God, in His infinite knowledge, created humans with particular strengths and weaknesses. He instituted specific core practices that’d keep the human mind, body and spirit in an optimum state. Amongst those things is the Salah, ordained for humanity since the earliest times.
Even over my own short lifetime I’ve seen a thousand fads and moral panics inconsequently come and go. It is the nature of humans that they move with schizophrenic tendencies from one hype to the next, “man is ever hasty.” (17:11)
This is one of the reasons I rarely delve into an academic appraisal for the public on social media. Although it can be tempting to do so and I’m constantly requested for commentary on xyz, the influence of fads are usually fleeting and the engagement meaningless ten minutes later. Moral panics pass as soon as another rears its head. Stringently refuting fads (let alone ideologies) is time consuming and doesn’t constructively imbue believers with something meaningful that’ll afford them longevity – action informing guidance that’ll direct them long in the future (which I’m more interested in). By engaging the latest ideological hype I feel I’d simply be running from pillar to post – the definition of firefighting rather than building. Liberalism, feminism etc all have their shortcomings, but rather than spend the limited time I have educating people about those ideologies I’d rather teach what God says and what operationalising His message might contextually look like. Anti-liberalism/feminism won’t get you into paradise, but a meaningful conception of the shariah might (depending on your commitment and soundness of heart). And by knowing what to do, you’ll intuitively and reasonably know what to avoid. Two birds, one stone.
But yes, I digress.
Even beyond ideological battles, fads are much the same. Let’s take the fad of “mindfulness” and meditation as an example: Gurus and neuroscientists come out of the woodwork to teach us that “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century.” (See article here.)
Yet as with all fads, whilst they might have stumbled upon something pertinent, they always fall short of the complete picture and consequently end up out of vogue unable to produce what they promise. Unlike the author asserts, focusing for a few minutes on a single raisin IS silly, but focusing on God and your relationship with Him for a few minutes at intervals throughout the day is not only intrinsic to your existential purpose and a brilliant cognitive exercise, but also provides mental realignment and an opportunity to constantly reassess your commitments.
In this way, the criticism made in the Guardian article concerning meditation as merely a coping mechanism rather than a force for change is inapplicable to Salah, for Salah “restrains outrageous and unacceptable behaviour. Remembering God is greater…” (29:45)
Salah is not merely a subtle way of coping, it’s transformative, encouraging radical action by addressing BOTH the causes of suffering inside us as well as the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. By causing us to repeatedly return to God, we’re constantly reapplying a godly lens to the way we see the world and how we’d solve it’s problems, regardless of the other spectacles we’re having to pick up and put down throughout the day.
The revolutionary power of Salah to transform the individual and society is not merely the product of magical thinking: it is the rooting function that Salah has on the intellect and our emotional state that brings the best out of the believer. As such, one cannot reasonably conclude that God intended for Salah to be the mere utterance of Arabic phonemes and bodily positions (even the meditation gurus have figured consciousness is the essence of such activities). Every atomised aspect is an act for God, and to God. Every individual aspect of Salah is a particular way of engaging God, in the way He wants. “I am God; there is no god but Me. So worship Me and keep up the prayer so that you remember Me.” (20:14)
And so, educating people and exploring all of this, for me, is far more productive for cultivating the resilience and meaning humans require than simply refuting the latest meditation fad, which will fade as quickly as people swipe past it on Instagram.
So call people to that faith and follow the straight path as you have been commanded. Do not go by what they desire, but say, ‘I believe in whatever Scripture God has sent down. I am commanded to bring justice between you. God is our Lord and your Lord- to us our deeds and to you yours, so let there be no argument between us and you- God will gather us together, and to Him we shall return.’Qur’an 42:15
We ask the Most High for istiqamah and strong resolve.