So. The devils are chained and we’re reaching out to others when we have doubts and making dua for guidance. What’s the next trap to watch out for?
1430 years ago, the people in Mecca and Madinah had the Prophet, peace be upon him, around to teach them their religion and give them an excellent example in their daily affairs. For a hundred years or so after his death, there were the Sahabi—people who saw the Prophet and believed in him when the died—and they travelled some and taught the people. By then, the Islamic Caliphate had spread quite a bit, and the children of the Sahabi and their children travelled around, farther and farther, and spread the religion (eventually) all over the world.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, was taught how to pray by Gabriel, and then taught the people, and the people taught the people and the people taught the people and…
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, by the will of Allah alone, not much. There are a few different schools of shariah that the people derived from the teachings of the four great imams. Don’t be afraid of ‘shariah:’ it refers to the complete code of living and social organization and worship that Muslims try to adhere to, from how to pray and fast, to how to bathe and have marital relations, to how to conduct business dealings and how to run states. There’s one shariah, sent down by Allah and practiced to perfection by the Prophet, peace be upon him. The different schools arose because different people with different understandings and experiences went to different places. And therefore, those different schools, while all adhering to the shariah as best they can, have very slight differences in most of the practical aspects of worship and especially in social and business arrangements.
The four basic (there are more) schools of Sunni Islam all agree on the basic form of prayer, for example, and the number of rakat (units) in each of the Fard (obligatory) prayers. They differ in the number of sunnah (optional, but encouraged) prayers, and some other things, but they’re substantially the same, as far as my limited understanding goes, and the various adherents of the various schools today don’t seem to have much quarrel with one another. And if you ask their scholars, most will say it’s all worship, and Allah alone knows.
People who are blessed to be born Muslim learn how to pray from their parents, and, depending on where they were born, they probably more or less follow one or another of the schools by default. These days, many aspects of the schools of thought have become parts of the culture in Muslim countries, and some parts of the culture have come into their practice of the religion.
Those of us who were blessed to be guided to this beautiful religion have to be careful to learn the religion itself first, and take up only those parts of the Pakistani or Malay or Egyptian or whatever culture that suit us: we already have a culture, and as long as our cultural practices don’t conflict with the shariah, we should probably keep doing them so that not to offend or drive off our family members and coworkers.
I learned to pray from a website with step by step pictures that I can no longer find. I got it mostly right—it’s fairly easy—but a few things were a bit off, and Alhamdulillah, after paying attention to the things others did during prayer, and after a few in-person descriptions (most recently, in Imam Nick Pelletier’s ‘After Shahada Project’ class at the Islamic Center of Irving), inshAllah I have it pretty close, and I keep trying to get better. Either way, there are loads of resources to help a person learn to pray, and InshaAllah the minor differences between, say Maliki hand position vs. Hanafi hand position are largely down to whichever makes sense to you, from among the various opinions (and it’s maybe best to pick one school of thought and stick with it for most things).
In the Shariah, again depending on your school of thought, there is a fairly clear schedule of optional, recommended, and required prayers, at fairly set times of the day. There are times, during which you’re not supposed to pray. And there is a set form and series of motions in the prayer. It’s all pretty clear. And if I want to do something extra to show my devotion to Allah, there’s a sort of progression to the prayers (get the required ones down, add the recommended ones, sprinkle in some voluntary ones, introduce the night prayer, etc. etc.), and then there’s a whole set of duas and dhikr to recite before, during, and after pretty much every activity. And then there’s fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th of every (Islamic) month. And on and on.
The problem comes in when the satans creep in and start suggesting that we do something extra. And once we’ve settled on being believers, once we’re clear of doubt, the next place the devils try to get us is Innovation, or changing things in our worship.
As Allah says in the Quran (Surah Al Ma’idah, 3)
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا
This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.
Since that’s the case, we really have no need to add anything extra.
And here, for me, is where the accursed devils cause me some issues from time to time. After 1400+ years, I can’t be entirely sure of anything some random brother at the masjid tells me. InshaAllah they have the best intentions, but unless they tell me (and it’s maybe 50/50 whether they have a source or not), I trust, and verify.
Alhamdulillah, Allah azza wa jall ensured that the hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet) were preserved, and I’m blessed to live in an area where I can approach knowledgable people and ask. And then there’s the Internet, and between all of those, it’s usually trivial to find an answer. And as long as you stick to a moderate path and try your best to balance fear of Allah with hope for His mercy, and as long as you pray, fast, and try not to be a jerk, InshaAllah, Allah will accept your deeds.
So if you get an idea that, say, you want to pray a couple of extra Rakat after the Fajr prayer, well, don’t. But if you sit after the prayer and make dua and dhikr until the sun rises, then go ahead and pray as much as you like!
And if you get the idea to sing songs of worship to God, well don’t. But feel free to recite the Quran as melodiously and beautifully as you’re able.
And if you get the idea to dance about in worship of God, well, don’t. But you can get a jazzercise type thing going, for sure, and you can dance about for exercise, to take better care of the body Allah gifted you with: He made these bodies for us, and we should give thanks for them and take care of them, and Allah knows best.
And if you get any ideas for any new and or different things you might do to worship Allah, it’s a good idea to check with someone knowledgable about the arts of worship, to see if maybe there’s already something like that on the books, and if not, to make sure it doesn’t conflict with anything. Some extra devotional acts are probably fine: I pick up garbage on the way to prayer, to beautify the path to the Allah’s house, for example.
May Allah guide us to remember Him, and give thanks to Him, and worship Him in the best possible manner, Ameen.