Though it is often reduced to formal rituals devoid of substance, Islam teaches that prayer is the key to spiritual development, and that true prayers are indeed answered. Here we look at the significance of prayer and the conditions required for its acceptance.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
PEACE BE UPON HIM
What is prayer?
“The principle of prayer is that there is a mutually attractive relationship between a pious servant and his Lord. To begin with, the mercy (Rahmaniyyat) of God Almighty draws a servant to itself. Then through his sincerity the servant approaches close to God Almighty and in prayer that relationship, when it arrives at a certain stage, manifests its wonderful qualities. When a servant being confronted with a great difficulty leans towards God Almighty with perfect certainty, perfect hope, perfect love, perfect fidelity and perfect resolve, and becoming extremely alert and tearing aside the veils of heedlessness advances far into the fields of the discarding of self, he beholds in front of him the court of the Divine and that He has no associate. Then his soul prostrates itself at that threshold and the power of attraction that is invested in him draws the bounty of God Almighty towards itself. Then God, the Glorious, addresses Himself towards fulfilling the purpose of the supplication and casts the effect of prayer on all those preliminary means which give rise to the means that are necessary for the achievement of the purpose of the prayer. For instance, if the prayer is for rain then on its acceptance the natural means that are needed for rain are created by the effect of the prayer. If the prayer is for famine the All-Powerful One creates the contrary means.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 192-193
What is the effect of prayer?
“Some types of miracles are in reality the acceptance of prayer. The source of thousands of miracles that were manifested by the Prophets and the wonders that have been exhibited throughout by the saints was prayer, and it is through the effect of prayer that extraordinary events display the power of the All-Powerful. Are you aware what was the wonderful event that happened in the deserts of Arabia, that hundreds of thousands of the dead came alive within a few days, and those who had been corrupted through generations took on Divine colour, and the blind began to see, and the tongues of the dumb began to flow with Divine insights, and such a revolution took place in the world which no eye had seen and no ear had heard before? It was the prayers during dark nights of one who had been wholly lost in God which created an uproar in the world and manifested such wonders as had appeared impossible in the case of that unlearned helpless one.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 194
How can a prayer be manifested?
“When a servant being confronted with a great difficulty leans towards God Almighty with perfect certainty, perfect hope, perfect love, perfect fidelity and perfect resolve, and becoming extremely alert and tearing aside the veils of heedlessness advances far into the fields of the discarding of self, he beholds in front of him the court of the Divine and that He has no associate. Then his soul prostrates itself at that threshold and the power of attraction that is invested in him draws the bounty of God Almighty towards itself. Then God, the Glorious, addresses Himself towards fulfilling the purpose of the supplication and casts the effect of prayer on all those preliminary means which give rise to the means that are necessary for the achievement of the purpose of the prayer. For instance, if the prayer is for rain then on its acceptance the natural means that are needed for rain are created by the effect of the prayer. If the prayer is for famine the All-Powerful One creates the contrary means.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 192 to 193
Why are some prayers not accepted?
“Very often, despite all other conditions being fulfilled, the object for which supplication is made is opposed to the Divine design and there is no good in its fulfilment. For instance, if a child should cry that his mother should hand over to him a burning brand, or a serpent, or should feed him a poison, which appears agreeable, the mother would not comply with his wish. Were she to do so, and though the child might escape with his life some limb of his should become useless, then arriving at years of discretion the child would have a grievance against his foolish mother. There are many other conditions in the absence of which prayer does not deserve that name and so long as a prayer is not inspired by full spirituality and there is not a close connection between him who supplicates and him on whose behalf supplication is made, there is little hope of the acceptance of prayer. Unless there is Divine willingness for the acceptance of prayer all these conditions are not fulfilled and full attention remains lacking.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 197
God treats his favourites as friends
“… But it needs to be remembered that it is a wrong notion that every prayer of those who are God’s favourites is accepted. The truth is that the dealing of God Almighty with them is like that of a friend; sometimes He accepts their prayers and sometimes He imposes His will upon them. That is what happens in friendship. At one time, a friend accepts what his friend proposes and acts accordingly, and at another time makes him accept what he himself wishes. At one place in the Holy Qur’an God promises acceptance of the prayers of believers saying:
“Pray to Me, I shall accept your prayer.”
