Istiqama: resisting transgression and standing up to oppression
Reciting from Al-Faatihah, the Opener, “show us the straight path” (1:6) while standing up straight in prayer is a continuous reminder to adjust our lives according to the right and straight path. Straight should be the manner of travel and the quality of any path we take in this life. It is the direction and the meaning that we choose and give to our actions. In this way, the right and straight path becomes a navigational tool that leads us to success and prosperity in this life and to the ultimate salvation in the hereafter. In fact, the call for prayer, adhan: “Come to prosperity and salvation, falah” expresses this objective clearly. Seeking the right and straight path together with falah is a journey and a process and not merely looking for a fixed destination.
Let us go a step back and consider the preparation for prayer:
Cleanliness, or tahara, of the inside as well as on the outside,
Sharpening and awakening the senses by the water of ablution,
Saying the Adhan, i.e. stating the vision in a clear language,
Awareness of time in the name of the prayer
Awareness of space as we face the qiblah
All these steps are mandatory to enter the prayer and elevate ourselves to a new state closer to Allah.
We share this elevation with all our brothers and sisters whether we are praying together in the same place or away from each other. This elevation is a start and not an end no matter how high it is. This high state of elevation is only possible by saying and understanding the meaning of “Allah Akbar.” Allah Akbar reminds us of the spirit needed to free ourselves continuously from the prison of any elevation: Allah Akbar, followed by “Al-Faatihah,” the Opener or the Liberator becomes the tool for this type of emancipation. Al-Faatihah is also a start that clearly opens the door and directs to the Ultimate Qiblah, “The Lord of All worlds.” Al-Faatihah is a moment of hope, full of dream, continuous work, asking for help and showing a continuous interest and a continuous awareness of a collective march toward the right path.
Straightness in prayer or Istiqama symbolizes the ability of believers to act in this world; a collective action reflecting a prepared society to overcome obstacles it may encounter during its long journey, a dedicated and mobilized Umma facing a common threat, a moment of collective straightness “Istiqama” and righteousness that signifies a different presence in this world.
Therefore, Istiqama is a universal state we share with other living creatures in this existence as Quran clearly states, “There is not a moving creature, but He has the grasp of its forelock. Verily, it is my Lord that is on a straight path.” (11:56)
Marine biologists have spent years tagging humpback whales near Brazil and tracking them as they migrate to Antarctic waters. They found that whales move in a straight line for hundreds of miles. Similarly, decades of experiments on birds and terrestrial animals also showed that they travel in near-perfect straight lines.
Istiqama is an innate and built-in feature of many creatures on this planet. When it comes to humans, Istiqama is a challenge and a choice. Humans must work hard to maintain the right and straight path in their daily life. They always struggle to be in harmony with the Universe and other creatures on this planet. They always ask Allah to illuminate their path as they navigate their way toward the truth. “Those who say: Our Lord is Allah, and further, they stand straight and steadfast, the angels descend on them: Fear not, nor grieve! But receive the glad tidings of the paradise that you were promised.” (41:30)
Once a companion asked the Prophet, O Messenger of Allah, tell me something about Islam that I ask no one but you. He said, Say: I believe in Allah- and thereafter stay upright. The believers have constantly to shield themselves from two major threats as they seek the straight path: Ignorance and transgression. Any deviation from true knowledge is ignorance and any deviation from balance or justice is transgression.
“But who transgresses more than one who invents a lie against Allah to lead the people astray without knowledge?” (6:144)
What is then the Quranic prescription to keep us safely on the right path?
“Stand firm in the straight path as you are commanded, you and those with you who repented, and do not transgress, for He knows all that you do.” (11:112)
In our social and political life, Istiqama is a necessary tool and skill to resist transgression and stand up to oppression. The integration of this powerful message into the act of prayer has an additional advantage. It reminds us not to repeat the experience of the oppressor, because that will defeat the purpose of being on the right and straight path. To stand up straight in prayer facing qiblah as a free obedient creature of Allah only, has this double effect: reject the subjugation to other humans acting like masters, and keep Allah as the ultimate qiblah of guidance.
By Walid Khayr