By: Muhammad Sa‘idi-Mihr Amir Divani
Although the form of Ṣalāt is no more than a set of specific gestures and utterances, the reality of Ṣalāt is much more profound. In other words, like humans, Ṣalāt also has a dual reality. Thus, we may speak of the ‘perfection of Ṣalāt’ and the ‘perfect Ṣalāt’. The form of Ṣalāt consists of precise actions and vocables, which must be preceded by specific preliminaries and special conditions. Religious jurisprudence [fiqh] discusses in detail the preliminaries, conditions, pillars [arkān], and elements of Ṣalāt. Observing the jurisprudential [fiqhī] edicts of Ṣalāt is the first condition to benefiting from its spiritual effects and blessings. However, transcending all these forms are hidden secrets and truths. These inner secrets have caused Ṣalāt to be one of the pillars of the Islamic religion54 and have made it the ‘ascension [mi‘rāj] of the faithful [mu’min]’: “Ṣalāt is the ascension of the faithful.”
The more a person understands the secrets of the ritual prayer and reaches its depths, their Ṣalāt becomes more complete and perfect. Not only is the perfection of one’s Ṣalāt a sign of one’s perfection, it is in fact the practical manifestation of one’s perfection. During Ṣalāt, perfect humans lose all indications of egocentricity and selfishness and they become completely captivated by the beauty of the Deity.
While performing Ṣalāt I recalled the curve of your eyebrows;55
I attained a state in which I heard the shrine glorifying You.56
The depth and comprehensiveness of the ritual prayer is such that it can be regarded from many perspectives where its different effects and blessings can be analyzed. For example, academic specialists study the educative and moral effects of Ṣalāt, while psychoanalysts analyze its mental effects. One may also research the role of Ṣalāt in the Islamic society from a social perspective. However, mystics have a different frame of mind. The Gnostics of Truth and travelers on the path of the Beloved observe Ṣalāt with penetrating eyes and an intuition that tears the veils of materiality, and thus expose spiritual and mystical secrets. Herein, we shall briefly explain various inner secrets of some preliminaries and elements of Ṣalāt.57 May it guide us to deeper wisdom and understanding of worship.
Secrets of Ṣalāt
As we have indicated, Ṣalāt has various aspects, which begin with the most manifest of facets (uttering various words and performing assorted gestures) and develops endlessly in accordance with the spiritual status of the worshiper. What we shall indicate herein is a drop from the boundless ocean of Ṣalāt and a whisper of its unlimited degrees and untold secrets.
The outward appearance of Wuḍū58 is washing and wiping [mash] various members of one’s body with clean and pure [pāk/muṭahar] water through which our external dirtiness is purged. The essence of Wuḍū, however, is cleansing of the heart and soul of the worshiper with the water of divine manifestations [tajalliyāt al-ilāhī]. Just as the water that descends from the sky can clean one’s body, the water of divine manifestations descends upon the hearts of worshipers and cleanses their heart and soul. By washing their face—i.e. manifest countenance—worshipers purify their hearts—i.e. spiritual countenance—of all thoughts but God. By washing their hands and arms, they wash themselves of worldliness. By wiping their head and feet, they prevent themselves from pondering the mundane world and walking the path of secularism.
2. Call to Prayer [Adhān wa Iqāmah]
“Adhān” is an Arabic word meaning to announce and make aware and its outward aspect consists of announcing the time of Ṣalāt and inviting Moslems to gather for performing this divine ritual. Moreover, “Iqāmah” means to set up or perform and its apparent facet is getting ready to perform Ṣalāt and inviting to the divine worship.
As for the spiritual meaning of Adhān, it is summoning all of existence to prepare to attend the presence of the Divine and announcing the good news of the time to appear before the presence of the Divine Oneness. Moreover, according to the illuminated [ahl al-ma‘rifat], Iqāmah is a call for all beings to present themselves before God and stand before Him. Adhān begins with four Takbīr (i.e. Allahu Akbar)59 whose conspicuous meaning is professing the greatness and magnificence of God. Its inner meaning is professing our inability to properly understand and describe the truth of the Most Divine.60 By saying Takbīr four times, the worshiper regards all the creatures of the external, internal, and ethereal worlds nothing compared to the magnificence of God.
