Humility and deep reverence (khushu)

Khushu indicates the state of the heart being filled with the love and fear of Allah and the limbs finding peace and tranquillity as a result of these feelings.

Khushu, whose essence is in the heart but whose manifestations appear in the body, has two aspects:

The aspect that is of the heart is when it perceives its nothingness in the face of its Sustainer’s magnificence and majesty. The nafs too then submits to the command of Allah, and attains to superior manners and feelings of reverence and respect. The outer aspect is when the effect of these feelings brings about dignity and tranquillity in the limbs of the body. For instance to stop the eyes from wandering when one is performing the prayer and to look at the place of prostration…

The best example of how to apply khushu to one’s life and one’s worship can be seen in the life of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Blessed Companions. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not evaluate any stage of his life without relating it the hereafter. He drew attention to the importance of embodying oneself in a spiritual state during worship as one would at the last breath.

A Companion once approached the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! Give me some advice, only let it be short and concise”. Upon this the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“Perform your salat (prayer) as one who is saying farewell to his life. Do not utter any word that you will have to apologise for. Do not envy what others have”(Ibn-i Majah, Zuhd, 15; Ahmad, V, 412).

Worship is only of any worth when it is performed in a state of vigilance, deep reverence (khushu) and reflection. The most important virtue of the Blessed Companions and those righteous believers who followed them was this consistent character in their heart.

Abdullah bin Mas’ud  would tell his friends:

“You pray more and struggle more than the companions. But they are yet more virtuous than you”

When it was asked of him:

“What makes them more virtuous than us?” he answered:

“They were more abstaining from the world and more determined for the hereafter than you”. (Ibnu’l Jawzi, Sifatu’s Safwe,  Beirut 1979, I, 420).

The state of deep reverence during prayer is so important that the salvation of the slave occurs through this door. The Holy Qur’an says in Chapter Mu’minun:

“It is the believers who are successful: those who are humble in their salat”(Mu’minun, 23:1-2).

Our Prophet also informs us of how the slave will be treated according to how well he observed the prayer:

“A slave performs the prayer, however, only one-tenth or one-ninth, or one-eighth, or one-seventh, or one-sixth, or one-fifth, or one-fourth, or one third or half of it is recorded for him”. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 123-4/796).

That is, there is reward for the prayer of the slave only if it is performed with reverence and attentiveness.

Yet again our Sustainer explains how the believer can perform the prayer with reverence as follows:

“Seek help in steadfastness and salat. But that is a very hard thing, except for the humble:      those who are aware that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him”(Baqara, 2:45-6)

That is, one will have reached a state of true khushu or deep reverence if one performs the prayer with the certainty that one day they will eventually appear in the presence of their Lord and have to account for everything that they did.

As this state of awe during the prayer continues it will in time extend to the whole of the believers life. This is why Jaluluddin Al Rumi (q.s) explains the verse “those who do salat and are constant in it” (Ma’arij, 70:22-3) as follows:

“Your state after prayer should be the same as your state during the prayer”.

In order to be able to attain to this state it is necessary to become like the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) by benefiting from his exalted character and by forming in the heart a sincere and deep bond with him. As he said:

“…Allah loves the heart that is full of awe, sorrow, and compassion and which teaches goodness to the people and calls to the obedience of Allah. And He abhors the heart that occupies itself with vain things, which spends its entire night in sleep even though it does not know whether or not its soul will be returned to it, and remembers Allah very little”(Deylemi, I, 158)

Scenes of Virtue

Abdullah bin Shihhir  informs us of the deep reverence of the Prophet as follows:

“One time I had gone to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He was praying and crying and it sounded like his chest was boiling”. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 156-7, 904; Ahmad, IV, 25,26).

It is vital that one pays attention to the formal rules (fiqh) of the prayer. However, as the hadiths state we must also take particular care to be scrupulous about our spiritual state. Fiqh prepares the slave in terms of purity, ablution and cleanliness, whereas purity of the heart, or khushu (deep reverence) allows the believer to attain to peaceful presence and perceptiveness of the heart and “divine meeting”.

***

The Prophet (pbuh) expressed the necessity of performing the prayer in a state of great awe and entreaty to Almighty Allah:

“The prayer (salat) is performed in cycles (rakats) of two. At the end of each rakat the believer sits for the tashahhud[1]. Salat is deep reverence, and an expression of one’s humility and lowliness before Allah. (At the end) you raise your hands to your Sublime Sustainer with the palms turned towards your face and you plead: “O my Sustainer! O my Sustainer!”. The prayer of the one who does not do this is deficient. (Tirmidhi, Salat, 166/385).

