Zainab bint Jahsh, one of the Prophet’s wives, was very devout. She was keen to offer voluntary prayers, and to fast. Furthermore, she excelled in handiwork. She did things and sold them, giving the proceeds to charity. As her home was adjacent to the mosque, she sometimes offered voluntary worship in the depth of the night in the mosque.

Anas ibn Malik reports: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) came one day into the mosque and found a rope stretched between two pillars. He asked what was the rope for.

He was told that it was put up for Zainab, so that she would hold on to it during her prayer when she felt too tired. The Prophet said: ‘No. Take it off. Let everyone pray when they feel fresh and comfortable. When they feel tired, they should sit down.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

This is just an example of the fact that Islam does not overburden its followers with worship duties. Voluntary night worship is highly recommended. It earns rich reward from God. Yet no one should go to extreme lengths in offering such worship. It is not right to test one’s endurance in worship. God has made fasting one of the best rewarding acts of worship. We fast in Ramadan as a duty, refraining from taking food or drink for the length of the day, from dawn to dusk. Yet when the fasting time is over, we enjoy a good meal. We have another meal just before starting the fast. Thus, we are able to cope without much strain. Some people tried to make fasting harder, by taking a drink at sunset and continuing the fast to the next day. The Prophet made it clear that was wrong. He issued clear orders that no one should do that.

The present hadith tells us a similar story with regard to prayer. His wife, who was known for her exemplary devotion, wanted to spend much of the night in worship. After a while she was very tired and could not stand up in prayer. The following day, she asked for a rope to be tied to two pillars at a suitable height for her. She felt that if fatigue overtakes her and she is about to fall asleep, she could hold on to the rope in order to keep awake.

Thus, her body would be crying for sleep but her mind wanted her to continue her voluntary worship. The Prophet disapproved. He was too kind to his people to allow this. Moreover, he wanted them to approach worship in a cheerful and comfortable frame of mind. If worship becomes too tiring, people would soon feel it a burden and might leave it altogether. Hence, he told them to offer voluntary worship only when they are fresh and alert.

This is in line with Quranic guidance. God says in the Qur’an: “God does not charge a soul with more than it can bear. In its favor shall be whatever good it does, and against it whatever evil it does. Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong. Our Lord, do not lay on us a burden such as that You laid on those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with what we do not have the strength to bear. Pardon us, and forgive us our sins, and bestow Your mercy on us. You are our Lord Supreme; grant us victory against the unbelievers.” (2: 286)

Such is the supplication of believers: that they should not have a burden that is too hard. Hence, they must not make worship too hard.

-By Adil Salahi