Prayer consists of physical and spiritual aspects. Like the physical aspect, the spiritual aspect is also characterized by a series of conditions and disciplines.
Therefore, in the same way certain conditions define the proper physical aspect of prayer (such as purity of one’s clothes, facing qiblah, and being in a state of wudu); there are spiritual conditions (such as maintaining awareness towards Allah, consistency in prayers, and humility) which should be observed in order for a person’s prayers to be accepted.
Keeping this in mind, a person should ascertain which spiritual discipline they lack which results in their absence of spiritual presence in prayer. By observing those conditions, whatever they may be, a person will attain the necessary vivacity and presence of the heart in their prayers.
Amongst the different forms of worship, prayer has been given the highest status as the most significant of them all. In narrations, it has been depicted as ‘mi’raj al-mumin’ (the ascension of a believer) and ‘the pillar of faith’, which highlight the importance of this divine obligation towards one’s Lord.
Like any phenomenon, certain elements contribute to bringing about an occurrence, while others hinder or eliminate its development, thus their non-existence is necessary if the phenomenon is to take place. The same logical reasoning applies to prayer and worship. By observing the necessary conditions of prayer, as well as its external and internal disciplines, and eliminating all obstacles that stand in the way, true worship in the form of prayer can be achieved.
There are many topics which could be discussed in regards to the spiritual disciplines of prayer. We will briefly mention some of those here:
1. Attention and awareness towards Allah the Almighty and understanding the reasoning behind worship:
Meaning, a person who wishes to stand before God in prayer should have a proper outlook towards his Lord and understand whom he is facing. Allah, the Almighty, is the possessor of all perfections and can be defined as perfection itself. One of such flawless attributes possessed by Him is His divine wisdom, through which no action is performed in vain or without reason. In other words, every action carried out by Allah is with purpose and reason. Through His divine wisdom, Allah has created this world and placed mankind, His best of creations, upon it. The purpose behind man’s creation is for him to reach perfection and spiritual completion. This aim cannot be reached nor this perfection achieved by any other means besides the right path (Siratul Mustaqim) which Allah Himself has placed before man. This path is the path of servitude and submission to God. Allah says in the Holy Quran: “وَ أَنِ اعْبُدُونی هذا صِراطٌ مُسْتَقیم”, meaning, “Worship me. That is a straight path.” Meaning, one should obey the instructions and laws which have been divinely instated by Him – amongst which the most important and highest of them comes in the form of worship.
A person who does not understand the philosophy and rationale behind worship will fail to reap any benefits from it. In order to acquire this understanding, one must asses worship through the lens of religion and faith.
2. Abstaining from that which is counterproductive and harmful to worship:
The effect of one’s religious practice is completely reliant on that individual’s previous development, as well as their dedication and sincerity. As a result, the effects of worship greatly vary from one person to another.
It is very important to abstain from that which opposes worship and neutralizes its effects. For example, let’s say there are two ill patients who follow a regimen prescribed by their doctor. Both of them are administered the same medication, however, one of the patients is cautious of abstaining from that which is unhealthy and harmful, while the other fails to observe such precaution. Naturally, the regimen and medication provided to the careless patient will prove to be either ineffective, or at the very least, less effective than ideal. If a person hopes to achieve spiritual development and enliven their soul, care should be taken to first abstain from harmful practices, namely, sins. It has been narrated that one should avoid sins and transgression to the highest extent possible, because it is those sins which penetrate a person’s heart and render their worship futile. “اذا اذنب الرجل دخل فی قلبه نقطة سوداء.”
Imam Sadiq (as) states: “کان أبی (ع) یقول: ما من شیء أفسد للقلب من خطیئة، إنّ القلب لیواقع الخطیئة فما تزال به حتّى تغلب علیه فیصیّر أعلاه أسفله.” My father [Imam Baqir] stated: nothing is more harmful to the heart than sin, which penetrates the heart and grapples with it; finally sins dominate the heart and leave it ravaged.
Meaning, a person’s heart is initially pure and aware of God, however, it is prone to being dominated and laid to waste by sins, which leave the heart plagued and wicked.
Imam Sadiq (as) states: “إنّ الرّجل یذنب الذّنب فیحرم صلوة اللّیل و إنّ العمل السّیّئ أسرع فی صاحبه من السّکّین فی اللّحم.”
It is sins that hold a person back from partaking in worship and night prayers, preventing one from communing with God and the joy that accompanies it, for the effects of sins are quicker than that of a keen blade.
In the book of poems of Molavi titled Masnaviye Molavi, a story is told about a sinner in the time of Shu'aib. The following is an excerpt of that story:
That person said in the time of Shu'aib,
"God has seen many faults done by me;
Yea, how many sins and faults of mine has He seen,
Nevertheless of His mercy He punishes me not."
