The Debt of Prayer and Husn al Khitām:
When I was a young girl, the day before a road trip was always ‘library day’. It was the day we gathered all the library books in the house and returned them to the library. As an adult, and as a Muslim, every trip I take (and there have been many over the last 27 years) includes a day or two of ‘returns.’ Pyrex dishes returned to owners, books and movies returned to owners, and all bills paid. I do this because taking any trip makes me think of endings. I do not want to die away from my beloved Syria, but if I do, at least I do not want to die with debt.
Our debt to Allah (swt) is defined by missing obligations. Some people owe zakāh that they have not paid, others owe fasting days that have not been made up, and still others owe a hajj; but the primary debt carried by Muslims is the debt of missed prayers.
It was in this month of Rajab, the 11th year after revelation, that the Prophet (s) was brought up to heaven, to the utmost boundary, to receive the gift of prayer. When the prayer, or salāh, was first assigned to us we were asked to pray fifty times per day. Upon the Prophet’s (s) descent he passed by Musa (a), who, having struggled with his people, advised the Prophet (s) to return to Allah (swt) and ask Him to reduce the number. He did, and it became 40. The cycle was repeated until five daily prayers were incumbent upon us. Musa u still implored Muhammad (s) to return and ask for a decrease in our obligation; but Prophet Muhammad (s) refused. He could not face his Lord again asking for another reduction in prayers. So it is that our five times a day of prayer equals fifty prayers.
The prayer is considered one of the great gifts of this trip. It is the glory of the Muslims that we pray five times a day. We stand, we recite, we glorify, we praise, we plead, we bow, we prostrate. It is a beautiful prayer.
It is a prayer that we must do. If missed; it is not ‘no big deal,’ but rather a debt that must be repaid.
If we hope to die in peace and joy, we must pay back our debt to Allah (swt). We must do it meticulously. If you missed five years of prayers, then you must make up 5 years of prayer (you can subtract one week a month for ‘non-praying’ days). Just like a bank records deposits, you must record each prayer until you reach your goal.
There are three ways that people might miss a prayer.
1.If you are a convert that means that the time spent before you became a Muslim you did not pray. These missed prayers do not count against you and are not a debt weighing you down. They do not have to be made up (happy dance for all converts).
2.If you were born a Muslim, but spent a period of time away from obedience to God and thus you were not praying. These are considered missed prayers without excuse. They are a heavy burden and a heavy debt. Ibn Taimiyyah’s view is that the sin is so great that the prayer cannot be made up. The majority of scholars, Imām Malik, Abu Hanifa, and Shāfi`i, however, are of the opinion that they must be made up. Imam Shāfi`i holds that one should preoccupy herself with nothing else but that which keeps her alive of eating, sleeping and working, during the making-up time. Other scholars allow for a slightly more lenient approach. They all agree however, that they should be made up quickly. Indeed for one to hope for husn al khitām; she should set her sights on making them up as quickly as possible. I know one woman who made up thirty years of prayer in the last seven years of her life. When she died, she did so with a smile on her face.
3.If you are a practicing Muslim, you might miss a prayer out of forgetfulness, or sleep. The sin of this is less than the one who deliberately does not pray. But one must also realize that the missing of this prayer is an indication of something wrong in her life. There is always a reason for a missed prayer – one must seek the true and deeper reason in order to avoid more missed prayers and – God forbid – a life that ends with a prayer or more that have not been prayed. The scholars agree in this case that the person who missed the prayer must immediately make up her prayer. For one who has missed one prayer – it is necessary to pray it immediately. So if you wake up and find that the sun has risen, and you have not woken up for the fajr prayer; you must jump out of bed – straight to wudu’ and straight to the prayer carpet. Do not stop to make coffee. Do not stop to have a bite to eat. Definitely do NOT go to work/school first thinking, “I’ll do it when I get home.”
The missing of a single prayer, or a series of prayers, is a serious occurrence in one’s life. It must cause us to pause; to reflect; to make taubah for that which has stopped us from the prayer. We have all heard stories of the one who ‘prayed fajr then died’ or ‘prayed `asr, then died’ or ‘died in his prayer’… What we do not hear are the myriad of stories of those who died having missed a prayer, or having delayed a prayer. We do not speak of these events because it is not appropriate to speak ill of the dead. If we strive toward husn al khitām, however it means we must be always aware and striving to pray our prayers at the beginning of the time – and when circumstances prove that to be impossible we must at least intend to pray the next prayer as soon as the time comes in. So if the adhān for thuhr has called – make the intention of prayer immediately. Then pray as soon as you can… If the angel of death arrives before you get a chance to pray, you will have at least intended to.
Indeed if you are close to menstruating, you will want to make an extra effort to pray on time. For if the time of thuhr arrives, and you can still pray, then you delay the prayer till later and by that time you are menstruating and can no longer pray, that prayer is still fard upon you, yet you have to wait seven to ten days to pray that prayer. God forbid that the angel of death will visit you during that time, while you wait to pray the prayer that waits for you.
Rajab the month of prayer
In the month of Rajab, the month of taubah, this month wherein the prayers were made obligatory upon us, let us recommit to our prayers. Let us make every effort to pray our prayers in the beginning of the time, let us fill our spare time making up our missed prayers, and let us be ever-vigilant over our behavior so that no morning or afternoon will come when we look at the clock and discover that we have been kept back from prayer.
You can click on the link below to download a “qadā’ prayers” chart to help you keep track of the prayers you make up. I suggest that with each prayer you pray one qadā’ prayer, and for tahajjud you pray another day. That way you will make up two years every year. The chart has space for one year of prayers. When you complete it, print out another one and start again.
When the angel of death comes to take us away, let us meet him with joy and hope, not fear of our missing prayers or any other debt for that matter. Husn al Khitām… it will be – God willing – the end for us all. In the next installment we will discuss behavior and how to make sure that ours brings us joy in this life and the next.