Zikr: The Real Prayer
The purpose of formal prayer (salah) according to the Qur’an is to establish the Remembrance (zikr) of The Divine in the human soul:
“Then worship Me and establish the prayer (al–ṣalāta) for the sake of My Remembrance (li-dhikrī).” Holy Qur’ān 20:14
In this sense, the Remembrance of The Divine (zikrullah) is a state of awareness or consciousness or illumination as opposed to a formal act of ritual worship. Indeed, zikrullah in this sense underlies all states of formal worship – whether it be formal prayer (Salāh), Du‘a’, rosary (tasbiḥ), etc. In this sense, the ḥaqiqah (reality) or bāṭin al-bāṭin of prayer is the Remembrance of The Divine (zikrullah). This “reality of prayer” is a communication, illumination and inspiration from the Universal Intellect (Aql-i Kull) and the individual human intellect (“aql”) – that is the individual mind of the human being – as follows:
Ontologically speaking, the spiritual state of awareness or consciousness that is zikruallah is “greater” than the formal acts of ritual or formal prayer – as the Qur’an states:
“Verily, the prayer (al-ṣalāta) keeps one away from minor unskillful actions and major unskillful actions, but the remembrance of The Divine (al-zikru Allāhi) is greater (akbar).” Holy Qur’ān 29:45
The most elevated and purified human souls – the Prophets, the Imams, and the Saints (awliya) have attained the spiritual state of continuous zikruallah – such that their souls never depart from remembering The Divine even though they may live in the physical world. The Qur’ān refers to them collectively as the Ahl al-Dhikr (People of Remembrance – Qur’ān 16:43) and Imam Ali (as) explains the inner meaning of the “Ahl al-Dhikr” as those who always remain in the state of remembrance:
“There have always been servants of The Divine with whom there was an intimate discourse (taking place) through their thoughts, and The Divine spoke with them through the essence of their intellects. They diffused illumination through the awakened light in their hearing and their seeing and their hearts, calling unto the remembrance of the days of The Divine… Indeed, there is a special group (ahl) who belong to the Remembrance (zikr); they have adopted it in place of the world, such that ‘neither trade nor merchandise’ distracts them from it. They spend the days of their life in it … It is as though they had left this world for the Hereafter, and they are there, witnessing what is beyond this world.”– Imam Alī ibn Abi Talib, (Reza Shah-Kazemi, Justice and Remembrance, 142)
To summarise, the zahiri prayer performed by the physical body is the Salah The batini prayer performed by the rational soul (al-nafs al-nātiqah) is the Du’a which embodies the ta’wil (esoteric meaning) of the Salah. The ḥaqiqi prayer – the batin al-batin – is the remembrance of The Divine (zikrullah) performed by the heart (qalb) in which human intellect (aql) resides.
In accordance with these principles, the Prophets, Imams and Awliya who are the possessors of the divinely-inspired intellect are always in a state of continuous and unceasing prayer. Indeed, it is possible for all people to attain the spiritual station of continuous prayer or zikruallah and such a feat is the goal of the tariqat (sufi paths) in Islam.