Du`aa’ is an Arabic word written here in English letters. Three small letters that make up a word and a subject that is large and breathtaking. This word du`aa’ could be roughly translated to mean supplication or invocation, although neither word adequately define du`aa’. Supplication, which means communicating with a deity, comes closer than invocation which is known to sometimes imply summoning spirits or devils.
In Islamic terminology du`aa’ is the act of supplication. It is calling out to God; it is a conversation with God, our Creator, our Lord, the All Knowing, and the All Powerful. In fact the word is derived from the Arabic root meaning to call out or to summon.
Du`aa’ is uplifting, empowering, liberating and transforming and it is one of the most powerful and effective act of worship a human being can engage in. Du`aa’ has been called the weapon of the believer. It affirms a person’s belief in One God and it shuns all forms of idolatry or polytheism. Du`aa’ therefore is essentially submission to God and a manifestation of a person’s need for God.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “A slave becomes nearest to his Lord when he is in prostration. So increase supplications in prostrations.’’ (Muslim)
“The supplication of every one of you will be granted if he does not get impatient and say: `I supplicated my Lord but my prayer has not been granted’.’’ (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
At this point in understanding exactly what du`aa’ is, it would be easy for someone from a Christian background to think that du`aa’ is prayer. Du`aa’ certainly holds certain similarities to the prayer of Christians; however it should not be confused with what Muslims call prayer. Prayer, or in Arabic salah, is one of the pillars of Islam, and in performing the five daily prayers a Muslim actually engages in a physical form of du`aa’ asking God to grant them Heaven through their actions. Throughout the prayer one also supplicates to God directly.
For Muslims prayer is a set of ritual movements and words performed at fixed times, five times per day. God says in Qur’an:
Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed hours. (An-Nisaa’4:103)
Muslims pray in the early morning before sunrise, in the middle of the day, in the afternoon, at sunset and at night. Prayer is an act of worship, in which a Muslim reaffirms his belief in One God and demonstrates his gratefulness. It is a direct connection between God and the believer and it is an obligation.
Du`aa’ on the other hand is a Muslims way of feeling that connection to God at anytime, in any place. Muslims call on God frequently throughout the day and night. They raise their hands in supplication and ask for His help, mercy, and forgiveness. Du`aa’ incorporates praise, thanksgiving, hope, and calling on God to assist the one in need and grant his or her requests.
Du`aa’ can be made for the individual, their family, friends, strangers, those in dire circumstances, for the believers, and even for the whole of humanity. When making the du`aa’ it is acceptable to ask for good in this worldly life and in the hereafter. A person making du`aa’ should not hold back, but ask God to grant both the largest and smallest requests.
Prophet Muhammad encouraged the believers to make du`aa’. He said:
“The du`aa’ of a Muslim for his brother in his absence is readily accepted. An angel is appointed to his side. Whenever he makes a beneficial du`aa’ for his brother the appointed angel says: Ameen. And may you also be blessed with the same’”. (Muslim)
Although making du`aa’ is not an obligation, there are many benefits to making du`aa’ to God frequently and with full submission. Feeling the closeness to God that comes with sincere du`aa’, it increases faith, gives hope and relief to the distressed and saves the supplicant from the despair and isolation.
Throughout the Qur’an, God encourages the believer to call on Him, He asks us to lay our dreams, hopes, fears and uncertainties before Him and to be sure that He hears every word.
You alone do we worship and You alone do we ask for help. (Al-Fatihah 1:5)
And your Lord says, Call on Me; I will answer your (prayer). But those who are too arrogant to worship Me will surely find themselves in Hell, in humiliation. (Ghafir 40:60)
Say, O My slaves who have transgressed against their souls; despair not of the Mercy of Allah: For Allah forgives all sins; for He is oft Forgiving, most Merciful. (Az-Zumar 39:5)
Say, Call upon Allah, or call upon Ar-Rahman (The Most Beneficient): By whatever name you call upon Him, (it is well): For to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. (Al-Israa’ 17:110)
And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the supplications of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright. (Al-Baqarah 2:186)
Prophet Muhammad called du`aa’ the essence of worship. (At-Tirmidhi) He also suggested that the believer be humble, yet firm when making du`aa’ and said: “When one of you supplicates, he should not say: ‘O God, forgive me if You will’, but be firm in asking and make the desire great, for what God gives is nothing great for Him.” (Muslim)
When we make du`aa’, when we call upon God in our hour of need, or express our gratefulness, or for any other reason including simply to feel the comfort of being close to God, we must remember to examine our sincerity and to check our intention. Du`aa’ must be addressed to God Alone, who has no partners, sons, daughters or intermediaries. Our intention when making the du`aa’ must be to please God, obey Him and trust Him completely.
When a person makes du`aa’ God may give him what he asked for or He may divert a harm that is greater than the thing he asked for, or He may store up what he has asked for, for the Hereafter. God has commanded us to call upon Him and He has promised to respond to our call.