Spiritual Dimension

The Essence and Heart of Salah

It was common that when the time for prayer came, the Prophet would turn to Bilal [whose duty was to call out the Adhan – the call to prayer] and say, “Relieve us with it, O Bilal”. In other words, make the call, Bilal, for what will lighten our heavy burdens and will soothe and comfort us. For when the Prophet was troubled with a difficult matter or much worry, he would turn to prayer. After all, doesn’t Allah say: “and seek [Allah’s] help with patient perseverance and prayer” 1

Every people have their own method of seeking comfort, relaxation and escape. Some use music, some use exercises like Yoga, and some unfortunately- alcohol. But for us Muslims, we attain the benefits of all of the above and more, from Salah. We resort to the source of all solutions and the source of all peace and relief, Our Beloved, Our Creator.

Now we have guarded ourselves from Satan’s ways and ready to enter upon the most sacred part of our Salah, the essence of it all…The Fatihah! The greatest Surah in the Quran! The segment of Salah without which you cannot have prayed and your prayer would be nullified. The segment where Allah actually answers back to us at every verse! How can we ever drift in this part of the prayer?

But first, let us remind ourselves. Again, what brought us to stand here right now? Oh yes, our endless love and deep longing to be with Allah. And when one meets up with his beloved, what is he first most likely to utter? It is the sweet sound of his Beloved’s name! But this is no ordinary name. This is a name that blesses everything around it! Everything it falls upon! This is a name that lifts away any evil, harm and ache. With it we start, and with it we finish, and with it we taste the sweetness of this life and the sweetness of the next… “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem” [In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful]. Feel it soothing your heart as it gently rolls off your lips. “To Him [Allah] belong the most beautiful names..”1 And when you love someone, you savor in how perfect they are. Don’t you? No one deserves this more than Allah. For only He, is truly perfect! “Alhamdulillahi Rabbilalameen!”

[All praise is due to Allah, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds!]. In praising Him, we are in essence establishing Allah’s undeniable perfection. The Prophet told us, “Alhamdulillah fills the scale!” Let gratitude fill our hearts when we utter it, He has blessed us with so much and always keep in mind that when we thank anyone in this world, we are in fact, thanking Allah Himself. He is the ultimate source, isn’t He? Let’s take it to another depth, when we say “Alhamdulillah”, we are even praising and thanking Allah for blessing us with the ability to praise and thank Him. As even this ability is from Him! So in reality, Allah establishes praise for Himself, through us. Glorified is He. Feel your dependence and need for Him, feel the healing effects of the gift of remembering and praising Him.

A Journey Beyond Our Limits

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds”1

So with “Alhamdulillah”, we have affirmed Allah’s ultimate perfection and thanked Him for all that we are and all that He is. Now, most of us have received that Power Point email which zooms us out in powers of 10 from the cell world of a tiny plant leaf…all the way out to the planets, stars and galaxies that make up what lies beyond our planet earth, in this breathtaking universe! Now instead of starting out with that small leaf, start the zoom out process with the image of yourself as you stand before Allah in Salah. As you ponder over this image, think first of all of the physiological systems within your own body running in beautiful order to sustain you [blood system, immune system, nervous system, hormones, heart beats, respiration, firing neurons, skin cells, liver cells, spleen, kidneys, etc]. Move out now to what’s around you. The marvels of our plant world, the animal world, the seven seas, the insect world, the microbial world. Further out to what surrounds you. The miraculous precision of the planets and our sun – our solar system, our galaxy. Further out still to the infinite star constellations, nebulas, galaxies. Now what about the world of the unseen? The world of the angels, the jinn and whatever life that lies out there that we have not been able to reach.

This may not be the end of it, but we have reached the limits of our knowledge, so start zooming back down. Back through all of that and back to where you were standing in prayer. Would you say you’re just a speck in Allah’s canvas above? Nowhere even close…..You are no longer even visible in relation to the magnificent size of Allah’s universe! And imagine, this is just our heaven. The Quran tells us there are six more! And Allah presides above all of that! And He is The One and Only, orchestrating the perfect order and function of it all!

