Salah is the ultimate expression of subservience to the Most High, ordained by God from the earliest times of Sapiens’ existence (Q 42:13), and both a physical and cognitive display of deep humility and reverential awe for the Lord of all that exists.
It requires the one who is subservient to express it by standing before his Lord, bowing to his King, and to bow down on the ground in total surrender with his face to the floor out of abject humility (Q 17:109). It incorporates praise, thanks, humility and purification for the Most High (Q 2:30). It demands engagement and contemplation of God’s words (Q 73:20). It requires sincere self-effacement and a heart that palpitates at the idea of God’s eternal and unfathomable supremacy as well as one’s own shortcomings in fully recognising that supremacy.
It’s often said “You need to just pray”, or people are emotionally impelled to salah through warnings of eternal damnation. In contemporary times where identity politics becomes a key motivator, the doctrinal “If you don’t pray you’re not a Muslim” argument has become widespread. Whilst all of these have precedent in some way within the nusus or doctrinal tradition, they do not reflect the central way in which God spurs man to stand before Him at appointed times throughout the day.
There’s a reason as to why God repeatedly tells us about His acts of creation, from the heavens and the earth, to living organisms within them, and sentient life forms beyond. God invites the human intellect to ponder over a cosmos teeming with life and order in order to discover His supreme greatness, and to recognise that the one who gives life is also alive, ever-present, ever-active in the affairs of all things.
We have life, we have love, and we have hardships. Throughout all of these there is one principle God says, and that is to remember God (Q 20:14) giving thanks (Q 4:147). To stand before God a few times, for a few moments in the waking day, is to express appreciation for what we have and to request more. It’s to show God that we individually care, that we are compelled by His utmost majesty and spectacular power, His blinding glory and limitless grace, and that we desire the personal relationship He reserves with each and every sincere servant. Everything else is sophistry and tangential.
Of course, to understand salah like this necessitates knowing God. The condition and constitution of one’s salah is reflected by one’s understanding of the Most High, which in turn represents the nature of the relationship between the servant and her Master.
On another note, I wouldn’t call salat ‘prayer’, not because it’s wrong per se but because it fails to capture the entirety of what God wants. In modern times, prayer can simply refer to an invocation, and often evokes images of people doing ritualisms that they can’t entirely explain or justify. In no way does the Salat represent this – it is the highest and most intimate expression of subservience for those on the creed of Abraham. This ought to resonate with anyone of any Abrahamic faith, the salah was ordained to every prophetic nation.
I acknowledge that there’s a lot to unpack here (which I do in seminars, workshops and lectures), but what I hope to briefly touch upon is that profound subservience to God through salat is predicated on our knowledge of God and also what He ultimately wants, to serve God properly requires this knowledge (at least at a basic level) and contemplation.
Indeed, the creed of Abraham is a thinking one, fully appreciated by intelligent folk.