dua (supplication)

What the Prophets Teach Us About the Proper Etiquette of Dua (Supplication)

In answer to questions regarding the nature and ideal manner of supplication in Islam

The true servant of God is the one who accepts whatever the Creator decrees. If he asks of Him and He answers, he considers that a privilege granted by Him, and if he is denied, he considers that an act of the Master doing what He wills toward His subjects, so that there is no complaint in his heart toward his condition.

Ibn al-Jawzi

In this article I will explore what the Quran teaches us about the proper way of interacting with God when supplicating to Him. How does one show proper respect toward God during prayer? And what things are the best things to pray for, and what things are not so good to pray for? If you are looking for a quick answer, go to the bottom of the article to the “Summary and Conclusion” section.

The Prayers of the Prophtes in the Quran

The Quran encourages us to emulate the manners of the Prophets mentioned in the Quran when it says:

Those are they whom God has guided, so emulate them in their guidance. (From verse 6:90)

When it comes to prayer, the Quran gives us many examples of the way the Prophets interacted with God in their prayers.

Prophet Muhammad

We have the example of our Prophet Muhammad . He strongly desired for the qibla (the direction faced during the formal prayer) to be changed so that the Muslims would face Mecca rather than Jerusalem. But he did not voice his desire. He had submitted his heart so thoroughly to God that he considered it God’s business to decide the direction of the prayer and change it if and when He wanted, he did not presume to interfere with this by praying for a different direction despite his own personal desires. Still, God heard his unvoiced prayer; the Quran says:

We have seen your face turned towards the heaven. So We will turn you towards a direction that will satisfy you. So turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque. And wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it. Those who were given the Book know that it is the Truth from their Lord; and God is not unaware of what they do. (The Quran, verse 2:144)

Hadith narrations tell us that the Prophet prayed very ardently for God’s help before the Battle of Badr, a battle that was to decide the fate of the Muslims forever:

The Prophet (ﷺ) turned (his face) towards the Qibla. Then he stretched his hands and began his supplication to his Lord: "O Allah, accomplish for me what Thou hast promised to me. O Allah, bring about what Thou hast promised to me. O Allah, if this small band of Muslims is destroyed. Thou will not be worshipped on this earth." He continued his supplication to his Lord, stretching his hands, facing the Qibla, until his mantle slipped down from his shoulders.

Quoted from the longer narration at Sahih Muslim 1763

The Prophet is also mentioned in certain hadith narrations teaching his Companions, may God be pleased with them, how to supplicate.

'Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported:
I asked: "O Messenger of Allah! If I realize Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Decree), what should I supplicate in it?" He (ﷺ) replied, "You should supplicate: Allahumma innaka 'afuwwun, tuhibbul-'afwa, fa'fu 'anni (O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me)."

Al-Tirmidhi Book 9, Hadith 1195, Sunan Ibn Majah 3850 (judged authentic)

Abdullah reported that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to supplicate (in these words):
" O Allah. I beg of Thee right guidance, safeguard against evils, chastity and freedom from want."

Sahih Muslim Book 48, Hadith 97

Prophet Adam and His Wife

22. So he lured them with deceit. And when they tasted the tree, their nakedness became evident to them, and they began covering themselves with the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called out to them, “Did I not forbid you from this tree, and say to you that Satan is a sworn enemy to you?”

23. They said, “Our Lord, we have done wrong to ourselves. Unless You forgive us, and have mercy on us, we will be among the losers.” (The Quran, verses 7:22-23)

Prophet Nūḥ (Noah)

The Quran also gives us the example of a Prophet who makes the mistake of praying for something he should not be praying for. When Noah’s son is about to drown in the Flood, the following exchange takes place:

45. And Noah called to his Lord. He said, “O My Lord, my son is of my family, and Your promise is true, and You are the Wisest of the wise.”

46. He said, “O Noah, he is not of your family. It is an unrighteous deed. So do not ask Me about something you know nothing about. I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorant.”

47. He said, “O My Lord, I seek refuge with You, from asking You for what I have no knowledge of. Unless You forgive me, and have mercy on me, I will be one of the losers.”

48. It was said, “O Noah, disembark with peace from Us; and with blessings upon you, and upon communities from those with you. And other communities We will grant prosperity, and then a painful torment from Us will befall them.” (The Quran, verses 11:45-48)

Noah’s son has proudly refused to embark on the Ark, saying that he would go to a mountain to be saved from the Flood (verse 11:43). When Noah sees him drowning, his fatherly instinct is to want to save him, so he calls out to God. Like the other Prophets, he does not make a specific demand, he only expresses the state of his heart to God but fears God too much to make demands of Him. In this case, God rebuffs him. Noah is not punished for praying for the wrong thing, he is only corrected (he is a Prophet and should know better than to try to save someone who proudly refused to be saved, even if it is his own son), then the kind words in verse 11:48 are said to him.