How do you feel now as you stand before Him, praising Him and speaking to Him? How do you feel now being answered by Him as you recite every ayah? Do you still have it in you to defy some of His commands? Can you imagine yourself ever daring to commit another wrong against such Majesty and Might? Against such Omnipotence and such Sovereignty? How about against such Love? How much love must He have for us to select us out, given our insignificance in the canvas of His creation, for this beautiful exchange and these beautiful terms of endearment that are in Salah?

After all, He has blessed us with the ability to answer the call to prayer and stand before Him. That’s an honor unlike any other! How can we not give our best? Can we ever turn our backs on prayer again knowing we are missing out on such a privilege!?

The Prophet tries to help us understand the Grandeur before which we stand… He says that the foot of Allah’s Throne [al-Kursi] extends over the heavens and the earth.1 And the seven heavens in comparison to Allah’s Kursi, is like a small ring cast in the spans of a desert! And The Kursi, in comparison to the Throne itself, is a measure like it!

The next time you stand for prayer, view yourself from above and far away, so you can truly taste the meanings behind “Rabbil Aalameen” [Lord of the worlds!]

Unraveling More Secrets of al-Fatihah

الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“The Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”7

Have you ever wondered why this comes before “Maliki Yaumi-Deen” [Master of the Day of Judgement] in al-Fatihah? Picture this scenario. You happened to be at the scene of a crime and there is an ongoing investigation. The trial begins and though you are innocent, the judge summons you for questioning.

He proceeds to question you in one of two manners: He at once bombards you with interrogation! [Why were you at the scene of the crime? What were you doing? At what time did you arrive? What did you see? etc.] When your heart nearly stops and your nerves can no longer stand it, the judge then reassures you, “by the way, we know you are innocent but we are collecting as much information as we can.”

Or, he declares to you from the beginning that “we know you are innocent, but we appreciate all the information you can help us with”, and then proceeds with his questions. You would be much more relaxed and comfortable in the second scenario, wouldn’t you? So what does “ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem” have to do with “Maliki Yaumi-Deen” and why does it come before it? To remind us that it is “ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem” who will judge us on Judgment Day. These 2 names should kindle within us that sense of relief and reassurance in Salah when we are reminded of our stand before Allah on that terrifying day – Judgment Day. [Let us always strive to remain, worthy of this Mercy.]

“ar-Rahman ar-Raheem” declares that Allah’s sovereignty is that of an all-encompassing Mercy [not Wrath]. In this life, He is there for everyone – believers and non-believers, the righteous and the wrongdoers. He feeds, clothes, heals, and provides, for all. He’s not quick to punish but provides ample time for people to return to Him – a whole lifetime!

And Allah’s Mercy is manifested either through His giving [of favours] or through His withholding of them. And when He sometimes withholds a favour from us, this in reality is the heart of giving, for we have been given of knowledge but so very little to immediately realize the wisdom. Again, it’s a mercy in disguise!

“Does He Who created not know..?”1 and Allah [swt] says “…But it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you, and Allah knows, whereas you do not know.”2

When we say “ar-Rahmaan”: this form of “Merciful” is in the Arabic form that implies “to the fullest extent”, like ghadbaan vs. ghaadeb [angry] or joo’aan vs. jaa’e’ [hungry]. The former form implies the fullest extent of hunger and anger in comparison to the latter form. Thus Allah is truly the Most Merciful, to the fullest extent of the word!

In fact, “ar-Rahmaan” is the most all encompassing of His names. Just remember by which name He chose to preside over His Throne: “ar-Rahmaan, above the Throne presides!”1 His most all-encompassing name is always coupled in the Quran, with his most all – encompassing creation – His Throne!

And this name only belongs to Him – You will never find anyone named “Arrahmaan”, except Allah, but instead people will name “Abdur-Rahmaan” [the servant of the Most Merciful]. You will also never find anyone with the name “Allah” besides Allah. These two names are His, exclusively! Now “ar-Raheem” is the One who delivers His mercy to His creation. You will see this name used in the Quran when Allah speaks of His mercy to believers, specifically. If we knew well the true nature of Allah and the true nature of people, we would prefer without an instant of hesitation to deal with Allah, over having to deal with people. It suffices us to know that Allah’s Mercy for us far exceeds the mercy of our own mothers for us. So “Alhamdulillah” for the kind of sovereignty He reigns by. Feel the rhythm of ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem lift the heaviness off your heart.

