Thursday, November 27, 2008

Salat: The Journey from Glorification to Surrender

Maryam Sakeenah

“Salat begins with Takbeer (glorification, acknowledgement of Greatness) and ends with Tasleem (Peace, Submission).” (hadith)
The declaration of faith_ 'La ilaha illallah' holds within it the essence of the dynamic journey to ‘Islam’ undertaken through recognition, acceptance, submission that progresses towards growth. And all this is symbolized in Salat. Its compulsive, regular performance reasserts the pattern of continuous onward progression that animates and vitalizes a Muslim's life.
Salat begins with proclaiming the greatness of Allah. When you begin to see and hear and feel and experience the exuberant panorama of life around you_ the miracle of Allah's creation, the honest soul declares and testifies the greatness of the Creator: 'Allahu Akbar'. It sings in His praise: 'Alhamdulillah i Rabb il aalameen'. And with that comes the submission, 'ruku', the falling down on knees when we experience the Presence; the 'sajdah' that teaches us to recognize our littleness and our need to submit to a Power on high greater than us, and to obey that Power to tame what is raw in our too human self; to submit the reason that suffocates if not made subservient to Faith. And with this, we rise to a station of rest and satiety, the 'qa'adah', where the human being can entrust his self to Allah, so that all action, all motives that drive them, all struggle, strife, effort is made for the One Being in whose keeping we give ourselves to secure a lasting peace. And with this statement of absolute Eemaan, we get the strength that makes us able to declare, amidst test and trial, 'Ash'haduallah ilaha illallah': 'I bear witness that there is no god but Allah'.
The moral action in Islam must seek its inspiration from the Sunnah and the lives of the Saaliheen (The righteous predecessors). When we bless them with peace in our Salat, we learn to acknowledge the invaluable worth of the 'shahadah' (testifying to the Oneness of Allah) that these people lived out in their heroic lives. In Islam, spirituality never implies social withdrawal or quietism but rather a building up of a fund of energy that finds its natural expression through social and communal action. Thus Salat teaches a valuable spirituality that not only sustains the individual but also his link with community. It prepares us for what is true moral action as we finish our spiritual experience by blessing with 'Islam' (Peace) those around us. The spirituality ignited through the supreme experience of Salat must radiate through the soul and express itself in behaviour and interaction with others.
Our lives have lost the Peace of Surrender, the integrity and uprightness that Salat trains us into. Rituals are performed like they were ends in themselves, and not established like they were means to the greater end of making our entire lives a testimony of Faith, and in turn, creating a better society. Our lives lack the ‘qiyam’ when we jump into the rat-race of procuring the most to get to the top of the endless ladder. They lack that ‘qiyam’ when we act so rashly and impulsively, trying to outdo others before the utilitarian system outdoes us. We lack a ‘qibla’ and a ‘kaaba’ for ourselves when the gods our world is so full of, win us to their side with wise lies. We lack the humility of ‘ruku’ when too much of the world invades our consciousness so that we become full of it, and when selfish desire fuels up the race towards Nowhere. We fail to fall in ‘sajdah’ out of gratitude when Allah works miracles in our lives and quietly blesses us. We are unable to reiterate the ‘shahadah’ when put to test. We fail to bless with ‘Salaam’ (the Peace of Islam) the ignorant with all their wiles on our left, and the friends in Faith to strengthen us on our right.
Life will come back to us when the spirit in Islamic rituals and the message of the Quran is translated into living experience, incorporated into our everyday lives. And we can get that life back by learning to be Allah-conscious every minute we live. We have to be the willingly surrendered: ‘Muslim’_by choice, not just by chance; people of deep thought and consistent action. The fullness of our empty lives is so distracting, it leaves us no time to think WHY we are here, what we are to do. And the end of it is abject loss as time steals by and we drown ourselves in all the pettiness. I am reminded of the message of Surah Al Asr, that miracle of the Quran which carries in its few words the essence of living life the right way: ‘By Time! Man is in Loss. Except those who believe. And do righteous good deeds. And exhort one another to the Truth. And exhort one another to Steadfastness.’
The consciousness of what is truly big and meaningful in life eludes us as we sail through, zombie-like, over life. The loss of that consciousness has been very costly. It has left us lifeless, bloodless. The Islamic belief-system and its spiritual dimension has a transforming power when established on the self. And that transformation doesn’t have to be visibly great and glorious, ambitious and idealistic enough to be beyond realistic doing. We have to get down and start from little everyday bits, and these will count for so much inshallah. Distances are travelled step by step, and each step taken makes up the whole journey onward. And then we have the reassuring Voice of Allah in our ears: ‘If you take a step towards Me I will take ten towards you. If you come to Me walking, I will go to you running.’ Subhanallah! What keeps us from taking that first step?
We have to learn to find the Truth by learning to look at the world clear-eyed, and by going inside the self to find its testimony; to turn heavenward when earthiness clouds over our souls_ and to come back rich and giving for the world that is in such dire need of help. The parched, barren Wasteland inside must receive its Rain, and the wastes we have reduced our world to will bloom, inshallah: ‘Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves.’ (The Quran)
"'When I am weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood,
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over...
Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch-tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped it's top and set me down again..."