We also have these verses about him:

9. Before them the people of Noah disbelieved. They rejected Our servant, and said, “Crazy,” and he was rebuked.

10. So he appealed to his Lord, “I am overwhelmed, so help me.” (54:9-10)

In another place in the Quran we have Prophet Noah praying against those who rejected his message (after nine centuries of trying), while also praying for certain other things:

26. Noah said, “My Lord, do not leave of the unbelievers a single dweller on earth.

27. If You leave them, they will mislead your servants, and will breed only wicked unbelievers.

28. My Lord! Forgive me and my parents, and anyone who enters my home in faith, and all the believing men and believing women; and do not increase the wrongdoers except in perdition.” (The Quran, verse 71:26-28)

Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham)

We also have the example of Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham), who prays for some general things and some specific things:

35. Recall that Abraham said, “O my Lord, make this land peaceful, and keep me and my sons from worshiping idols.”

36. “My Lord, they have led many people astray. Whoever follows me belongs with me; and whoever disobeys me—You are Forgiving and Merciful.

37. “Our Lord, I have settled some of my offspring in a valley of no vegetation, by Your Sacred House, our Lord, so that they may perform the prayers. So make the hearts of some people incline towards them, and provide them with fruits, that they may be thankful.”

38. “Our Lord, You know what we conceal and what we reveal. And nothing is hidden from God, on earth or in the heaven.”

39. “Praise be to God, Who has given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac. My Lord is the Hearer of Prayers.”

40. “My Lord, make me one who performs the prayer, and from my offspring. Our Lord, accept my supplication.”

41. “Our Lord, forgive me, and my parents, and the believers, on the Day the Reckoning takes place.” (The Quran, verses 14:35-41)

We also have the following passage that gives us some more detail on Prophet Ibrāhīm’s prayers:

126. When Abraham said, “O My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and provide its people with fruits—whoever of them believes in God and the Last Day.” He said, “And whoever disbelieves, I will give him a little enjoyment, then I will consign him to the punishment of the Fire; how miserable the destiny!”

127. As Abraham raises the foundations of the House, together with Ishmael, “Our Lord, accept it from us, You are the Hearer, the Knower.

128. Our Lord, and make us submissive to You, and from our descendants a community submissive to You. And show us our rites, and accept our repentance. You are the Acceptor of Repentance, the Merciful.

129. Our Lord, and raise up among them a messenger, of themselves, who will recite to them Your revelations, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. You are the Almighty, the Wise.” (The Quran, verses 2:126-129)

We also have this passage:

83. “My Lord! Grant me wisdom, and include me with the righteous.

84. And give me a reputation of truth among the others.

85. And make me of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss.

86. And forgive my father—he was one of the misguided.

87. And do not disgrace me on the Day they are resurrected.

88. The Day when neither wealth nor children will help. (Verse 26:83-88)

Prophet Ayyūb (Job)

Another example of prophetic manners when it comes to prayer is Prophet Ayyūb (Biblical Job). He suffered from a terrible illness, but instead of praying for a cure, this was his prayer:

And Job, when he cried out to his Lord: “Great harm has afflicted me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” So We answered him, lifted his suffering, and restored his family to him, and their like with them—a mercy from Us, and a reminder for the worshipers. (The Quran, verse 21:83-84)

Ayyūb does not presume to ask for a cure. He simply says to God that he is suffering terribly while praising His mercy, leaving it to God to decide what to do in his case. His submission and awe toward God is so great that he probably considers it impolite to ask God to cure him when God is already fully aware of his situation. But he cannot help himself and cries out in pain, and God responds to him even though he does not specifically ask for anything.

Prophet Yūnus (Jonah)

87. And Jonah, when he stormed out in fury, thinking We had no power over him. But then He cried out in the darkness, “There is no god but You! Glory to You! I was one of the wrongdoers!”

88. So We answered him, and saved him from the affliction. Thus We save the faithful. (21:87-88)

Prophet Yūsuf (Joseph)

Prophet Yūsuf is mentioned making this prayer:

My Lord, You have given me some authority, and taught me some interpretation of events. Initiator of the heavens and the earth; You are my Protector in this life and in the Hereafter. Receive my soul in submission, and unite me with the righteous.” (Verse 12:101)

Prophet Mūsā (Moses)

We have the example of Prophet Mūsā (Moses) who, like Noah, makes a vengeful prayer:

88. Moses said, “Our Lord, you have given Pharaoh and his chiefs splendor and wealth in the worldly life. Our Lord, for them to lead away from Your path. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth, and harden their hearts, so that they will not believe until they see the painful torment.”

89. He said, “Your prayer has been answered, so go straight, and do not follow the path of those who do not know.” (The Quran, verses 10:88-89)

One may rightly wonder why a Prophet would make such a negative prayer instead of forgiving and trying to make the world a better place. And why does God grant it? The reason is that the party against whom the prayer is made (Pharaoh) fully deserves the punishment Moses asks for for his murder and oppression of the believers. When a faithful servant of God makes such a prayer, God grants it because it is just and fair to grant it when it is against someone like Pharaoh, and because granting it is no loss for anyone. It would have been better for Pharaoh and his people if he had become a believer, but since he was so immersed in evil for so long, God allowed his fate to be sealed. Destroying him and his army was no loss for anyone, since God can re-create a civilization like his in an instant if He wished. The loss is entirely Pharaoh’s loss.