God Almighty spake in the ear of Shu'aib,
Addressing him with an inner voice in answer thereto,
"Why hast thou said I have sinned so much,
And God of His mercy has not punished my sins?"
Thou sayest the very reverse of the truth, O fool!
Wandering from the way and lost in the desert!
How many times do I smite thee, and thou knowest not?
Thou art bound in my chains from head to foot.
On thy heart is rust on rust collected,
So thou art blind to mysteries…
That he observes obedience and fasting and prayer,
And devotions and almsgiving, and so on,
Yet never feels the least expansion of soul.
He performs the devotions and acts enjoined by law,
Yet derives not an atom of relish from them.
Outward devotion is sweet to him, spirit is not sweet,
Nuts in plenty, but no kernel in any of them.
Relish is needed for devotions to bear fruit,
Kernels are needed that seeds may yield trees.
How can seeds without kernels become trees?
When Shuaib spoke these words words to him,
He became absorbed in thought, stuck like a donkey in mud.”
3. Striving to rectify and refine the soul:
By rectifying and refining the soul and one’s innate desires, a person desires to tear away the curtains which enshroud a person’s fitrah; for it this barrier which prevents a person from seeking nearness to Allah. This unfortunate state comes as a result of excessive sin, ignorance, and preoccupying with the material and temporal joys of this world. As a result, a person loses sight of Allah, forgetting Him, His Day of Judgment, and the higher realms of existence which He has ordained (for his devoted servants). All of the matters and rulings which have been presented in the sharia of Islam, have been designed with one goal in mind: to lessen or altogether eliminate the elements which restrict a fitrah that has been buried by countless acts of sin and ignorance. In the words of the Holy Quran: “قد افلح من زکیها و قد خاب من دساها”; “He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed be at loss who corrupts it.”
4. Performing good deeds:
Man’s soul is the essence of his existence, meaning all components of the body and its actions are performed at the soul’s discretion and command. It is the soul in which elements of both spirituality and malignance reside, and it is the actions of that individual which give rise to such states.
The effects of good deeds, as well as vile ones, and their effects on the soul are self-evident. One of many good deeds which one can engage in is worship. Meaning, if a person possess a certain level of spirituality, they can supplement their spiritual state by doing such deeds as performing night prayers (salatul-layl), helping others with the problems and difficulties, and so on. Such actions will bring about higher levels of spirituality, which in turn will render the soul stronger and more capable of seeking nearness to Allah. Ultimately, it is this heightened state of spirituality which gives a person the vivacity to actively engage in worship such as prayer. However, it should be noted that persistence in carrying out acts of a vile nature (such as sins) will yield opposite results. As the Holy Quran states: “قل کل یعمل علی شاکلته”; “Say: ‘Everyone acts according to his character…”
5. Friendship with Allah, The Almighty:
It is a person’s mistakes and sins that incline one towards excessive indulgence in material and worldly gains. “حب الدنیا رأس کل خطیئة”; “Love of this world is the root of all vice.” Therefore, if a person wishes to purify their heart of all sins, one must first find and attempt to lessen or eliminate the root of those worldly desires which lead a person toward sinning. If a person is successful in this ambition, meaning, if a person rids their heart of their inclination and desire towards the material world, they can effectively replace the love of this world which they previously felt with love for Allah and his devoted servants.
If we wish to increase our presence of heart in prayer and the vivacity we have towards it, we must first rectify our spiritual state by engaging in good deeds and cleansing our akhlaq of its impurities. Only then can a person truly enjoy standing before his Creator in worship. Spiritual ailments are like that of physical illnesses. If you provide a person who is ill with the finest of food, their illness and lack of appetite would cause them to not appreciate what has been put before them, even though proper food and nutrition is a vital factor in helping a person recover from their illness. Prayer is the food of an individual who is suffering from spiritual illness. Therefore, as we previously mentioned above, worship and spiritual wellness go hand-in-hand and one cannot be achieved without the other.
1. Aadab al-Salaat (The Etiquettes of Prayer), Imam Khomeini.
2. Rah haye Khuruj az Sefate Razileh (The Path to Eliminating Vile Characteristics), Sayyid Rahim, Tawwakul.
3. Sirr al-Salaat, Imam Khomeini.
 Usul Kafi, vol. 3, chapter: Sins, hadith 13.
 Usul Kafi, vol. 2, pg. 268, chapter: Dhunub (sins), hadith 1.
 Ibid, pg. 272, hadith 16; Jame’ul-Sa’adaat, vol. 3, pg. 48.
 Mahdavi Kani, Mohammad Reza, Noqtehaye Aghaz dar Akhlaqe Amali, pg. 116.
 Ja’fari, Mohammad Taqi, Sharhe Masnavi, vol. 5, pg. 512.