A Little Shake-Up

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
“Master of the Day of Recompense”1

Why does Allah choose the word “Maalik” [Master, Lord, sovereign]? This is because any authority or power that was granted to creation in this life will be neutralized completely then! All dominion and power will now belong to the real King! In fact, no one can even utter a word or intercede for anyone else until He permits it. There are two recitations for this word: Maaliki [from ownership] and Maliki [from the sovereignty of a king] Two meanings to demonstrate Allah’s sole and absolute control and authority on that dreaded day:

يَوْمَ تَرَوْنَهَا تَذْهَلُ كُلُّ مُرْضِعَةٍ عَمَّا أَرْضَعَتْ وَتَضَعُ كُلُّ ذَاتِ حَمْلٍ حَمْلَهَا وَتَرَى النَّاسَ سُكَارَى وَمَا هُمْ بِسُكَارَى وَلَكِنَّ عَذَابَ اللَّهِ شَدِيدٌ
“On the Day you see it every nursing mother will be distracted from that [child] she was nursing, and every pregnant woman will abort her pregnancy, and you will see the people [appearing] intoxicated while they are not intoxicated; but the punishment of God is severe.”1

يَوْمَ يَفِرُّ الْمَرْءُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ وَأُمِّهِ وَأَبِيهِ وَصَاحِبَتِهِ وَبَنِيهِ
“When man will flee from his own brother, and from his mother and his father, and from his spouse and his children.”1

On that day, the heavens will be “rolled up like written scrolls!”1 in “His Right Hand”2 and the “trumpet will be sounded and all that are in the heavens and the earth will fall senseless…”3 Who is left? The angel of the trumpet. So Allah Almighty takes his soul. Who is left? No one. And Our Lord calls, “To Whom does the dominion belong today?!” No answer. “To Whom does the dominion belong today?!” No answer. “To Whom does the dominion belong today?!” Dead silence. Allah finally answers Himself and declares, “To Allah, The One, The Overpowering!”4

Then “a second [trumpet] is sounded, when, behold, they will stand and look on..”1And the “earth will shine bright with the light of its Lord!”2 Your “Lord stands, and His angels, rank upon rank! And Hell, on that day, is brought face to face..”3 And the sun draws near above the heads, on a day the length of which will be 50,000 years! How can we be saved from the horrors of that day? The answer, coming up next.

In the meantime, let’s call upon these real images with “Maaliki Yaumi-Deen”. As you recite it in your prayer, pause upon it for a while. These words should not fall upon deaf ears and closed hearts, for a true Muslim’s heart always oscillates between hope and fear. Hope for Allah’s mercy and fear of Allah’s displeasure and punishment.

The Key to Salvation

إ ِ ي َّ ا َ ك ن ـ َ ْ ع ب ُ ُ د َ و إ ِ ي َّ ا َ ك ن َ ْس ت َ ع ِ ُين
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help.”

If we take the time to contemplate upon “Maliki Yaumi-Deen”, it is a verse that should truly shake us! Many when they stand in prayer pay no attention to the words they utter. Those words never reach their hearts, but are an unconscious recitation of what they’ve memorized. “Will they not seek to understand this Quran or are there locks upon their hearts?”1 It is said that those focused and whose hearts are truly humbled in prayer are like a fish in water, and those who are not…are like a bird in a cage. So what will save us from the horrors of that terrifying day? The answer lies in the next verse, for the next verse summarizes Surah al-Fatihah – The greatest Surah in the Book! And al-Fatihah summarizes the Quran! “Iyyaka na’budu wa Iyyaka nasta’een” [You alone we worship, and unto You alone we turn for help] Every Prophet gave his people this key to salvation, “I have come to you with a plain warning, that you worship none but Allah; for verily, I fear for you the punishment of a grievous day!”2

So what should be our ultimate goal in this life? To worship Allah and nothing else. For this is the reason we were created. And what are our means to attaining this goal? It is through seeking Allah’s help. And what is the most important aspect of worship? It’s sincerity of heart! That all that we are and all that we do is for Allah alone and no one else. To seek His pleasure only. Without that sincerity of intention, it would be as if you are a traveller journeying with bags of sand – carrying a heavy load, but a completely useless load! Make Allah alone your focus, not people, for what they think and say is irrelevant and cannot harm nor benefit you.