He also prays in the following way for God’s help when God chooses him to be a messenger:

25. He said, “My Lord, put my heart at peace for me.

26. And ease my task for me.

27. And untie the knot from my tongue.

28. So they can understand my speech.

29. And appoint an assistant for me, from my family.

30. Aaron, my brother.

31. Strengthen me with him.

32. And have him share in my mission.

33. That we may glorify You much.

34. And remember You much.

35. You are always watching over us.”

36. He said, “You are granted your request, O Moses. (Verses 20:25-36)

The following are other verses that mention him praying:

He said, “My Lord, forgive me and my brother, and admit us into Your mercy; for you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” (7:151)

And Moses chose from his people seventy men for Our appointment. When the tremor shook them, he said, “My Lord, had You willed, You could have destroyed them before, and me too. Will you destroy us for what the fools among us have done? This is but Your test—with it You misguide whomever You will, and guide whomever You will. You are our Protector, so forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are the Best of Forgivers.” (Verse 7:155)

He said, “My Lord, I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” So He forgave him. He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. (Verse 28:16)

Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon)

We also have the example of Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon) who asks to be given worldly power and his prayer is granted by God:

34. We tested Solomon, and placed a body on his throne; then he repented.

35. He said, “My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingdom never to be attained by anyone after me. You are the Giver.” (The Quran, verses 38:34-35)

Prophet Zakarīyā (Zechariah)

We also have the example of Prophet Zakarīyā (Biblical Zechariah). He was childless in his old age, and after being impressed by the piety of the young Mary (mother of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon them), he prays for a child for himself:

Thereupon Zechariah prayed to his Lord; he said, “My Lord, bestow on me good offspring from Your presence; You are the Hearer of Prayers.” (The Quran, verse 3:38)

This time we have a Prophet who prays for something specific; a child.

Prophet ʿĪsā (Jesus)

We also have the following verse about Prophet ʿĪsā (Jesus):

Jesus son of Mary said, “O God, our Lord, send down for us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first of us, and the last of us, and a sign from You; and provide for us; You are the Best of providers.” (5:114)

The Quranic Prayers

 

And among them is he who says, “Our Lord, give us goodness in this world, and goodness in the Hereafter, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.” (Verse 2:201)

And when they confronted Goliath and his troops, they said, “Our Lord, pour down patience on us, and strengthen our foothold, and support us against the faithless people.” (Verse 2:250)

285. The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, as did the believers. They all have believed in God, and His angels, and His scriptures, and His messengers: “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. Your forgiveness, our Lord. To you is the destiny.” 286. God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity. To its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits. “Our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord, do not burden us as You have burdened those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear; and pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Lord and Master, so help us against the disbelieving people.” (Verses 2:285-286)

Those who say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us our sins, and save us from the suffering of the Fire.” (Verse 3:16)

“Our Lord, do not cause our hearts to swerve after You have guided us, and bestow on us mercy from Your presence; You are the Giver.” (Verse 3:8)

“Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.” (3:53)

Their only words were, “Our Lord, forgive us our offences, and our excesses in our conduct, and strengthen our foothold, and help us against the disbelieving people.” (3:147)

And why would you not fight in the cause of God, and the helpless men, and women, and children, cry out, “Our Lord, deliver us from this town whose people are oppressive, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Protector, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Victor.” (Verse 4:75)

And when their eyes are directed towards the inmates of the Fire, they will say, “Our Lord, do not place us among the wrongdoing people.” (Verse 7:47)

“We would be fabricating falsehood against God, if we were to return to your religion, after God has saved us from it. It is not for us to return to it, unless God, our Lord, wills. Our Lord embraces all things in knowledge. In God we place our trust. Our Lord, decide between us and our people in truth, for You are the Best of Deciders.” (Verse 7:89)

“You are taking vengeance on us only because we have believed in the signs of our Lord when they have come to us.” “Our Lord! Pour out patience upon us, and receive our souls in submission.” (Verse 7:126)

They said, “In God we have put our trust. Our Lord, do not make us victims of the oppressive people.” (Verse 10:85)

191. Those who remember God while standing, and sitting, and on their sides; and they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain, glory to You, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” 192. “Our Lord, whomever You commit to the Fire, You have disgraced. The wrongdoers will have no helpers.” 193. “Our Lord, we have heard a caller calling to the faith: `Believe in your Lord,' and we have believed. Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, and remit our misdeeds, and make us die in the company of the virtuous.” 194. “Our Lord, and give us what You have promised us through Your messengers, and do not disgrace us on the Day of Resurrection. Surely You never break a promise.” (Verses 3:191-194)

And lower to them the wing of humility, out of mercy, and say, “My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child.” (Verse 17:24)

