Ritual means ‘a way of doing something’. Islamic rituals of prayer and meditation, fasting, charity and pilgrimage are specifically done at fixed times, in a particular place in a particular way. They are performed in a set order as prescribed and demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). From him they have been passed down from generation to generation. They have remained unchanged from his time over the past fourteen centuries.
Thus Islamic rituals connect Muslims to their glorious past and something that is far bigger than individuals. As well as connecting them to their past they connect Muslims all over the world, whether in the East or West, the rituals are performed in the same way. Giving a complete sense of unity and solidarity in the Ummah. Moreover they connect people to the deepest selves as they have a positive effect on our brains.
The fast moving lifestyle, the increasing busy schedules and the growing bombardment of information leaves us with little time for relaxation and spiritual activities. How do you escape this maddening crowd? Where is the spiritual peace? Where is the sanctuary?
It’s in the daily prayers and the other Islamic rituals! They are like natural breaks in the day. The daily prayers provide an ideal way of cleansing oneself of the noise pollution and our busy schedule. They allow us to turn off the aggravations of daily chores and worldly distractions. They allow us opportunity, time and space to escape our daily routines and to be in an elevated form of consciousness and awareness of God.
They provide us that ‘spiritual support’. This can be on the musallah (prayer mat) or a corner of the room reserved for salah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would go to the mosque whenever he was faced with a dilemma to regain a balanced perspective.
The ritual of praying in congregation for example helps to ground and align us and gives us a sense of belonging to a community. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) stressed the attendance of Friday congregation, he said ‘anyone who misses three consecutive Friday congregations is not from us’ (Abu Dawud).
Friday should be a day of relaxation, a time of meditation and socialising with other Muslims. This is an intrinsic part of human nature. Every culture and country has some kind of rituals to which they religiously adhere, it becomes part of the social fabric.
The funeral prayer and paying condolences to the deceased family is a powerful ritual, which helps the family to overcome the pain and grief that is gripping them. The presence of others amidst them gives them a real sense of being a part of a bigger community, than their immediate family. This lightens their burden of grieving. It energizes them to continue their lives and gives them hope for the future.
When we are faced with problems and difficulties we normally resort to rituals as a form of defence. In these situations Allah says, “O Believers seek help through the ritual of prayer and patience as Allah is with those who are patient” (2: 153).
The human brain loves rituals
The brain cells work together to lay pathways for incoming signals. When actions are repeated, or prayers said over and over again a pathway is created in the brain. It’s like a track across a field, the more trodden the stronger it gets. These rituals become habits and this helps in overcoming obstacles and hurdles. One is more likely to endure difficulties with much lighter spirit and greater possibility of succeeding.
Some spiritual teachers will give their students ‘wirds’ to recite daily. A ‘wird’ is literally – a watering place; in Islamic spiritual circles it’s a portion of Quran, a Prophetic prayer or a Divine name recited repeatedly at a set time. This is used in meditation either silently or aloud.
The wird helps to focus the mind and is very soothing and calming as well as being invigorating. The repetition of Quranic verses, a prophetic prayer or Divine name for example Ya-Lateef (O! Sublime or Ya Hayyo ya quyyum O living and eternal). Clears the mind of intruding thoughts. My own experience is that it really makes you feel light and leaves you in a calm and a serene state.
The spiritual masters recommend that you sit in a quiet spot preferably after Fajr prayer. Sit in a relaxed and a comfortable position. Begin by breathing deeply and slowly with your eyes closed. Concentrate on the wird, repeat it slowly or silently or aloud. Don’t let your thoughts wander. Focus on the wird and gradually the distractions will eventually fade away and you will feel Divine proximity a sense of closeness and happiness. Physically you will be relaxed, refreshed and much more alert and ready for a fresh start to a new bright day.
Reclaiming the weekly Eid by making Friday a holy day, a day of rest and relaxation
We live in a world that is 24 seven and it is always on, the gadgets are on and so on. But does that mean we have to be on as well all the time. Apparently it seems that we should be. That is the prevailing culture all around us and the oldest consequence of this is that we are very tired. We are on this never stopping treadmill, which leads to tiredness and poverty of time. We find the idea of resting strange sometimes and resist it as it is associated with laziness. The question is, is this the right kind of attitude towards our time and how we use it.
