I read your article about Sala prayer with interest. I do agree with your assertion that the form or ritual is not the essence of Sala, since Sala is expected to be observed in every situation and manner except when one is intoxicated. So, the purpose of Sala is to remember our Lord, to ask for His help and guidance, to connect with our Creator through intellectual contemplation and meditation.
However, this does not mean that it has no form. I find it difficult to believe the conspiracy theory you are suggestion. Here is one of my articles on this issue.
What is Salaat Prayer?
SALAT: With Both Mind and Body
29 May 2004
The moment I joined the forums of free-minds.org and posted the first message about the FIVE PROJECTS (not five prayers!) we were working on, my faith was questioned by several people and I was immediately challenged regarding my opinion on SALAT. On any subject I wrote, I was harassed and demanded to indulge in their favorite argument. It seems that several people were so excited from freeing their minds and their bodies from performing a ritual; they just wanted to PROHIBIT such a ritual in the name of God. According to these people, anyone disagrees with their INTERPRETATION, INFERENCES and SPECULATIONS on some Quranic verses or words, or someone prays differently, he or she must be a MUSHRIK or DISBELIEVER. According to them I should not spend much time to think and study their claims. They did not even recognize a right for me to spend time on anything else in my life. I was expected either to reject their position IMMEDIATELY or accept IMMEDIATELY. Studying their argument was either a luxury, or evasion of absolute truth! I should have had acted reflexively, with a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps like they have done it.
As a response, I told them that I was taking their position seriously, and I even acknowledged that though I have heard the argument 30 years ago when I was living in Turkey, I learned a few new good points raised in their argument, and I added that after studying their assertions, if I find their argument to be factual and coherent I would not hesitate to change my position. I never accused them of committing sin by NOT observing Salat prayers physically. I was simply following the instructions in 20:114; 17:36; 39:38.
I would like to share two incidents with you before I venture to briefly state my reasons why I disagree with their RIGID position (accusing those who observe prayers mentally and physically of being mushriks), and why I am not so far persuaded by their SOFT position (that the Salat prayers should be observed mentally).
Several years ago, when I came to the conclusion that according to the Quran the number of Salat prayers were not FIVE, but THREE, I started praying three times a day. I shared my view with the members of my small congregation, and some of them, including my wife, did not want to change their routine of praying 5 times a day. They found my argument difficult to follow, and they had some arguments supporting their position. Yet, I never questioned their faith. I knew that it was still possible that a group of people following the Quran alone could have some differences in their understanding of its verses, since their knowledge, experience, and background were not all the same. The most important thing was their intention to devote their religion to God alone. Perhaps, with more research and some friendly discussion their differences would fade out with time. I did not and do not expect that every believer in Quran Alone must understand every verse, every word and their implications the same. My wife still prays five times a day and follows the traditional numbers of units. If I listened to these people and did not mind my own business and demanded her to accept my version of understanding some verses, I would have accused her of committing SHIRK, the ultimate crime. How could a believer blame another for merely observing EXTRA prayers based on their differences in understanding of the Quran?
The second incident I want to share with you involves a spin-off group of Tucson submitters. Some submitters led by a couple of messenger claimants (Yes, after Rashad Khalifa dozens of people claimed to be messengers) came to believe that uttering Allah-u Akbar was wrong, since AKBAR was not a Quranic attribute of God. Instead, they started using Allah-ul Kabeer in their prayers. I preferred the attribute used by the Quran to the one that was not, and I started uttering Allah-ul Kabeer; but unlike them I did not have problem with someone who uttered Allah-u Akbar. Though AKBAR was not used in the Quran as an attribute for God, it shared the same root KBR with KABEER and there was no problem with its meaning. It was a beautiful attribute and all beautiful attributes, regardless of language, belonged to God. However, most of those who converted to Kabeer acted divisively and started condemning those who uttered Akbar. The other group also reacted similarly. They claimed that Kabeer was an innovation and switching from Akbar to Kabeer was a diversion from their late messenger's practice (that is Rashad Khalifa's Sunnah! Ironically, these people were the same people who rejected Hadith and Sunnah attributed to Muhammad arguing that the Quran alone must be the ONLY authority of their religion).