And say, “My Lord, lead me in through an entry of truth, and lead me out through an exit of truth, and grant me from You a supporting power.” (Verse 17:80)

When the youths took shelter in the cave, they said, “Our Lord, give us mercy from Yourself, and bless our affair with guidance.” (Verse 18:10)

28. Then, when you and those with you are settled in the Ark, say, “Praise be to God, who has saved us from the wrongdoing people.” 29. And say, “My Lord, land me with a blessed landing, as you are the best of situators.” (Verses 23:28-29)

And say, “My Lord, I seek refuge with You from the urgings of the devils. 98. And I seek refuge with You, my Lord, lest they come into my presence.” (Verses 23:97-98)

There was a group of My servants who would say, "Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us, and have mercy on us; You are the Best of the merciful." (Verse 23:109)

And those who say, ‘‘Our Lord, avert from us the suffering of Hell, for its suffering is continuous. (Verse 25:65)

And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us delight in our spouses and our children, and make us a good example for the righteous.” (Verse 25:74)

7. Those who carry the Throne, and those around it, glorify their Lord with praise, and believe in Him, and ask for forgiveness for those who believe: “Our Lord, You have encompassed everything in mercy and knowledge; so forgive those who repent and follow Your path, and protect them from the agony of the Blaze. 8. And admit them, Our Lord, into the Gardens of Eternity, which You have promised them, and the righteous among their parents, and their spouses, and their offspring. You are indeed the Almighty, the Most Wise. (Verses 40:7-8)

We have enjoined upon man kindness to his parents. His mother carried him with difficulty, and delivered him with difficulty. His bearing and weaning takes thirty months. Until, when he has attained his maturity, and has reached forty years, he says, “Lord, enable me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to act with righteousness, pleasing You. And improve my children for me. I have sincerely repented to You, and I am of those who have surrendered.” (Verse 46:15)

And those who came after them, saying, “Our Lord, forgive us, and our brethren who preceded us in faith, and leave no malice in our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord, You are Clement and Merciful.” (Verse 59:10)

Our Lord, do not make us a target for those who disbelieve, and forgive us, our Lord. You are indeed the Mighty and Wise. (Verse 60:5)

O you who believe! Repent to God with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remit your sins, and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow, on the Day when God will not disappoint the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light streaming before them, and to their right, they will say, “Our Lord, complete our light for us, and forgive us; You are capable of all things.” (Verse 66:8)

And God illustrates an example of those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me, with you, a house in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his works, and save me from the wrongdoing people.” (Verse 66:11)

And say, “My Lord, forgive and have mercy, for You are the Best of the merciful.” (Verse 93:118)

The Lesson from the Prophets’ Prayers

Almost all of the Prophets are mentioned as praying for God’s mercy and His forgiveness. This is the central theme of the vast majority of the prayers mentioned in the Quran. The Quran does not encourage us to pray for material things. In one of the most beautiful prayers in the Quran, we have Pharaoh’s wife praying for a house, not in this world, but in Paradise (Verse 66:8). The Quran encourages us to take care of the state of our souls and to give priority to the afterlife over the present life:

16. But you prefer the present life.

17. Though the Hereafter is better, and more lasting. (Verses 87:16-17)

Judging by what the Quran teaches us, it is almost an insult to God to ask Him for specific material gain, such as getting that particular car or house, or marrying a particular person. The Prophetic attitude is to ask for God’s help, mercy and blessings in general terms while living it to Him to take care of the details.

However, the Prophets make an exception when there is an overwhelming need. Prophet Muhammad asks to win the Battle of Badr even though God is capable of making the Muslims supreme in the Arabian peninsula whether they win the battle or not. This is what the Quran teaches at the beginning of Sūrat al-Rūm:

2. The Romans have been defeated.

3. In a nearby territory. But following their defeat, they will be victorious.

4. In a few years. The matter is up to God, in the past, and in the future. On that day, the believers will rejoice.

5. In God’s support. He supports whomever He wills. He is the Almighty, the Merciful.

6. The promise of God—God never breaks His promise, but most people do not know.

7. They know an outer aspect of the worldly life, but they are heedless of the Hereafter. (The Quran, verses 30:2-7)

The Quran acknowledges that the Muslims will celebrate when the Romans (who were Christians and thus were considered to follow the same God as the Muslims) win against the more pagan-like Persians. But the passage reminds us that God is in charge regardless of who wins and who loses, so we should not be too attached to what happens in this world, we should be more worried about the hereafter.

The other Prophets too at times ask for things that are not entirely spiritual. Ayyūb cries out to God when his pain becomes too great. Zakarīyā asks for a son. These should be considered exceptions that the Prophets made to their general rule (of always leaving things to God to decide, and only asking Him for His mercy, forgiveness and support).

We also have the example of Sulaymān which is somewhat conflicting with the rest, because he asks to be given a kingdom so great that no one will have the like of it afterwards. It appears from the Quranic mentions of Sulaymān that his appreciation for material things came from a deep spirituality rather than from a love of the worldly life.