After making Wuḍū from the fount of love; I said four Takbīr and thus professed the triviality of all but Allah.61
After Takbīr—the demonstration of God’s greatness—is uttered, by declaring the holy invocation “ashhadu allā ilāha illallāh”62, worshipers bear witness to the fact that their Lord is united, and that godhead is exclusive to Allah. In order to emphasize this fact, worshipers repeat this avowal. Then worshipers enter the sanctum of the divine intercessors (the Prophet (S) and Amīr al-Mu’minīn (‘a)) and by saying “ashhadu anna muhammad ar-rasūl ul-lāh”63 and “ashhadu anna ‘alīyya-wwaliyyul-lāh”64 they attest to the prophethood of Muhammad (S) and the apostleship and vicegerency of ‘Alī (‘a). Again, in order to emphasize and establish this fact within their soul, they repeat each avowal. Then they address their entire being and call upon it to hasten towards Ṣalāt by saying: “hayya ‘alas-salāh”65. In order to prepare their mind and body further for attending the celebration of divine intimacy and to intensify the fires of their enthusiasm, they repeat this command.
Then, the worshipers announce the epitome of Ṣalāt—which is attaining salvation and bliss—and its superiority over all other deeds. Thus, they call to their perfectionist and liberal nature: “hayya ‘alal falāh”66 and “hayya ‘ala khayril ‘amal”67. After awakening their nature, they again attest to the greatness of God and then twice declare the holy adage of monotheism: “lā ilāha illal-lāh”68 in order to solidify their admission of inability to describe God and avowal of God’s unity within their heart.
In Iqāmah, worshipers repeat their previously declared truths and thus renew their covenant with these truths. After recourse to the prophethood and vicegerency and intensifying the fires of enthusiasm for intimacy with the Beloved, by declaring “qad qāmatis-salāt”69 worshipers proclaim their presence before the Magnificent.
3. Standing Motionless [qīyām]
The outer appearance of qīyām is standing upright and straight, free of all distortion and perversity, before God. The spirit of qīyām is initiating one’s heart into the status of servitude [‘ubūdīyat] and establishing oneself upon the path of humane righteousness [sirāṭ al-mustaqīm] and refraining from all immoderations and deviations. Standing in a balanced posture is a symbol of the spiritual and moral balance of worshipers and the equilibrium of fear [khaūf] (regarding God) and hope [rajā’] (of salvation) within their being, such that neither their fear of God surpasses their hope for salvation, nor their hope for salvation surpasses their fear of God.
One of the etiquettes of qīyām is that worshipers must remember that they are standing in the presence of a God who knows them, manifest, secrets and all, and according to a Hadith, is closer to them than their jugular vein. It is befitting that in this state, worshipers bow their heads—which is the noblest part of the body—in humility and as a symbol of modesty and humbleness. They must be shameful of their shortcomings and offences and look at the place where they set their forehead in prostration [sajdah], and thus remember their abjectness compared to the grandeur and glory of their Lord.
4. Intention [nīyyat]
“Nīyyat” is the decision and resolution to perform an action. In Ṣalāt, nīyyat has various degrees that compare with the spiritual statuses of worshipers.
Ordinary people regard nīyyat as the intention to obey God in performing Ṣalāt in covetousness for rewards or fear of divine retribution. According to the Qur’an: “They call upon their Lord in fear and hope.”70
According to the illuminated, the intention is to obey God as well as to magnify His Lordship. As stated by the adherents to the path of divine love and rapture [ahl al-dil], the intention is to obey God due to enthusiasm and love of the Deity.71 Finally, according to divine saints [awliyā’ ilāhī] the intention is the resolution to obey while the worshipper has attained the status of annihilation in God [fanā].
