The Symbolism of the Postures of Prayer
By: Nafia Nowshad
As we dive deeper into the symbolic significance of the prayer postures, we can better appreciate how the salat both confronts and awakens the worshipper. Despite the spiritual importance of prostration, the salat does not begin with a posture of effacement, but rather begins in the standing position. This position is a reminder that one day we will all stand before God, and that as human beings we have the propensity to be arrogant and to position ourselves above those who are smaller in stature and status. Allah created us not to stand above the rest of creation, but to stand in humble service of all sentient beings for the sake of Allah.
As we stand and recite the holy verses from the Qur’an, the weight of revelation naturally draws us into a bowing position. We bow with our hands on our knees and our backs straight, staring at the space between our feet. Whereas when we were standing our gaze could reach as far as the horizon, when we bow we are humbly reminded that, as vast as the Earth is, we only occupy the small space beneath our feet. We are reminded that we do not own this Earth and our time upon it is short and fleeting. When we bow, we remind ourselves that the spiritual path begins exactly where we are, that all spiritual growth begins by first acknowledging and addressing our own pride, faults, and judgments. As we bow, our earthly crowns of wealth and influence fall, reminding us that everything we have is but a loan from Allah. Once we acknowledge how vulnerable and needy we are for Allah, we stand again, with a newfound humility and appreciation for our place in the universe.
Now, we stand not in arrogance, but as a servant of Allah. From this position of servitude, we then descend into the holy station of prostration. The first time we prostrate and put our head upon the earth, we are humbly reminded that we come from the very dirt we walk upon. With our heads pressed upon the ground, we are reminded that had Allah not blown His breath into us we would be\ nothing but dead earth—void of life and consciousness. From here, from our lowest depths, from the very soil of our humble creation, the seeds of true sincerity and faith begin to blossom.
When we rise up from the fetal position of prostration to the sitting position, we are reminded of how Allah pulled us out of the earth and gave us life. Like a seed that grows into a flower, we sit above the ground and appreciate the life we have been given. And just as every flower will eventually wilt and give her petals to the earth that once nurtured her into being, we return to the earth for our second prostration.
Where the first prostration represented our creation through the earth, the second prostration represents our return to the earth through death. Although the second prostration symbolizes the end of our earthly life, it is not the end of the salat. After this prostration, we then rise into the second cycle (rakah) of prayer by returning to the standing position. We stand again as a reminder that death is not our end, but that one day we will all be resurrected from our graves and called to stand before God to answer for the choices that we made.
Although on Earth injustice may prevail, on the Day of Judgment all wrongs will be made right. Salat actively confronts every illusion that this world tries to sell us as truth. When we engage in prayer and turn to God, we are simultaneously turning our backs on racism, sexism, and bigotry. Standing up for God means standing up against everything that does not honor the priceless value of human life and the holiness of the human spirit. The spirit of salat is not meant to be limited to the dimensions of our prayer mats. The salat is meant to encourage us to be more caring, to stand up against oppression with our words and our actions, and to open the path to divine love for all people who seek it.
The writer is MSc Mathematics, University of Kashmir. firstname.lastname@example.org