30. And We granted David, Solomon, an excellent servant. He was penitent.

31. When the beautiful horses were paraded before him in the evening.

32. He said, “I have loved the niceties of this world because of the remembrance of my Lord—until it disappeared behind the veil.

33. Bring them back to me.” And he began caressing their legs and necks.

34. We tested Solomon, and placed a body on his throne; then he repented.

35. He said, “My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingdom never to be attained by anyone after me. You are the Giver.”

36. So We placed the wind at his service, blowing gently by his command, wherever he directed.

37. And the demons—every builder and diver.

38. And others fettered in chains.

39. “This is Our gift; so give generously, or withhold; without account.”

40. For him is nearness to Us, and a beautiful resort. (The Quran, verses 38:30-40)

Verse 32 above has many conflicting interpretations, but I prefer Muhammad Asad’s interpretation which fits the rest of the Quran, in that Sulaymān states that his love for niceties of this world comes from his remembrance of God. This would sound far-fetched in an ordinary person, but when a Prophet, descended from a Prophet and from a long line of Prophets before him claims this, we can believe him. God answers his prayer and says that the works done by Sulaymān were expressions of appreciation toward God:

10. We bestowed upon David favor from Us: “O mountains, and birds: echo with him.” And We softened iron for him.

11. “Make coats of armor, and measure the links well; and work righteousness. I am Observant of everything you do.”

12. And for Solomon the wind—its outward journey was one month, and its return journey was one month. And We made a spring of tar flow for him. And there were sprites that worked under him, by the leave of his Lord. But whoever of them swerved from Our command, We make him taste of the punishment of the Inferno.

13. They made for him whatever he wished: sanctuaries, statues, bowls like pools, and heavy cauldrons. “O House of David, work with appreciation,” but a few of My servants are appreciative. (The Quran, verse 34:10-11).

Sulaymān and his father were chosen for greatness in this world because of their deep spirituality. They were not worshipers of the worldly life, they appreciated it because they sensed God’s power and greatness through them.

What all of this teaches us is that we should not treat God like a genie in a bottle who answers wishes. We should instead treat Him like an all-powerful King who always knows what is best for us. We can make specific prayers when pain or desire overwhelms us, and He will humor us by responding to our prayer if He wishes, since it doesn’t decrease anything from His power. He gave Sulaymān everything he asked for because it did not cost Him anything to give him all of that, and because Sulaymān was a spiritual and appreciative servant who deserved it. God is a King who does what He wants in regards to His different servants.

Summary and Conclusion

Here are the general conclusions I have reached from studying the prayers of the Prophets:

  1. General prayers for God’s forgiveness, guidance and mercy are the best. Prophets are rarely concerned with material things, their main concern is God.
  2. If we strongly desire a specific thing, we can pray for it, but we should always do this with extreme respect and humility toward God. Prophet Nuh’s saying in verse 11:47 perfectly describes the attitude of the believer toward God when making prayers: “O My Lord, I seek refuge with You, from asking You for what I have no knowledge of. Unless You forgive me, and have mercy on me, I will be one of the losers.”
  3. It is highly insulting toward God to treat Him like a genie in a bottle, telling Him that He must do this thing for us otherwise we will be upset with Him. When praying, we must always keep in mind that God may have a different plan for us and that God wants us to prioritize our spirituality over our material desires.

Asking God for material things, thinking that we can get those things then hold onto them, shows great ignorance about the nature of this world. You can get the car you desire, but two years later you could be in an accident and lose it. There is no way to hold onto the material things we have in this world, we could always lose them, therefore the Prophetic attitude is to leave the material world in God’s care and to focus on the spiritual world, asking His help and guidance in our own spiritual growth and never treating Him like a lover of the worldly life would treat a magic lamp or ring that gives them what they desire.

When asking God for something specific, you should always keep in mind that God is in charge and it is His decision whether He grants what we ask or not, and if He does not, we have no right to complain. Every single blessing we enjoy, our very existence in this world, rely on His support every second of every day. God can give us everything we want, but He wants to give them to us when we have achieved Sulaymān’s spirituality, when we see God’s greatness and presence in everything around us (see this essay for how to achieve such a state and remain there permanently). Once we have achieved that, our attachment to the worldly life will have weakened to such a degree that we no longer feel a need to pray for material things. We end up living in God’s presence, seeking His love and guidance more than anything else.

 

The Islamic prayer for healing from the Quran

Salam. Do you know which dua we should recite for shifa? As in, I’ve a horrible wart on my hand and I’ve seen a lot of doctors but they all said it’ll take time. Is there any dua I should recite for healing ?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

My view is that it is not the words that matter, but your sincerity. If you have a good relationship with God then you can say anything you want in any way you want and He will answer you.