***

Aisha  narrates:

“Abu Jahm  once presented a gift of an embroidered, elegant dress to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) who performed the prayer with it. When he finished he said:

“Give this dress back to Abu Jahm. My eyes were distracted by the embroidery on it. It almost made me lose my presence in the prayer”. (Muwatta, Salat, 67; Bukhari, Salat, 14).

***

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) taught his community the rules of Hajj by personally applying them during the Farewell Hajj. He explained that it was necessary in particular to have deep reverence during Hajj just as with other forms of worship.

And so it was that the Prophet was once returning to Muzdalifa from Arafat on the Day of Arafat. He heard some people behind him screaming and shouting and hitting their camels and the camels were bellowing. He  pointed his staff at them and said:

O people! (Slow down) Be steady. You cannot gain reward by rushing” (Bukhari, Hajj, 94; Muslim, Hajj, 268).

***

Ali  narrates:

“The Prophet once saw a man playing with his beard during the prayer. Seeing this he said:

If his heart had felt any khushu (pious reverence) so too would all of his limbs” (Ali al-Muttaki, VIII, 197/22530).

***

Aisha  narrates that her mother Ummu Ruman , once said to her:

“Once when I was praying I kept swaying to and fro. When Abu Bakr saw this state of mine he chided me so much that I almost interrupted my prayer. After he said:

“The Messenger of Allah has said:

“Whenever one of you stands to pray let every part of him remain still and in deep reverence. Let him not sway back and forth like the Jews. For the stillness of the limbs in prayer is one of the aspects that completes the prayer”(Alusi, Ruhu’l Ma’ani, Beirut ts., XVIII, 3).

***

Despite being given great wealth and kingdom, the prophet Solomon u was able to free his heart from attachment to the world and live a life of servant hood, being in a continual state of pious reverence, humility and fervour. This virtue of his has been explained as follows:

“Despite having been given wealth, Solomon never once in his life lifted his head up towards the heavens out of the deep reverence he felt for Allah”(Ibn-i Abi Shayba, al Musannaf, Beirut, Daru’l-Fikr 1989, VIII, 118).

***

Abdullah bin Abu Bakr  narrates:

“Abu Talha was once praying in his garden. A bird called ‘Dubsi’ tried to fly out of the garden and searched for a place to get out. This amused Abu Talha and his eyes followed the bird for a second. Then he turned back to his prayer but he forgot how many cycles he had prayed. Thinking that this bird became a cause of distraction and ruined his state of reverence he then went to the Prophet and told him what happened:

“O Messenger of Allah! I give this bird of mine in charity. You may use it as you wish and give it to whomever you wish” (Muwatta, Salat, 69)

***

How exquisite is the following event which shows the deep reverence of the Companions during prayer.

“One time when the Prophet was returning to Madina after an expedition he stopped along the way. He turned to his Companions and asked:

“Who will keep watch tonight?”

Ammar bin Yasir  from the Emmigrants and Abbad bin Bishr  from the Helpers immediately responded:

“We will o Messenger of Allah”

Abbad  then asked Ammar :

“Which part of the night would you like to keep watch over; the beginning or the end?” Ammar  replied:

“I would like to keep watch at the end” and then went to sleep on his side. Abbad then began to perform the prayer. At that point a polytheist appeared. When he saw a dark figure standing he realised it must be a guard and he aimed an arrow at him. The arrow hit Abbad. Abbad removed the arrow and continued to pray. The man aimed again a second and third time and hit him each time. Each time Abbad would stand upright, take out the arrow and continue to pray. Then he bowed down and went into prostration. After he ended his prayer he woke up his friends and said:

“Wake up. I have been wounded”

Ammar immediately sprung up. When the polytheist saw them he realised that he had been seen and escaped. When Ammar saw Abbad bleeding profusely he said:

“Glory be to Allah! Why did not you wake me up when the first arrow was thrown?”

