Getting to Know Allah


Negotiating the Prayers

Getting to Know AllahDuring his short stay in Paradise, the Prophet met with Allah and more deceased Messengers, the most important being Moses.

During his ascent and descent from heaven, God's Messenger encountered many figures from the Bible, such as Jesus and Moses, whose appearance he describes in hadiths such as the following. But, nowhere could I find a description of God with whom he spent the most time.

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

The Prophet said, "On the night of my ascent to the Heaven, I saw Moses who was a tall brown curly-haired man as if he was one of the men of Shan'awa tribe, and I saw Jesus, a man of medium height and moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colors and of lank hair ..."

Bukhari 54.462

It was during this meeting with God that it is said the number of daily prayers that a believer must perform every day was established.

Allah initially told His visiting Messenger that he wanted Muslims to pray 50 times a day. Making his way back down from the seventh heaven the Prophet ran into Moses who told Muhammad that this was unrealistic and to go back and ask Allah to reduce the number of daily prayers.

Allah in His Koran may be short on specifics, but not the Prophet, who must have delighted his listeners with his swashbuckling tale of flying to heaven on Pegasus-like horse from Greek mythology to meet with God for so many to recall, with slight variations, his account of his journey. The following hadith if from the Sahih Muslim collection; it is, to my knowledge, the only recollections where the narrator remembers God's Messenger mentioning his stopover in Jerusalem:

It is narrated on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I was brought al-Buraq Who is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place his hoof a distance equal to the range of version.

I mounted it and came to the Temple (Bait Maqdis in Jerusalem), then tethered it to the ring used by the prophets.

I entered the mosque and prayed two rak'ahs in it, and then came out and Gabriel brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. I chose the milk, and Gabriel said: You have chosen the natural thing. Then he took me to heaven.

Gabriel then asked the (gate of heaven) to be opened and he was asked who he was. He replied: Gabriel.

He was again asked: Who is with you?

He (Gabriel) said: Muhammad.

It was said: Has he been sent for?

Gabriel replied: He has indeed been sent for. And (the door of the heaven) was opened for us and lo! we saw Adam. He welcomed me and prayed for my good.

Then we ascended to the second heaven. Gabriel (peace be upon him) (asked the door of heaven to be opened), and he was asked who he was.

He answered: Gabriel; and was again asked: Who is with you?

He replied: Muhammad.

It was said: Has he been sent for?

He replied: He has indeed been sent for. The gate was opened.

When I entered Isa b. Maryam and Yahya b. Zakariya (peace be upon both of them), cousins from the maternal side, welcomed me and prayed for my good.

Then I was taken to the third heaven and Gabriel asked for the opening (of the door).

He was asked: Who are you?

He replied: Gabriel.

He was (again) asked: Who is with you?

He replied Muhammad (may peace be upon him).

It was said: Has he been sent for?

He replied He has indeed been sent for. (The gate) was opened for us and I saw Yusuf (peace of Allah be upon him) who had been given half of (world) beauty. He welcomed me prayed for my well-being. Then he ascended with us to the fourth heaven.

Gabriel (peace be upon him) asked for the (gate) to be opened, and it was said: Who is he?

He replied: Gabriel.

It was (again) said: Who is with you?

He said: Muhammad.

It was said: Has he been sent for?

He replied: He has indeed been sent for.

The (gate) was opened for us, and lo! Idris was there. He welcomed me and prayed for my well-being (About him) Allah, the Exalted and the Glorious, has said:" We elevated him (Idris) to the exalted position" (Qur'an 19:57).

Then he ascended with us to the fifth heaven and Gabriel asked for the (gate) to be opened.

It was said: Who is he?

He replied Gabriel.

It was (again) said: Who is with thee?

He replied: Muhammad.

It was said Has he been sent for?

He replied: He has indeed been sent for. (The gate) was opened for us and then I was with Harun (Aaron-peace of Allah be upon him). He welcomed me prayed for my well-being. Then I was taken to the sixth heaven.

Gabriel (peace be upon him) asked for the door to be opened.

It was said: Who is he?

He replied: Gabriel.

It was said: Who is with thee?

He replied: Muhammad.

It was said: Has he been sent for?

He replied: He has indeed been sent for. (The gate) was opened for us and there I was with Musa (Moses peace be upon him) He welcomed me and prayed for my well-being.

Then I was taken up to the seventh heaven.

Gabriel asked the (gate) to be opened.

It was said: Who is he?

He said: Gabriel

It was said. Who is with thee?

He replied: Muhammad (may peace be upon him.)

It was said: Has he been sent for?