I do like to repeat some of the prayer words mentioned in the Quran, but not because I believe they necessarily have any magical qualities, but because they tell us the right things we should pray for and state them beautifully:

And say, “My Lord, forgive and have mercy, for You are the Best of the merciful.” (Verse 23:118)

and say, “My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child.” (Verse 17:24)

“Lord, enable me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to act with righteousness, pleasing You. And help my children improve. I have sincerely repented to You, and I am of those who have surrendered.” (Verse 46:15)

and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (Verse 20:114)

Regarding praying for healing, we have the example of the prayer of Prophet Ayyub (known as Job in the Bible):

And Job, when he cried out to his Lord: “Great harm has afflicted me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” (Verse 21:83)

That is a beautiful prayer that shows why Ayyub was known for his patience. He does not blame God, he does not even ask Him to do anything for Him. He merely tells God what is wrong then praises His mercy, leaving it up to God to do what He wants regarding his suffering. The next verse tells us what happened next:

So We answered him, lifted his suffering, and restored his family to him, and their like with them—a mercy from Us, and a reminder for the worshipers. (Verse 21:84)

Even though he did not directly ask for anything, God still answered him.

Below is his prayer in Arabic (transliterated) if you are interested in repeating it:

annī massanī al-ḍurrū wa anta arḥam al-rāḥimīn

On Islamic prayers for fertility

I have been married for 1.5years. There are some issues with fertility. Is there any help/duas that can help? Sometimes i lack faith, but i remember this is a test from Allah swt of sabr and imaan. Please could you help in terms of duas? Jzk.

I do not believe in the superior power of specific prayer words as opposed to others. I believe what matters is one’s level of piety and submission to God. A person who is involved in a sinful activity (such as having a savings or retirement account that earns interest, or owning bank stocks) should not expect their prayers to be answered, since they are insulting God with one hand while praying with the other.

One thing you can try is what is known as nadhr, which is to ask God to give you something (in your case, a child) and promise to give something in return. For example you can promise God to give a specific amount of money or jewels in charity if God answers your prayer. You may also do a nadhr with an act of worship, such as promising God to fast every Monday and Thursday for a certain period of time (6 months, etc.) if God answers your prayer, or promising to read a certain amount of Quran every day or week for a year. Keep in mind that the nadhr promise cannot be broken once it is made; it would be highly sinful to ignore the promise after God has answered your prayer.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

On praying (making dua) during salah and whether one can do it in English

What is the correct way to make dua during salah? For example if I wanted to make dua for someone or ask Allah for something how and when would i do that? I've been told saying it in English invalidates salah

There isn’t sufficient evidence from the Quran and the Sunnah to make a conclusive judgment about the issue of making dua in a non-Arabic language during salah.1 It doesn’t seem to me that there would be any harm in it. This only applies to additional duas a person adds to the salah, the salah’s required parts should be conducted in Arabic.

As for when to make dua during salah, it can be done during prostrations (rukūʿ and sujūd) after saying the required words. For example, when you are making sujūd, say the required part (subḥāna rabbī al-aʿlā or any variant you have been taught) then make any dua you want before getting up. You can also do it when get up after the first sujūd and before the second one. You can also do it after getting up from rukūʿ and saying samiʿa llāhu li-man ḥamida but before going down to sujūd. Another time is before saying the salām at the very end of the prayer.

The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

Schale mit Blumen by Marie Egner (1940)

Every person’s life seems to contain problems that have no solution. Such problems can last for years, even decades. Among such problems are:

  • Poverty: A person’s life may be denied many joys and contain many indignities brought about by poverty.
  • Having a disabled child: An otherwise happy and wealthy couple may be force to worry and spend much of their time and energy in the care of a disabled child, without any hope of things getting much easier.
  • Having to take care of an elderly parent: There are people who spend years as part-time nurses, having to take care of a parent that cannot take care of himself/herself. The person may not be able to afford professional care, so that despite their life’s various demands, this extra demand is placed on them, sometimes for many years or a decade.
  • Illness: There are people who suffer from an illness that prevents them from enjoying the foods they like or the activities they enjoy. Some illness are uncurable and will put a damper on a person’s life for the rest of their lives.
  • Family problems: A person may have nearly everything they want, but their life may be made extremely difficult due to abuse or neglect from a spouse, meanness from family members, or having a child that constantly gets into serious trouble.

There problems are unsolvable in the sense that there are generally no quick solutions to them. We desire to live in Paradise on earth, having a peaceful and easy life that is not marred by any serious issues. We wish to live in a light-hearted comedy rather than a tragedy.

But that desire for perfect peace will never come true in this life, because that is not the purpose of this life. Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari says:

So long as you are in this world, be not surprised at the existence of sorrows.

Ibn al-Qayyim says:

God, glory to Him, created His creation to worship Him, and that is their purpose, as He says: “I have not created jinn and humans except to worship Me” [Quran 51:56]. It is clear that the perfect servitude and worship that is required of humans cannot be achieved in the Home of Bliss [Paradise], but can only be achieved in the home of affliction and trials.

Ibn al-Jawzi says:

The worldly life has been created as a place of testing. The wise person should fully habituate himself to patience.

