“Salat is the means of ascension of a believer.”
— Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Salat is the only pillar in Islam given directly to the Messenger (pbuh) by God during his mi’raj to Heaven. Unlike the rest of the pillars which were revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) through Archangel Gabriel (as), following his exchange of greetings with the Almighty, also known as the Tahiyyat or Tashahhud today and is recited five times a day by Muslims as a testimony of faith, salat was, as the saying goes, the very souvenir from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s journey to Heaven gifted by God Himself to take home as the greatest-ever gift bestowed upon believers. Although mainstream English translation attains salat the meaning of prayer, by nature and purpose, it is important to note that salat is one of the many words its English counterpart falls short in doing it justice. Originating from the trilateral root ص-ل-و (ṣad-lām-waw), which means “supplication, to follow closely, connect, attach, and bind together”, the word salat outgrows the common recognition of prayer which rather resonates with earnest hope / solemn request addressed for God. To this respect, the Arabic equivalent to prayer is dûa, which is used accordingly however as if it is synonymous to salat, thus requiring a brief reasoning as to the use of its Arabic word throughout the prior portion of this entry and following. The authentic use of this term fully embodies it in action and meaning, thereby allowing us to obtain a deeper understanding of why the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarded salat to the rank of mi’raj and how it resembles his voyage to the Heavens.
On the very last step of his visit to God, mi’raj, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is told to continue the rest of his journey alone by Gabriel (as), who will await his return at the Sidret al-Muntahā, the ultimate boundary for creation before the Divine Presence— where the “lights of God” are so vigorous they would burn Archangel Gabriel (as) if he dared to take another step. As the only creation to have passed that boundary and came in extreme proximity with the Lord 'till Kab al-Kawsayn, the Prophet (pbuh) identifies salat as an equal to this experience within the boundaries of our mortality and servitude. Thus just as his ascension took the Messenger (pbuh) to the presence of Allah, salat brings the believer to the Presence of the Almighty through disconnecting them from the matrix of this world and tuning them into the channel of Divine Love and Recognizance. Thus, even amongst the pillars of Islam, salat is pillar of all pillars: it is the pillar of faith. Because it allows the believer to connect with God and converse with Him, which is the whole purpose of life. Shifting to a broader perspective however, salat also acts as the ultimate unifier in one for all of creation, almost where one reaches ultimate consciousness in a state of which their mind, body, spirit, and soul integrate in perfect balance, becoming the nucleus of creation. Hence the reason, even when praying in solitude the believer recites, “You alone we worship, You alone we ask for help.” Just how God expands forms for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during his night journey and dissociates him from time in His infinity where he showcases the ultimate qualities of the safī, through inviting us to His presence five times a day in Divine Remembrance, He parts us from the exility of this world and welcomes us to the realm of Unison.
When speaking of his visit to the Heavens, the Messenger (pbuh) says, “One should not say that I am better than Jonah (i.e. Yunus) ibn Matta.” though this statement can be understood in many ways within the, for lack of a better term, egalitarian frames of Islam, because of his specific referral to Jonah (as) and by virtue of his infamous story with the whale, great scholar and mystic Ibn Daqiq al-’Id has interpreted this hadith as in the state of salat, Jonah (as) was close to Allah in the belly of a whale in the deep, dark depths of the ocean as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was beyond the Seventh Heaven in the presence of God…since salat is a break from time, and everything created in time, into timelessness, no aspect of the “physical” is a determining factor for a believer’s metaphysical proximity to the Divine. The Messenger of God (pbuh) also alludes to this reality with the words: “A servant is closest to his Lord in prostration.” At a complete state of surrender to the magnificence of their Lord, the believer is humbled by the omnipotence of God and in paradox, their triviality. They are reminded of the fact that had Allah not blown life into their sculpture of mud, they would be nothing worthy of existence in the void of soul and consciousness; therefore, in this humble state of worship only, that “the seeds of true sincerity and faith begin to blossom, [... because] the more we humble our egos and turn away from the illusion of separation, the closer we get to unveiling the all-encompassing oneness of Allah,” or in the words of the Sufi, “One prostration to God frees you from a thousand prostrations to your ego.”
Scilicet, the self-separating nature of salat also keeps one from the evils of this world and, inasmuch, the next. Allah conveys through the Qur’an in Surah al-’Ankabut, that “Salat prohibits immorality and wrongdoing,” because it constantly reminds the believer where they come from, who they are, and to whom they will return. In this state of remembrance and redirected attention from the creation to their Creator, one’s source of pleasure also changes direction, swerving them away from falling victim to their appetite and instead, live according to the rules of the Lord. Similar to water washing away the filth from one’s physical presence, salat washes away the filth from one’s metaphysical one. Thereupon, with this condition, the believer is given hope for salvation in the afterlife as “indeed, the successful are the believers, those who humble themselves in their salat,” (Qur’an, 23:1-2). Needless to say, reciting the prayers and partaking in the movements of salat in the hiatus of faith alone are not enough, since in the words of mystics, “Salat without the presence of the Lord in the heart is no salat at all.” Ultimately, the purpose of salat is a never-ending connection and communication with God in the light of Divine Remembrance, therefore, whether the servant is in a state of ritualistic movements or not, they should always be mindful of the presence of God in their hearts. Although for this reason salat is seen as a means of end, because mortals are unable to gain salvation outside of the Mercy of God, it is apparent that the core purpose of salat does not pertain to the afterworld but instead refuels one’s spiritual energy through the Divine means of God— and since, in Sufi saying, “When we praise God, it is not God that becomes Holy, it is us that becomes Holy,” the believer must always be in remembrance of the fact that they “do not pray for the love of God, but from the love of God," to fulfill their endmost purpose of reaching a higher state of consciousness in constant remembrance.