Man has taken many journeys throughout time. But there is one journey that nobody has ever taken.
On a vehicle no man has ever ridden, through a path no soul has ever seen. To a place no creation has ever before set foot. It was the journey of one man to meet the Divine. It was the journey of Muhammad (PBUH), prophet of God, to the highest heaven.
It was al Israa wal Miraaj (the magnificent journey).
On that journey Allah took his beloved prophet to the seventh heaven—a place not even angel Gibreel could enter. In the Prophet’s mission on earth, every instruction, every commandment was sent down through angel Gibreel. But, there was one commandment that was not. There was one commandment so important, that rather than sending angel Gibreel down with it, Allah brought the Prophet (PBUH) up to Himself.
That commandment was salah (prayer). When the Prophet (PBUH) was first given the command to pray, it was to be fifty times in a day. After asking Allah to make it easier, the commandment was eventually reduced to five times a day, with the reward of the fifty.
Reflecting upon this incident scholars have explained that the process of going from fifty to five was a deliberate one, intended to teach us the true place salah should hold in our lives. Imagine for a moment actually praying fifty times a day. Would we be able to do anything else but pray? No. And that’s the point. What greater way than that to illustrate our life’s true purpose? As if to say, salah is our real life; all the rest that we fill our day with…just motions.
And yet, we live as if it’s exactly the opposite. Salah is something we squeeze into our day, when we find time—if that. Our ‘lives’ don’t revolve around salah. Salah revolves around our ‘lives.’ If we’re in class, salah is an afterthought. If we’re at the mall, the Macy’s sale is more urgent. Something is seriously wrong when we put aside the very purpose of our existence in order to watch a basketball game.
And that is for those who even pray at all. There are those who have not only put aside their life’s purpose, they have abandoned it completely. What we often don’t realize about the abandonment of salah is this: No scholar has ever held the opinion that committing zina (fornication) makes you a disbeliever. No scholar has ever held the opinion that stealing, drinking or taking drugs makes you a disbeliever. No scholar has even claimed that murder makes you a non-Muslim. But, about salah, some scholars have said he who abandons it, is no longer Muslim. This is said based on ahadith such as this one: “The covenant between us and them is prayer, so if anyone abandons it, he has become a disbeliever.” [Ahmad]
Imagine an act so egregious that the Prophet (PBUH) would speak about it is such a way. Consider for a moment what satan did wrong. He didn’t refuse to believe in Allah. He refused to make one sajdah. Just one. Imagine all the sajdahs we refuse to make.
Consider the seriousness of such a refusal. And yet, think how lightly we take the matter of salah. Salah is the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgment, and yet it is the last thing that is on our mind. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The first thing which will be judged among a man’s deeds on the Day of Resurrection is the Prayer. If this is in good order then he will succeed and prosper but if it is defective then he will fail and will be a loser.” [Tirmidhi]
On that Day, the people of paradise will ask those who have entered Hell-fire, why they have entered it. And the Qur’an tells us exactly what their first response will be: ”What led you into Hell Fire? They will say: ‘We were not of those who prayed.’” (Qur’an, 74:42-43)
How many of us will be among those who say “we were not of those who prayed, or we were not of those who prayed on time, or we were not of those who made prayer any priority in our lives?” Why is it that if we’re in class or at work or fast asleep at the time of fajr and we need to use the restroom, we make time for that? In fact, the question almost sounds absurd. We don’t even consider it an option not to. And even if we were taking the most important exam of our lives, when we need to go, we will go. Why? Because the potentially mortifying consequences of not going, makes it a non-option.
There are many people who say they don’t have time to pray at work or school, or while they’re out. But how many have ever said they don’t have time to go to the bathroom, so while out, at work or school have opted instead to just wear Depends? How many of us just don’t feel like waking up at Fajr time if we need to use the bathroom, and choose instead to wet our bed? The truth is we’ll get out of bed, or leave class, or stop work, to use the bathroom, but not to pray.
It sounds comical, but the truth is we put the needs of our body above the needs of our soul. We feed our bodies, because if we didn’t, we’d die. But so many of us starve our souls, forgetting that if we are not praying our soul is dead. And ironically, the body that we tend to is only temporary, while the soul that we neglect is eternal.