Prayer is the greatest of the practical pillars of Islam, and khushu, or humility, is the heart of the prayer. Khushu in the prayer is of such importance that it is made a requirement by the shari’ah. When Iblis, the enemey of Allah vowed to mislead and tempt the sons of Adam, he said:
“Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left…”
(Surah al-A’raf 7:17)
One of shaitan’s most significant plots is to divert the people from the prayer by all possible means. Those who do pray are subjected to his whispers so as to deprive them of the joy of this worship and to cause them to lose the reward for it.
Indeed khushu will be the first thing to disappear from the earth in these last times that we are living in. The great companion Hudhayfah, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
“The first thing of your religion that you will lose is the khushu and the last thing that you will lose of your religion is the prayer. There may be a person praying who has no goodness in him, and soon you will enter the masjid and not find anyone who has khushu.” [Recorded in al-Madarij 1/521]
Everyone of us has experiences of waswas (insinuating whispers from shaitan) during the prayer and has experienced a loss of khushu. As Allah tells us:
“Successful indeed are the believers, those who offer their salah (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness.”
(Surah al-Mu’minun 23:1-2)
What is Khushu?
Khushu means calmness, serenity, tranquility, dignity and humility.
One gains khushu from a fear of Allah and the sense that He is always watching. It means that one’s heart stands before its Lord with humility and submission. Allah tells us:
“…and stand before Allah with obedience.”
(Surah al-Baqarah 2:238)
Part of obedience is to bow, to be solemn and submissive, to lower one’s gaze and to humble oneself out of fear of Allah, may He be glorified.
The site of khushu is in the heart, and its effects are manifested in the physical body. The various faculties follow the heart: if the heart is corrupted by negligence or insinuating whispers from Shaitan, the worship of the body’s faculties will also be corrupt.
The heart is like a king and the faculties are like his troops who follow his orders and go where they are commanded. If the king is deposed, his followers are lost, which is like what happens when the heart does not worship properly.
Concealment of Khushu
Hudayfah, may Allah be pleased with him, used to say, ‘Beware of the khushu of hypocrisy.’ He was asked, ‘What is the khushu of hypocrisy?’ He said, ‘When the body shows khushu but there is no khushu in the heart.’
Fudayl ibn ‘Ayad, may Allah have mercy on him, said, ‘It is disliked for a man to show more khushu that he had in his heart.’ One of them saw a man showing khushu in his shoulders and body, and said, ‘O so and so, khushu is here’ – and he pointed to his chest, ‘not here’ – and he pointed to his shoulders. [Recorded in Al-Madarij 1/521]
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy on him, said, explaining the difference between the khushu of true faith and the khushu of hypocrisy, ‘The khushu of true faith is when the heart feels aware and humble before the greatness and glory of Allah, and is filled with awe, fear and shyness, so that the heart is utterly humbled before Allah and broken as it were, with fear, shyness, love and recognition of the blessings of Allah and its own sins. So no doubt the khushu of the heart is followed by khushu of the body. As for the khushu of hypocrisy, it is something that is put on with a great show, but there is no khushu in the heart.’
One of the Companions used to say, ‘I seek refuge with Allah from the khushu of hypocrisy.’ It was said to him, ‘What is the khushu of hypocrisy?’ He said, ‘When the body appears to have khushu but there is no khushu in the heart.’ The person who truly feels khushu before Allah is a person who no longer feels the flames of physical desire; their heart is pure and filled with the light of the greatness of Allah. Their own selfish desires have died because of the fear and awe which have filled their heart. It has become dignified and secure in the remembrance of Allah, so that tranquility descends upon them from their Lord. They have become humble, mukhbit, before Allah, and the one who is humble is assured. Land that is mukhbit is land that is low-lying, in which water settles, so the heart that is mukhbit is humble and content, like a low-lying spot of land into which water flows and settles.
The sign of this is that a person prostrates to their Lord out of humility and respect. the arrogant heart on the other hand is content with its arrogance and raises itself up to an elevated portion of land in which water never settles. As for overdoing it, and the khushu of hypocrisy, this is the attitude of a person who tries to make a great show of khushu, but deep down they are still filled with desires. So on the outside one may appear to have khushu, but the snake of the valley and the lion of the forest reside within them, watching for prey.
Khushu in the prayer happens when a person empties their heart for prayer, and focuses on it to the exclusion of all else, and prefers it to everything else. Only then do they find comfort and joy in it as the Prophet, peace be upon him said,
“…and my joy has been made Salah.”[Recorded in Ahmad]
Allah has mentioned al-khashi’ina wa’l-khashi’at (men and women who are humble before their Lord), and described this quality as one of the qualities of those who are chosen. He tells us that He has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.
One of the benefits of khushu is that it makes prayer easier for a person. Allah tells us,
“And seek help in patience and al-Salah (the prayer), and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for al-khashi’tn.”
(Surah al-Baqarah 2:45)
The meaning is that the burden of the prayer is heavy indeed, except for those who have khushu. Khushu is therefore very important but it is something that is easily lost and is rarely seen, especially in our own times, which are the last times. The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“The first thing to be lifted up (taken away) from this ummah will be khushu, until you will see no one who has khushu.”[Recorded in al-Tabarani]