In return for our efforts and for being on 24 seven, the world offers money, work and as a consequence we can buy luxuries and have leisure. This way the whole idea of resting for one day at least in the week is a very established idea. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “people should stop their trading on Friday or else Allah will seal their hearts and they will become amongst the forgetful people”. In another report he said “whoever misses three Fridays consecutively because of laziness God seals his heart” (Abu Dawud).
The Friday is in some ways an antidote to our obsession with work and our relentless refusal to rest as it puts limits on how much we should work. It challenges the prevalent materialistic world view that you must be continuously engaged in economic activities, stopping work and resting in some ways mixes reliance on God and puts our trust in him as the provider and this is what leads to the sense of spirituality.
The big question is, do we reserve a 24 hour regular time in our weekly busy schedule where we can rest? For many of us the answer would be no. However, this workaholic attitude and refusal to rest and denial to acknowledge the great day of rest ‘Friday’, the holy day leads to serious health problems, problems in our relationships and affects our general well-being.
Positive impact of Friday on our health
The human body operates in a fantastic rhythmic manner. This is known as the circadian rhythm where the blood pressure, the heartbeat, breathing, the bowel movements are all operating in a rhythmic manner and these are almost hardwired in our system. Recently scientists have discovered a seven day biological rhythm as well, certain biological processes have a seven day cycle. This is how God has created human beings, by riding rough over these natural rhythms in creation, we are in danger of becoming stressed and harming our health, rest is key to a healthy living and our mental well-being.
Relationships in family, friends and wider community
Unfortunately, we disregard the significance of relationships with our family, friends and relatives, we regard them as an optional extra in our lives. Yet the reality is that relationships are the very foundations of human happiness and breakage of those human relations is the very cause of our misery, young people in particular are busy with social networking and technology through Facebook and Twitter, where there is no real face-to-face meetings and company.
What can we do on Friday?
Firstly by freeing ourselves from this workaholic mindset the idea that we should always be busy, and that time is everything and that time is the essence of our lives as is sadly claimed by our materialistic society which says that time is money. We can invite relatives and friends for a meal, or visit the sick. Why not go to visit relatives, or go for leisurely walk and enjoy the countryside.
Some virtues of Friday
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “send blessings on me on this day” and he further said, “whoever takes a bath on Friday and wears his best clothes and puts on some perfume. Then comes for the prayer and does not trample people. He then prays and remained silent during the imams preaching, this would be an atonement for his sins from one Friday to the next”.
On another occasion the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “God has made this day a festival for you to take a bath and use the Miswak”. He (peace be upon him) then said “Friday is the best of all days and the greatest of them all in the sight of Allah”.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ”send blessings upon me on this day as your blessings are presented to me” someone asked “O messenger! How are our blessings conveyed to you when you have died? He replied “Allah has forbidden the Earth to eat the bodies of prophets”.
Searching for the special moment on Friday
Abu Huraira narrates the messenger (may peace be upon him), said “there is a special moment during Friday when God will answer the prayer of a believer” (Bukhari).
In another hadith Abi Burda said I heard my father saying that he heard the Messenger (may peace be upon him) saying “that special moment on Friday is the time when the imams sits on the pulpit until the prayer is over” (Muslim).
According to Anas Ibn a Malik the messenger (may peace be upon him) said “search from Asar till the sunset for the special moment on Friday when all prayers are accepted” (Tirmadhi).
Abu Huraira said the messenger (peace be upon him), said “the best day on which the sun has risen is Friday; on it, Adam was created, on it, he was made to enter Paradise, on it he was expelled from it. And the last hour will take place on no day other than Friday”.
The Prophet (peace be upon him), pointed out the obligatory nature of Friday prayer when he said “no one should miss the Friday prayer. Otherwise, God will stamp their hearts and they will become neglectful people” (Muslim).
Abu Huraira narrated the messenger (may peace be upon him), said “on Friday the Angels come and stand at the door of the mosque they register the first person who arrives in the mosque and then award him the reward of sacrificing a camel, when a second person comes he is awarded the reward of sacrificing a cow and a when the third person comes he is awarded the reward of sacrificing a lamb and whoever comes after that is given the reward of a hen and then of donating an egg finally when the imam arrives to deliver the sermon they pack up their register and quietly listen to the sermon” (Bukhari).
Aus ibn Aus said the messenger (peace be upon him), said “whoever takes a bath on Friday and comes early to the prayer walking not mounted, and comes and sits near the Imam and listens and does not fidget. He will be given the reward of fasting for a year for every step that he took” (Abu Dawud).
May Allah give us the ability to truly understand the greatness of Friday.