Book Review: Prayers of Occasions

Title: Prayers of Occasions – A Handbook of Muslim Salah
Compiled & Translated by: Shaykh Talal al-Azem
Foreword by: Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller
Publisher: Oxford Traditional Knowledge Foundation (2010)

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller is a Shaykh of the Shadhili Tariqah and is based in Amman, Jordan. He a scholar of the Shafi school and has written many books, including Reliance of the Traveller and Sea Without Shore. He is a guide to spiritual seekers around the world. He continues to guide hearts and souls to Allah thorough regular annual gatherings, Suhbas, in various countries. More information about Shaykh Nuh Keller can be found at this website: http://untotheone.com/

Shaykh Talal al-Azem was born and raised in the United States and studied History and Near Eastern studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He studied the sacred sciences in Damascus from 1997 to 2006. Since then, he has continued his academic studies at the University of Oxford.

Shaykh Talal writes in the preface:

Prayers of Occasions is a handbook of Muslim ritual prayers (salah). The purpose of these prayers is the sanctification of daily life – the perception of the Divine in all that we experience, and in all that we do.

The scope of the books has been limited, as the title indicates, to prayers of occasions – events at particular moments which engender a turning to the Divine for clarity, remembrance, and aid. As such, the set regular daily prayers (rawatib) have not been included.

Shaykh Nuh writes in the foreword:

Whoever takes these occasions to turn to the Divine finds unlooked-for help, the path opening before him from one success to another. For the prayer (salah) is an intimate connection (silah) between creature and Creator, to manifest His favor, lift man to a higher plane, and remind him of his destiny. Greatest of all are the prescribed prayers, then the sunnas associated with them, then the voluntary prayers to be performed regularly, including those in the present volume, which bring a special closeness to Allah.

The secret of the Sacred Knowledge in this manual lies in gaining it, perfecting it, making it one’s inevitable practice, and continuing upon it with as much strength as one has in one’s body for as long as one is alive. People who acquire knowledge in this way find their prayer spends upon their purity of heart, graciousness of character, triumph in life and love of Allah. Whomever Allah gives success in this has attained tremendous good in this world and the next.

The book contains details and elaborations on the voluntary prayers that are demonstrated in the Prophetic example that are related to various times of the day, year, event or need. For example, the prayers of the day are Salat al-Duha (The Mid-morning Prayer), Salat al-Awwabin (The Prayer of the Oft-repenting), and Salat al-Layl (The Night Prayer) and Tahajjud prayer. Prayers of events includes prayers during a solar eclipse and the prayer for rain. Prayers for divine aid include Salat al-Istikarah (The Prayer of Guidance) and the Salat al-Hajjah (The Prayer of Need). There are also details of the prayer after ablutions, the greeting of the mosque and the prayer before travelling. These are merely a few of the examples of the prayers in the book.

Each prayer includes details such as its virtue, the Prophetic hadith which establishes its practice and the method of offering the prayer, such as the number of units and any additional supplications. Prayers that are not well-known are also discussed, such as Salat Birr al-Walidayn (The Prayer of Filial Piety), A Prayer to Stave off Hypocrisy, The Prayer for Strengthening the Memory as well as the procedure for Salat at-Tasbeeh.

For the purposes of providing the potential reader with a taste of the book, the following is the entire excerpt for The Mid-Morning Prayer (al-Duha):

The Mid-morning Prayer (al-Duha) is a recommended (mandub) prayer, according to the dominant position in the Hanafi Madhab.

[Minimally two rak’ahs] this prayer is optimally performed as four rak’ahs or more. It is offered during the midmorning, beginning when the sun has risen off the horizon and into the sky, and ending immediately before the sun peaks, [the most preferable time being once a quarter of the day has passed].

One may perform…upto twelve rak’ahs for the midmorning prayer. This based on al-Tabrani’s narration, in his al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, on the authority of Abu al-Darda, who said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Whoever prayers two rak’ahs will not be written amongst the heedless; whoever prays four will be written amongst those in perpetual worship (al-abidin); whoever prays six will be sufficed that day; who ever prays eight, Allah will register him amongst those standing perpetually in prayer (al-qanitin); and whoever prayers twelve rak’ahs, for him shall Allah build a home in Paradise.”

The offering of four or more rak’ahs is also encouraged by the tradition related by A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), who said, ‘The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to perform four rak’ahs for the midmorning prayer, and used to supplement them with as many additional rak’ahs as Allah willed’ (as narrated by Muslim and Imam Ahmad).

The last prayer mentioned in the book is quite fascinating, it is the Prayer to Stave off Hypocrisy:

One means of staving off hypocrisy is to offer two-rak’ah prayer in complete secrecy.

For one who strives towards Allah, one must maximize their energies, abilities, and time towards reaching the goal of attaining His nearness. These are the voluntary prayers the our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) performed regularly, and some such as Salat al-Layl (Night) and Tahajjud prayer, he was commanded to perform them by Allah in the Qur’an. Those blessed souls who taste the sweetness of prayer in their obligatory prayers and the prayers of emphasized prophetic practice yearn to return once again to the place of prayer and to remain, peacefully in divine communion, as long as and as often as possible. One who practices these prayers will realize they will fill up the day, and one finds themsleves constantly turning back to Allah at every juncture, and bringing themselves close to enacting the verse 51:56 – And I have not created the jinn and humankind except to worship Me.

May Allah increase the rank of all those who assisted in publishing this book. It is a valuable work for every Muslim to have for quick reference and inspires lofty aspirations for all those seeking to maximize their potential in the next abode. May Allah makes one of those who are always in worship and make us those who constantly taste the sweetness of faith and prayer. Ameen.

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