The Ritual Prayer of the Sacred Law and the Spiritual Path
As for the ritual prayer of the Sacred Law, it is prescribed at five set times in every day and night. In accordance with the Sunna [exemplary practice of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)], this prayer should be performed with the congregation in the mosque, facing in the direction of the Ka’ba [in Mecca] and following the prayer leader [imam], without hypocritical display and without seeking to impress other people.
As for the ritual prayer of the Spiritual Path, it is prescribed perpetually throughout the worshipper’s life. Its mosque is the heart, and its congregation is the gathering of the faculties of the inner being, by concentration on declaring the affirmation of Oneness [Tawhid] in the language of the inner realm. Its prayer leader [imam] is the ardent yearning within the heart’s core. Its Qibla [direction] is the Singular Presence (Magnificent is His Majesty) and the Beauty of Eternal Self; Subsistence. This is the real Qibla.
The heart and the spirit are constantly engaged in this ritual prayer, so the heart never sleeps and never dies, for it is always active in worship, regardless of whether its owner is asleep or awake. The ritual prayer of the heart is performed by the life of the heart, without any sound, and without any standing up and sitting down. Following the example of the Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), it is addressing Allah (Exalted is He) by saying:
You alone do we worship,
and of You alone do we seek help.
waiyya’ka nasta‘in. (1:4)
In his commentary on this Qur’anic verse [aya], al-Qadi said: “It contains an allusion to the spiritual state of one who learns by direct experience, and to his migration from the state of absence to the Singular Presence (Glory be to Him and Exalted is He).” By addressing Allah in these terms, he earns the right to inclusion among those of whom the Prophet said (upon him be the most excellent blessing and peace):
The Prophets and the saints pray in their graves, just as they pray in their houses.
That is to say, they are preoccupied with Allah (Exalted is He) and intimate converse with Him, in the life of their hearts.
When the two ritual prayers are combined, outwardly and inwardly, the ritual prayer is perfected and its reward is tremendous. Its spirituality is rewarded with nearness [to the Lord], and its physicality with the highest rank of distinction. When someone performs this ritual prayer, he thus becomes a worshipful servant in the outer realm, and one endowed with direct knowledge in the inner realm. On the other hand, if someone fails to combine the ritual prayer of the Spiritual Path with the ritual prayer of the Sacred Law, through the life of the heart, he falls short of perfection. His reward is in the ranks of distinction, not in the stations of nearness.
– The Book of the Secret of Secrets, Fourteenth Section