(Holy Qur’an, 40:61)
And at another place instructs them to accept His determination with pleasure. It is said:
‘And We will try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient;
Who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say: Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’
(Holy Qur’an, 2:156-157)
By reading both these verses together, one would know what is the way of Allah in respect of prayers and what is the relationship between the Lord and a servant.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 217
“To Supplicate is Human and to Respond is Divine”
“When a child being driven by hunger cries for milk, then milk is generated in the mother’s breasts. The child does not know what prayer is, but his cries draw the milk. This is a universal experience. Sometimes when the mother does not perceive the presence of milk in her breasts, the child’s cries help to draw it. Then can our cries before God Almighty draw nothing? They certainly draw everything. But those sightless ones, who parade themselves as scholars and philosophers, cannot see it. If a person were to reflect on the philosophy of prayer, keeping in mind the connection and relationship which a child has with its mother, he would find it easy to understand. The second type of mercy comes into operation after supplication. Go on asking and you will go on receiving.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 198-199
The necessity of trials
“It is at a time of trial that the wonderful and rare qualities and effects of prayer are manifested. The truth is that our God is recognized only through prayers.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 199
Prayer removes all doubts
“A foolish one thinks that prayer is a vain and useless thing, but he does not know that it is prayer in consequence of which God, the Glorious, manifests Himself to His seekers and conveys to their hearts the revelation: “I am the All-Powerful One.” Everyone who is hungry and thirsty for certainty should remember that for the seeker of spiritual light in this world, prayer is the only means which bestows certainty with regard to the existence of God Almighty and removes all doubts and suspicions.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 209
Should we pray and not plan?
“As the relationship between planning and prayer is proved by the law of nature, it is also proved by the testimony of the book of nature. It is often observed that as human temperaments at a time of distress incline towards planning and remedies, in the same way they incline by natural eagerness towards prayer and almsgiving and charity…. This is a spiritual argument that the inner law of man has, from the beginning, directed all peoples that they should not separate prayer from means and planning, but should search for plans with prayer. In short, prayer and planning are two natural demands of human nature which ever since the creation of man, have been the servants of human nature like two real brothers. Planning is the necessary consequence of prayer and prayer incites towards planning. The good fortune of man consists in this, that before entering upon planning he should seek help through prayer from the Fountainhead of grace so that being granted light from this everflowing spring good plans should be made available to him.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 207
Be steadfast in prayer
“Praying is like the sowing of a seed by a farmer. Apparently he buries the good seed in the soil and who can expect at that time that the grain of seed will grow up in the form of a good tree and bear fruit? Outsiders and even the cultivator himself cannot see that the grain is assuming the form of a plant inside the earth. But the reality is that within a few days the grain undergoes a change and begins to assume the shape of a plant till its shoot emerges from the earth and becomes visible to everyone. From the moment when the grain was placed in the earth it had started its preparation to become a plant, but an eye that can only perceive the visible was not aware of it till its shoot emerged from the earth and became visible. An ignorant child cannot understand at that stage that it will bear fruit only at its due time. He desires to see it bearing fruit immediately, but an intelligent cultivator will know what is the time of its bearing fruit. He looks after it steadfastly and nurtures it till the time comes when it bears fruit and which also ripens.
The same is the case with prayer, which is nurtured in the same way and brings forth fruit. Those who are in haste get tired quickly and give up, and those who are steadfast persevere and arrive at their objective. It is true that there are many stages in prayer, ignorance of which deprives the supplicants of the fruits of their prayers. They are in a hurry and cannot wait, whereas there is progression in the works of the Almighty. It never happens that a man marries today and a child is born to him next morning. Though God is All-Powerful and can do whatever He wills, yet compliance with the law and the system that He has appointed is necessary. In the first stages of childbearing nothing is known, like the nurture of vegetation. For four months there is no certainty. Then a movement begins to be felt and after the expiry of the full period the child is born after great travail. The birth of the child is also gives a new life to the mother. It is difficult for a man to form a concept of the troubles and travails which a woman has to endure during her pregnancy, but it is true that the coming of a child is a new life for the mother. She has to accept death so as to have the joy of bearing a child. In the same way, it is necessary for a supplicant that he should discard haste and endure all troubles and should never imagine that prayer is not accepted. At last the time arrives for the result of the prayer to be manifested; the child which is the objective is born.” – Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, page 200-201