As Muslims, Allah has blessed us with channels to communicate with Him. He sent to us Prophets, Messengers, and Imams as His representatives. He provided us with divine books, specifically the Holy Qur'an. He commanded us to perform prayers. And He opened for us the door of supplication.
Supplication, or making du'a, is very common and is one of the most logical things a believer would resort to. However, it is important to shed some light on why we supplicate. There are four main reasons:
- We have needs
- We are in trouble
- We feel "empty"
- We love talking to Allah
The above points are a great portrayal of how we as Muslims are in constant interaction between this materialistic world (the first two points), and the world of the "unseen" (the latter two).
With that said, how do we approach supplication? What is the correct, or better, way to do it? When and where can we supplicate? There are numerous such questions that should have solid answers in the minds of believers so that the next time they make du'a, they know they are doing it in the most effective way.
Just like we should lower our voices when we talk to the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) and obey him, just as we must perform ablution before touching the words of the Qur'an and ensure our clothes are clean before we approach our prayers, there are several guidelines that revolve around supplication. It is in our pursuit in reaching Allah and reaching perfection that should motivate us to understand these guidelines.
First Point: Faith, Humbleness, and Tears
Submission is a major pillar our belief rests upon and when we approach Allah and make du'a to Him, we need to reflect our full trust and faith in Him, that He will give us what we need if it is in our benefit. Furthermore, it is important to realize that supplicating to Allah is in itself a blessing. With that in mind, we can be humble when we make du'a. We will not care about where we sit or what we wear. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Call upon your Lord in humility and privately." (7:55)
This humbleness will induce a state of contemplation in the words we recite. It is very important to understand the words we say. Even if we are listening to a du'a in Arabic, we should at least attempt to understand the literal meanings of the words and expressions. Also, whatever we ask from Allah, we should never doubt that He can make it happen.
Finally, the best way to reflect humility and submission is through tears. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says in Du'a Kumayl that crying is his weapon. In addition, tears flow from fear of Allah and they are constant reminders of our weak nature relative to Allah. Our weakness and dependence on Allah is what drives us to make du'a in the first place.
To emphasize this etiquette through supplication, Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) says: "Allah told [Prophet] Moses that if you stand between My hands, then stand as the poor and humble person." (Al Da'awat)
Second Point: Be Free of Sins
It is very important that when we communicate with Allah, we should be away from sins. Of course, being fallible, we should approach supplication with remorse and we should make du'a that Allah forgives us before anything, independent of how small or big the sin is. Imam Sadiq says: "Do not look at the size of your sin; look at who you are disobeying."
In Du'a Kumayl, Imam Ali warns us that our sins can prevent the acceptance of our du'a: "O Allah! Forgive my sins that would hinder my supplication."
Third Point: Qibla, Ablution, Time, and Place
One of the etiquettes of supplication is to face the Qibla. This serves as reinforcement to our prayers. In essence, we are attempting to replicate the same state as when we are performing prayers.
Ablution is yet another important act to perform before making du'a. In addition to relating this matter to prayers, it is a cleansing process; we are approaching the communication channel with Allah by first purifying our soul. Ablution is also an act of discipline, a very important quality when we supplicate to the Almighty.
We ought to know that there are specific places and times that have a higher status when it comes to supplication. There are many narrations that shed light on times such as during the Adhan (call to prayer), when it is raining, on Fridays, between Fajr (the morning prayer) and sunrise, during the nights and so on (Al Da'awat).
Times that are more famous amongst Muslims are Ramadan days and nights, specifically Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power). Imam Al Sadiq says, "Whoever is not forgiven in the month of Ramadan will not be forgiven till the following year unless he or she attends Arafat." (Al-Kafi, Part 4 p. 66)
As for places, mosques – which are the houses of Allah and sacred places of worship – provide the proper setting for communicating with our Lord. Mecca and Medina are holy cities in which supplication is held with high regard. In addition, the shrines of our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all), especially the shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in Karbala, is a place where du'a is never rejected.
So let us make sure to seek those times and places for our supplications, as indeed they have a very strong connection with their acceptance.
Fourth Point: What to Say
One might wonder, what is one supposed to say during supplication? In general, anything that reflects the honorable purpose is fine. However, recalling the other means of communication with Allah, it is best to use them as guidelines. That is, make du'a the same way our Prophet and Imams did. Allah asks us to obey them and follow their actions, and their methods of supplication are no exception. In the school of the Ahlul Bayt, we have a treasure of recommended du'as for specific occasions and needs. Those, along with verses of the Holy Qur'an, should be the core of all our supplications.
One man came to Imam Sadiq and told him he has created a du'a. The Imam looked at him and told him to let go of his creation, and then the Imam taught him what to say and do (Mafatih Al-Jinan). With the words of the Ahlul Bayt in our supplications, we deepen our connection with our Prophet and Imams as we seek to attain closeness with Allah.
Fifth Point: Salawaat
To further stress our connection with the Ahlul Bayt, we should begin and end our supplications by sending blessings upon Prophet Muhammad and his Holy Family, i.e. recite Salawaat.
Imam Sadiq says, "When you commence any supplication, begin with the recitation of Salawaat on Mohammad as Salawaat on Muhammad occupies the position of accepted supplications near Allah. And Allah never accepts some supplication and rejects the other." (Bihar al-Anwar, v. 94, p. 53, tradition 21)
The Final Picture
Imam Ali says in Du'a Kumayl: "Have mercy on the one who owns nothing but supplication."
We need to hold on to this very great blessing and we should give it all that it deserves. After all, supplication is a major path that leads us to Allah and we should strive to do it justice. The aforementioned points serve as merely a starting point for us. In implementing these, let us not forget to supplicate for our brothers and sisters around the world!