To mark the National Day of Prayer on May 4, Skylight, a sister organization of Patheos, compiled a comprehensive survey of Americans aged 18-64 last month on prayer, providing an interesting insight on this subject. There are a large number of charts and graphics on the response to various questions. I am going to provide my perspective here from an Islamic viewpoint on a selected set of questions and responses.
Before I dive into the specifics, it would be prudent to provide a super brief overview on the prayer from my (Muslim) perspective.
Prayers are a very important part of the Islamic belief system and the life of Muslims. The English word prayer is kinda generic and can be used in, and for, multiple settings. The English word prayer can be used for a formal prayer or the “asking” part. In Islamic traditions, it can mean the obligatory prayers, or Salah, or the Du’a, which I will explain shortly. Muslims offer Salah 5 times a day, which can be done individually, or in a congregational setting. The Friday Salah at mid day is a special prayer, that replaces the Zuhr prayer on rest of the days of the week. After the Salah, Muslims typically do the Du’a– which is the “asking” part of the “prayer”. Du’as, the asking part, or supplications, are an important part of the life of Muslims. Du’as can be done right after the Salah, as well as at random times throughout the day.
Here is a small selection of the survey responses and my brief perspective. The link to the full survey is at the bottom of this article.
For Muslims, there is only one higher power worthy of praying to, and asking from: The One True God (Allah-the Arabic word used in the Qur’an). In fact, the Qur’an frequently invites all believers to ask God for help, and ordains to not ask anyone else for divine intervention. Asking others for divine help besides God is considered shirk, or polytheism.
And your Lord says: Call upon Me, I will answer you… The Qur’an 40-60
And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way. The Qur’an 2:186
The following is a frequently recited Du’a at congregations, especially for the healing of the sick members of the community.
Or, Who listens to the (soul) distressed when it calls on Him, and Who relieves its suffering…The Qur’an 27:62
And do not ask for anyone else for divine help….Allah is often explained as the Arabic word for God. It is partly true but it refers to THE ONE, TRUE God- God the creator- God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.
O men! Here is a parable set forth! listen to it! Those on whom, besides Allah, ye call, cannot create (even) a fly, if they all met together for the purpose! and if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. Feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition! The Qur’an 22:73
And those whom you call upon besides Him are not able to help you, nor can they help themselves.The Qur’an 7:197
This was an interesting response. During the height of the pandemic, Islamic centers, like other places of worship, were in a lockdown. I personally missed the congregational prayers. We were left to pray on our own at home, which still served to connect with God, but the communal element was badly missed. It was very welcoming to see the old friends and community members when the congregational prayers returned.
The top response on the survey (praying by myself) is true for me as well- both during the pandemic and outside of it. This is true for both the formal prayers(Salah) and the Du’a. I was somewhat surprised to see that 61% respondents pray in a community or with the religious group. I prefer that form but I also feel that the mindfulness part is not as strong when I am praying in a congregation. I am able to meditate and focus a little better when I pray alone.
It is heartening to see that the top three reasons Americans pray for are for “others”. In fact Muslims are encouraged to pray for others first and THEN ask for themselves. It takes the focus away from self and encourages empathy.And yes, if you are ill or going through some other difficulty, it is definitely OK to pray for yourself. (or even when you are not in distress). I have always encouraged my children to pray when they start a journey, before a job interview or before taking a test. Before starting the school/college day or embarking upon a study, Muslim recite the last part of the following verse from the Qur’an: Rabba Zidni Ilma.
Supremely exalted is therefore Allah, the King, the Truth, and do not make haste with the Qur’an before its revelation is made complete to you and say: O my Lord ! increase me in knowledge. 20:114
For Muslims the worldly life is deemed transient and the good life in the hereafter is emphasized repeatedly in the Qur’an. However the life of this world is not ignored. It is just that the Qur’an reminds us to not get too caught up in the mundane worldly affairs. The following, often-recited Du’a is a short, yet very comprehensive prayer that asks for the good in both worlds.
Yet there are others who say, “Our Lord! Grant us the good of this world and the Hereafter, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.” The Qur’an 2:201
I have mixed feelings about praying for your sports team or favorite sportsman. I personally feel sports, no matter how important they have become in our lives, are just that. And what if fans of both sides are praying to God for their team to win? In my younger years, I did find myself praying for Muhammad Ali, San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors, but I have come to realize how insignificant winning a game is in the big scheme of things.
Go Warriors- that is about how far I would go at this time!
For Muslims, prayer(Salah) is one constant, regular way of connecting with God. Having said that, Muslims can pray at any time, 24/7. Often times, the Du’as (asking) happen at times other than after the Salah. But offering Salah five times a day is a constant reminder about the presence of that One high power, God Almighty and that we are accountable for our deeds. It is also a constant reminder of the bounties of God and His immense mercy and forgiveness. Muslims do turn to Salah and extra supplications to find that inner peace during difficult times for themselves , family or the community at large.
This is slightly different from the question above- this is about WHO we pray for, rather than WHAT we pray for. Once again, the responses show that we pray more often about others than ourselves. Not surprisingly, family comes first, followed by friends and those in need.
What surprised (and disappointed) me a little bit is that we pray more often for our elected officials than for the migrants and refugees. The Qur’an and the Bible both ask the followers to be kind to the migrants. Moreover, our elected officials care about one thing the most- their re-election, and often cater to the special interest groups, rather than those who put them in the public office. They should feel lucky to be prayed for!
Here is a link to the full survey.
Images (top and featured): courtesy of Pixabay.com