So if you were to be asked why you did what you did for any given deed/task, you can firmly answer ‘for Allah!’ and if asked ‘Sure, and for what else?’ You will affirm with certainty, “for nothing else!” “Shall we tell you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds? It is those whose labour has been wasted in this life while they thought they were doing good work…”1

Sincerity pure to Allah will change your life! The time has come to correct our intention in everything we do. The time has come to teach it to our children, so that every new thing they learn to do “is because Allah likes it!” and everything they are to refrain from doing “is because Allah doesn’t like it!” To learn that their rewards are with Allah alone, not with people. Indeed however, pure sincerity of intention is not easy to attain, but it is not impossible either because we have been taught the magic words “wa Iyyaka nasta’een” [and unto You alone we turn for help].

If Allah helps you, there is nothing you cannot do. It is all in His hands. Ask and He will grant you. After all, doesn’t He remind us that “you are all astray save for whom I guide!”1 “Iyyaka na’budu wa Iyyaka nasta’een” was a verse over which those who came before us would weep for hours. One of them was once praying in Makkah, his friend went ahead and did the tawaf and when he returned to him, he was still at this verse, repeating it and crying, till the sun came up.. “Iyyaka na’budu wa Iyyaka nasta’een”…let us pause and reflect on it for a while, let it cleanse any hypocrisy that has ever tainted our hearts.

The Greatest Dua [supplication] You Can Ever Make

اهدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
“Guide us to the straight path”

And now we come upon the greatest, wisest, most comprehensive Dua [supplication] we can ever make. If Allah guides us to the straight path, then He has helped us to worship Him like we should. [Recall the request for help that we made in the prior verse, “You alone we worship.. and unto You alone we turn for help.”]

If you notice, Surah al-Fatihah teaches us the proper etiquette of how to ask Allah when we have a need. It teaches us the proper way to make Dua so He will listen to us and answer. As befits a Majesty, we begin with the glorification and praise due to our Lord. Then we make our request. Now the path we need to win Allah’s pleasure is called the Siraat – the straight path. But this path is not so easy to follow without assistance:

  • There are specifics to this path that we will know, and specifics which we may not know [What is halal, what is haram. What is right, what is wrong.] In fact, the specifics we don’t have enough knowledge of far outnumber the specifics we know enough about.
  • And of these specifics we do know, there will be some we are physically able to carry out, and some we will not. [Like Hajj, Fasting, etc…]
  • And of those requirements which we are physically able to carry out, at times we will enjoy them, and at times we may find them quite burdensome [Like waking up for Fajr prayer.]
  • And even when we do accomplish that ordained duty, at times we fulfill the sincerity requirement, and at times we may not. And at times we may perform it properly according to the Prophetic example necessary for its acceptance, and at times, we may not.
  • And even if we fulfill all of the above: the knowledge, the ability, the right attitude, the sincerity, and the adherence to the Prophetic example, we will still need one more thing – Steadfastness – To perform it properly every time. Do you now see why we are so desperate for Allah’s guidance to the straight path?


Do you see why we can’t do it without His help? And do you now see how comprehensive this Dua is? Now as you know, there are 2 Siraats. One in this life: the one we spoke of above. The second one, is in the next life – described to be dangerously thin with a “sword’s edge” sharpness! That is the one that spans over the fires of Hell, over which every one of us must pass if we are to reach Paradise.

وَإِنْ مِنْكُمْ إِلَّا وَارِدُهَا كَانَ عَلَى رَبِّكَ حَتْمًا مَقْضِيًّا ثُمَّ نُنَجِّي الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا وَنَذَرُ الظَّالِمِينَ فِيهَا جِثِيًّا
“And there is none of you except he will come to it. This is upon your Lord an inevitability decreed. Then We will save those who feared Allah and leave the wrongdoers within it, on their knees.” 1

If we are firm and steadfast on the first Siraat [the one in this life], then we will be firm on the second [in the next life]. So stability on the second is directly related to the degree of faith and good deeds earned in this life. Our strong faith and good deeds will be our guiding light on that dreadful bridge, amidst the darkness of Judgment Day.