We want to escape this world with all of its little annoyances and worries and inconveniences so that we can enter a world of perfect peace. But this desire is mistaken and can never be attained in this world. Even if we unexpectedly acquire great wealth, leave behind all of our worries, move to a different country, buy an amazing house, and find a great spouse, the excitement of all of these will wear off in a few day, and we will feel as if we are back to square one. Problems will start to haunt us again out no nowhere. The perfect spouse may end up not being so perfect. We may engage in a seemingly profitable business enterprise that brings us great fear and worry, perhaps due to choosing the wrong business partner. If the wealth is enough to make us needless of any extra work or investment, we may dedicate ourselves to making art, or writing novels or poetry, only to experience discontent and grief as people ignore or criticize our works. Meanwhile, in our new social circle we may start to be judged for all kinds of things that we dislike to be judged for, and this may make us feel inferior.

While films and novels often tell us that we can live happily ever after once we solve our problems, get rich, or escape our past lives, reality will always prove this false. This world is a place of testing. There is no escaping God’s tests, and He knows better than anyone else exactly how to test you. Even if you are the ruler of the world, God can defeat all of your plans and place you in utter misery if He wishes. There is no escape from God. Regardless of where we run to, He will always be there first, ready with the next barrage of tests designed to build us into better and worthier people.

If you suffer from a problem of inconvenience and think “This is too stupid, I shouldn’t be having to deal with this type of nonsense!”, you have actually misunderstood the test. If something makes you feel discontented, impatient, angry or unthankful toward God, then that is exactly the type of test you should be going you through. A test that does not hit you right where it hurts is not a proper test. You have to best tested for all that you have, each test should reach deep into you and tempt you to anger and ungratefulness.

The Building of Character

Ibn al-Qayyim says:

When God tests you it is never to destroy you. When He removes something in your possession it is only in order to empty your hands for an even greater gift.

God does not take sadistic pleasure in seeing us suffer. The purpose of His tests is to show us our true natures, our weaknesses and our absolute dependence on His mercy, and these things prompt us to seek to improve ourselves. People who are never shown their faults and weaknesses fail to develop. If we are unaware that a problem exists, we have no incentive to seek a solution.

Mostafa Sadeq al-Rafi’i says:

When I looked into history I found a small number of individuals whose lives mirrored the life-cycle of a grain of wheat. They were torn from their roots, then crushed, then ground in mills, then kneaded with fists, then rolled out and baked in ovens at high temperatures… just so they could provide food for others.

The best people you meet are not people who have been spared life’s troubles. They are people who been crushed again and again by life’s troubles until they have reached a state of near-perfect acceptance and humility, so that they no longer reject God’s decrees nor do they desire to escape their lives. They know God is in charge, and that He can cure them from their distress any time He wants. They look to Him for help and seek refuge only in Him. The poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, who suffered for years from a painful illness and from loneliness and nostalgia, expresses this type of thinking in his famous 1962 poem Sabr Ayyub (The Patience of Job).

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes,
For You is praise, afflictions are bestowals,
And suffering is of Your bounty.
Did You not give me this darkness?
And did You not give me this dawn?
Does the ground then thank raindrops,
But get angry if the clouds do not find it?
For long months, this wound
Has been cutting my sides like a dagger.
The affliction does not calm at morning,
And nighttime does not bring death to wipe out the agony.
But if Job was to cry, he would cry,
“For You is Praise, for suffering is like drops of dew,
And wounds are presents from the Beloved,
The stacks of which I hug to my chest.
You presents are in my line of sight, they do not leave,
Your presents are accepted, bring them on!”
I hug my wounds and call out to visitors:
“Look here and be jealous,
For these are presents from my Beloved!”
And if the heat of my fever approaches fire,
I would imagine it a kiss from You fashioned from flame.
Beautiful is insomnia, as I watch over Your heaven
With my eyes, until the stars disappear
And until Your light touches the window of my home.
Beautiful is the night: The hooting of owls
And the sound of car horns from a distance
The sighs of patients, a mother retelling
Tales of her forefathers to her child.
The forests of a sleepless night; the clouds
As they veil the face of heaven
And uncover it from under the moon.
And if Job cried out, he would say:
“For You is praise, O One who hurls fate,
And O One Who, after that, decrees the cure!”

If you are tested, instead of thinking “This shouldn’t be happening to me!”, consider it an opportunity to practice patience and a call to improve yourself. We never grow if we constantly turn our backs on our problems. Growth happens when we accept that this is exactly what we should be going through, this is God’s decree for us. If God wants, He can remove our difficulty in an instant. If we feel impatient and discontented, this is a clear sign that we are not close enough to God, that we are rejecting Him. We are, in effect, telling Him “We dislike this thing that You are doing to us O God and reject Your decree for us, we know better than You what should be happening to us, and this is not it.” You will meet many religious people who are stuck in this way of thinking. Their life’s difficulties, failures and missed opportunities are present in their minds and they blame God for not providing them with a better lot.