Abbad gave the following awesome reply which showed his passion and enthusiasm for the prayer and the deep reverence of his worship:

“I was reading a chapter from the Qur’an. I did not want to end my prayer without finishing it. But when the arrows kept coming without a break I stopped reading and bowed down. I swear to Allah if I hadn’t been afraid of losing my position of commander appointed to me by the Messenger of Allah I would have rather died then have that chapter interrupted”

***

Asma , the daughter of Abu Bakr , was once asked by her grandson Abdullah:

“Grandma! What did the Companions of the Prophet used to do when they listened to the Qur’an?”

Asma  replied:

“Tears would flow from their eyes and their bodies would shudder just as mentioned in the Qur’an. (Bayhaki, ShuAbu’l Iman, II, 365).

Almighty Allah describes his servants who read the Qur’an with deep reverence as follows:

“When it (the Qur’an) is recited to them, … weeping, they fall to the ground in prostration, and it increases them in humility”. (Isra, 17:109)

“The skins of those who fear their Lord tremble at it (the Qur’an) and then their skins and hearts yield softly to the remembrance of Allah”(Az Zumar, 3:23)

***

One time during a battle an arrow lodged itself into the foot of Ali . They couldn’t take it out due to the pain. Ali said to them:

“Let me perform the prayer, then you can take it out”

They did as he said. They were then able to remove it easily without any difficulty. When Ali, who felt no pain whatsoever, ended his prayer he asked them:

“What did you do?”

They replied:

“We took the arrow out”

***

Veysel Karani was once asked by his mother:

“My son. How are you able to worship for an entire night until morning? How do you bear it?”

That great friend of Allah responded:

“O my beautiful mother! I perform my worship with great care and precision. With deep reverence my heart expands to such a degree that just as I do not realise what it is to feel fatigue, I feel cut off from the world and all manner of feelings related to my body. And then before I know it, it is morning…”

“What is this state of khushu Uways?”

Khushu is when your body is unaware of even a spear piercing it”.

***

According to a narration whenever Zayn al Abideen rose to take his ablution his face would turn pale and whenever he began to pray his legs would shake. When he was asked the reason he said:

“Are you not aware of Whose presence I am entering? (Abu Nuaym, Hilya, III, 133).

One time when he was praying his house caught fire. However he remained unaware of this. When he finished his prayer and was told of the situation they asked him:

“What was it that made you fail to notice that your house was on fire?”.

Zayn al Abideen replied:

“The fire that awaits mankind in the hereafter made me forget the fire of this world”.

***

The prayer of Muslim bin Yesar was of a similar nature. One time he was praying in a mosque in Basra. Suddenly the mosque came falling down. However Muslim bin Yesar remained unaware of this event and continued his prayer. When he finished they asked him:

“The mosque came crashing down yet you did not move an inch. What is this state?”

Muslim bin Yesar asked in surprise:

“Did the mosque really come tumbling down?” as further proof that he truly did not feel any of it during his prayer.

***

A friend of Allah narrates:

“I was once praying the afternoon prayer behind Zunnun-i Misri. When that blessed Saint  said “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), the word “Allah” had such a great impact on him that it was as if there was no life left in his body. He froze and stood there just like that. When he said the word “Akbar” my heart crumbled to pieces from the majesty of the word.

***

Whenever Amir bin Abdullah stood to pray he would disconnect from the (outside) world completely and nothing that was other than Allah could damage his state of pious reverence.

“I would prefer spears to pierce my body rather than be aware of other people’s speech and actions during my prayer” he used to say.

***

Bahauddin Nakshiband (q.s) was once asked:

“How can a slave gain pious reverence during the prayer?” He answered:

“There are four conditions:

His provision must be lawful

He must distance himself from heedlessness while performing the ablution

He must realise his presence (before Allah) with the first takbir.

He must never forget Allah outside of prayer. That is, his state of presence, tranquillity and abstaining from sin must continue after his prayer has ended”

***

In short, khushu is to carry out Allah’s commands with ardour and to meticulously refrain from what He has forbidden. Khushu (pious reverence), taqwa (God-consciousness), ikhlas (sincerity), and ihsan (beneficence) are similar in their states and meanings. The source of all of these is love for Allah. Love of Allah is an indicator of the state of the heart of the believer. This spiritual state manifests itself as worship that is carried out with pious reverence and perfection of one’s actions.

Pious reverence must fill our hearts at every instant of our lives and while we are carrying out all forms of worship, in particular the prayer. And it should be reflected to those around us from our limbs as a state of peace and tranquillity.

[1].     Tashahhud is the part of the ritual prayer when the believer sits and recites the tashahhud prayer (translator’s note).