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Call to Prayer

Learning or Teaching Prayer

What you Ought to Know ….. learning or teaching Prayer

Yaqoub Johnson

Over the years I have frequently found myself, Al-Hamdulillah, in the position of acting as teacher to a number of those who, by the Grace of Allah, came to accept Islam. Their most immediate need, having taken the Shahadah – declaration of Faith, is to learn the prayer so that they may establish it in their daily lives. By doing so I have constructed this method which, though it is mine and therefore not the only view, I hope it will be helpful to you when you are Blessed with this important task.

As a Muslim, whether in the position of teacher or pupil, we have to always remind ourselves that, regardless of how much we feel we already know, gaining knowledge is a lifelong experience. There is always more to learn and while it is expected that others at this stage of their journey have much to learn we must all appreciate that learning is an ongoing role in all our lives – this is the key to the whole exercise.

The Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, reminding us that ‘the seeking of knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim – both male and female’ does not express a time limitation. It expands therefore from the time you are able to use your brain and intellect until the moment Allah lifts His pen, closes your book and chooses to take you from this world. Its continuance is vital so that we may fully appreciate the difficulties, aids and methodologies through which other people learn and their varying capacities and abilities. It naturally follows that the deeper you’re own knowledge, understanding and practice of Islamic principles the more you can impart. Book learning in itself is not good enough because teaching, which is bereft of the gentle sensitivity frequently seen in the life of Prophet Muhammad pbuh, destroys the love of Islam in the hearts of its followers.

Each of us have to find our own depth in our individual prayer, our commitment to the congregational prayer, the ability to rise in the night and other essential requirements which lead towards greater personal gain spiritually and materially. There is also the need to assess our knowledge in relation to the Fiqh – and how far each of us strive towards holding on to the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad pbuh, which will serve towards informing our prayer and make our teaching of it more sound and effective.

Teaching and learning requires us to have a good understanding of and ability to access people so that, in taking into account the Hadith of Muhammad pbuh, who advised us to speak to people according to their ability, we may be better equipped to meet each individual need. It is an established fact that that those who accept Islam come from a variety of different circumstances in terms of age, background, education and culture. This leads us to conclude that teaching in a group is probably not the best or most appropriate method. While it is true to say that there may be some aspects of the prayer, which can be taught collectively, broadly speaking the best results are achieved on an individual basis.

It is always best to use the words of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh wherever possible, not in any vain attempt to express superiority of knowledge, but for clarity and the need to be concise. This was how Muhammad pbuh referred to the Qur’an and his Sunnah being the all-encompassing and concise words which brought together large meanings in small phrases. These words and meanings, though often wide and deep, were like honey and had such a profound impact to those who were privileged to have been the first listeners to a Prophet pbuh, whose character, action and words are as meaningful today as they were all those years ago.

Prayer and its Particulars

It is very important that Salat is put into contest and that it is not merely taught or learned as a ritual. Though it is correct to say that it has ritualistic aspects that are fundamental to its overall structure and performance it cannot be taught as simply a series of actions or words. The Prophet pbuh, was very clear about the fact that on the day of reckoning it is not our appearances that will win points but our intentions and the actions which resulted as a consequence of our intentions. On one occasion, while sitting with his companions he asked them who they considered to be the bankrupt person amongst them. In appreciation of their social circumstances and the seeming simplicity of the question they replied that it was the one who had neither dinar nor dirham. The Prophet pbuh, replied that in his community the bankrupt person is the one who prays all his prayers, performs his fasting and fulfils all the obligations of Islam. But when he comes before his Lord on the Day of Judgement it will be pointed out to him that he cursed so-and-so, harmed so-and-so and robbed so-and-so. Then all those whom he wronged will be allowed to come and take from that person’s seemingly good actions as recompense for the injustices his friends and neighbours endured from him in life. When his good actions are all exhausted those others who were wronged at the hands of this person will, as recompense, have the opportunity to heap all of their bad actions on top of him – this is bankruptcy! The Salat therefore, in spite of its centrality to Islam, cannot be on its own – in a vacuum so to speak. It must put that into context in the sense that if someone does perfect prayer, that is, perfect in terms its outward expression only and then proceeds to go out and harm people and reek havoc on their family and community there is something fundamentally wrong here. Such action only serves to remind us of the Qur’anic warning regarding the balance between what we say and what we do.

