'Prayer was made the sweetness of my eyes...'
Sheikh `Abd al-Majîd b. Sâlih al-Mansûr
Anas b. Mâlik relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Women and fragrance have been made dear to my affections, but prayer was made the sweetness of my eyes."
This hadîth is related in Musnad Ahmad and Sunan al-Nasâ'î al-Kubrâ, among other sources. It is an authentic hadîth. It has been authenticated by al-Hâkim in al-Mustadrak and by Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî in Fath al-Bârî.
In some narrations it reads, "From your worldly life, women and fragrance have been made dear to my affections…"
However, the variant narration that begins: "Three things from your worldly life have been made dear to me…" is not authentic. It is not established in any of the primary hadîth source works. Moreover, it is a strange narration since its meaning is contradictory, as prayer is not a matter of our worldly lives, but rather off our spiritual lives.
This hadîth is rich in its benefits. It informs us of the relationship a believer should have with prayer as well as with the world. It shows how Islam balances our spiritual lives and our worldly aspirations.
For the devotees of Allah, prayer is the most beloved of all experiences. It is where they find peace and contentment. Without it, they cannot find harmony, balance, and satisfaction in their lives. They need the experience of reverence and awe before Allah that prayer affords them.
Ibn Hajar al-`Asqlânî explains: "The 'sweetness of one's eyes' is the beloved that one hopes never to depart from to the bliss that this beloved brings and the happiness that it enriches one's life with. This is experience with prayer only by those who are reverently patient."
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had attained an unparalleled level of devotion, where worshipping Allah became something much more than beloved to him. Ibn al-Qayyim writes:
No pleasure in this world compares to the bliss of the denizens of Paradise except for this. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Women and fragrance have been made dear to my affections, but prayer was made the sweetness of my eyes."
Here the Prophet (peace be upon him) tells us that two things of the world have been made dear to him – women and fragrance. Then he informs us that it is prayer which is the sweetness of his eyes. This is something far more than love. The "sweetness of the eyes" is the most beloved of all – that which is loved for its own sake. The object of this love is none other than Allah. Everything else that is loved is beloved for His sake and does not in any way contend with the love for Him…
Prayer is the sweetness of the eyes of Allah's devotees in this world, since it is the communion between the worshipper and his Lord, and this is the only way that the heart finds contentment and the soul finds peace.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to his caller to prayer: "O Bilal, give us our rest in prayer." From this we know that prayer is what brought the Prophet relaxation and respite, just as it was the sweetness of his eyes.
We should, therefore, think twice before we say something like: "I offered so much prayer and then I took a rest from praying." For a true devotee, it is within prayer that rest and contentment are to be found. Such a person will love to prolong the prayer so as not to depart from that which is beloved.
By contrast, the person whose heart is heedless of Allah will find prayer to be a burden. Standing for each prayer will be like standing on a hot coal, and the person will fidget until that prayer is over and done with – the shorter the prayer, the better.
What factors will make prayer the sweetness of your eyes?
1. Sincerity: Your reason for offering the prayer is the love of Allah and your desire to draw near to Him and seek His pleasure.
2. Devotion: Your heart is focused entirely on Allah. Your inner being is as fully involved in the prayer as your body which is going through the outward motions. Your mind is not distracted.
3. Proper performance: Your prayer must be carried out in accordance with the Prophet's example. The Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed us, saying: "Pray as you have seen me praying." Care should be taken to observe the prayer in all of its details as it was learned from the Prophet by his Companions. It also means that no additional rites or practices should be added to the prayer.
4. Perceptiveness: The Prophet said: "Worship Allah as if you see him, and though you do not see him, you know that He indeed sees you." This is how the Prophet (peace be upon him) defined the perfection of faith.
5. Gratefulness: You should recognize that it is only by Allah's grace that you are praying to Him. It is the greatest of privileges that He has blessed you to be offering this prayer. This is a key factor in prayer becoming the sweetness of your eyes. The more acutely privileged you feel to be offering your prayer, the more beloved that prayer will be to you.
6. Humility: We should never feel haughty and self-satisfied with our piety. Rather, we need to feel that the prayers we are offering are not enough. Though we may strive to do the best we can, our worship must always fall far short of the mark. Allah's greatness far surpasses our ability to glorify Him. His kindness and mercy far outweigh our gratitude.
Our Worldly Desires
This hadith refutes the idea that piety means the renunciation of worldly pleasures or devotion to Allah requires monasticism. This is one of the benefits we derive from the Prophet (peace be upon him) telling us: "Women and fragrance have been made dear to my affections." We are not called upon to forsake what Allah has made lawful and good. There is no piety in renouncing wholesome pleasures.
Some people think of asceticism in outward terms. They mistake a "pious image" that other people can see for true piety and Godliness. This is because they are ignorance of the Prophet's guidance in this matter. He was the most God-fearing of all people, but he would fast on some days and eat on others. He would spend part of the night in prayer, but he would also sleep. He got married. After elaborating this to his followers, he said: "And whoever desires something other than my way is not of me." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
He never behaved like those conspicuously "pious" people who look emaciated and dress in rags. The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us that piety is an inward quality. It is the relationship that we have with our Lord. The Propet (peace be upon him) took great care of his appearance. He was a clean person. He wore presentable clothes. He wore fragrance. This did not contradict with his asceticism in any way.
Ibn Rajab, while commenting on this hadîth, explains:
Asceticism means to turn your heart away from being preoccupied with the world and to focus on seeking knowledge of Allah and nearness to Him. It means to long for Allah and to desire to ultimately return to Him.
These things are not of the world in the first place. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "From your worldly life, women and fragrance have been made dear to my affections, but prayer was made the sweetness of my eyes." He did not count prayer among the worldly matters that were made beloved to him.
I conclude by beseeching Allah to make our words and deed righteous, and that He may bless us to be sincere to Him.