The very fact of our existence is a prayer and compels us to pray.
I am: therefore I pray; sum ergo oro.
Frithjof Schuon in Understanding Islam
Certain people do something remarkable and deserve the gratitude of whole people. One amongst them, in Kashmir, is Abdur Rahman Kondu who:
a) Compiled Al-Anwar at a time when little was published about Kashmir's greatest son, Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri – arguably recent history's greatest Muhaddith, one of the greatest teachers in the Madrasa framework and one of the first rate Sufi metaphysicians.
b) Has built a remarkable library that distinguishes itself from other big personal/institutional libraries in the State in many respects and is worth visiting by every lover of Islamic intellectual tradition.
c) Lives by and off books. He can write or compile best sellers such as Rabbana (so far sold thousands of copies and 23 editions) and also has a network of connections across the Muslim world so that books find their proper users and in a manner that one wonders is it Kashmir where there can flourish a market outside proper spaces and there are many people avidly reading first rate books on diverse disciplines.
d) With a rare missionary zeal in academic style, he seeks to foreground Tawhid centric Islamic weltanschuung and takes all the pains to read certain important things regarding the same in important works, get them translated, distributed. One might have differences with his theologically oriented (as distinguished from metaphysical-esoteric one) approach to Islamic tradition but one can't but appreciate zeal and devotion to the mission he feels called to work for.
The booklet we have today with us is a compilation of prayers beginning with Rabbana (O! Lord) taught by God in the Quran and has much useful foreword and explicatory notes at the end. As a contribution to the tradition of compiling transmitted prayers from God, his Prophet and saints, this booklet impresses by its fidelity to authentic scholarly tradition on prayers. A Muslim's life is marked by participating in what Eliade has famously explicated as sacred time in his great work The Sacred and the Profane. Rituals and prayers like these discussed create meaning that we need to be healed, to fight despair or forces of nihilism. Islamic tradition has made great use of the Quran as healing or Shifa, both in literal medical sense and spiritual sense. (Kondu quotes Hazrat Jafar Sadiq that anyone who says five times Rabbana at the time of any difficulty, will be eased.) There is a great tradition of reciting revealed words for their varied benefits and we know how it was the sacred imaginal form of Yasin whose vision was instrumental in healing Ibn Arabi, the "son of Plato," both physically and spiritually and making him turn to spirituality and he later reported how he could recognize the revealed words through a corresponding form in aalam al-mithal. How impoverished are our spiritual senses that this seems almost incredible for most Muslims. How repetition of certain revealed words transforms our existential night into an illumined blooming garden is known to those who have been doing this under proper guidance. Muslim time begins with a prayer on awakening and ends with a prayer on going to bed. His/her smiles, mournings, celebrations, beginning or ending any action (even the most trivial looking), movements of all kinds including love making all are punctuated by prayers. A Muslim can't afford to lose heart or sight of Mercy and lives in a heaven that prayers create. Gestures of blessings, salutations, meeting and parting wishes are all punctuated by irruptions from the Sacred. Who says and really means God is dead in the Muslim world? Anyone who can afford to truly say Asalmu alykum (As-Salam is a divine name) and "our Lord" builds/clears a dwelling for the Living God. A few more points Kondu notes from our scholarship on prayers are:
• One must pray as long as one lives as a contingent creature. Raza doesn't cancel its need. Prophets have prayed, even for the most "trivial" things. One recalls here Ibn 'Arabî 's commentator who authored Bursevi Fusūs who implies that we must ever consciously seek to manifest Divine Names of Beauty (and thus invoke such names as Hadi, the Guide) against those of Majesty as long as one lives as a human being who needs comfort, peace, guidance, beauty against their opposites.
• The term Rabb implies rejection of hulooli wujoodiya (incarnation of God in the world, pantheism). The very expression Rabbul Aalameen implies God's separation from the world as Ibn Taymiyah points out.
• Quoting Hazrat Ali "O Allah, deal with me in a manner that suits your glory and not as I deserve" he underscores that one shouldn't let one's sense of sinfulness deter one's praying for even the moon.
• For the good things of this world are also to be sought, not just the otherworld only as is implied in "Rabbana aatina fidduniya hasanaten…."
• What should be sought from God, in one sentence? All the good and noble and beautiful things, virtues (covered under hasana in the prayer "Rabbana aatina fiddunya hasana…"). We should seek blessings or bounties in the abstract and leave upto God which of the concrete blessings or bounties He graces us with, and let us not suggest or advise God to do this or that, says Ameen Ahsan Islahi. Islahi, however, fails to note that praying for salvation is included in this prayer.
• The term Kafireen in the Quranic prayer "O Lord…give us victory over …Kafireen" is understood by Qazi Sanaullah Panipati to include desiring self as well.
• First ask for forgiveness of sins and then pray as any evil that touches us is earned by us in a way (be consenting to come to the earth and leave Heaven, the state of Equilibrium) and is from the self as the Quran testifies. (Good we receive is from God). But as the Book of Job makes clear, sufferings could be a test and needn't correspond with specific transgressions. Sinners or sufferers aren't to be judged.
• Says the author of Tafseer Kashfur Rahman "While making particular prayers, one doesn't imply God doesn't know our needs but one only expresses sense of contingency or creaturehood."
Seeking patience from God (as taught in one Quranic prayer) one has sought everything. Sabr leads to Raza. This answers all the objections from certain rationalists who say it is irrational or indecent to ask God to change the world for fulfilling one's desire or prayer. Distinguishing prayer from petition and degrees of prayer according to one's spiritual station, Masters such as Schuon (in a stunning book Prayer Fashions Man that dissolves almost all important worries that nonbelievers have regarding desirability or impact of prayer – prayer, as Iqbal noted, is a means for escaping from mechanism to freedom) make it clear that prayer seeks to fashions man rather than change God's eternal wisdom (manifest in qaza-o-qadr) or His mind. For the Quran, one better seeks patience, virtue of submission to truth and acceptance of what is the case. And granted that everything has been granted. All of us, ever, are blessed and in fact are kings by virtue of being given life and human state as sheer gifts and that explains Eckhart's point: "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." One could perhaps say that one prayer one needs is, in Rahner's words, "Lord, Teach us to pray." All of mysticism is learning the art of prayer. Learning prayer, one tastes something of God and then one doesn't ask if it would be granted. Prayer not granted is better granted according to a tradition.
Prayer, it has been well said, is longing, not asking, earnestness, not eloquence, gratitude, not mere petition, attention to God and not to the self, a song and not a wish, meeting oneself while talking to God because He has no truck with the ego, invitation to a Guest who is really a host and thus really a dance of the soul with the soul-mate, the beloved.
Given even a very limited understanding of God's blessings one, even so-called atheists, should be able to say, Thank you God (for hospitality we ever receive from elements, the Sun, the moon, the air, the water, the beautiful world and the gifts of life and mind), Thank You (to anyone we ever encounter, even for the harm or slangs received). Thanksgiving is the essence of ibadah and iman. God didn't make anything, any person including our worst enemies we ever encounter that didn't deserve thanks from us as they are parts of a theatrical play in which we happen to act.
To pray is to take leave of oneself and let God play the music of the soul. Although, the booklet stops short of living/contemplating the final consummation of the act of prayer which we find in Sufis and poets (who haven't been given any space in the booklet), confounds Wujoodiya with hulooli (incarnationist) sect, and is over-anxious to uphold particular theological interpretation of certain verses, the booklet's appeal nevertheless remains for a general reader interested in dialogue with God.