Edited by Adil Salahi
Friday 12 February 2010
Last Update 12 February 2010 12:00 am
Worship should always be performed in the way and the manner that God likes and the Prophet (peace be upon him) has shown and explained. Prayer, or salat, is the most important form of Islamic worship. It includes readings from the Qur’an, movements from one position to another, glorification of God and supplication. It must always follow the pattern shown to us by the Prophet. He says: “Pray as you have seen me pray.”
While it is his companions that saw him offering his prayers, and joined him in congregational prayers, we have learned the way to pray through a long succession of generations of Muslims, maintaining the same way and following the Prophet’s example. Anyone who prays in a different way does not fulfill the Islamic duty.
Sometimes we do something in a particular fashion because we think it is better that way. This applies to anything other than religion, which must follow the guidance provided by the Prophet. Providing such guidance was his role and he accomplished it in the best possible way. Following his example is the practical manifestation of the second part of the declaration: La Ilaha Illa Allah, Muhammad Rasool Allah, which means, “there is no deity other than God, Muhammad is God’s messenger.”
In fulfilling his role, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was keen to correct any mistake he might have noticed one or more of his companions doing. One of these mistakes was to look up to the sky during prayer, particularly during supplication. Some of his companions thought that this was better, imagining that this is indicated by the Qur’anic verse that says: “And in the sky is your sustenance and all that you are promised.” (51: 22) This, however, gives no hint that looking up to the sky makes one’s supplication quicker to answer. It is God who answers prayer, and God is not bound by time, space or any other dimension. The Prophet advised his companions that looking up to the sky during prayer is wrong.
Some of them, however, might have forgotten or thought little of the matter. Therefore, he said the following Hadith, issuing a strong warning, quoted by Anas ibn Malik: “What is the matter with certain people: they lift their eyes to the sky during prayer?” He continued speaking strongly against this practice until he said: “They shall desist or their sights might be taken away.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
At face value, the Hadith speaks against looking up to the sky throughout prayer, but another version related by Muslim specifies the time of supplication. Hence scholars differ in their rulings concerning these two aspects. They agree, however, that lifting one’s eyes to the sky at anytime during prayer is reprehensible, to say the least, but it is more strongly so, even forbidden, when supplicating. The reason is that it makes the worshipper turn away from the qiblah, or the direction he should face in prayer. It also departs from the form of prayer.
The question arises: Where should we look during prayer? Imam Malik says we should look in the direction of the Kaaba, which is the Qiblah, while Imam Al-Shafie and Imam Abu Haneefah prefer that we look to the point where we prostrate ourselves in prayer.
This latter view is particularly recommended to the imam who leads the prayer and to anyone praying alone. The one praying in congregation may look toward the imam if he needs to do so in order to follow him.