As with any document that claims to be revelation from a divine source, the Qur’an concerns itself with divulging the meaning of existence within the cosmic context. Like all holy books, its basic presuppositions find their locus in not only the actual existence of a deity but also in the desire of said deity to communicate with its creation. Within the broader socio-religious context, the Qur’an claims to be the successor and final authority in the tradition of monotheistic religions coming out of the Middle East begun by Judaism and continued by Christianity. The Qur’an is seen by Muslims as the miracle that ratified Muhammad’s prophetic ministry: a revelation delivered to a devout man born fatherless in the lower caste of a tribal culture. As such, the Qur’an follows the Judeo-Christian tradition in expounding the will of the transcendent God, Allah, to his creation in order to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. This review will examine the interplay between Allah, humanity, and prayer as themes within the Qur’an.
The Qur’an reveals Allah to humanity in a style informed by eastern traditions. Namely, while Allah is personally concerned for humanity he is seen primarily as transcendent by Islamic traditions. Consequently, humanity does not know Allah through personal intimacy, but rather through Allah’s self-revelation in the Qur’an and a strict adherence to the righteous lifestyle it prescribes in the Five Pillars. While Islam has a rich theology which stems from the ninety-nine names used for Allah, four attributes in particular seem to be communicated about Allah in the Qur’an. First, Allah is the one true God, the Creator of all that exists. Second, Allah is the sovereign ruler of all that he created. Third, Allah is the righteous judge of all, believing and non-believing Muslims alike. Fourth, Allah is truly merciful and understanding to those who will confess him as the one true God and Muhammad as his prophet.
The Qur’an proclaims that Allah “created all things and gave them due proportions” (87:2). His power to create is a demonstration of his status as the one true God (6:102; 65:12; In verses which echo the biblical account of creation in Genesis, Allah created all things perfectly in six days (32:7), divided the heavens and earth (21:30), put the sun, moon and stars into orbit (21:33; 41:37), and caused the sun to give light to the day while the moon gives light to the night (10:5; 6:96). Additionally, humanity is the pinnacle of Allah’s creation (45:13; 55:3-9; 67:2). These claims are foundational to the Muslim understanding of Allah’s essential attributes. The picture the Qur’an paints of who Allah is thoughtfully extends concentrically to notions that prove logically necessary.
If Allah is the one true God, and he is the Creator of all that exists, then it logically follows that Allah is also sovereign over his creation. Allah’s is a sovereignty that first encompasses the created order (18:26). He has perfect control of the universe, space, time and all their workings (25:2; 35:13; 2:255). He has also ordained the existence of living creatures (11:118), kingdoms and tribes (2:107; 3:189; 5:17-18; 9:116), and even personal affliction (6:17-18; 10:107). Indeed, he directs all of the personal affairs of his people (9:51). Interestingly, Allah has also directly guided the evolution of his prophets’ messages. The revelation, mistakes and subsequent corruption of Allah’s message within the Jewish and Christian traditions were all directed by the hand of Allah (6:106-107, 148-149). Ultimately, however, the outcome of all the created order and even those who submit to Allah are all an outcome of his volition (7:178-179; 10:99; 11:118-119; 16:93; 32:13).
Two attributes of Allah that are set in tension against one another in the Qur’an, much like the biblical picture of God, are judgment and mercy. The judgment of Allah is preeminently fair (95:8, 6:73). In fact, the predominant idea surrounding Allah as judge is his ability to set everything to rights. Islam teaches that a final judgment in which every person’s account is settled will occur. Each, believer or unbeliever, will be accountable to Allah for their behavior (25:25-26; 40:15-17; 2:123, 254; 22:56; 3:9, 25). The view of Allah as preeminent judge is juxtaposed with the proclamation of his mercy, sometimes within the same passage (6:12). Often, the reach of Allah’s mercy is as ubiquitous as his sovereignty (38:66, 4:110; 39:53); and in many regards, the mercy of Allah seems far more inclusive than that expressed in the Bible (53:32; 14:7; 35:45). Allah, then, is communicated as a divine ruler, the Creator of everything that is lavish with his mercy and fearsome to those who will not submit. While the sin of humanity is pervasive and an affront to Allah, the Qur’an communicates a high anthropology.
