Prayer is one's intimate conversation with his/her Lord. Allah (s.w.t.) says: "Indeed, I am Allah. There is no (other) gods but Me. Therefore worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance." [Ta-Ha 20:14]
But more often than not, we tend to think of God as a third person: whom we ask from, while expecting to be heard and our problems magically solved. Is there a way in which we can go beyond perceiving prayers as mere ritualistic worships and view them as ways of instilling God-consciousness within, as well as developing greater intimacy in our relationship with Him? Eo ipso, can we be more compassionate in the way we appreciate forms of worship?
This brings to mind an inspirational story between Prophet Musa (a.s.) and a shepherd, narrated in Rumi's "Mathnawi," abridged as follows:
"There was once an unworldly shepherd whose heart overflowed with love for the Creator. All day long, as he tended to his flocks, he would speak aloud to God: “Where are you, my Beloved? How I long to serve You!”
One day, Prophet Musa passed by the meadow and heard the shepherd called aloud: “Where are you, God, that I might stitch Your clothes, mend Your socks, polish Your shoes, comb Your hair and bring You a cup of milk?”
Prophet Musa became enraged with the shepherd. “How dare you talk to God like that! What you are saying is blasphemous. You should stuff cotton in your mouth if you cannot control your tongue. Then, at least, no one would hear your outrageous insulting words. Is God a mere human, that he needs to drink milk and have his hair combed and his shoes polished? You insult the Almighty by such talk, and you are an enemy of the faith. Let us pray that the Creator will not punish the whole human race because of you!”
The simple shepherd was shattered. He did not really understand what he had said to God that was so rude, or why the prophet had called him an enemy. Sobbing heartbrokenly, he said, “You have set fire to my soul. From now on, my mouth is sealed!” He then led his flock away feeling wretched and bereft.
Thereafter, while Prophet Musa was continuing on his way toward the city, Allah addressed him: “Why did you come between Me and My loyal servant? Why did you separate the lover from the Beloved? We have sent you so that you could unite one to the other, not break their ties. I did not create this world for My profit. My Creation is for the benefit of My creatures. I have no need of their praise and worship; it is the worshipper who benefits, not Me. Nor do I care for what form the worship takes. It is the sincerity of the heart that alone interests Me. Those bound by outward correctness are unlike those bound by their love for Me."
Humbled, Prophet Musa went back to look for the shepherd. After much searching, he finally found him in tatters, praying. He said: "God has spoken, and He told me that there is no need for etiquette in your speech to God. You are free to talk to Him in any way you like, with any words you may choose. For what I thought was your blasphemy is actually the faith and love that saves the world.”
But by then, the shepherd had no more words that needed to be said. With a compassionate smile, he simply moved away."
There are many insights that we can learn from this inspirational story, but importantly, there are many paths to Allah (s.w.t.) He is not contained within selected myopic journeys defined by others. Each of our journeys are personal and therefore, we need to find for ourselves which path we need to take toward Him. At the end of the day, we have to be personally accountable for that choice.
Secondly, when advising or admonishing others, be moderate, be respectful, be inspiring. Don't desire for instant gratifications, so do not expect instant results. All that is expected of us is to merely continue planting the seeds. Faith, is to be convinced that Allah will sustain that seed which you have planted and bloom it into a beautiful, strong tree in the future. You may, or may not, be around to witness the harvest - but that is not your task.
Your personal peace, is that you have benefitted someone by planting the seed, and benefitted many others who will enjoy the shade when that seed grows into a strong tree.
Your peace with God, is achieved at that very moment that small seedling was planted, whether it eventually bloom into a flower or not. Indeed, how Merciful and Compassionate Allah (s.w.t.) is!
So start planting a seed today, and measure out your life not by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.