Strengthening the Levels of Worship

Strengthening the Levels of Worship

By Dr. Jasser Auda

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;

All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of the al-‘ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu alayhi wasallam is His Messenger.

In his well-known book entitled “Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom)”, Sheikh Ahmad Ibn ‘Ataa’illah As-Sakandari (rahimahullah) says:

“Allah diversified the acts of worship for you because He knows how quickly you get slacken. And He did not permit you certain acts of worship at certain times, so you do not go to extremes. The objective is to perfect your Solāt not to merely perform them. Not every performer of Solāt perfects them.”

The Quality of Worship

The word of wisdom under discussion is related to a very important topic in our journey to Allah is the quality of worship.

A believer who is in continuous worship may feel slacken at some point. Allah Almighty, out of His mercy, knows that we, humans, could naturally feel loosen, even from worship. Therefore, He diversified the acts of worship so we can worship Him in a variety of ways.

As an example, Solāt is a fixed act of worship that should be performed five times a day. But Allah recommended other forms of supererogatory Solāt such as late-night prayer, prayer of thankfulness, and Solāt at times of need, etc. If the believer feels slacken of the optional Solāt, he may perform the obligatory Solāt only, but at the same time he might be interested in other forms of worship such as:charity, performing ‘umrah, seeking knowledge, being kind to neighbours and relatives, helping people, etc. All these are forms of worship that draw one closer to Allah.

People are different, and diversity is a universal law of Allah. Diversity is not limited to natural capabilities only, but there is diversity in one’s ability to keep up with certain actions and enjoy them. Ibn ‘Ataa’illah As-Sakandari (rahimahullah) also refers it to Allah’s knowledge about our desire to continue our worship without a pause. Therefore, He, in His infinite knowledge, prohibited some acts of worship at certain times. As mentioned before, the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “Surely this religion is firm. So apply it with tenderness. The traveler who is too harsh on his riding animal, he will not reach his destination and the riding animal will die”.

This is the reason the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) recommended that we do not pray right after the sunrise, right before noon time, or in the late afternoon after the Solāt Asar.  The wisdom behind not praying any optional Solāt in these times is to make us eager to perform them when we are allowed. The same applies to fasting. We are not permitted to fast at certain times, for example, immediately before the beginning of Ramadhān and on the first day of `Eid.

When Allah opens for you the door of reading the Qur’an, you may wish to read it all the time. But it is not allowed to read the Qur’an while we are kneeling down or sujud in Solāt, in the toilet, or while we are in a state of ritual non-cleanliness. Because Allah knows our nature, He diversified the acts of worship and made some of them prohibited at certain times.

In that case, when Allah guides you to perform an act of worship, you have to perfect it and ascend in the levels of quality of worship.

Ibn ‘Ataa’illah As-Sakandari (rahimahullah) gives the example of Solāt as he says: “The objective is to perfect your Solāt an not to merely perform them. Not every performer of Solāt perfects them”. When Allah talks about Solāt in the Qur’an, he asked us to “establish the Solāt”. [Al-Baqarah 2: 43] Establishing the Solāt is different from merely performing it. Establishing a Solāt is about concentration and humbleness during the Solāt. Allah says: “Truly, to a happy state shall attain the believers those who humble themselves in their Solāt”. [Al-Mu’minun 23: 1-2]

Humbleness in Solāt is achieved by the levels Al-Khushu (Attentiveness).

Humbleness is not achieved when one feels bored or goes to extremes and perform solah non-stop. Humbleness is achieved by the levels al-khushu (attentiveness).

According to scholars, humbleness in Solāt (al-khushu`) is a branch of knowledge. This is supported by the prophetic tradition in which the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) revealed about the signs of the Day of Judgment, as reported by Abu Ad-Darda’ (radiyallāhu’anhu), who said: We were with the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). He (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) looked at the sky and said: “This is a time when knowledge is abandoned by people, so that they cannot do anything. Then the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: If you want, I can tell you about the first branch of knowledge that will be abandoned by people; it is humbleness in Solāt. You may enter a big masjid but you do not see one man in a state of humbleness.” [At-Tirmidzi]

Scholars categorized humbleness in the Solāt into several levels of al-khushu: humiliation before Allah, feeling awe of Allah, and happiness, because of being in the presence of Allah as well as iman and ihsan:

1 – The presence of feeling in need of Allah.