It must be made very clear from the outset that it is necessary to establish the prayer in everyday life and that it should on no account be neglected or put aside because it is the yardstick by which our Iman is measured. By leaving the prayer for whatever reason we are jeopardising our close relationship with Allah to the extent that we may even be endangering our leaving the Muslim body. Allah reminds us that his servant draws near to Him with nothing better than what He has made obligatory. Sticking to the Salat therefore can only be in our best interests and for our own good because ultimately closeness to Allah comes as a direct result and is a measure of our obedience to Him. We may compare this concept to the life of the Prophet pbuh, in that he was sent as a warner and at the same time he was the bearer of good tidings. In the same way there is a warning against leaving the Salat and good tidings and great rewards and benefits for sticking to it. It even goes beyond that since both of these involve self interest since on the one hand you are protecting yourself from the punishment or wrath of Allah while on the other, you are seeking to enter the garden together with the believers which is Allah’s reward for you. Prayer is the route by which to achieve these necessary rewards which culminate in the final pleasure of seeing the face of your Lord. When the mind wonders during the course of the prayer, though it should be checked, it is a natural human weakness. It is being forgetful of the prayer and what that means in relation to Allah’s commands and bringing balance and perfection into our relationships and actions as a result of regular and established prayer that is fundamentally important.

You must understand, as one learning or make it clear to your student if you are playing the role of teacher, how the prayer relates to the society and to the individual and the important function congregational prayer plays in that respect. It is a significant sign of the unity of Islam and the Muslims having as its origin the concept of Tawheed – the unity of Allah as One, to the unity of direction in the prayer towards the Qiblah and beyond this to the unity of the ranks of Muslims joined together as one solid unbroken chain of believers bound together in the worship of Allah having closed the ranks to evil, descent and temptation.

Before embarking on the teaching or learning of Salat it is necessary to begin by addressing the aspect of cleanliness. Your or your student should fully understand that preparing for the prayer, during which we stand before Allah seeking His forgiveness and His favours, requires us to present ourselves in the appropriate manner. In the same way as care is taken when going for an interview or meeting a dignitary personal cleanliness, as well as cleanliness of dress and place of prayer, should be covered sufficiently so that you or your student feels confident in proceeding with the prayer.

Give the prayer meaning so that it becomes worship based on understanding by emphasising the Hadith of the Prophet pbuh, that actions are judged by intention and that the more knowledge and understanding we have of our prayer, and indeed all aspects of Islam, the stronger and more precise our intention will be. As far as possible try to understand or make clear the relationship between form and meaning and that prayer without presence of the heart makes our prayer weak and therefore defective – that is not to say that Allah the Compassionate and Merciful will reject it but it will be devoid of that courtesy of clarity of mind and heart which is very necessary in this instance.

Your teaching or learning should combine aspects of both mercy and seriousness knowing when and where each should apply. Your familiarity with the prayer is essential so that overburdening is avoided and the correct response to certain situations as far as possible, since sometimes this is not always clearly indicated because the Prophet pbuh, tended to do things differently at different times, is arrived at. Teaching or learning the details of the prayer requires you to know the details and there are quite a few books, charts and tapes, videos and CD’s available that are all very helpful in assisting this process. A structure by which you can proceed step by step is also useful in that it provides a goal for you or for the student, which allows each to achieve it in a reasonable period of time. To avoid confusion and the possibility of overwhelming yourself or your student you should start with the essentials which makes prayer valid and build the confidence to pray alone and later continuing to build on that basic structure. Always encourage or attend prayer in congregation since it allows those worshipers who are unfamiliar with the process of prayer in Islam to gain confidence with the sequence of movements involved. Congregational prayers such as Maghrib, Isha and Fajr prayer since they are performed aloud will help towards perfecting Arabic, Insha Allah. It must also be made clear that the early coverage of the basic essentials of the obligatory prayer is simply a kind of crash course and that once confidence is established the finer details of the prayer must be studied in greater depth.

Finally in an effort to keep things simple it is perhaps best to teach Salat according to one Madhab – school of thought. Having said that it is important to clarify that all schools of thought, with the exception of slight modifications, are the same and accepted by everyone. Always keep in mind that the Prophet pbuh, never gave the impression that he was above people. Whenever he spoke he turned towards that person giving them his full attention always willing and wanting them to improve so that they would come to experience the greatest love of all – that of their Merciful and Compassionate Creator – Allah.