Imagine you were a criminal, and for the many crimes you committed, a great king told you he would imprison you for 50 years. And he told you that after those 50 years, he would ask you one question; if you answer correctly, you would be set free. If not, the punishment would be the death penalty. When you are put in jail, what would you be thinking about for those 50 years? Would you be thinking of anything other than what the question could be?
And now imagine further, that there had been someone else imprisoned with you who said, “I know exactly what the king will ask.” How would you feel? You would beg him for it. And once you know, you would sit and prepare for the answer as best as you possibly can.
In reality, we are all that imprisoned person. On the Day of Judgment, there is one question that will be asked of us, and if we answer correctly, insha’Allah (God willing) all will be well. And if not, the consequences are dire. And this article contains that question that we are all dying to know. It isn’t from me, but from the beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:
.أول ما يحاسب به العبد يوم القيامة هي الصلاة. فإن صلحت، صلح سائر عمله. وإن فسدت، فسد سائر عمله
The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad (narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, Bayhaqi, Nisa’i).
We can be in one of five categories of people who face this question. Who would we like to be?
Praying in the mosque and khushoo’
The first category is the man who prays in the mosque with khushoo’ (devotion), or the woman who prays as soon as the call to prayer ends, also with khushoo’. This is the highest level and if you are already here, then try to stay firm. Allah says:
“And those who [carefully] maintain their prayer: They will be in gardens, honored” (Qur’an, 70:34-35).
Allah also says about those with khushoo’:
“Those are the inheritors who will inherit al-Firdaus. They will abide therein eternally” (Qur’an, 23:10-11).
Firdaws is the highest level of paradise.
Praying in the mosque minus khushoo’
These people receive the reward of praying in the mosque. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“Offering the prayer in congregation carries 27 times greater reward than offering it alone individually” (Sahih, agreed on).
However, lacking khushoo’ is not a minor issue. Umar (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him) once stood on the pulpit in the mosque and said:
“A person may grow old in Islam but Allah has not rewarded him for one prayer”
He was asked, “And how could that be?”
Umar (ra) responded, “Because he or she lacked khushoo’.”
Look at this example of one who prayed with full devotion. Al-Qasim bin Muhammad (ra) visited Aisha (ra) one morning. He saw her praying and reading the ayah (verse):
“So Allah conferred favor upon us and protected us from the punishment of the Scorching Fire” (Qur’an, 52:27)
When she read this ayah, she would weep, and then repeat the verse. She did this so many times that Al-Qasim (ra) got bored and went to the market to get something that he needed. When he returned, he saw her standing in the same place, still reading that same verse and weeping.
Muslim bin Yasar is another example of someone who was rarely distracted in his prayers. One day, a part of the mosque had collapsed, and everyone rushed to it in a frenzy, because they knew he was there. They found him standing in the same place, not distracted in the least.
Praying at home
What is the difference between praying at home and praying in the mosque? First, we need to know the virtue of praying in the mosque. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“When the imam says ‘ameen‘ [in the prayer], you should say ‘ameen.‘ If this corresponds to when the angels say it, that person will have all of his previous sins forgiven” (Bukhari).
Sa’eed Al-Musayib said: “In 40 years, the mu’athin did not make the call to prayer except I was in the mosque.”
Here, one can see the great dedication. Ubaydallah bin Umar Al-Qawariri said:
“I would never miss the ‘Isha prayer in the mosque. One day, a guest came to visit me, so I spent time with him until I realized that I had missed the ‘Isha prayer in the mosque. So I wandered in the streets of Basra searching for a mosque that had not prayed yet, but I found that everyone had prayed. I returned home, thinking of the Prophet’s ﷺ saying that the prayer in congregation supersedes an individual prayer by 27 degrees. So I prayed at home 27 times. That night I had a dream that I was on a horse, racing with a group of people, but I could not keep up with them. One of them said to me, ‘You will never beat us.’ When I asked why, he said “Because we prayed together, and you did not.’ And I woke up in sadness.”
Those who pray outside the prescribed times
If we knew we had a flight to catch at 4pm, would we arrive at 5pm? No, because too much is at stake – we paid for the ticket, people are expecting us or we need a holiday. Yet the prayer is even more important, so how can we miss fajr (dawn prayer) and pray it at 10am? Or pray dhuhr (noon prayer) and `asr (afternoon prayer) together? Or wait until the call to ‘isha(night prayer) has sounded before praying maghrib (sunset prayer)?
“Whoever keeps on performing prayers (in its due time), it will be a light, a proof and redemption for him on the Day of Judgment. Otherwise, he will be assembled with Pharaoh, Qarun, Haman and ‘Ubai Ibn Khalaf” (narrated by Ahmad).
The one who does not pray
How long does prayer take? Five minutes? Maybe 10 minutes if you pray with khushoo’. And yet we make it as if fifty minutes in total in a day for Allah is too much. Listen to this hadith:
“The only thing between a person and disbelief is leaving the prayer” (Bukhari).
Ask yourself, which category are you in? May Allah make us of the first one.