This is reflected in the movements of the Solāt. We kneel down and prostrate only to Allah. These movements are manifestations of humiliation which should be shown only to Allah. Humiliation requires that you feel that you are weak and that Allah is the Powerful, the Rich, and the Almighty. Humiliation is the result of neediness as Ibn `Ataa’illah As-Sakandari explained before when he said: “The tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness”. When you feel you are in need of Allah, a state of humbleness is produced.

2 – The feeling awe of Allah.

The higher level is to elevate you from the stage of humiliation to the stage of feeling awe of Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala and His Might. Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala says: “Whenever the messages of the Most Gracious were conveyed unto them [the prophets], they would fall down before Him, prostrating themselves and weeping”. (Maryam 19: 58) This is the level of feeling awe of Allah which might lead to crying. And Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala says: “Allah bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement [of the truth] in manifold forms [a divine writ] whereat shiver the skins of all who of their Sustainer stand in awe: [but] in the end their skins and their hearts do soften at the remembrance of [the grace of] Allah. Such is Allah’s guidance: He guides therewith him that wills [to be guided] whereas he whom Allah lets go astray can never find any guide”. [Az-Zummar 39: 23]

One of the Companions (radiyallāhu’anhu) reported that he watched the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) as he was praying. He said that he heard a whistling sound from the chest of the Prophet resembling the sound of a boiling kettle as he was weeping. [Abu Dawud]

3 – The presence of happiness  of being in the presence of Allah.

The best state of humbleness in Solāt is to find you happy and pleased because of being in the presence of Allah. So you actually feel happy and elated when you recite the Qur’an, mention Allah or praise Him. This is the highest level of humbleness in prayers. Angels descend from heavens to listen to you and a state of tranquility prevails in the place. Bear in mind, however, that when Allah takes you to a level of happiness in your solah, this will be out of His Grace not because of your deeds.

It is reported that while Usayd ibn Hudayr (radiyallāhu’anhu) was reciting Surat Al-Baqarah (the second chapter of the Qur’an) at night, and his horse was tied beside him; the horse was suddenly startled and troubled. When he stopped reciting, the horse became quiet, and when he started again, the horse was startled again. Then he stopped reciting and the horse became quiet too. He started reciting again and the horse was startled and troubled once again. Then he stopped reciting and his son, Yahya was beside the horse. He was afraid that the horse might trample on him. When he took the boy away and looked towards the sky, he could not see it. All he saw was a low cloud full of lamps! The next morning he informed the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) who said, “Recite, O Ibn Hudayr! Recite, O Ibn Hudayr!” Ibn Hudair replied, “O Allah’s Messenger! My son, Yahya was near the horse and I was afraid that it might trample on him, so I looked towards the sky, and went to him. When I looked at the sky, I saw something like a cloud containing what looked like lamps, so I went out in order not to see it”. The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “Do you know what that was?” Ibn Hudayr replied, “No”. The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Those were Angels who came near to you for your voice and if you had kept on reciting till dawn, it would have remained there till morning when people would have seen it as it would not have disappeared”. [Al-Bukhari]

Al-Bara’ (radiyallāhu’anhu) reported that a person was reciting Surat Al-Kahf and there was a horse tied with two ropes at his side, a cloud overshadowed him, and as it began to come nearer and nearer his horse began to take fright from it. He went and mentioned that to the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) in the morning, and the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “That was Tranquility. It came down at the recitation of the Qur’an”. [Muslim]

Bear in mind, however, that when Allah takes you to a level of happiness in your solah, this will be out of His Grace not because of your deeds. As the Arab poem goes: In the twinkling of an eye, Allah may change everything; from one state to another.

However, there are means that one could follow in order to ascend to that level, by Allah’s Grace. Among these means is to reflect upon the meaning of the Qur’an, and feeling humble by calling to mind how great Allah is.