He replied: He has indeed been sent for. (The gate) was opened for us and there I found Ibrahim (Abraham peace be upon him) reclining against the Bait-ul-Ma'mur and there enter into it seventy thousand angels every day, never to visit (this place) again.

Then I was taken to Sidrat-ul-Muntaha whose leaves were like elephant ears and its fruit like big earthenware vessels. And when it was covered by the Command of Allah, it underwent such a change that none amongst the creation has the power to praise its beauty.

Then Allah revealed to me a revelation and He made obligatory for me fifty prayers every day and night.

Then I went down to Moses (peace be upon him) and he said: What has your Lord enjoined upon your Ummah?

I said: Fifty prayers.

He said: Return to thy Lord and beg for reduction (in the number of prayers), for your community shall not be able to bear this burden. as I have put to test the children of Israel and tried them (and found them too weak to bear such a heavy burden).

He (the Holy Prophet) said: I went back to my Lord and said: My Lord, make things lighter for my Ummah.

(The Lord) reduced five prayers for me. I went down to Moses and said. (The Lord) reduced five (prayers) for me, He said: Verily thy Ummah shall not be able to bear this burden; return to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter.

I then kept going back and forth between my Lord Blessed and Exalted and Moses, till He said: There are five prayers every day and night. O Muhammad, each being credited as ten, so that makes fifty prayers. He who intends to do a good deed and does not do it will have a good deed recorded for him; and if he does it, it will be recorded for him as ten; whereas he who intends to do an evil deed and does not do, it will not be recorded for him; and if he does it, only one evil deed will be recorded.

I then came down and when I came to Moses and informed him, he said: Go back to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter.

Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked: I returned to my Lord until I felt ashamed before Him.

Sahih Muslim book 1 hadith 309

In another remembrance of this legendary journey, this one from the Bukhari collection, there is more back and forth negotiations to get Allah down to five daily prayers (Shi’ites only perform three daily prayers, combining the second and third prayer, and the fourth with the fifth).

We take up this narrative at the point where God's Messenger is being shown, by the angel Gabriel, the Al-Bait-ul-Ma'mura, a replica in the sky of the Ka’ba in Mecca situated directly above it. Like Muslims on earth, angels, as mentioned in the Sahih Muslim hadith, are required to make a pilgrimage to this Ka’ba in the sky at least once in their lifetime as immortals, and seventy thousand angels do so every day.

Narrated Abbas bin Malik:

Then Al-Bait-ul-Ma'mur (i.e. the Sacred House was shown to me and a container full of wine and another full of milk and a third full of honey were brought to me. I took the milk. Gabriel remarked, 'This is the Islamic religion which you and your followers are following.'

Then the prayers were enjoined on me: They were fifty prayers a day. When I returned, I passed by Moses who asked (me), "What have you been ordered to do?"

I replied, "I have been ordered to offer fifty prayers a day."

Moses said, "Your followers cannot bear fifty prayers a day, and by Allah, I have tested people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani (Children of) Israel (in vain). Go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your followers' burden."

So I went back, and Allah reduced ten prayers for me. Then again I came to Moses, but he repeated the same as he had said before. Then again I went back to Allah and He reduced ten more prayers. When I came back to Moses he said the same, I went back to Allah and He ordered me to observe ten prayers a day. When I came back to Moses, he repeated the same advice, so I went back to Allah and was ordered to observe five prayers a day.

When I came back to Moses, he said, "What have you been ordered?"

I replied, "I have been ordered to observe five prayers a day."

He said, "Your followers cannot bear five prayers a day, and no doubt, I have got an experience of the people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani Israel, so go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your follower's burden."

I said, "I have requested so much of my Lord that I feel ashamed, but I am satisfied now and surrender to Allah's Order."

When I left, I heard a voice saying, "I have passed My Order and have lessened the burden of My Worshipers."

Bukhari 58.227

Revelations pertaining to the five prayers are scattered throughout the Koran, no one verse mentioning all five prayers negotiated by the Prophet. For example, revelation 33:41-42 could lead a believer to assume that Allah only wants to be glorified through prayer only twice a day.

33:41 O believers, remember Allah often;

33:42 And glorify Him morning and evening.

Revelation 24:58 mentions three prayers: the Dawn Prayer, the Noon Prayer and the Sunset Prayer.

24:58 O believers, let those your right hands possess (slaves and maid-servants) and those who have not reached the age of puberty ask your leave three times: (to attend to you or approach you): before the dawn prayer, when you put off your clothes at noon and after the evening prayer. These are three occasions of nudity for you; after which you are or they are not at fault, if you approach each other. That is how Allah makes clear His signs to you. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.

