Q. In Islam, we have several prayers including fard, sunnah, nafl, witr, Jumu'a, tarawih, janaza, etc. There is some controversy regarding Salat-ul Tasbeeh, which is supposedly four rakat and can be performed anytime during the day or night, but preferably before the dhuhr prayer. There are also various ahadith that spell out what is to be recited and how many times during the ruku and sajda. Can you provide some insight into this prayer and its authenticity?
A. Maulana Rumi relates a wonderful story in his Masnavi about Moses and the shepherd. The gist is that Moses hears the man saying that he loves God so much that he would love to comb His hair, kill the lice therein, put shoes on God’s feet, etc. Moses is appalled by this anthropomorphism and berates the man. But it is not long before God takes Moses to task, pointing out basically that everyone perceives God in a particular way, and that each such person should be left alone as God understands and welcomes their devotion. This is what academics might term the “vulgarization” of religion. This type of story is also loved by those with a mystical bent who incline to asceticism and try to perform acts of devotion that may not be the norm in institutional religion. Acknowledging this fact means addressing the question: when do we say something is wrong, commendable, detestable, or allowable? I restrict myself to those four classifications simply because the issue of discussion (salat al tasbeeh/tasaabeeh) is most definitely NOT compulsory, and as such, must come under one of the other classifications. The scholars are divided on the issue. While we do prefer a certain position and we will indicate which, we leave it up to the believer to chose that which seems good.
The tradition about this prayer is reported by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Ahmad. The version from Abu Dawud is thus:
Abdullah Ibn Abbas narrated: The Messenger of God (s) said to al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib: Abbas, my uncle, shall I not give you, shall I not present to you, shall I not donate to you, shall I not produce for you ten things? If you act upon them, God will forgive you your sins, the first and last, old and new, involuntary and voluntary, small and great, secret and public.
These are the ten things: you should pray four rak’ahs, reciting in each one Sura al Fatiha and another sura. When you finish the recitation of the first rak’ah, you should say fifteen times while standing: “Subhanallah, alhamdulillah, la ilaaha illa Allah, Allahu Akbar. Then you make ruku and say it ten times in that position. Then you should raise your head after ruku and say it ten times. Then you should make sajda and say it ten times in this position. Then you should raise your head after prostration and say it ten times (i.e., in jalsa). Then you should prostrate yourself and say it ten times. Then you should raise your head after prostrating and say it ten times in every rak’ah. You should do that in four rak’ahs.
If you can observe it once daily, do so; if not, then once a week; if not, then once a month; if not, then once a year; if not, then at least once in your lifetime.
Now most classical scholars of hadith assess a tradition based upon its chain of transmitters, and if they can find no defect in this chain, will generally accept the hadith. This is the basis of the concept of integrity of the sanad, and is based upon the concept of the collective probity of the Companions. We, however, like to take into consideration the quiddity of what is reported (i.e., the matn). If we find it problematic, then we generally go against accepting the hadith as authentic. Our position comes from the early hadith concept that a hadith has to be PROVEN true before acceptance, rather than simply being ratified on the assumption of the probity of its transmitters.
This hadith is classified as ‘da’if” but because it promotes a pious act, is considered acceptable in terms of “the greater good” that such hadith promote. On this basis, some scholars see the prayer as permissible, and even commendable. Imam Ahmad waved his hands in a dismissive manner remarking: “There is nothing authentic about it.” Ibn Taimiyyah considered it as fabricated. And some point out that none of the famous four imams spoke about it. Others point out that while the narration is imputed to the Prophet, there is no record of him having actually performed such a prayer, nor his companions nor the following generation. An introduction of this form of worship is tantamount to “bida” and therefore detestable, without necessarily being forbidden (wrong).
And yet, others point out that the form of the prayer departs from the accepted norm. the long sitting after the second sajdah, etc. There is also the problematic idea of sins being forgiven merely on the basis of this prayer, when for some wrongdoings, there must be compensation to the wronged party. The idea in Islam is that when it comes to forms of worship, we should follow the Prophet who is supposed to be our teacher and exemplar. To add to what he did, or come up with a format different to his prayer is to insinuate that he did not properly perform his office. If one inclines to mysticism, then one may do so by meditation and contemplation, but not introduce new aspects to the prescribed rites. This is our preferred position. Yet, we cannot overlook the wisdom of Maulana Rumi’s narrative, and as such, having provided the different positions on the issue, we prefer the reader to make his/her own judgment. For God knows best.
Posted May 12, 2021