Turning back to present topic…. The same extremism or desire for schism is at work among some members of free-minds. A group of people come to believe and practice a particular issue differently than others; and they start turn that issue to a sales-pitch for their cult or group. They develop and sharpen their arguments and use it like a holy sword. They might have some good points, they might be even totally correct; but they start abusing their newly discovered DIFFERENCE by exaggerating the issue and by making it a categorical measure of faith. It is curious dynamic that comes into play in every new religious or political group. Desire to create a separate identity overwhelm their rational thinking and blinds them to see the common values. Soon after Jesus, Paul the Pharisee distorted many facts to divorce Jesus' message from of Moses. Soon after Jesus departure the followers "of the Pharisee son of Pharisee" started calling themselves Christians. This divisive pattern is common in almost all groups that advocate a particular religion, sect, or cult.
I would also make one point clear. Understanding and accepting differently is not the same as rejecting God's ayaats/signs in the Quran and/or in the nature. Rejecting to believe an ayat (sign) or ayaat (signs/revelations) is disbelief and considered a great sin. For instance, if 9:128-129 were verses of the Quran, rejecting them would be important. Similarly if 9:128-129 were not verses of the Quran, accepting them would be important too. (I am deliberately using the word VERSES rather than AYAAT, since the singular word Ayat is used 84 times in the Quran and in all those occurrences it is used to mean signs and miracles, and never in its singular form refers to the verses of the Quran. However, both signs/miracles and revelation is referred with the plural of the word, that is Ayaat. Knowing that the Quran challenges disbelievers to produce minimum 1 chapter similar to the Quran, and knowing that the shortest chapter has three verses, then it is appropriate to use the plural word AYAAT for at least three verses. ) Since, the Code 19 involves this issue and also is considered as one of the greatest miracles (AYAAT) and a test, the very witnessing or understanding becomes a matter of faith. (I will inshallah later post an article on this issue).
WHAT IS SALAT?
After this lengthy introduction, here are my reasons why I still continue observing the Salat prayers both mentally and bodily. I will focus on brother Layth's article titled What is Salat":
It is true that SaJDa means obedience, submission to God's law (16:49). From this verse we should not necessarily infer that everything has mind like humans. Even if we subscribe to such a fancy assumption, mental events too are physical events; they are the consequence of interaction of electrons. In fact, the prostration of all the creatures we perceive is PHISICAL. Any event that can be sensed by our five senses is a physical event. Atoms physically (chemical reactions too are physical events in this sense) surrender to God's laws when they interact with each other. When water freezes it surrenders to God's law and expands, when it is heated to a certain degree it evaporates. When Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen atoms come together in a particular order and create bases called Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine, and when these bases join each other in a particular order, pre-ordained by God, they create DNAs that produce new qualities and events, including life. Every cell and organ in our bodies submits to God's law. These are all physical demonstration of SaJDa to God. No wonder, the entire universe is stated to have submitted to God (3:83; 13:15). Interestingly, in these two verses the same idea is depicted yet in 3:83 the verb aSLaMa (submitted) is used while in 13:15 the verb yaSJuDu (prostrating) is used. This is a strong evidence that botq verbs belong to the same semantic field. As we know submission to God is not just a mental activity but a physical action, such as working hard, delivering God's message, feeding the poor, etc.
On verse 41:37 Layth makes the following inference: "We are commanded not to prostrate before sun and moon, which means DO NOT GET ON THE GROUND AND BOW BEFORE PHYSICAL CREATIONS thinking you are worshiping The God. The God uses Sun and Moon as examples to represent all day and night."
This is not only a far-fetched speculation; it is also based on misunderstanding of the Arabic suffix Li. The verse does not say "BEFORE sun and moon," but "FOR/TO sun and moon." In connection to Layth's argument, the difference is huge. Furthermore, to describe time the Quran frequently uses day and night, not sun and moon. The verse does not prohibit physical prostration for God, but physical and mental prostration to others than God.
3. I agree with Layth that the word SaJDa in some verses means ONLY mental (in quantum, electronic or neural level) prostration while in other verses it means ONLY bodily (atomic and molecular level) prostration. (I do not deliberately use the word PHYSICAL since both mental and bodily events are physical). I agree with Layth in his excellent observation on 27:20-24 and deduce that the prostration in question must be physical. I also agree with Layth that 77:48 most likely refers to mental prostration.