The three levels mentioned above may be expressed in various forms of worship, not only in Solāt. The level of submission (Islam) to Allah is the outward work. In Solāt, it is performing the actions of the Solāt by standing, kneeling down and prostration. In charity, it is giving out money. In fasting, it is the abstaining from eating and drinking. In pilgrimage, it is circumbulating around the Ka`bah, going between the two hills of As-Safa and Al-Marwa, and offering the sacrifice.

4 – The Level Of Iman.

Humbleness is achieved by the level of iman. However, the level of iman is the work of the heart. The basic task of the heart is to believe in Allah, His angels, His scriptures, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, and that Allah created all things to come, good or bad. All this leads to a wider meaning of the rituals. So, Solāt is not only about kneeling down and prostration, but it is about humbleness, feeling awe of Allah, and happiness as well. Charity is not merely an act of giving money; it is about having mercy upon the poor and indifference about the world. Fasting is not only about abstaining from food and drink; it is also about patience, mentioning Allah, thankfulness, and meditation. Pilgrimage is not only by tawaf around the Ka`bah, going between the two hills of As-Safa and Al-Marwa and offering the sacrifice, it is also about remembering the Hereafter, uniting with fellow believers, and following the steps of the prophets and messengers.

5 – The Level of ‘Ihsan.

Humbleness is achieved by the Level of ‘Ihsan, the next level after iman. Solāh is a sanctified moment that you are facing Allah in His Presence. The Level of ‘Ihsan is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you. . In relation to remembrance of Allah, Ibn ‘Ataa’illah As-Sakandari explained that the level of attentiveness (khusu’) would entails the level of submission (Islam) to Allah, i.e., you have to be attentive to when you read the Qur’an or when you indulge in the act remembrance of Allah (dzikirullah). The level of being present with Allah entails the level of belief (iman), i.e., you reflect on the meaning so you feel awe; the greatness of Allah.

The whole purpose of Solāh is to remember Allah and to feel in His presence. In a famous hadith, the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “The Ihsan (right and beautiful action) is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you…”   [Al-Bukhari]

The level of ‘ihsan is reached when you absolve that everything else around you is absent; you are not paying attention to what  goes around you, but you are presented, communicating fully to Allāh Almighty in the manner you are seeing Him and He is observing you. The solāt must be observed and perfected according the Sunnah of The Prophet Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam). One ought to perform every part of the Solāh with care and in a tranquil manner including its recitation and all the adhkar in the Solāh.


The strengthening the quality of ‘ibadah is determined by the al-khushu (attentiveness) which is in itself indicates the level of the imān or the degree of submission to Allah in term of the humbleness before Allah Almighty, His Greatness, and the happiness being in the presence of Allah. All these will enhance the achievement of the ‘ihsan which is worshipping Allah as though you are seeing Him and He is observing you. You absolve that everything else around is absent and you are not paying attention to what goes around you, but you are presenting fully to Allāh Almighty.

Al-‘Ihsan about the love of Allah, fearing Allāh most, glorifying Him, to seek the help of Allāh, to have hope in Allāh that He will give us mercy and guide us, to trust Allāh wholly. This will lead us to striving sincerely for our best in performing our ‘ibadahAl-‘Ihsan is also about the best actions of the heart.

Mu‘adz Ibn Jabal (radiyallāhu’anhu) reported that Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) once held him by the hand and said: “O Mu’adz! I swear by Allāh that I love you. I advise you not to miss supplicating after every solāh saying: ‘Allāhumma a ‘inni ‘alā dzikrika, Wa shukrika, wa husni ‘ibâdatik. (O Allāh! Assist me in mentioning You, expressing gratitude to You, and worshiping You in the finest manner).”[Abu Dawud; An-Nasā‘ie]

