When we say salah most of us believe it begins when we stand and say “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). But it begins before that. The Prophet ﷺ said:
A person is considered in prayer as long as he is waiting for the prayer (Bukhari, Muslim).
For men, this refers to one who has prepared for and is waiting for the prayer to start in the mosque. For women who are not at the mosque, this refers to performing wudhu and dressing in the appropriate attire, if necessary, and waiting for the time for prayer to set in.
A Treasure of a Secret
An oft-neglected aspect of prayer is the athan (call to prayer). Have we ever tasted the sweetness of the athan? Whoever tasted the sweetness of the athan will increase in devotion in the prayer. One could ask what is the relation between theathan and khushoo’ (devotion)?
Satan hates the prayer. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When the athan is pronounced, Satan takes to his heels and passes wind with noise during his flight in order not to hear the athan. When the athan is completed he comes back and again takes to his heels when the `iqama is pronounced and after its completion he returns again, whispering into the heart of the person (to divert his attention from his prayer) and making him remember things which he does not recall to his mind before the prayer and that causes him to forget how much he has prayed” (Bukhari).
From the time the athan starts, Satan tries to distract you, so that you do not benefit even from the great blessings of it. So what is so special about the athan?
Athan: An Opportunity
The Prophet ﷺ said:
The mu’athin (person calling to prayer or making the athan) is forgiven for as far as his voice reaches and whoever hears him will confirm what he says. He will get a reward similar to those who pray with him (An-Nisa’i, Ahmad).
So if fifty people pray, the mu’athin gets the reward of fifty prayers. If it is 100, he gets the reward of 100 prayers. Now we ask, what does that have to do with me? I’m not a mu’athin. Yet you too can get the same reward of a mu’athin. Abdullah bin Amr (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased be with him) related that a man asked the Prophet ﷺ, “Do the mu’athinsget more virtues than us?” and the Prophet ﷺ responded:
“Say what they say and when they finish, ask and it shall be given” (narrated by Abu Dawud).
When the athan starts with “Allahu Akbar,” it is reminding you that Allah is greater than what you are doing, be it the television series you are watching, the article you are reading or the conversation you are having. And why do you rise up when you hear the athan? Because of “La ilaha ila Allah” – your belief in One God. If you find what you are doing seems to be more important, then in reality it is almost as if that is what you deem to be more important than praying to God.
There is No Power or Strength Except Through God
We know that when we hear the athan, we repeat what the mu’athin says, except for when he says “haya `ala as-salah” (make haste to the prayer) and “haya `ala al-falah” (make haste to true success). Here we say, “la hawla wala quwatta ila billah” (there is no power or strength except through God).
Why do we say that? Because we know that we will not be able to have true devotion, nor perform the prayer perfectly, except with the help of Allah.
Remember that the athan is a calling; it is a most beautiful calling because it alerts you to meeting your most Beloved. When we are about to meet someone we love, the feelings of excitement and longing come before the meeting. They begin when someone tells us, “They begin when that special someone tells us “I’ll meet you in ten minutes” or “I’ll see you in a few.” This implies that the person that is telling you that he or she will meet you is a special someone, which brings upon feelings of happiness.
Aisha (ra) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Whoever loves to meet Allah, Allah loves to meet him” (Bukhari).
The athan is telling you that now is the time to meet Allah. So those who truly love Allah, will jump at the chance to meet Him, and not wait until the time for that prayer is almost over. Look at Musa (`alayhi assalam – may Allah be pleased him):
“[Allah] said, “And what made you hasten from your people, O Moses?” He said, “They are close upon my tracks, and I hastened to You, my Lord, that You be pleased.” (Qur’an, 20:83-84).
Look at how Musa (as) said he rushed to Allah – that is the action of one who truly loves and has awe.
Enjoy the athan, and you will, insha’Allah, enjoy the prayer. We ask Allah to help us perfect our prayers.