4. As for verse 22:18, it describes both mental and bodily submission to God. After quoting this verse Layth asks a rhetorical question, "Has anyone ever seen any of these creations bow and prostrate on the ground (animals excluded)?" He claims that since all things in heavens and earth do not prostrate to God by casting themselves facedown on the ground in humility, then we should not prostrate that way either. But, this conclusion is based on a false assumption that ALL creatures prostrate the same way. Every creature in heavens and earth glorifies God (24:41; 57:1; 59:1,24; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1). But we do not understand their glorification (17:44). We are also instructed to glorify our Lord day and night, not like birds or planets, but like humans, in our language (3:41; 5:98; 7:206; 19:11; 20:130; 32:15; 40:55; 50:39-40; 52:48-49; 56:74,96; 69:52; 76:26; 87:1; 110:3).
Hence: "Do you not see that everything in heavens and earth glorify God, including the birds in columns. Each knows his/her/its prayer (Salat) and glorification. God is fully aware of everything you do." (24:41).
The following verse is also important: "Are they seeking other than God's religion, when everything has submitted (aSLaMa) to Him in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him they will be returned?" (3:83). Now Layth should ask similar question about how to be a muslim as he asked about how to perform prostration: "Has anyone ever seen any of these creations give charity or deliver God's message or study the Quran?" So, according to Layth, muslims also should not give charity, should not deliver the message, should not study the Quran, and should not use computers?!!
After quoting verse 2:62 Layth adds: "No, not all of the mentioned people bow and prostrate on the ground. Will they be punished? No, it is the people who do not SUBMIT to The God and FOLLOW HIS COMMANDS that will deserve His punishment." Again, Layth reaching conclusions hastily. The groups mentioned in the verse (believers, Jews, Nazarenes, and those from other religions) attain salvation as long as they believe in God, do righteous work and believe in hereafter. Perhaps not all these groups bow and prostrate, and perhaps not all these groups believe and follow the Quran, either. First, we should remember that God hold responsible depending on their circumstances. As those who witnessed Moses' miracles will be hold responsible for their reaction to them, similarly those who are instructed to bow and prostrate will be held responsible for their reaction. Each nation received a messenger and each received their instruction (10:47; 22:34; 40:28).
Referring to verse 18:50, Layth concludes: "There is no need to get on the ground to worship your Lord because He has not commanded us to do this. He wants us to Bow and Prostrate our WILLS to that of HIS WILL." This is a reasonable conclusion. However, knowing that the word prostration was also used to mean humbly getting on the ground, we cannot equate the prostration in this verse to all others. The verse refers to an event took place before the creation of life on earth. Besides, the instruction is to Satan, a creature made of energy not matter like us. The nature of prostration asked from Satan or angels might be little different than the one asked from us. Or, more accurately, the form, way or style of our prostration might not necessarily be expected to be the same with angels.
Layth makes an interesting point: "Most times it is preceded by the word "Khar'a" (fall down), which adds to "prostration" to let us know that it is indeed physical prostration. If "prostration" was automatically understood as physical, there would be no need to add "Khar'a" along with it." He later quotes verse 12:100 which describes how Joseph's vision/dream was fulfilled. That verse uses the words "fall" and "prostrate" together. But, Layth forgets that in the beginning of the chapter, Joseph's vision that describes the very event described in 12:100 uses ONLY one word: SaJeDeen, which means "they were prostrating."
Furthermore, David who was observing Salat prayer is described by the Quran as: "… He then implored his Lord for forgiveness, bowed down (KhaRra RuKka'An), and repented." (38:24). David's repentance is clearly described as bowing down, BOTH MENTAL AND BODILY.
I do not know Layth, but some of his friends are not only reaching the wrong conclusion about the nature of Salat prayer, they further arrogate themselves by insulting, harassing and condemning those believers who observe Salat prayer BOTH MENTALLY and BODILY.
I hope that Layth will carefully re-visit this issue and reform his position. I would like to remind him and others who are trying hard to eliminate the formal component of Salaat prayer the following verse:
"… When the revelations of the Gracious are recited to them, they fall prostrate (KhaRRu SuJjaDan), weeping." (19:58)