Where to look during Prayer
Q: Please do not reject my question on the grounds that it is “ritualistic.” I have been trying to find answers to my quest
for the truth and after having understood Islam and accepted it as a way of life, the way of worship is also something
about which I would like to seek clarifications. When one is praying, where does one look?
Worship should always be performed in the way and the manner that God likes and the Prophet (Pbuh) has shown and explained. Prayer or salat, is the most important form of Muslim worship. It includes readings from the Qur’an, movements from one position
to another, glorification of God and supplication. It must always follow the pattern shown to us by the Prophet. He says: “Pray as you have seen me pray.” While, it is his companions who saw him offering his prayers, and joined him in congregational prayers, we have
learned the way to pray through a long succession of generations of Muslims, maintaining the same way and following the Prophet’s example. Following his example is the practical manifestation of the second part of the declaration: La Ilaha Illa Allah, Muhammad Rasool Allah, which means, “there is no deity other than God, Muhammad is God’s messenger.”
In fulfilling his role, Prophet Muhammad was keen to correct any mistake he might have noticed that one or more of his companions sometimes made. One of these mistakes was to look up to the sky during prayer, particularly during supplication. Some of his companions thought that this was better, imagining that this is indicated by the Qur’anic verse that says: “And in the sky is your sustenance and all that you are promised.” (51: 22). This, however, gives no hint that looking up to the sky makes one’s supplication quicker, to be answered. It is God who answers prayer, and God is not bound by time, space or any other dimension. The Prophet advised his companions that looking up to the sky during prayer is not necessary. Some of them, however, might have forgotten or thought little of the matter. Therefore, he stated the following Hadith, issuing a strong warning, quoted by Anas ibn Malik: “What is the
matter with certain people: they lift their eyes to the sky during prayer?”
At face value, the Hadith speaks against looking up to the sky throughout prayer, but another version related by Muslim specifies the time of supplication. Hence scholars differ in their rulings concerning these two aspects. They agree, however, that lifting one’s eyes to the sky at anytime during prayer is not required. The reason is that it makes the worshipper turn away from the qiblah, or the direction he should face in prayer. It also departs from the form of prayer.
The question arises: Where should we look during prayer? Imam Malik says we should look in the direction of the Kaaba, which is the Qiblah, while Imam Al-Shafie and Imam Abu Haneefah prefer that we look to the point where we prostrate ourselves in prayer. This latter view is particularly recommended to the imam who leads the prayer and to anyone praying alone. The one praying in congregation may look towards the imam if he needs to do so in order to follow him.