One of the important etiquettes of nīyyat, which encompasses all worship, is sincerity [ikhlās]. Ikhlās is purging one’s actions of all ungodly elements. Ikhlās, like human perfection, has various degrees: For ordinary people, ikhlās means to purify their worship of hidden and manifest polytheism [shirk al-āshkār wa pinhān], such as hypocrisy and vanity. In the worship of the elect [khawās], it is purging deeds of avarice (for blessings) and fear (of retribution). According to the advocates of divine love [ahl al-dil], ikhlās is cleansing one’s worship of all egocentricity, selfishness, and narcissist elements.
5. Recitation [qirā’at]
In the spiritual journey and divine ascension of Ṣalāt, recitation also has various degrees and ranks in accordance with the spiritual rank of the worshiper. For ordinary people, recitation means uttering the words of Ṣalāt correctly and worthily. The perfection of their recitation is that they deliberate the apparent meaning of the words they are reciting. However, the recitation of the elect is recalling the truths and subtleties of the divine words—as much as they are able to understand—within their hearts and souls. The deeper degrees of recitation are specific to the illuminated [ahl al-ma‘rifat] and the advocates of divine love [ahl al-dil]. For them, after they have gained knowledge of the truths behind God’s words and have realized the higher degrees of the interpretation of the Qur’an within their souls, recitation is the interpreter of their religious ecstasies and spiritual intuition in Ṣalāt.
There are secrets in the recitation of the holy Sūrah Ḥamd and Sūrah Tawhīd (and other Qur’anic Sūrahs that the worshiper recites in Ṣalāt) that for the sake of brevity, we cannot even mention within this treatise.72
6. Bowing [rukū‘]
It is proper that the worshiper say a Takbīr after recitation and before rukū‘. The etiquette of Takbīr is that worshipers keep in mind the greatness and glory of the Divine and remember their own weakness, inability, destitution, and abjectness compared to God. In this state, they must raise their hands beside their ears with their empty palms toward the Qiblah73 and empty-handedly with a heart brimming with fear and hope, regard God superior to all descriptions, and declare His Takbīr, then they must go to rukū‘.
The heart of rukū‘ is that worshipers enter a state of humility and wretchedness before their Lord and observe His glory. Rukū‘ includes glorification [tasbīh], magnification [ta‘ẓīm], and praise [tahmīd] of God: “Glory be to my Lord, the Magnificent, and praise be to Him.”
The truth of “tasbīh” is elevating God over all descriptions and definitions and the truth of “ta‘ẓīm” and “tahmīd” is extricating the worshiper from the confines of comparison [tashbīh] and agnosticism [ta‘ṭīl].74 In rukū‘ the worshiper sees through his heart all objects as a manifestation of the names and attributes of the Divine Truth.
All these contrasting colors and images of wine that appear; Are the reflection of the brilliance of the cupbearer’s visage.
With one materialization of your beautiful countenance in the looking glass; All these images were cast into the mirror of apprehensions.
7. Prostration [sajdah]
According to the illuminated, sajdah is the apex of Ṣalāt and the ultimate position of intimacy with the Beloved. The heart and soul of sajdah is rejecting all but God and ascending from all multiplicities [kithrat] to the height of Unity. In the state of sajdah, which is the state of annihilation in God, the worshiper observes that all objects are transitory and perishable and the truth of their essence is nothing but destitution and neediness towards the Divine Oneness.
I presented both worlds unto my weary heart; Except for your love, it regarded all as transitory.
8. Testimony [tashahud]
The essence of tashahud is return of worshipers from the state of annihilation and absolute Unity to the world of multiplicities [‘ālam al-kithrat] while the world of Unity has been unveiled to them. Thus, they testify to God’s unity, and append their testimony with praise and veneration of the Divine and repudiation of polytheism. Then they bear witness to the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets75 (S) and focus on his status of God’s servant.
After returning from this spiritual journey and departing the spiritual world—that is, the place of divine prophets and angels—worshipers first say Salaam76 to the holder of the rank of Seal of the Prophets and due to his divine holiness, they specifically address the Prophet (S) by saying: “Salaam to you, O Prophet and Allah’s mercy and blessings upon you.”
Then they center their attention on the divine angels and the rest of the prophets—who were their companions in this spiritual journey—and because the worshipers too were their companions in this spiritual journey, they include themselves in their Salaam by saying: “Salaam upon us and upon the righteous servants of Allah.”