Similar to the account of creation, the Qur’an contains an account of the fall of Adam that runs parallel to the biblical account in many ways. However, in the Qur’an Adam and Eve beg Allah’s forgiveness after their fall (7:23), and he grants them forgiveness, punishing them only with mortal life on earth (7:25). The theological outcome of this account is a high anthropology that concedes humanity’s proclivity for sin (20:124), but rejects any kind of doctrine of “original sin,” stating instead that every person has a natural inclination toward faith and repulsion from sin (95:46; 49:7). The Qur’an lucidly explains that humanity urges itself on to evil (12:53), that sickness dwells in their hearts (2:10), and resentful when good befalls it (70:19-21). Nonetheless, humanity’s ultimate purpose and lifelong endeavor is the pursuit of wisdom and obedience, which the true believer pursues with joy and the unbeliever is incapable of comprehending (22:46).
An interesting paradox occurs within the Qur’an concerning the will of humanity and Allah’s sovereignty, though. While the Qur’an is careful to articulate the sovereign rule of Allah, its high anthropology places each person firmly in control of their obedience to or rejection of Allah. One account of Allah’s interaction with Satan demonstrates that only humanity will be given the discretion concerning which company to keep, to choose a path of evil or righteousness (15:33-50). Even those who pursue paths of destruction are offered respite for a time, so that they might come to the true knowledge of Allah (35:45). In fact, the God who “governs the destiny of all things” will grant help to those who choose to pray and give (22:41-43). Here, and in many other places, the relationship between Allah and humanity emerges. Allah is sovereign and directs the affairs of creations, but it is the will submission of the heart which garners his favor and attention. While all five of the Great Pillars are essential elements in demonstrating submission to Allah, prayers prove a consistent conduit of favor in the Qur’an.
Prayer, as prescribed in the Qur’an, is a daily ritual intended to bring the person’s whole being into alignment through the remembrance of Allah (6:162; 20:14; 29:45). It is intended that daily prayers, the Salaat, be observed throughout a person’s life (19:31; 70:23, 34). Those prayers are to take place three times throughout the day: morning, evening, and the middle of the day (24:58; 11:114; 2:238). There are several stipulations within the Qur’an concerning the ritual of prayer. First, the person praying must perform ritual cleansing with water (4:43; 5:6).
Prayers must be said facing the Ka’ba, and must be observed on time every day (2:125, 143-150; 22:26; 4:103). The prayer should be begun in a standing position, with noteworthy exceptions for riding or driving (2:238; 3:39; 4:102; 2:239). The person praying physically symbolizes the submission to Allah that should be occurring in the heart by first bowing, then prostrating (4:102; 22:26; 38:24; 48:29). Again, unusual circumstances warrant amending the physical ritual during prayer (2:239).
Though the ritual seems to possess a large portion of the Qur’an’s teaching of prayer, there is a call to adopt a contemplative attitude as well (4:43). It is not uncommon for the reverence expressed in prayer to be accompanied by mental recall of one of Allah’s attributes (23:2; 17:111). This of course is intended to be a centering exercise based on the person’s condition or needs at the time of prayer. Prayer is firmly set aside as a time to honor and reflect upon Allah (6:162; 20:14; 29:45). Even mentioning other names during prayer times is seen as an act of rebellion against humanity’s need for God (72:18; 29:45). Ultimately, the purpose of prayer in the Qur’an is to remember and glorify the greatness of Allah, his mercy, and humanity’s dependence upon him (1:1-7; 20:14; 17:111; 2:45). One other unique element of prayer within the Qur’an is its frequent pairing with almsgiving. Often, when Muslims are called to pray, they are also called to give to the poor as a demonstration of a heart that recognizes human dependence on Allah and communal responsibility for those who pray together (2:43,83,110; 4:77; 22:78; 107:1-7). Such expressions of practicality often accompany rituals of devotion within the Qur’an.
Consequently, it is these types of rituals, specifically that of prayer, which bridge the gap between a rebellious human population and a transcendent, holy God. While many themes of the Qur’an have been left unexplored here, these three seem to encompass the greater intent of Muhammad’s message to Muslims. Namely, God (Allah) does exist, and he is the sovereign creator of all that exists. Though he transcends all of creation, he is a merciful and forgiving God to those who submit, and a fearsome and perfect judge to those who will not believe. The crown-jewel of his creation, humanity, teeters perilously on the edge of repentance. While all of humanity is capable of and desirous of living well, many have given way to their passions and follow a path of destruction. However, Allah has sent Muhammad with instructions about how to live a life of submission to God. A life that begins with confession and continues in demonstration of faith through holy living.
 Some claim that Muhammad was illiterate, and that the beauty of the Qur’an is an evidence of its divine nature. It is a disputed point, but Muhammad was an unlikely source for the Qur’an, illiterate or not.
 However, in the Qur’an all living things, including humanity, were brought forth from water (21:30).