I just finished reading an amazing ancient book by Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jilani entitled Sirr Al-Asrar (The Secret of Secrets) interpreted in English by Shaikh Tosun Bayrak Al-Jerrahi Al-Halveti. Al-Jilani is a master in expressing complex spiritual ideas into words that I can understand. The chapter "On The Meaning of Ritual Worship and Inner Worship" intrigued me enough to type it down and share it with you. All along, this is how I felt about prayer. Besides, I always believed there was a more profound meaning to the verse in the Quran that says: "Hafidou 3ala Assalawatt, Wassalati Alwussta". many interpret Assalat Alwussta as the Asr (afternoon) prayer and it never made sense to me why that particular prayer is more important than the other five. Al-Jilani's interpretation is out of the box and I feel fully at peace with it. Have a nice read. I'd be interested to know what you think.
Chapter Fourteen: On The Meaning of Ritual Worship and Inner Worship
Five times a day, at specific times, prayer is ordained for every adult and able Muslim. This is ordered by Allah: Guard the prayers, especially the middle prayer... (Sura Baqara, 238) Ritual worship consists of standing, reciting from the Quran, bowing, prostrating, kneeling and audibly repeating certain prayers. These movements and actions involving the members of the body, recitations spelled out and heard involving the senses, are the worship of the material self. Because these actions of the material self are multiple and are repeated many times in each of the five prayers during the day, the first part of the order of Allah, Guard the prayers, is in the plural.
The second part of Allah's order, especially the middle prayer, refers to the prayer of the heart, because the heart is in the middle, in the centre of the being. The purpose of that worship is to obtain peace of the heart. The heart is in the middle between the right and the left, between the front and the back, between the upper and the lower, and between righteousness and rebellion. The heart is in the centre, the point of balance, the median. Our Master the Prophet said, "The hearts of the children of Adam are between two fingers of the All-Merciful. He turns them whichever way he wills." the two fingers of Allah are His attributes of the irresistible power of punishment and the loving and delicate beauty of beneficence.
True worship is the worship of the heart. If one's heart is heedless of true worship, the ritual prayer of the material self is in disorder. When this happens, the peace of the material self that one hopes to obtain from ritual prayer is not realized. That is why the Prophet says, "Ritual worship is only possible with a quiet heart".
Prayer is the supplication of the created to the Creator. It is a meeting of the servant and the Lord. The place of this meeting is the heart. If the heart is closed, heedless, and dead, so is the meaning of worship. No good comes to the material being from such a prayer. For the heart is the essence of the body; the rest is dependent upon it. As the Prophet says, "There is a piece of meat in man's body - when it is in a good state, the whole being improves, and when it is in a bad state, the whole being falls apart. Beware, that piece of meat is the heart."
Prayer prescribed by the religion is to be performed at specific times. Within a day and a night there are five such specific times of prayer. The best way of doing them is to perform them in a mosque, in congregation, turning toward the direction of the city of Makka, following the one who leads the prayer without hypocrisy, not for the approval of others, and without ostentation.
The time for inner worship is timeless and endless, for the whole life here and in the hereafter. The mosque for this prayer is the heart. The congregation is the inner faculties, which remember and recite the Names of the unity of Allah in the language of the inner world. The leader of this prayer is the irresistible wish. The direction of prayer is toward the oneness of Allah - which is everywhere - and His eternal nature and His beauty.
The true heart is the one which can perform such a prayer. A heart like this neither sleeps nor dies. A heart and soul like this are in continuous worship, and a being with such a heart, whether he appears awake or asleep, is in constant service. The inner worship of the heart is his whole life. There is no longer the sound of recitation or standing, bowing, prostrating or sitting. His guide, the leader of his prayer, is the Prophet himself. He speaks with Allah Most High, saying, "thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help." (Sura Fatiha, 4) These divine words are interpreted as a sign of the state of the perfect man, who passes from being nothing, being lost to material things, into a state of oneness. Such a perfect heart receives great blessings from the divine. One of these blessings is mentioned by our Master the Prophet: "The prophets and those who are beloved by Allah continue their worship in their graves as they did in their houses while they were of this world." In other words, the eternal life of the heart continues its supplications to Allah Most High.
When the ritual worship of the material being and the inner worship of the heart unite, the prayer is complete. It is perfect worship, and its rewards are great. It brings one spiritually to the level of one's possibility. In the world of appearances one becomes the devout servant of Allah. Inwardly one becomes the wise one who has attained the true knowledge of Allah. If ritual worship does not unite with the inner worship of the heart, it is lacking. Its reward is only advancing in rank. It will not bring one any closer to the realm of the divine.