Finally, they address them all and say Salaam to them. By retiring from this status, the ascension of Ṣalāt ends.
54. – In many Hadiths, Salāt is enumerated as one of the five pillars of Islam.
55. – The curve of the eyebrows is symbolic of God’s characteristics.
56. – در نمازم خم ابروي تو در ياد آمد
حالتي رفت كه محراب به فرياد آمد
57. – Comprehensive exposition of the spiritual and mystical secrets of Ṣalāt may be found in the two books Sirr uṣ-Ṣalāt (The Secrets of Ṣalāt) and Ādāb uṣ-Ṣalāt (The Disciplines of the Prayer, The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, Intrnational Affairs Department, Publisher,1996) of the perfect mystic Imam Khomeini (r) and also Shahīd-e Thānī’s Ādāb uṣ-Ṣalāt. In light of the fact that Islamic theosophy [‘irfān] has a very technical language and contains esoteric theosophical terms, we shall endeavor to elucidate the secrets of Ṣalāt in simple terms as much as possible.
58. – Wuḍu is a type of ritual partial ablution that is a prerequisite to Ṣalāt. [trans.]
59. – Takbīr is the name of the invocation “اللهُ اكبر” [Allāhu Akbar] meaning God is the Greatest. [trans.]
60. – It has been narrated of Imam Ṣādiq (‘a) that he asked the opinion of one of his followers about “الله اكبر” [Allāhu Akbar]. The follower replied, “God is greater than all objects.” The Imam (‘a) declared, “Is there any object next to God to which He may be greater?” He then interpreted Allahu Akbar thus:
الله اكبرُ مِنْ اَنْ يُوصَفَ
“God is greater than can be described.”(Baḥār al-Anwār, vol. 84, p. 257)
61. – من از آن دم كه وضو ساختم از چشمه عشق
چار تكبير زدم يك سره بر هر چه كه هست
62. That is, I attest that there is no god but Allah (the One God): “اَشْهَدُ اَنَّ لا اِله الّا الله”. [trans.]
63. – This means, I attest that Muḥammad is God’s messenger: “اَشْهَدُ اَنَّ مُحَمَّداً رسولُ الله”. [trans.]
64. – The translation of which is, I attest that ‘Alī is God’s vicegerent: “اَشْهَدُ اَنَّ علياً وليُّ الله”. [trans.] It is worthy of note that this term is not part of Adhān or Iqāmah, even so, saying it is desirable and recommended [mustaḥabb].
65. – Which means, hasten towards Salāt: “حَيَّ عَلَى الصَّلوة” [trans.]
66. – This means, hasten towards salvation: “حَيَّ عَلَى الفَلاح”. [trans.]
67. – That is, hasten towards the best of deeds: “حَيَّ عَلَىٰ خَيْرِ العَمَلِ”. [trans.]
68. – There is no god but Allah: “لا اله الا الله”. [trans.]
69. – Verily, Salāt has commenced: “قَدْ قٰامَتِ الصلوٰة”.
70. – Sūrah Sajdah 32:16.
71. – The holy prophet
#7779;) has stated: “The best of people is one who loves worship, embraces it, and likes it with one’s whole heart…” (Uṣūl-e Kāfī, vol. 3, p. 131)
72. – For information regarding these issues, see exegeses of the Qur’an, especially mystical exegeses such as Imam Khomeinī’s interpretation of Sūrah Ḥamd.
73. – This is the direction of the Ka‘bah in Mecca towards which Muslims turn to pray in Ṣalāt. [trans.]
74. – Refer to the discussion “Understanding Divine Attributes” in section two of current chapter.
75. – According to the Qur’an (Sūrah Aḥzāb 33:40), prophet Muḥammad
#7779;) is the Seal of the Prophets. This means that he is the final prophet or the Seal in the line of divine prophets, which are said to number 124,000. Hence, the teachings of Islam are God’s final revelation unto humanity. [trans.]
76. – This is the Islamic salutation wishing health and peace. [trans.]