The fundamental feature(s) of the human condition appear to be the inherent, intrinsic vulnerability and weakness of humankind and uncertainty thereof. Humans might have explored the outer space, landed on the moon, created and developed stupendous inventions and might be on the cusp of an Artificial Intelligence(AI) revolution , but the species remains and is defined by fundamental weakness(es) and vulnerabilities. Yet, despite these features , we remain or are defined by illusions and even delusions of grandeur, power and so called success. This is not to state that the world and its attributes are unreal; the world is real but there is a more fundamental and Ultimate Reality who is the Creator of everything and to whom we all Return.
Yes, the reference here is to the Almighty, the All powerful , Omniscient and Omnipresent, Lord of everything , Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala(God). But, in our Ghaflat, loosely translated as negligence or ignorance, we humans, have a tendency to forget Allah and delude and inflate ourselves, out of proportion. Deluded belief in our capabilities and capacities makes us forgetful, arrogant and ignorant. And, in the process, we lose perspective on our selves, the world and the Ultimate Reality.
But, then these illusions are perhaps inevitable given that God has gifted mankind with superior attributes and a superior intellect (in relative terms). However, in the final analysis, only God is Superior in everything. If then, humankind is susceptible to illusions, and is prone to lose perspective, hold an inflated sense of self and forget its fundamental weakness and vulnerability , what is the antidote?
To me, as a Muslim, the beginning of the answer lies in prayer, that is, Salaat. ( It may be pointed out here that it is incumbent upon Muslims to pray five times a day). The very nature of the Muslim prayer , to me, intuitively , is not only the affirmation of the existence and Unity of God, but also a resounding affirmation of the weakness and vulnerability of man/ woman and thereby affirmation of faith. Each gesture, movement, posture(s) , and divinely ordained utterances during and after the prayer affirm these. The Muslim prayer then , among other things, amounts to affirmation of faith(imaan), acceptance of our weakness(es) and vulnerabilities, seeking refuge in God, placing all faith in Him. Naturally and inevitably, the concomitant of all this is getting a sober perspective on ourselves which results in humility, among other salubrious things.
A grounded and a sober perspective on ourselves, and seeking refuge in God Almighty also undercuts the essential uncertainty that defines life and the human condition. When, for instance, a person places his or her faith in God and reposes trust in Him, the fearful uncertainty is axiomatically given short shrift as the person in contention again affirms that all affairs are determined by the Almighty. This is not to be confused with mere determinism and then fatalism which leads to quietism. What this means is that humankind’s respective quest(s) for improvement, welfare, the quest for and of knowledge and understanding , scientific exploits continue apace but all under and in the rubric of faith of God, His Infinite power. In this sense then, the related quests of mankind , can bring it to closer to God.
Islam and its Holy book . the Quran, actually enjoins mankind to not only be curious about the world but also understand its various mysteries. The religion then is not quietist; it seeks and directs man to understand cause and effect, if only to come closer to God.
There is also a very spiritual dimension to prayer. The world and the vicissitudes of life are not staid and peaceful , even in quotidian and prosaic dimensions and terms. There’s a whole host of issues, the overwhelming existential aspects of life, financial and economic ups and downs, emotional and psychical gyrations and other practical aspects that can overwhelm an individual. Overlaid by the possible fact, that a man or woman , in this world, stripped of accretions and social constructs, is essentially alone, these facets of life can be dauntingly overwhelming. Under these circumstances, a turn to God and seeking refuge in Him can not only be reassuring from a psychological perspective but also, by connecting the spirit with a higher order of spirituality and thereby reach a stage of transcendental consciousness can empower a person.
But, key here is that this spiritual upliftment and the tempered confidence that ensues is defined by a sober perspective on the self and its relation to God. There then is total and complete harmony between man, woman , the natural and the physical worlds and relationship with God. The naturally corollary of all this is peace, within and without. Perhaps , the word peace is inadequate to define and put into perspective the condition that emerges. Actually, the word that might best describe this condition is “Sakina”, loosely and roughly translated as God inspired sublime tranquility. This state can only mean that a person is at peace with himself or herself and the world.
This state of a transcendent , decluttered self, defined by a sense of a sober , grounded perspective and humility , arrived at by reposing faith in God and seeking refuge in Him, can best be mediated by prayer(salaat). The salaat then is the cure for existential crises and issues that the world presents us with and overwhelms us and, in the process defines a relationship with God. It is not only about sin and virtue but the salaat is , for want of a better world, a cure for our respective ailments like arrogance, and allied illusions about ourselves and the world. All this is not in the nature of proselytizing and projecting my beliefs onto people but rather a delineation and description of the nature of my own experience. I am , alas, not yet a devout practitioner of the salaat but given what I understand its essential nature to be, I will try to be one. Aameen!
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