Once Prophet Muhammad passed by a people who were suffering from some affliction. "Why don't they make dua (pray ) to Allah for protection," he said. With all the suffering and disasters Muslims are facing in various parts of the world, the question can be directed to all of us today.
It is not that we have forgotten dua completely; we refer to it regularly. But, our ideas and practice regarding dua have become distorted. Often it is reduced to the level of a ritual. Generally it is considered when all our efforts have failed --- an act of last resort. It is belittled through actions and sometimes even with words. Is it any wonder that today mostly a mention of dua is meant to indicate the hopelessness of a situation.
What a tragedy, for dua is the most potent weapon of a believer. It can change fate, while no action of ours ever can. It is the essence of ibadah or worship. With it we can never fail; without it we can never succeed. In the proper scheme of things, dua should be the first and the last resort of the believer, with all his plans and actions coming in between.
Dua is conversation with Allah, out Creator, our Lord and Master, the All Knowing, the All Powerful. This act in itself is of extraordinary significance. It is the most uplifting, liberating, empowering, and transforming conversation a person can ever have. We turn to Him because we know that He alone can lift our sufferings and solve our problems. We feel relieved after describing our difficulties to our Creator. We feel empowered after having communicated with the All Mighty. We sense His mercy all around us after talking to the Most Merciful. We get a new commitment to follow His path for that is the only path for success. We feel blessed with each such commitment
In every difficulty our first action is dua, as is our last. We ask Allah to show us the way to handle that difficulty; we seek His help in following the path He shows to us; we seek His aid in making our efforts successful. When we fall sick, we know that we cannot find the right doctor without His Will; that the best doctor may not be able to diagnose our condition without His Command; that the best treatment plan will not succeed without His Permission. We make dua for all of these. We make dua before we seek medical help, while we are receiving it and after it has been delivered. The same is true of all other difficulties we may encounter.
Dua is the essence of ibadah. A person engaged in dua affirms his belief in Tawheed (monotheism) and shuns belief in all false gods. With each dua his belief in Allah grows. He beseeches Him, affirming his own powerlessness. A person seriously and sincerely engaged in dua understands exactly the relationship between himself and the Creator and affirms it through his actions. That is the essence of worship! Additionally, such a person can never become arrogant or proud, a logical result of true worship.
Dua is our most potent weapon in all struggles of life as well as in jihad in the battlefield. During the battle of Badr, the Prophet Muhammad stood up all night in prayer seeking Allah's help in the battle between unequal armies that would follow the next day. In the decisive battles against the crusaders, Sultan Salatuddin Ayyubi was busy day and night. His days were devoted to Jihad. His nights were spent making dua, crying, seeking Allah's help. This has been the practice of all true mujahideen.
We should make it a point to make dua for all things big and small. It is the beginning of wisdom to realize that big and small are arbitrary labels that are totally irrelevant in this context. Nothing is too big for Whom we are asking from; nothing is too small for the one who is asking. That is why we have been taught to ask Allah when we need something as small as shoelaces. We should ask as a beggar, as a destitute person, for that is what we in reality are in relationship to Allah. At the same time we should ask with great hope and conviction that we shall be granted our prayers. We should remember the Hadith: "There is nothing more dear to Allah than a servant making dua to Him." On the other hand, a prayer lacking concentration and conviction is no prayer at all.
We should make dua at all times, not only during times of distress. The Prophet Muhammad said: "Whosoever desires that Allah answers his duas in unfavorable and difficult conditions, he should make plentiful dua in days of ease and comfort." Also he said: "The person who does not ask from Allah, Allah becomes angry with him."
We should ask for all of our needs: those related to this world as well as those related to the Hereafter. Those who only concentrate on the former are, in effect, announcing that they don't care for their life in the permanent abode. They should blame no body but themselves for the total ruin in that world that Qur'an assures us awaits them. Those who only concentrate on the later are also showing lack of balance, for we need Allah's help to lead a good life here as well.
We should make dua not only for ourselves but also for our parents, brothers and sisters, spouses and children, relatives and friends, teachers and other benefactors, and destitute and struggling Muslims everywhere. We should pray for them for the good in this world as well as in the Hereafter. The Prophet said: "The dua of a Muslim for his brother (in Islam) in his absence is readily accepted. An angel is appointed to his side. Whenever he makes a beneficial dua for his brother the appointed angel says, 'Aameen. And may you also be blessed with the same.'" [Sahih Muslim]