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I have always been taught the value and importance of jama (collective) prayer. Praying in congregation not only offers more rewards in your personal scale, but also it helps to bind communities by providing an anchoring ritual for all to partake in. As such, I’ve always considered praying in a group more beneficial than praying by myself. This reflection period however, has brought to light some deep issues I have when I pray in jama behind an Imam.
From delaying the prayer to daydreaming more, overall, I can say that if I’m praying behind an Imam, my prayer is of less quality. I was thinking about why this is and I realized that mostly, this has to do with my attitude towards the prayer when behind someone. It’s the attitude of passivity. It’s as if, because I am removed from the responsibility of organizing the physical elements of the prayer, I feel I can wash my hands of engaging in the prayer at all. I rest the entire prayer, both it’s external motions and the spiritual effects it’s meant to produce, on the shoulders of the one leading the prayer. Subhan Allah! This is crazy!! What’s more is that I have been doing this for years!!
Let me draw a parallel here to further bare how convoluted this way of thinking is …
In life we have many different relationships each of which requires different amounts of energy put into it in order to be successful. How much effort you put into your relationship with your mailman will be different than that with your spouse. Mailman less, wife more. And depending on how much effort you give to the relationship, it will either flourish and grow or dwindle and wither. If you want to have a deep empathetic relationship with your mother for example, you need to call her, visit her, send her gifts, and so on. The more you invest, the more you will reap in the relationship.
In our modern world, we have a lot of ways to make connecting with others easier. If you want to call your mother more often, you can set an alarm on your phone to remind you everyday. If you want to send your mother more gifts, you can sign her up to receive a fruit basket monthly. So on and so forth. There are many automatized ways that create the platform for connection. These mechanized time savers however, will not actually do the work of engaging in the relationship for you. They are all just mediums meant to make connecting with others easier. They are supposed to take out the hassle of the mechanics so that you can focus on the actual closeness you experience with another person. The phone can remind you to call, but you must talk to your mom, joke, laugh, and confide in her. The automated delivery can send the fruit basket, but you must go and share the fruit or bake a tart or at least call to ask if she likes the fruit.
Furthermore, if you leave in all these mechanized connection platforms but fail to actually use them to build the relationship, they become a source of pain and annoyance. Imagine everyday seeing a reminder to call your mom which you never respond to. That will just build guilt and resentment instead of love and closeness. From your mother’s side constantly receiving fruit baskets from a child who never calls or visits will be a source of pain and anger for her.
Allah is exalted above any example but our prayers are our way of building a relationship with Him … If we relegate the effort of connecting with Him when we pray, we will never truly be able to build a meaningful relationship with Allah. Jama prayer should help ease the process for a true connection by allowing us to focus on the communication with Allah swt without having to devote as much thought to the mechanics of the prayer itself. This is a blessing from Allah swt which He offers us through jama prayer: increased connection to Him simultaneous to increased connection to the community.
If you view jama prayer as a way to opt out of actually connecting to Allah you are gravely misusing the prayer. Not only have you missed on an eased opportunity for communicating with Allah swt, you have also disregarded the mechanism He has given you. You are telling Allah, I don’t even want to connect with You when you have made it as easy as possible for me to. It’s blatant disrespect. This can only have negative repercussions for how the relationship will grow.
This reflection has probably been one of the most eye opening in my prayer observations. It really showed me how skewed my prayer habits have become and the underlying notions that have been guiding them.
My Allah Grant me clarity of vision and guide my practice of prayer to a better state always. Oh Allah I ask you to Help me make a soul solace of my prayers; a true connection to You.