When was the last time you prayed? Not a question we usually ask each other, but one we should probably start asking ourselves, especially given its many benefits.
Prayer is important in many religions and collective prayer is also encouraged, as seen with Friday prayers in Islam, Sunday church gatherings, as well as gatherings at temples, gurdwaras etc. during special occasions.
However, collective prayer in churches in the UK has been declining for a number of years; in October 2013 approximately 1 million people participated in a Church of England service each week 1 compared to about 1.6m in 2003, and statistics show there’s been a 1% year on year decline over that decade, i.e. very few regular church goers, given the demographics of the country.
Recently, the arrival of immigrants from predominantly Christian countries such as Poland and Romania, as well as immigrants from Africa, have helped boost church goer figures, however, this hasn’t stopped the overall rate of church goer figures from declining.
Of course statistics on the number of people who regularly attend mosques and other religious places of worship are harder to find, and statistics on the number of people who pray at home are even more difficult, if not near impossible to ascertain. However, in many mosques there are large Friday congregations and many people do uphold their daily prayers.
But what is the importance of prayer and worship? What difference does it make if people attend church and other gatherings less?
“O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous” (Quran, 2: 21)
Prayer helps us to attain taqwa – piety and God Consciousness. This which helps us ward off evil, become better people, and live a positively productive life. A decline in churchgoers signifies reduced opportunities for society to increase this piety, and a risk of a more distant society from religion and spirituality. This, in turn, can lead to a feeling of emptiness, as religious and spiritual needs aren’t being met as well as potential increased risk to engage in immorality.
Islam places high emphasis on both individual and collective prayer to increase piety. In addition to the five compulsory daily prayers in Islam, other acts of worship such as fasting are also aimed at increasing piety, for example; fasting strengthens the power of self restraint which can help us restrain ourselves from sinning.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Quran, 2: 183)
However, it is important to note that piety is also the sole criterion for the acceptance of deeds by Allah (swt):
“…Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him]” (Quran, 5: 27)
So not only does prayer and other acts of worship help increase piety, but performing acts of worship from piety, i.e. from someone who wards off evil and struggles towards righteousness, is also the sole criterion for the acceptance of deeds.
Making a loud show of prayers in public, acting devoutly etc. does not carry any merit with Allah (swt) and it is the state of people’s hearts that matters:
“Do not let their crying deceive you, because piety exists only in heart” (Imam Ja’far al Sadiq (AS), Bihar al-Anwar, vol 70, p 286)
It is a great blessing to have the five daily prayers in Islam, Ramadhan, as well as the countless other acts of worship, including supporting oneself and family, reading optional dua’s, ziyarah’s, acts of charity, visiting holy places, assisting orphans, and the remembrance of Allah (swt).
All religions have a framework for prayers and collective worship and should be respected as a means of establishing and maintaining a connection with the same God who created and nurtures us all.
As well as benefits of these acts of worship in the next life, there are countless benefits in this life too including peace of mind, better health, better relationships, stronger societies, as well as benefits we may not always perceive. For example, recently after Friday prayers groups of people were chatting and catching up when one man mentioned that one of his relatives had passed away, we offered condolences and prayed for the deceased and he was visibly moved by our emotional support and prayers. Similarly recent refugees and immigrants who may otherwise be on the fringes of society due to language and financial barriers, are pulled in and supported at least once a week by the pillar of prayer and can meet people at the mosque who can support them, so there is great wisdom and blessings behind congregational prayers too as well as individual worship. We should strive to uphold our prayers.
 https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2112070/2013statisticsformission.pdf (see page 5, executive summary)