused practicality of living.

The books impassioned passages gracefully transcend the great love and respect for his beloved teacher Hazrat Faqir Abdul Hamid Sarwari Qaderi. This delicate balance of human and divine love and our relationship to teachers is so important to understand for those engaged on the Sufi path (or whatever journey one might undertake.) The depth of Dr. Javid’s research and many quoted passages and anecdotes reflect a deep-seated respect for the teachings by the beloved prophets, saints, teachers, and poets encountered throughout his life.

Ahmad is kind enough to faithfully and consistently present the Arabic terms for many auspicious words. His translations and explanations of terms enhance one's ability to appreciate the depth and beauty of Sufism, Islam, and all relgions through sound, pattern, flow, and spiritual aesthetics. His book is both instructional and celebratory in its presentation of the beautiful traditions, etiquettes, and divinely inspired guidance comprising the roots of Sufism. As a true dervish, he returns to the reader all the light and awareness his own long journey has opened up for him.

Prayer, remembrance, service, and meditation are among the key unifying activities that align the body, soul and spirit. Furthermore, this harmonizes mankind within the perfected religion of love. Dr. Javid points the seeker in the direction of his or her own heart… the Qibla of humanity. His teacher said that what makes you spiritual, “…is an experience within your own soul.” Ahmad gives us the tools and nourishment to sense and cultivate that experience. He expresses that the way toward peace on earth is through the perfection of men fully attuned to the religion of love, choreographed in the act of prayer.

Whatever inner peace you seek, whatever love you seek; you can sojourn here within this book and continue on with more clarity.
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