“Why do we pray?”
A question I asked myself and the people around me since I was a kid. It seems simple enough of a question and I thought it was a reasonable one to ask. If I was going to pray 5 times a day, every day for the rest of my life, I think I should know and understand the reason why.
A lot of people around me were annoyed by this question. They were also annoyed at the fact I was not satisfied with answers such as “beause it was commanded by Allah”. So, just imagine how annoyed people were when I would respond to their answers by asking more questions like “Yes, but why is Allah asking us to pray?” From people at the mosques and other adults around me, nobody was interested in having this conversation with me.
I didn’t just want an answer, I wanted to understand how the answer came to that conclusion. What was for the formula that summed up the equation? You don’t teach Mathematics by giving a student the answer, rather you give them formulas and you allow them to find the answer themselves eventually.
Whether I was happy with the answer or not, as a child, I did what I was told. Well, when I had to at least. I prayed whenever I was around those who prayed. Now that I was actually praying, another question arose.
“What should I pray for?”
I was told that when I pray I am talking to the Giver of all things, therefore I can ask for anything and if He wills it, my prayers would be answered. Everybody around me were interested in praying for their worldly struggles. From relationships, to financial situations, exam grades and so on and so forth.
What did I pray for? I prayed for what any kid who grew up in the 90’s would. More Power Rangers, Star Wars, and Ninja Turtles toys! I also started praying that people would be nicer to me as I was bullied quite a lot because of my small frame.
To my surprise, a lot of my prayers at the time were not answered. Especially those about being bullied. I got despondent. I started to think that prayers were a complete waste of time and I could only depend on myself. For the longest time, I stopped praying.
It wasn’t till my early 20’s that I started hitting the ‘Rug Life’ again, to make an effort to pray. When this happened, the conversation flipped. The people around me started wondering:
“Why are you praying?”
They would look at me and give me this feeling that they were all wondering, for someone who has had a glimpse of how bad the world can be, why bother looking up? Honestly, it was another question that led me to the prayer mat once again.
“What is my purpose on this planet?”
I started questioning my existence, and wondered if I was nothing more but flesh. Was I going to rest in the grave and just disappear?
I went through a bit of an existential crisis and asked a lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo. I basically wondered if there was a consciousness inside of me that needed to be fed with more than just food and water. After going through various books, lectures and notes from people like Richard Dawkins to Suhaib Webb, I finally decided that there was definitely more to my being other than my physical self.
I decided to agree with what Yoda said when he was training Luke Skywalker:
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
From this point on, I started approaching prayers in a different way. Once I established that I was more than just my physical existence, prayers made sense to me. I knew that the soul needed to be worked on, and there was an element of improving the mind, body, and soul in prayers. The Islamic way of praying has a mix of these 3 elements.
Physical Benefits Of Islamic Prayer
I started to understand that prayers were not means to getting worldly things but rather the world was a means for prayer. Prayers were a reflection of who we are inside. Prayers were never meant to change anything around me, but they were meant to change me.
Purpose led me to prayers, and prayers gave me purpose as well. As I started praying, I started listening better as well. The conversation in prayers goes both ways. In my younger days I could not see that God was constantly speaking to us through life’s events. You need to learn to be still, to listen.
“What do I gain from prayers?”
I learned how to move forward through prayers. For Allah says in the Quran that “I am indeed forgiving to those who repents” (Quran 20: 82).
Whatever mistakes I have made and the mistakes I will make, I have to learn to forgive myself in order to move forward in life and to learn from them. What better way to ask for forgiveness than to ask the one who is the Most Forgiving.
There were also things that I lost in prayers. I lost anxiety, fear, and worries. When you let go and put your trust in God, what you are doing is simply allowing yourself to understand that there are things you can control and there are things that you can’t. The things that are not within your control, leave them to Allah SWT. The ones you can control? Work day and night if you have to, to make them right.
Through prayers, I started to understand that our purpose in this world is a journey of discovery- the discovery of the Almighty, our own existence, His other creations and so much more. To know how beautiful it is to be alive and to appreciate everything in this world, the good and the bad.
Why do I pray? I cannot speak for the rest of the Ummah. But, my answer now would be that I pray to discover myself and to discover my creator. Nothing more nothing less.