Bowing or “Ruku’: A Symbol of Transcendence

The state of Istiqama or straightness in the Muslim prayer is followed by ruku’ or bowing. Allah Akbar frees oneself from a current summit to aspire to a new one. Subhana Rabbia Al-adhim that we say and repeat during ruku’ frees oneself from going down. “Subhana-Allah” means literally “to glorify and exalt Allah” who transcends errors and mistakes. Prophet Mohammad said, all descendants of Adam are subject to error, and the best among them are those who repent. “Subhana-Allah” becomes the method for humans to connect with Allah Who does not err in order to transcend their own mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Qur’an described Prophet David bowing in “ruku” asking for forgiveness for misjudging a dispute between two persons. “He asked forgiveness of his Lord fell down bowing and turned to Allah in repentance.” (38:24)

The act of bowing in “ruku” reminds the praying Muslims of the possibility of falling due to some sort of weakness. “Subhana-Allah” helps them to stand up again. In the experience of Prophet Jonah, “subhana-Allah” was his exit strategy out of the whale. “Had it not been that he glorified Allah, he would certainly have remained inside the whale till the Day of Resurrection.” (37:133-134)

Mistakes, errors, and sins disturb our balance and equilibrium. “Subhana-Allah” brings us back to the center. “Subhan-Allah” therefore, is not a traditional repetition. It reminds us to acknowledge our weaknesses, predict their occurrence, and transcend them without accepting the status quo.

Our journey of seeking the straight path or Istiqama is long, and hence requires the capacity to continuously avoid our possible mistakes, transcend our shortcomings, and restore our balance and equilibrium. Ruku’ of such understanding is followed by another qiyaam or Istiqama called i’tidal, which literally means balance and equilibrium. This new state of adjustment prepares us for an even higher state; the state of sujud, in which the worshipper is the closest to Allah as described by Prophet Mohammad. The transcendence and adjustment that are made possible by ruku’ deserve the praise and gratitude to Allah Who always listens and responds generously to those who express their thanks and gratitude.  This is very well reflected in the words recited while standing up from the ruku’ state.

Subhana-Allah does not only liberate us from the prisons of mistakes and errors but also from the prisons of success and victory. “Nothing fails like success” as Arnold Toynbee said. In order to succeed, we have to free ourselves from our own achievements and accomplishments. We have to make tasbiih at every level of success. “When comes the help of Allah and victory, and you see the people embracing the religion of Allah in crowds, make tasbiih to your Lord and ask Him for forgiveness.” (110:1-3)

By Walid Khayr