Islam is the answer to the demands of nature. It is in fact a counterpart of human nature. This is why Islam has been called a religion of nature in the Qur'an and Hadith.
A man once came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked him what he should do in a certain matter. The Prophet replied, 'Consult your heart about it.' By the heart the Prophet meant common sense. That is, what one's commons sense tells one would likewise be the demand of Islam.
What does human nature desire more than anything? It desires, above all, peace and love. Every human being wants to live in peace and to receive love from the people around him. Peace and love are the religion of human nature as well as the demand of Islam. The Qur'an tells us, and God calls to the home of peace." (10:25)
One of the teachings of Islam is that when two or more people meet, they must greet one another with the words, Assalamu-'Alaikum (Peace be upon you). Similarly, Salat, or prayer, five times daily is the highest form of worship in Islam. At the close of each prayer all worshippers have to turn their faces to either side and utter the words Assalamu-'Alaikum wa rahmatullah (May peace and God's blessing be upon you). This is like a pledge given to people: 'O people you are safe from me. Your life, your property, your honour is secure with me.'
This sums up the spirit of true religion, the goal of which is spiritual uplift. It is the ultimate state of this spiritual uplift which is referred to in the Qur'an as the "soul at rest" (87:27).
Thus a true and perfect man, from the religious point of view, is one who has reached that level of spiritual development where nothing but peace prevails. When a person has attained that peaceful state, others will receive from him nothing but peace. He may be likened to a flower which can send out only its fragrance to man, it being impossible for it to emit a foul smell.
An incident relating to a saint very aptly illustrates the spirit of religion. The story goes that once a Muslim Sufi was travelling along with his disciples. During the journey he encamped near a large grove of trees upon which doves used to perch.
During this halt one of the Sufi’s disciples aimed at one of the doves, killed it, cooked it and then ate it. Afterwards something strange happened. A flock of doves came to the tree under which the Sufi was resting and began hovering over it and making a noise.
The Muslim Sufi, communicating with the leader of the birds, asked what was the matter with them and why they were protesting. The leader replied, 'We have a complaint to make against you, that is, one of your disciples has killed one of us.' Then the Muslim Sufi called the disciple in question and asked him about it. He said that he had not done anything wrong, as the birds were their foodstuff. He was hungry, so he killed one for food. He thought that in so doing he had not done anything wrong. The Sufi then conveyed this reply to the leader of the doves.
The latter replied: Perhaps you have failed to understand our point. Actually what we are complaining about is that all of you came here in the garb of Sufis yet acted as hunters. Had you came here in hunter's garb; we would certainly have remained on the alert. When we saw you in the guise of Sufis, we thought that we were safe with you and remained perched on the top of the tree without being properly vigilant.
This anecdote illustrates very well the reality of a true religious person or spiritual person for that matter. One who has reached the stage of spiritual uplift, and has found the true essence of religion no longer has the will or the capacity to do harm. He gives life not death, to others. He benefits others, doing no injury to anyone. In short, he lives among the people like flowers and not like thorns. He has nothing but love in his heart to bestow upon others.
Now I should like to say a few words about prayer and meditation in Islam. Let me begin with a question from the Qur'an:
“When My servants question you about Me, tell them that I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls to Me; therefore, let them answer My call and put their trust in Me, that they may be rightly guided" (2:186).
This verse of the Qur'an tells us that in Islam there is no need for any intermediary to establish contact between God and man. At any time and place man can contact God directly. The only condition is that man should turn to God with sincere devotion.
Meditation in Islam aims at bringing man closer to God. When man worships God, when he remembers Him, when his heart is turned towards Him in full concentration, when he makes a request or a plea, then he establishes a rapport with his Maker. In the words of the Hadith, at that particular moment he comes to whisper with his Lord. He has the tangible feeling that he is pouring his heart out to God and that God in turn is answering his call.
When this communion is established between God and man, man can feel himself becoming imbued with a special kind of peace. His eyes are moist with tears. He starts receiving inspiration from God. It is in moments such as these that man can rest assured of his prayers being granted by God.
According to a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said the highest form of worship is to pray as if you were seeing God. We learn from this hadith the true sign of a superior form of worship. The true sign is for man to sense the presence of God during worship, and feel that he has come close to God. That is when he can experience the refreshing, cooling effect of God's love and blessings for man. It is this feeling of closeness to God which is the highest form of spiritual experience.