FROM AMONG THE the stations of worship and reliance on Allah is the station of humility and attentiveness (khushoo‘)
Allah says in the Surat Al-Hadid,
Is not the time ripe for the believers that their hearts be humble to Allah’s reminder and to the truth which is revealed, lest they become like those who received the scripture before but when long ages passed over them, their hearts were hardened, and many of them are sinners? [Surat Al-Hadid, 57:16]
Commenting on this verse, Ibn Mas‘ud (a very early convert to Islam) said, “There was hardly four years between our embrace of Islam and the revelation of this verse in which Allah took us to account.” Ibn ‘Abbas also commented on the same verse saying, “Allah found the believers’ hearts to have been slow, so he took them to account in the thirteenth year after the onset of revelation.”
In another verse, Allah praises the believers for their humility,
Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their daily salah. [Surat Al-Mu’minun,23:1-2]
The word used for humility in Arabic is khushoo‘, which lexically means the state of being low and still (imagine water in a cup, it is still, quiet and at peace only when it settles down as much as possible due to gravity.) Allah said,
And all the sounds will have khushoo‘ (be silent) before the Most Merciful. [Surat Ta Ha, 20: 108]
Here, khushoo‘ means that all the sounds and voices on the Day of Resurrection will be still, humble, and quiet. In another usage of the word, the earth is said to become khashi‘a, that is, is has become low and still and does not rise due to water or vegetation. Allah said,
And from his signs is that you see the Earth low and dead (khashi‘a), but as soon as we send down upon it water it stirs to life and increase. [Surat Fussilat, 41:39]
The khushoo‘ or humility, therefore, is the standing of the heart before the Lord with humility and lowliness and with full concentration towards Him.
It has been said: humility is submission to the truth. This is one of the causes of humility. And one of its signs is that if a person is opposed in some contention of his and is responded to with the truth, he welcomes and accepts the truth submissively.
It has also been said: humility extinguishes the fires of passion; stills the heart’s smoke, and enhances the light of glorification (of Allah) in the heart. Al-Junaid said, “Humility is the lowering of the hearts before the Knower of the Secrets.”
The knowers of Allah (al-‘arifun) have agreed that the site of humility is the heart, but its fruits are born on the physical body and limbs. As ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab said about the man who was fidgeting with his beard while in salah, “Had his heart have humility, his limbs would also have showed its effect.” (Based on a weak chain, see Fayd Al-Qadeer 319/5). In another narration, the Prophet said, “Piety is here,” pointing to his heart, and he did so thrice. (Muslim)
However, the Companions are known to have disliked excessive and unnatural show of outward humility without corresponding inward piety. Hudhayfah said, “Beware the humility of hypocrisy.” When asked what that was, he replied, “That you see the body humble and still but the heart is not so.” A scholar once saw a man with excessively lowered shoulders and stooped body, and he said, “Humility is there,” pointing to his heart, and “Not there,” pointing to his shoulders. ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab said, upon seeing a man meekly stooping his neck while making salah, “O one with the neck, raise your neck, for the khushoo‘ is not found in the necks, but in the hearts.” Once ‘Aishah, the Mother of the Believers, saw some young men walking sluggishly so she asked about them. She was told that these are ascetics (nussak). She said, “When ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab walked, he was swift, when he spoke, he made himself heard, when he hit, he hurt, and when he fed, he fed well—and he truly was an ascetic.” Al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad said, “It was disliked that a man’s body shows more humility than his heart.” Hudhayfah said, “The first of what you will lose in your religion is true humility, and the last of what you will lose is regular salah. How many worshippers perform salah but have no good in them. It may be that you enter a masjid with an entire congregation offering salah but you don’t find among them one with true humility.” Sahl used to say, “If one’s heart has true humility, Satan does not go near him.”
The essence of khushoo‘ or humility consists of three things: 1) lowering oneself before the commandments of Allah; 2) submitting without hesitation to Allah’s decrees; and 3) recognizing that Allah constantly sees one’s heart as well as body. Lowering oneself before Allah’s commands and prohibitions means to accept them with outwardly as well as inwardly serenity. It also means recognizing one’s need of Allah’s guidance before any righteous deed, His help during it and His acceptance after it. Submission to the decrees of Allah could mean submitting to the normative commandments of Allah, or it could mean submitting to what Allah has ordained for us of sustenance and happiness or lack thereof in this life. Both meanings are intended. Humility before Allah entails active submission to Allah’s commandments, as well as being pleased with what Allah has ordained for us, that is after making due effort.
Humility and Attentiveness in Regular Salah
One’s regular salah does not benefit him or her except to the extent that one understands of its meanings (not the meanings of the Arabic words per se, but the general meaning and purpose of salah and of what it means to stand before Allah—tr.), and to the extent of one’s humility and attentiveness towards Allah.
Ibn ‘Abbas said, “There is nothing for you of your salah except what you understand of it” (Ahmad) And it is reported that the Prophet said, “A servant offers salah, but only a half of it is written for him, or a third, or a fourth,” he kept going until he said, “only a tenth.” (Abu Dawud)
Allah has given glad tiding of success to the believers who offer salah regularly, but limited this success to only those who possess proper humility and attentiveness (khushoo‘) [23:1-2]. This pertains to the ultimate reward in the Hereafter and nearness to Allah. But one may ask: Is one’s salah legally accepted if the khushoo‘ was not complete, or must one repeat the salah?
The answer is that if the khushoo‘ is predominant during the salah, but not seamless, the legal duty is considered fulfilled, and the shortcoming is to be compensated by extra salah like sunnah salah before and after the obligatory (fard) ones and other athkar (ritual remembrance after salah).
But if the khushoo‘ was absent almost completely during the salah, the jurists disagree as to whether one’s legal duty has been fulfilled or one must repeat the salah. Some scholars such as Abu ‘Abdullah ibn Hamid who is a disciple of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali in his Ihya’ consider it an obligation to repeat the salah if there was no khushoo‘ in one’s performance the first time. They argue that a salah without any khushoo‘ has no benefit for the one who offers it; does not guarantee his or her success, nor does it free that person of the legal responsibility of obligatory salah—such a performance is just like that of someone who offered salah to show off and must repeat it sincerely and with khushoo‘.[This discussion of whether the salah is accepted without predominance of khushoo‘ or not will continue in the next episode insha’Allah—tr.]