In an earlier revelations, there is no mention of the noon prayer.

11:114 And perform the prayer at the two ends of the day and [the first] watches of the night. Surely the good deeds will wipe out the evil deeds; that is a reminder for those who remember.

Another reference to the sunset prayer and how you can make the dawn prayer memorable:

17:78 Perform the prayer at the declining of the sun till darkness of the night and recite the Qur’an at dawn. Surely the recital of the Qur’an at dawn is memorable.

What about the night prayer?

17:79 And during the latter part of the night, pray as an additional observance. For your Lord may raise you to a praiseworthy position.

If you are already in Paradise, praying to Allah may be one way of achieving a better position in heaven.

30:17 So, glorify Allah in the evening and in the morning.

30:18 He is the praise in the heavens and on earth at sunset and at noontide.

An ambiguous reference to the afternoon prayer:

2:238 Attend regularly to the prayers including the middle prayer (probably the afternoon prayer), standing up in devotion to Allah.

You would think that after spending a good part of the night negotiating the daily prayers with His Messenger, Allah would be more specific about the result of these negotiations and that the time and the number of prayers would be, if not in the same verse, in the same surah.

Considering Allah’s observation as to when people pray, imposing even five prayers a day may not be much of a hardship.

41:49 Man does not tire of praying for good, but when evil touches him he becomes downcast and despondent.

41:50 And if We let him taste a mercy from Us after some adversity that has visited him, he will say: “This is mine and do not believe the Hour is coming. If I am returned to my Lord, I will surely have the fairest reward.” We shall, then, inform the unbelievers about the things they did and will make them taste an awful punishment.

41:51 If We are gracious to man, he slinks away and turns aside; and if an evil touches him, he is given to constant prayer.

Call to Prayer

3:76 Yea, whoever fulfills his pledge and is pious – truly Allah loves the pious.

7:29 Say: “My Lord commands justice. Set your faces straight at every place of prayer and call on Him in true devotion. As He originated you, you shall return.”

As the Muslim community of Medina grew in number, it became apparent that some way had to be devised so that everyone in town, or working in the vast orchards of Medina, performed the prayers at the correct and at the same time. A means had to be found, and it had to be different than other religion.

Muhammad Mojlum Khan in The Muslim 100 - The Lives, Thoughts and Achievements of the Most Influential Muslims in History describes the origin of the call to prayer this way:

… the Muslims were aware that the Christians used bells to call their people to the church and the Jews blew a horn to summon their people to religious service, a number of companions suggested that they, too, should devise a method for calling the faithful to the five daily prayers. The Prophet thought that this was a good idea, but he was keen to devise a system which would differentiate the Muslims from the Christian and Jewish practices. Some companions suggested that they should kindle a fire before every prayer, while others that they could clap two pieces of wood to signal the start of the prayer time. However, none of these suggestions appealed to the Prophet.

Then, one day, a companion called Abdullah ibn Zaid appeared before the Prophet and said he saw in a dream where a person was calling all the Muslims to prayer from the roof of the mosque. Subsequently, Umar appeared and confirmed that he had had a similar dream. The Prophet and his companions liked the idea. The adhan (or “call to prayer”) was thus instituted by the Prophet.

This is what Sunnis believe; Shi’ites on the other hand believe that the call to prayer was Allah’s idea which he transmitted to His Messenger in the usual manner.

The call to prayer for both Sunnis and Shi’ites are almost identical except for the line "Prayer is better than sleep" which is part of the dawn call to prayer and only said by Sunnis and the declaration about Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law.

Sunni version:

The God is the greatest/most great

I testify that there is no deity except for The God

I testify that Muhammad is a Messenger of The God

Make haste towards the prayer

Make haste towards success

Prayer is better than sleep

The God is the greatest!

There is no deity except for The God

Shi’ite version:

The God is greater than any description

I testify that there is no deity except for The God

I testify that Muhammad is a Messenger of The God

I testify that Ali is the vicegerent of The God

Make haste towards the prayer

Make haste towards the worship

The God is the greatest!

There is no deity except for The God

The call to prayer in Islam, unlike the method used by Christians and Jews to remind their believers that it is time to worship their Lord or to gather for a special religious occasion, is also a reminder, five times a day, for everyone within ear-shot, as to what are a Muslim’s core beliefs.

A central belief of Shi’ites is that Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law and his progeny were the rightful successors of the Prophet. This is why Shi’ites are invited to add the declaration “I testify that Ali is the vicegerent of The God” after re-asserting their belief that “Muhammad was the Messenger of God.”