‘Aishah (radiyallāhu`anha) said: The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to say when Ruku’ and Sujud: “Subhānakallāhumma Rabbana wabihamdika Allāhummaghirli (Glory is to You O Allāh! Our Lord, And all the Praise be to You, O Allāh! Forgive me.)”; implementing (the order of) the Qur`an [:”Fasabbih bihamdi rabbika wastaghfirhu innahu kana tawwaba (Then glorify with the Praises of your Lord, and seek His Forgiveness, for He is Oft-Returning).” (Nasr, 110:3)]. [Narrated by al-Bukhari (794) and Muslim (484)]

In an authentic hadith, it is recorded that the Allāh`s Messenger (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: ‘The closest one of you comes to his Lord is while he is Sajdah, (therefore) make many supplications therein’.  And he also said, `I have prohibited you from reciting while Ruku’ or Sajdah. During the Ruku’, glorify the Lord. During the sajdah, strive your hardest in making supplications. Most likely, you will be listened to.” This was recorded by Ahmad and Muslim.

Ibn ‘Abbas (radiyallahu’anhu) narrated: The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to say “Between the Two Sujud”:“Allahumm-aghfir li (O Allah! Forgive me), warhamni (And Have Mercy on me), wahdini (and Guide me), wa‘afini (and Guard me against harm), warzuqni (And Grants me sustenance), Three times” [Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidzi]. Another narration: The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to say: “Allāhumma [or: Rabbi] ghfirli, warhamni, [wajburni], [warfa’ni], wahdini [wa’afini], warzuqni, [wa’fu’anni] (O Allāh! (in one version: O my Lord!) Forgive me; have mercy on me; [strengthen me;] [raise my rank;] guide me; [and bestow good health;] sustain me, [and Pardon me]), Three times. [Abu Dawud, Tirmidzi, Ibn Majah and Hākim, who declared it sahih and Dhahabi agreed].

It was narrated that the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said to a man (one of the Sahabah): “What do you say when you pray (Du’a after the Tashahhud)?” He said: “I recite the Tashahhud, then I say:  “Allāhumma inni as alukal-Jannah wa a‘udzu bika Minan-nār” (O Allāh, I ask You for Paradise and seek refuge in You from the Fire).I cannot murmur like you and like Mu‘adz.” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “It is about them that we were murmuring.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, 792: sahih]

‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud (radiyallāhu‘anhu) reported: The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: “Allāhumma inni as ‘alukal-Huda, Wat-Tuqa, Wal-‘Afafa, Wal-Ghina (O Allāh! I beseech You for Guidance, Piety, Chastity and Contentment).” [Muslim]. This du’a contains four words, the meanings and implications of which constitute its essence. These words are guidance, piety (fear of Allah), chastity and sufficiency. Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allah is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the prayer of the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.

Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala deenika (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).”Rasulullah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaitana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al-’Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]

Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallāhu’anhu) who said: “The supplication most often recited by Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam): Rabbana-ātina-fid-dunya hasanah, Wa fil-ākhirati-hasanah, Wa-qina-‘ādzabānnār (O Lord! Bestow upon us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).’” (Al-Baqārah 2:201) [This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi]. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [ Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]

And Allāh Almighty Knows best.

[Excerpted from “Ibn `Attaa’ Words of Wisdom (18), Ascending in the Levels of Worship”, a commentary By Dr.Jasser Auda, Via on Islam, 15 December 2011 11:14]

Please see related topics.

1. The Concept of Taqwa;

2. Taqwa: Between Love and Fear of Allah;

3. The Hope and Fear of Allah; 4. The Reality of Humbleness;

5. The Excellence of Humility and Humbleness;

6. Strengthening the Levels of Worship;  7. Taqwa: Between Love and Fear;

8. Arrogance Negates Imān and Jannah;

9. The Concept of Istiqamah; 10. The Concept of Al-Haya’ (Modesty); 11. The Concept of Al-Zuhud


About Md Radzi Ahmad
A retired Malaysian civil servant. Served the Malaysian government for thirty-one years. Posted to London, Rangoon, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bangkok. Born in Kampong Hutan Kandeh, Alor Star, Kedah. Educated at Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Star and University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Currently resides in Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan,Malaysia.Blessed with three children, a son, two daughters, daughter in law and two grandaughters.

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