Friday, September 24

The Burden Of Worship

We're reaching that time of the year when the days get shorter and as a result the time between prayer does also. Fajr especially is getting later, meaning we now get around an hour sleep between performing it and getting up for work. I wonder - is it dangerous to sleep for that short a stint? Who knows... Either way it's tiring and tough to keep it up.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow Muslim the other day. We were on our way back from the cinema when we realised that it was quite close to Esha time. Since we pass a mosque on the way to the DLR we figured that we had may as well pray before we took the train home. On completion I flippantly remarked: "Phew. One less thing to do when we get home, eh?" To which my friend responded: "Jeez Shak, you make it sound like it's a burden".

Now I'll be honest. Sometimes (although it actually seems like a lot of the time) it does feel like a burden. I'm sure some here can relate - unless you plan your day pretty carefully it can be quite disruptive, even for those that have been performing prayer all their lives. I've often wondered what life would be like if I didn't have to pray - living a life where you didn't have to interrupt a dinner with friends, or a telly programme, a gaming session, a DVD viewing etc.

But I reckon that it's okay to feel this way. Moreover, I think that it's a good thing. For a start there's the fact that it provides that feeling we all like to have when we complete a duty or job. Then it helps develop patience which is an important quality for any Muslim to have. But more important than both of these, I suspect that if prayer wasn't a burden then there wouldn't be much value in it.

"And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer) and truly, it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashi'in. (They are those) who are certain that they are going to meet their Lord, and that unto Him they are going to return." (2:45-46)

Ibn Kathir explains that Muqatil bin Hayyan suggests that here, "patience" means to fast. Mujahid and Ibn Jarir are reported to have said that the pronoun in "it is extremely heavy and hard" refers to prayer, rather than to the advice itself. Ibn Kathir himself suggests that the meaning of the first ayah as a whole is that prayer is "heavy and burdensome". Having said that the second verse suggests that Al-Khashi'in will not consider prayer in this way since they're certain of the result of their actions.

Talking of Sawm, Abd-Allah ibn Amr reported that the Prophet said:
"The most beloved of prayer to Allah is the prayer of Dawood, and the most beloved of fasts to Allah is the fast of Dawood. He used to sleep for half of the night, then get up and pray for a third of the night, then sleep for a sixth of the night, and he used to fast every other day."

I was taught that this protected against the devaluation of Sawm. There's a danger of becoming accustomed to fasting if you did it every day (heck, ask any professional in London how easily they get on without a proper breakfast each morning), and so keeping it to every other day instead may help make it a more effective form of worship, particularly because the effort to fast is still there.

But we pray every day right? Yes, but generally people find that as hard, or possibly even harder, than fasting. And for those who have been praying since they can remember I guess it's now become more of an inherent chore of life rather than an unacknowledged habit - a bit like eating regular meals or taking a shower. Possibly.

And let's not forget fitna. Almost by definition the avoidance of fitna or desire (and I'm talking generally here) takes a great continuous effort. In other words it's supposed to be a burden. And as many of us know it's much easier just to give in. Hey - no pointing fingers now. Ahem.

So yes, prayer and worship in general are burdens. But they're good burdens. A bit like raising kids or studying for an exam or whatever. And we should embrace these burdens instead of allowing them to justify avoiding the acts themselves. These are things that we do not cos we primarily enjoy them (and I'll accept that some people do) but more 'cos we know it's right[1] and worth it in the end.

Oh and before I forget - IANAS and all that jazz.

[1] As a duty or command rather than absolutely.

1 comment:

  1. yo,

    yes, like you bimbles i try and pray as soon as i can though admittedly i still struggle with Fajr occassionally.
    they say there are two types of worshippers. those who pray because they fear the wrath of our Lord and those who pray because they love Him. i wonder where everyone fits in? as an emotional being, i believe i pray because of the latter, and not only that, but its the only thing i believe is "right" in this life of ours. and praying to Him sort of calms the otherwise mentally chaotic life i lead. so, i try not to look or think of it as a burden, though sometimes it feels that way. i think its incredibly hard to fit in 5 prayers a day into our busy schedules, and sometimes, when i read the translated verses of the Quraan, i notice how it reads "*establish* prayer". this gives me a great sense of pride and hope - im not sure if anyone else can relate to it. but it feels like yes, He knows how hard it is for us; how we have to constantly fight ourselves to keep it up, for it doesnt take much to slip and fall, and so maybe thats why it carries such a great reward in this life and the hereafter? subhanallah.