That is the state of a spiritually stagnant person. As for the best of the believers, they walk with God through life. They know He is in charge. They know that life’s difficulties are reminders from God that they should not put their trust in this world and that they should not expect to achieve perfect peace in it. Perfect peace is only achievable in the afterlife. Abdullah, son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, asked his father one day:

"O Father, when will we ever achieve rest?"

His father looked him in the eye and said:

"With the first step we take into Paradise."

Rather than feeling discontented with life’s unsolvable problems, accept them and tell yourself that this is the fate that has been decreed for you. If you wish for a better fate, if you wish God to raise your status and remove the various indignities you suffer in life, ask Him to raise your status. Only He can help you. Ibn al-Qayyim says:

Whoever among the workers wishes to know his status in the eye of the King, then let him look at what jobs He gives him and with what He busies him.

If you want to have a better lot in life, if you want your life to be more meaningful and to contain fewer problems, then ask yourself whether you deserve it, whether you deserve to be given special treatment over the millions of people who are equally suffering. In reality, you want God to treat you as if you are special. Do you deserve such treatment? If you constantly turn your back on Him, if you only do the minimum He asks of you, if you never take refuge in Him and do not consider Him in charge, then you are giving Him no reason to treat you specially. If you want a higher status in life, become the type of person who deserves a higher status in life. Do your best to stay close to Him. You should ask Him for these five things in every prayer you pray (during prostration) (I have written my favorite Arabic prayer words that I say for these purposes):

  • To forgive your sins. Allahumma innaka affuwwun tuhibbul afwa faafu anni (O God, you are the Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness, so forgive me.)
  • To guide you and increase your knowledge and wisdom. Allahumma zidni ilman wahdini li aqraba min haza rushdan (O God, increase me in knowledge and guide me to a better state of maturity than what I currently possibly)
  • To support you: Allahummanasurni wa anta khairun nasireen (O God, support me, and You are the best of supporters.)
  • To bless your time and works: Allahumma baarik fi aamali wa awqati (O God, bless my works and my times/moments.)
  • To make things easy for you: Allahumma yasir li amree (O God, make the matters of my life easy for me.)

As Muslims, the best source of guidance we have is the Quran. Always remember the saying of the famous Pakistani poet and scholar Muhammad Iqbal:

Of the things that had a profound effect on my life is an advice I heard from my father: "My son, read the Quran as if it was sent down specifically to you."

Make the Quran your guide in life and treat as if it was sent down to you this very moment. The Quran is not meant to be a reference that we leave on the shelf. It is meant to be a guide that is present with us through life. When you suffer difficulty and discontent, always go back to the Quran and it will teach you a new lesson every time if you persevere in reading it.

Difficulties are part of the design of our universe. If we want to mature and to be raised in status, instead of rejecting God’s decrees, we must accept them, embrace them and seek refuge and support only in Him. Only He can make things easy for us, help us mature, make our lives more meaningful and raise our status. And rather than expecting to achieve perfect peace in this life, we should accept its nature (that there can be no perfect peace in it), and we should instead put our hopes for our final rest in the afterlife.

The life of this world will never live up to our expectations. We always think if only we get this or that we will be so happy! But as soon we get there, we start to feel like we are back to square one. Life’s problems continue to haunt us. And there is no escape. There are elderly people who, having always rejected God’s decrees, continue to express anger at life for throwing problems and undignities in their faces. Do not be like them. Accept the nature of this world. If you want your life to be more meaningful, if you want your difficulties to raise you rather than degrade you, ask God to raise your status, and do what is necessary to please Him and convince Him that you deserve a better lot in life.

Can prayer change your fate and destiny in Islam?

Is that true that dua has so much power that it can also change what's written in your destiny (I read it somewhere).

The Quran says that if Prophet Yunus , had not been among the musabbiḥīn (those who make it a habit to perform God’s remembrance), God would have not have saved him from the belly of the whale (verses 37:142-144 of the Quran).

This story suggests that what you do now can affect what destiny God chooses for you. If you do good, God will cause more good to come to you, and if you do evil, God can punish you with bad things happening in your life:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do. (The Quran, verse 16:97)

But whoever turns away from My Remembrance, for him is a constricted life. And We will raise him on the Day of Resurrection blind.” (The Quran, verse 20:124)

The Quran mentions that God helped prophet Musa (Moses) acquire knowledge and wisdom as a reward for being a virtuous person, meaning that if he had not been virtuous, he would not have had this reward:

And when he reached his maturity, and became established, We gave him wisdom and knowledge. Thus do We reward the virtuous. (The Quran, verse 28:14)

The same would apply to dua/supplication in its ability to change what future God enables us to have. If you pray for knowledge, God can arrange the circumstances for you to acquire it, but if you had not prayed, perhaps you wouldn’t have acquired that knowledge.

There are various schools of thought on these issues and you will get very different answers depending on who you ask. But the picture we get from the Quran is of a dynamic world in which we are constantly rewriting our destinies. God is always in charge, but depending on our choices, He can change what happens to us next. If we sin, He can remove His blessings and protection from our lives. If we resist temptation then He can arrange matters favorably for us.

How to increase iman (piety and mindfulness of God)