“The day you shall see the believing men and the believing women, their light running forward before them and on their right..”1 And so accordingly, some will cross it with the quickness of lightning! Some the speed of a shooting star! Some like the wind, some like a speeding stallion, some at running speed, while others will crawl on it with hands and knees, and others…will fall and never make it… And the Prophet will stand pleading in desperate prayer, “My Lord, spare them. My Lord, save them…” The Siraat of this life leads us to Allah. The Siraat of the next life leads us to Paradise. Do you now feel how serious this Dua is? “Ihdina-Siraat Al-Mustaqeem”- Our entire existence depends on it. The “Ameen” you’ll pronounce now, after knowing the above, will be much more heartfelt, won’t it? As a matter of fact, for any dua to be answered by Allah, the condition is that it must come from a focused, attentive heart for “Allah does not answer a supplication that comes from an absent/preoccupied heart.”

Concluding al-Fatihah

صَراَطال َِّذيَنأَنْـَعْم َت َعلَْيِهْم َغِْيرالَْ غ ُضوِب َعلَْيِهْمَوَلاال َّضال َِّين
“The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favour, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.”

As we bid farewell to Surah al-Fatihah, we conclude with its last remaining verses. We talked about the Siraat and how we must strive, with Allah’s help and guidance, to remain steadfast on this path in order to succeed in this life and the next. And since the right company makes all the difference in providing the support, reinforcement and good example to staying firm in faith and conduct, we specify that Allah guide us to “the path of those on whom You bestowed Your Grace/blessings..” [Siraat-al-latheena an’amta alaihim]

This is a reminder of all the good men/women that have succeeded before us. These are the Prophets, the righteous, the companions, and foremost – our Prophet Muhammad . We are consoled when we remember them and the hardships they endured. It makes our trials bearable and we are relieved and comforted that insha’Allah we will be of their company in our next eternal life. “Ghair-il-maghdhoobi alaihim” [not of those whom upon them is wrath]. These are the people, who know very well the truth and what is right, but deliberately reject it and refuse to abide by it. So they have the knowledge but refuse to conform.

Example: Those who know they must pray, but choose not to. “Wala-dhaalleen” [nor of those who go astray]. These are the people who lack the knowledge of the truth and don’t search for it, so they conform but to the wrong path.

Example: Those who pray, but in an unacceptable way. Did you notice that the words relating to Grace/Blessings are specific to Allah [“an’amta”- “You bestowed”], while the words relating to wrath are not specific to Allah alone? This is because when it comes to granting favours and blessings, Allah is the sole provider of it all! But when evil is committed, this evokes the wrath of not only Allah, but the wrath of creation as well – The angels, the Prophets, the righteous, etc… And finally, “Ameen”. Ameen means “My Lord, grant/answer [my prayers].” With Ameen, we are pleading to the One whose in His hands is our guidance, success and salvation.

So express wholeheartedly, your need for Allah, just as if you have been sentenced to death and are pleading with the victim’s family for pardon. There would be a desperation and passion to the tone of your voice, as your heart begs for their forgiveness. And here’s another great reason for a wholehearted “Ameen!” The Prophet tells us that if our “Ameen” coincides with the “Ameen” of the angels above, Allah will forgive all of our previous sins!

So this is no time to be drifting in our Salah, this is too good to miss! Our heart needs to be present and alive! As we mentioned earlier, Al-Fatihah is the heart of Salah and is one of its major pillars. The Prophet tells us, “He has not prayed, the one who has not recited The Opening Chapter [al-Fatihah].” As we have seen, it is the greatest Surah. In it we talk directly to Allah and He answers back to us at every verse. What does He say to us?

Listen to this: Allah said, “I have divided the prayer [al-Fatihah] into two halves between Myself and My servant, and My servant shall have what he asks for.”

  • If he says, “All praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds”, Allah says, “My servant has praised Me.”
  • When the servant says, “The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”, Allah says, “My servant has glorified Me.”
  • When he says, “The Master of the Day of Judgment”, Allah says, “My servant has glorified Me” or “My servant has related all matters to Me.”
  • When he says, “You [alone] we worship, and You [alone] we ask for help”, Allah says, “This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall be
 granted what he sought”.
  • When he says, “Guide us to the straight path. The way of those on whom You have granted Your grace, not [the way] of those who earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray”, Allah says, “This is for My servant, and My servant shall be granted what he asked for.”


So the next time you are in prayer reciting al-Fatihah, remember to pause momentarily as the Prophet did after every verse, because His Majesty – with His beautiful face to yours, is responding to you… Feel it! What an honor it is to be His servant!