If you know what is good for you, you won’t let commerce or sport interfere with the Friday call to prayer.

62:9 O believers, when the call for prayer on the Day of Congregation (Friday) is sounded, then hasten to the mention of Allah and leave off trading. That is far better for you, if only you knew.

62:10 Then, when prayer is over, spread out throughout the land and seek some of Allah’s Bounty, and remember Allah often, that perchance you might prosper.

62:11 However, when they see trading or sport, they scramble towards it and leave you standing up. Say: “What Allah has in store is far better than sport or trading; and Allah is the Best of Providers."

The call to prayer was not always taken seriously by many when it was first introduced.

5:58 And when you call to prayer, they take it as a mockery and a sport; that is because they are a people who do not understand.

Prayers in War and Peace

The Koran may be all over the place when it comes to the daily prayers but it is clear on what you have to do beforehand. Then there are the exceptions to the rule, war being the reason for many of the dispensations.

4:101 And when you journey in the land, you are not at fault if you shorten the prayer for fear that the unbelievers will harm you. The unbelievers are your manifest enemy.

The revelations as to the prayers were received during the time when Muslims were in danger of being wiped out by their Arab brothers for denying the faith of their fathers. Allah’s warning to keep your weapons at the ready and in good working order even while praising Him for his compassion and mercy was probably good advice then, and for the wars of conquest that followed the Prophet’s takeover of the Arabian Peninsula.

4:102 When you (Muhammad) are among them (the faithful), conducting the prayer for them, let a group of them rise with you and let them take their weapons; but when they have prostrated themselves, let them withdraw to the rear; and let another party who had not prayed come forward and pray with you, taking their precaution and carrying their weapons. The unbelievers wish that you would neglect your arms and your equipment, so that they may swoop down on you in a united attack. You are not at fault, however, if you lay aside your weapons in case you are hampered by rain or are sick; but take heed. Allah has prepared for the unbelievers a demeaning punishment.

4:103 When you have completed the prayer, remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining. Once you feel secure, then perform the prayer; for prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed times.

Prayers could also be performed while walking or riding if it was too dangerous to perform the prayers as prescribed.

2:239 If you are in danger, then (perform the prayers) on foot or on horseback, when you feel secure remember Allah, just as He has taught you what you did not know.

Don’t let the performance of the mandatory prayers weaken your resolve to defeat your enemy.

4:104 Do not be weak-hearted in pursuing the enemy. If you are suffering, they are suffering too; but you hope from Allah what they cannot hope. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.

The following is addressed to the Prophet, like much of the Koran; nonetheless, the believers are expected to do what Allah demands of His Messenger and not ask Him to forgive the transgressions of others, or to plead for mercy or compassion for anyone but themselves.

4:105 We have revealed the Book to you in truth, so as to judge between people in accordance with what Allah has shown you. And do not be an advocate of the treacherous.

4:106 And ask Allah’s forgiveness; Allah is indeed All-Forgiving, Merciful!

4:107 And do not plead on behalf of those who betray themselves; for Allah does not like the treacherous or sinful.

4:108 They seek to hide themselves from men, but they cannot hide themselves from Allah; for He is with them while they secretly contemplate words that do not please Him. And Allah is fully aware of what they do!

4:109 There you are, you have pleaded on their behalf in the present world; who then will plead with Allah on their behalf on the Day of Resurrection, or who will their guardian?

Nobody, that’s who! But it does not mean that Allah will not listen to a personal plea for forgiveness from a believer who has sinned, in the here-and now.

4:110 But he, who does evils or wrongs himself, then asks Allah’s forgiveness, will find Allah All-Forgiving, Merciful.

You should not attend prayer services if you are drunk.

4:43 O believers, do not approach prayer while you are drunk, until you know what you say; nor when you are unclean – unless you are on a journey – until you have washed yourselves. And if you are sick or on a journey, or if anyone of you has relieved himself, or you have touched women and could not find water, you might rub yourself with clean earth, wiping your faces and hands with it. Allah indeed is Pardoning, All-Forgiving!

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

5:6 O believers, if you rise to pray, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows and wipe your heads and your feet up to the ankles. If you are unclean, then cleanse yourself; and if you are sick or on a journey, and if one of you has come from the rest-room, or if you have touched women and cannot find any water, then take some clean earth and wipe your faces and hands with it. Allah does not wish to burden you, but to purify you and complete His Grace upon you, that you may be thankful.

5:7 And remember Allah’s Grace upon you and His Covenant with which he bound you, when you said: “We hear and we obey.” Fear Allah; Allah indeed knows well the thoughts in the hearts!

