INNER DIMENSIONS OF ISLAMIC WORSHIP – Book Sample
Translators words – INNER DIMENSIONS OF ISLAMIC WORSHIP
Even in its external forms alone, the Islamic mode of worship has held a profound fascination for outside observers down through the ages. Many an imagination has been captured by the haunting sound of the Call to Prayer: ‘Allāhu Akbar! Allāhu Akbar! . .’, or by the stunning spectacle of row upon row of worshippers bowing and prostrating themselves in perfect unison during Friday Congregation in the concourse of some splendid yet at the same time starkly simple Mosque.
The cafés and restaurants of a great Muslim city, almost completely deserted in the daylight hours of Ramaḍān, make an eerie impression on travelers who arrive in the Month of Fasting. But it is probably the Pilgrimage, with the aura of mystery and even danger surrounding the ‘forbidden cities’ of Makka and Madina, that has cast the greatest spell on the minds of those who look at Islam from without.
To Muslims, it is essentially unsurprising that outsiders should nd the Islamic forms of worship so intriguing. For we believe Islam to be the ‘natural religion’ of mankind, as old as our rst father Adam – peace be upon him – and as young as the latest infant born into this world. In our own day, the secret of this is revealing itself to growing numbers of men and women beyond the connes of what is regarded, historically and politically, as the World of Islam.
The call to worship none but Allah, the One Almighty God, and to follow the guidance of His noble and blessed Messenger, Muhammad, is being sounded unceasingly on many levels, on countless wavelengths. People hear and respond in very dierent ways. Sometimes there is a sudden ash of inspiration, sometimes a long and gradual maturing of knowledge and understanding, leading one day to certain conviction. An opening of the feelings may precede rational comprehension. Dreams and visions may play their part.
These remarks are based on the experience of many close friends and acquaintances who have come to embrace Islam, as well as on my own. In most cases I know of, an attraction to the Islamic forms of worship has been an important element, if not the principal factor, in the crucial decision to make a full commitment to the religion.
A French lady never forgot the sound of the Call to Prayer, which she had heard as a child in North Africa, and the day came when she knew she must answer it. My friend Robert was a medical student when we travelled together in Turkey many years ago; he could not resist joining the Muslim Congregation at Prayer in the Mosques. I know him now as Dr Abdarrahman.
I could ll the page with the names of Muslim brothers and sisters who observed the Fast during Ramaḍān even before they embraced Islam, not to mention the many non-Muslim friends who have recently begun to fast (and who like to give Alms at the end of the fasting month). To speak of myself, I knew in my heart at least fteen years before I embraced Islam that I must one day visit the Ka’ba in Makka as a Pilgrim. Throughout that time, I performed the Islamic ablutions every morning and often at other times as well. Like others with whom I joined in exercises of a spiritual nature, ‘receiving’ from beyond the inuence of heart and mind, I would sometimes feel the movements of the Islamic Prayer arising spontaneously in my body.
These and a host of other experiences, culminating in a remarkable vision of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, together with his noble Companions, eventually convinced me that I was a Muslim – however imperfect – and that I ought to acknowledge the fact. Genuine seekers of Truth can never be stayed with outer forms alone, even if they believe those forms to have been established by Divine decree. In what is probably his most famous saying, the blessed Prophet himself declared: ‘Actions are valued according to intentions.’ Indeed, the Beautiful Names of Allah include both ‘The Outer (al-Ẓāhir)’ and ‘The Inner (al-Bāṭin)’.
The need for a greater understanding of the inner dimensions of Islamic worship is acutely felt, not only by a host of potential Muslims but also by many who have lived their whole lives as members of the Islamic community. Few Muslim authors have written so helpfully on this subject – in any age – as Imām al-Ghazālī. The following pages oer no more than selections, in English translation, from his great work Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn (‘Bringing Religious Knowledge to Life.’) I can only pray that they will bring benet to many, by God’s leave, and that none will be misled by errors I may have committed.
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