By Kathy Keary
Part 16. The full series is here: The Contemplative Spirit of Islam.
I am sure we have all witnessed and occasionally participated in mindless recitation of prayer. Muhammad warned his disciples against this tendency: “God does not regard a prayer in which the heart does not accompany the body.” He implored his followers to maintain a single focus in prayer and to pray “as if you can see God, and if you cannot see God, know that God sees you” (Rahman, 172).
As you can imagine, witnessing the angels lifting their voices in praise and thanksgiving to God was a moving experience for Muhammad shaping his prayer life. The Angel Gabriel taught him three prayers of praise that remained forever on his lips: Subhan Allah (Glory be to Allah), Al-harndu lillah (Praise be to Allah), and Allah bu Akbar (Allah is Incomparable Great).
Jamal Rahman explains that prayers of praise and thanksgiving are warmly received by God not because he needs this attention but because we need to lift our voices in awe and gratitude.
Muslims have a list of at least ninety-nine attributes of God. Among them are “the All Merciful”, “the Holy One,” and “the Protector.” When one prostrates themselves before God in prayer, they too participate in these attributes. Rahman eloquently elaborates, “Thus God does not become holy from our prayers, we do. In Islamic spirituality it is said that when we praise God we are creating feathers and wings for the bird of Spirit within us” (Rahman, 172).
Many faith traditions tout gratitude as key in fostering a sense of personal wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for spiritual leaders to encourage followers to daily list all the blessings for which they are thankful. This applies to Islam as well. The Qur’an implores Muslims to acknowledge God as the source of all blessings:
Don’t you see that God has made in service to you
all that is in the Heavens and on earth
and has made His Bounties flow to you
in abundant measure, seen and unseen? (31:20) (Rahman, 173)
Outside of ritual prayer, Muslims are encouraged to practice dhikr, which translated means remembrance. Muhammad instructed: “Keep your tongue forever moistened with the name of God.” Followers are encouraged to select a sacred mantra to repeat silently throughout the day. Rahman explains: ”The continuous repetition of a sacred word or phrase creates vibrations that can go deep into your being and create abiding transformations.”
The Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee provides further insight:
The Sufi aspires to remember God in every moment with each and every breath. This remembrance does not belong to the mind. It is not an act of mental recall but it is a remembrance of the heart, an awareness of our innermost state of union with God. (Vaughnan-Lee, 21, 22).
It is also common for Muslims to practice dhikr in a group setting through chants. (Rahman, 174) This is similar to Taizé prayer, which is celebrated in Christian settings. We refer you to our website for videos of Taizé services that we host the first Thursday of each month at the Renewal Center.
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Muhammad availed himself to extended periods of silence, frequenting the caves of Mecca to engage in the practice of contemplation. Today many faiths, including Islam, continue to encourage the daily practice of the prayer of silence. The rationale for embracing silence is eloquently expressed by Rahman and stands as an inspiration to people of all faiths:
We need to go inside the veil so we can become refreshed, renewed, and restored in spirit. Inside the veil, the balm of silence begins to heal, nourish, and revitalize our beings. We feel more connected to our Source…Our souls need to breathe by diving often into those life-giving waters (Rahman, 176).
As a practitioner of centering prayer, I can attest to the vitalizing value of resting in the divine embrace. We refer you to our series on contemplation that speaks of the prayer of silence from a Christian perspective. See the article Centering Prayer.
Next week we will focus on the third pillar of Islam: almsgiving. Stay tuned.
Rahman, Jamal; Elias, Kathleen Schmitt; and Redding, Ann Holmes. Out of Darkness Into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Christian and Jewish Sources. Harrisburg, New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2009.
Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn. Sufism: The Transformation of the Heart. Point Reyes, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1995.
[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]
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