In peace, but perhaps not in war, you should wear nice clothes when performing the prayers.

7:31 O Children of Adam, put on you finery at every place of prayer. Eat and drink, but do not be prodigal, He does not like the prodigals.

Morning and evening prayers should be subdued i.e. not too loud.

7:204 When the Qur’an is recited, listen to it and pay attention, that perchance you may receive mercy.

7:205 And remember your Lord within yourself, in humility and awe and without raising your voice in the morning and evening; and do not be one of the heedless.

7:206 Indeed, those (the angels) who are with your Lord are not too proud to worship Him, and they glorify Him and prostrate themselves before Him.

Don’t shout, but pray loud enough to be heard.

17:110 Say: “Call on Allah or the Compassionate. By whatever name you call [Him], His are the Most Beautiful Names." And pray neither with a loud nor with a low voice, but follow a middle course.

Adding, during your prayer, that Allah has not taken a son (as the Christians claim) etc. is a nice touch; as to why He would need a “supporter to protect Him from humiliation” is anyone's guess.

17:111 And say: “Praise be to Allah Who has not taken a son to Himself, and Who has no partner in sovereignty and no supporter to protect Him from humiliation. And proclaim His greatness.”

An Answer to a Prayer

3:190 There are in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day real signs for people of understanding.

3:191 Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting or lying on their sides, reflecting upon the creation of the heavens and the earth [saying]: “Our Lord You did not create this in vain. Glory be to You! Save us from the torment of the Fire.

3:192 “Our Lord, whom you throw into the Fire will be disgraced by you.” The evildoers shall have no supporters.

3:193 “Our Lord, we have heard a caller summoning to belief, saying: ‘Believe in your Lord’; and so we have believed. Lord, forgive us our sins and acquit us of our evil deeds and cause us to die with the pious.

3:194 “Lord, and give us what You promised us through the Messengers, and do not disgrace us on the Day of Resurrection. Surely, You will not break a Promise.”

Packaged with the answer to the prayer is an assurance for the persecuted Muslims, Meccans who emigrated to Medina, that their sins will be forgiven and that they will be admitted into Paradise, followed by revelations, which may or may not be related to the subject at hand, depending on your point of view.

3:195 And so their Lord answered them saying: “Indeed, I will not cause the loss of the work and any worker among you, whether male or female; you come one from the other.” Those who have emigrated (the Meccan Muslims who, because of persecution, emigrated to Medina) and were driven out of their homes, were persecuted for My Sake, fought and were killed, I will forgive their sins and will admit them into Gardens, beneath which rivers flow, as a reward from Allah. With Allah is the best reward!

3:196 Do not be deceived by the wanderings (for business purposes) of those who disbelieved in the land;

3:197 A little enjoyment, and then their abode is Hell; and what a wretched resting place!

3:198 However, those who fear their Lord will have Gardens, beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever, as a Bounty from Allah. What Allah has is far better for the righteous.

The Night Too Is For Praying

According to Moududi “their sides shun their bed” in revelation 32:16 means "They worship their Lord instead of enjoying sensuous pleasures at night."

32:15 Yet those believe in Our Signs who, when reminded of them, fall down prostrate in celebrate the praise of their Lord, and they are not overbearing.

32:16 Their sides shun their couches as they call on their Lord in fear and hope, and of what We have provided [them with, they give in charity].

32:17 No soul knows what was laid up for them secretly of joyful relief, as a reward for what they used to do.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet, said, "Allah said, 'I have prepared for My pious worshipers such things as no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard of, and nobody has ever thought of. All that is reserved, besides which, all that you have seen, is nothing."

Then he recited:-- 'No soul knows what is kept hidden (in reserve) for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.' (32.17

Bukhari 60.303

The Prayer of the People of Paradise

The prayer of the people of Paradise, revelation 10:10, is sandwiched between revelations about those “who do not hope to meet Us”.

10:7 Those who do not hope to meet Us and are content with the present life and are at ease in it, and those who pay no heed to our signs;

10:8 Their refuge is the Fire, on account of [what] they used to do.

10:9 Surely, those who believe and do the good, their Lord shall guide them for their belief; beneath them rivers will flow in the Gardens of Bliss.

10:10 Their prayer therein shall be: “Glory be to you, O Allah”; and their greeting in it shall be: “Peace!” and they conclude their prayer by saying: “Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.”

10:11 And were Allah to hasten the evil for mankind (hasten mankind’s punishment) just as they would hasten the good for themselves (from God), their term would have been fulfilled. Then We would leave those who do not hope to meet Us in their arrogance wandering aimlessly.