We truly appreciate the value of something when we are deprived of it – either temporarily or irrevocably. Owing to a recent accident, I was compelled to say my prayers while sitting down, and like many others who are unable to bow down due to physical disabilities or old age, I realized the value of one of the pillars of prayer which many of us tend to rush through or neglect in ordinary circumstances: the Ruku’ (bowing/genuflection).

Obligation of Ruku
The acts of bowing and prostrating in prayer are commanded in the Qur’an and made obligatory upon the believers:

O you who believe! Bow down and prostrate yourselves and serve your Lord.” (Qur’an, 22:77)

Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! Worship your Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.’ (Qur’an, 3:42-43)

In a Hadith (narration) the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised “the one who prayed badly”, saying, “Indeed, the prayer of one of you is not complete until he makes an excellent ablution as Allah has commanded him to … then he celebrates Allah’s greatness, praises and glorifies Him, then recites the Qur’an as much as is easy for him from what Allah has taught him and allowed him, then says Takbeer (Allahu-Akbar) and makes Ruku’ (and places his hands on his knees) until his joints are at ease and relaxed.” (Abu Dawood and An-Nasai’)

In another narration, Abu Qatadah (may Allah be pleased with him) related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The worst people are the thieves who steal part of the prayer.” He was asked how this was done, and he replied, “The one who does not complete his bowings and prostrations,” or he said, “The one who does not straighten his back during his bowings and prostrations.” (Ahmad, At-Tabarani, Ibn Khuzaimah and Al-Hakim)

Abu Mas’ud Al-Badri (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The prayer of one who does not straighten his back in his bowing and prostration is not accomplished.” [Narrated by “the five,’’ [narrators] and Ibn Khuzaimah, Ibn Hibban, at-Tabarani and al-Baihaqi]

The Companion Hudhayfah Bin Yaman (may Allah be pleased with him) saw someone who did not straighten his back during his bowings and prostrations, and told him, “You have not prayed. And if you were to die, you would not die on the way of Allah and His Messenger.(Al-Bukhari)

Prophet’s manner of performing Ruku
In The Prophet’s Prayer Described, the Prophet’s manner of performing Ruku’ is narrated thus:

  • “He would place his palms on his knees”, and “would order them (his Companions) to do likewise.”
  • “He would put his hands firmly on his knees (as though he were grasping them).”
  • “He would space his fingers out”, ordering “the one who prayed badly” likewise, saying: “When you make Ruku’, place your palms on your knees, then space your fingers out,  then remain (like that) until every limb takes its (proper) place.
  • “He used to spread himself (i.e., not be in a compact position), and keep his elbows away from his sides.”
  • “When he made Ruku’, he would spread his back and make it level, such that if water were poured on it, it (the water) would stay there (i.e., not run off).”
  • He also said to “the one who prayed badly”, “When you make Ruku’, put your palms on your knees, spread your back (flat) and hold firm in your Ruku’.”
  • “He would neither let his head droop nor raise it (i.e. higher than his back)”, but it would be in between.
  • “He used to make his Ruku’, his standing after Ruku’, his Sujood (prostration), and his sitting in between the two Sajdas (prostrations), nearly equal in length.”

Inner dimensions of Ruku
In Ihya Ulum Ad-Din, in the Book of Prayer, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (may Allah have mercy upon him) writes, “Ruku’ and Sujud (prostration) are accompanied by a renewed affirmation of the supreme greatness of Allah.

In bowing you renew your submissiveness and humility, striving to refine your inner feeling through a fresh awareness of your own impotence and insignificance before the might and grandeur of your Lord. To confirm this, you seek the aid of your tongue, glorifying your Lord and testifying repeatedly to His supreme majesty, both inwardly and outwardly.”

While researchers today are slowly making the connection between prayer and physical and spiritual health, Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy upon him) wrote about it centuries ago in Za’ad Al-Ma’ad: “Prayer has an amazing effect on the health of the body and heart, and in strengthening them and expelling harmful toxins from them. No two people have been afflicted with any disability, disease, or other calamity, except that the portion of the one who prays, is less (harmful) and his outcome is better.

Prayer also has an astounding effect on the evils of the Dunya (worldly life), especially when the prayer is performed properly and perfectly, inwardly and outwardly. Nothing keeps the evils of the Dunya at bay and brings on the benefits of it like prayer.

The reason behind this is that prayer is one’s connection to Allah, the Mighty and Majestic. So based on the strength of a person’s relationship with his Lord, the doors of goodness will accordingly be opened up for him, bad things and the reasons for them befalling him will be cut off, and the elements of success granted by His Lord, will begin pouring in…”

Words that should give those of us who rush through prayer, pause for thought.