HEALTH AND THE DAILY PRAYERS
By M. Moinuddin Ahmad
The five daily prayers are obligatory for a Muslim. The real purpose of the prayers is the worship of God but there are innumerable additional benefits. Prayers should be offered with complete tranquility and peace of mind and body. The Qur'aan (Sura Al-Nisa - Chapter 4) condemns those who show indolence and reluctance in prayers.
In Sura Ma'oon (Chapter 107), God deprecates those who are careless in their prayers or offer them only for show. The blessed Prophet has told us -
"Prayers are certainly health-promoting." (Ibn Maja)
God has done us a great favour by ordaining for us prayers five times a day. In addition to saving us from the sins and elevating us spiritually, prayers are a great help in the upkeep of our physical health. They keep our body active, help digestion and save us from diseases of the muscles and the joints through regular balanced physical exercise. They help circulation of blood and may also be mitigating the bad effects of cholesterol. Thus the prayers are an important preventive measure against heart trouble, paralysis, pre-mature senility, dementia, loss of control of sphincters, diabetes etc.
It is possible to speed up the development of collateral circulation by a regular and balanced exercise which is present in the prayers of the Muslims. For this reason the prayers are not only a potent preventive measure against coronary diseases, but they also help in the development of collateral circulation in those who have already had a heart attack or are prone to it. The five obligatory prayers should be regularly offered by heart patients when permitted by the physician to move out of bed. Gradually, additional prayers in the form of 'nawaafil' (non-obligatory prayers) should also be offered. It is essential to note here that according to our blessed Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) 'nawaafil' are the means of getting closer to God. Further the arrangement of the prayers is such that those at the times of empty stomach are brief, but the prayers after the usual meal times are longer and give more exercise to the body. In the month of Ramazan (the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, reserved for fasting) twenty additional rak'aats (components of prayers) are added to late evening prayer for proper digestion of food taken at the time of breaking the fast and to stimulate appetite for Sahar (pre-dawn meal). This is because it is after meals that cholesterol level is higher in the blood which promotes its deposition in the arteries if the circulation slackens. It is, thus, evident that prayers are conducive to spiritual as well as physical benefits.
It must be mentioned here that prayers, if offered in the correct way, constitute a balanced exercise for both sexes of all ages. No muscle of the human body is spared. The following are the details of the muscle-action in each of the many components (rak'aats) of prayers offered five times daily:-
- Takbeer. This is the beginning of a prayer. We raise our hands to the ears and bring them down to the front of the chest. The flexors of the elbows, extensors of the wrists and muscles of the shoulder-girdles take part in performing this movement.
- Iqaamat. While putting our hands in front of our chest, flexors of the elbows and the muscles of the wrist joints take active part while the muscles of the rest of the body are toned to keep the body straight.
- Rukoo'. The correct position of performing rukoo' is that the upper half of the body is bent on the hip joints. In attaining this position muscles of the whole body are in action. There is flexion of the hip-joints, extension of the knees, extension of the elbows and straightening of the wrists. The muscles of the abdominal wall and the back take active part in this process. If the body is not bent in this manner, rukoo' will be defective and the above advantages will not become available.
- Sijda. This means putting the forehead on the ground while the body is supported on the knees and hands. During sijda there is flexion of the hip joints, knee joints, ankle joints as well as the elbow joints, whereas the muscles of the legs, thighs, back and abdomen are stretched. The abductors of the shoulder joints pull the shoulders outwards. The extensors of the wrist joints are also stretched. If the proper posture for sijda as described above is not observed, for example, hands are put straight on the ground, or the abdomen is wrongly brought in contact with the knees and the body is not extended sufficiently keeping the forehead as far as possible from the knees, or when rising from sijda the palms of the hands are put on the ground for support, the physical benefits will lapse.
During sijda women are required to bring their knees in contact with their chest. This knee-chest position is the best known conservative treatment for retroversion of uterus all over the world.
- Tashah-hud. During this sitting position in the prayers the hip-joints and the knee-joints are bent, the muscles of the ankle-joints and feet are stretched backwards and the muscles of the back and the neck are under tension.
- Salaam. This is the end of every complete part of the prayers and consists in turning the face to the right and then to the left. This involves the exercise of the muscles of the neck. If the neck is not turned completely sidewards, the physical purpose will be lost.
It is evident that during prayers muscles of the different parts of the body are exercised turn by turn, which helps the circulation of blood. During sijda the blood supply to the brain increases. This is very essential not only because brain is the controlling centre fro the whole of the body but also because of its high-up situation it is more prone to suffer from lack of blood supply particularly when the arteries are narrowed. Thus sijda is a great help in improving the circulation to this highly sensitive organ.
In old age, osteo arthritis, caused by the wear and tear of the joints, is a very common painful disease of usually the knee-joints. One of the useful methods of treatment is to strengthen the muscles of the knee-joints in order to mitigate the strain on the knees. The regular exercise of these muscles during the prayers is a very good preventive measure for this joint-disorder.
Whereas it is very important to have good patent arteries for the circulation of blood, it is also vital to have a healthy and efficient heart because this pump is responsible for circulation of blood. It takes de-oxygenated blood from the body and pumps it into the lungs for oxygenation and expiration of carbon-dioxide, etc., out of the blood. We have gained this knowledge after centuries of scientific research but 1400 years ago our Great Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) very simply and explicitly told us this fact in the following words:-
"Verily in the body there is such a piece of flesh that if it remains all right, the whole body keeps well but if this piece of flesh develops some defect, the whole body becomes unhealthy. Behold! This piece of flesh is the Heart." (Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Maja).