Friday, August 26, 2011

Behind the Prayer

In the ritual prayer itself the spiritual and intellectual element is represented by the recitation from the Quran and the emotional element by the feeling of fear and of hope which he is commanded to call upon God, but what might be called the existential element is acted out in physical movements which utilize the body as vehicle for spirit. In the first part of each unit of prayer the worshipper stands upright while he recites certain passages from the Quran, and this uprightness, this verticality, is an image of the "straight" (or "vertical") path upon which he asks God to lead him. The body has itself become a symbol of the ray which connects heaven and earth, the divine and the human.

But the Muslim prays not only on his own behalf and on behalf of his fellow men and women but also in the name of creation as a whole; this is an aspect of his function as the "vicegerent of God on earth". The standing is followed by a bowing in which the worshipper is instructed to keep the upper part of his body, from head to hips, parallel with the ground, and it is sometimes said that all the creatures which move upon four legs, their bodies horizontal, are represented by this posture. This bowing is followed by the prostration in which the worshipper places his forehead on the ground, his body folded up as though in the fetal position, and although this is primarily an acknowledgement of the power and glory of the Transcendent it is also, according to certain sages, a representation of the inanimate realm, the mineral order in particular. While bowing he had glorified God as the infinite, the all-embracing on the horizontal level. Now in the prostration he is, as it were, reduced to the dimensions of his own innermost "nucleus". In this way the worshipper's physical body has acted out the variety of relationship between Creator and creation.

- Gai Eaton, "Perfecting the Mirror", Parabola, 10:3 (August, 1985), pp. 47-48.

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