The State of the Slave Between the Two Prostrations
Next it is prescribed for the slave of Allah to rise from his prostration to assume the sitting pose until his limbs enter a state of repose. Given that this pillar has been placed in the middle of two prostrations earns it great significance. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to spend about the same amount of time in this pillar and he did during prostration, and during it he used to invoke and beseech Allah for His Forgiveness, Mercy, Guidance, and Provision. The experience and effect of this pillar is unique and different from the pillar of prostration: in this posture the slave kneels down before his Lord apologising for all the sins he committed and hoping for His Forgiveness and Mercy, and asking Him to help him against his own self that incites him to commit acts of wrongdoing.
Al-Istigfar Between the Two Prostrations
The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to ask for much forgiveness from Allah in this position. He used to say:
“O my Lord, forgive me, O my Lord, forgive me, O my Lord forgive me.” (Recorded in Ibn Majah)
O worshipper, be in the salah like a man who agreed to guarantee the debt of a person who turned out to be deceitful and kept delaying payment of his debt. And because you are the guarantor of this man you will be called to pay the debt in place of him, so you call for every form of help available to force this man to pay his debt in order to release yourself from this commitment [meaning that a man should employ all his limbs and very possible means whereby he assures his salah is complete and perfect].
The heart is in partnership with the nafs (inner self) in evil and good, punishment and reward, praise and condemnation. Indeed, the nafs is intrinsically rebellious in nature, always seeking to break out of its condition of slavery to Allah and inclined to ignore the rights of Allah as well as the rights of mankind. Nevertheless, the heart follows and submits to the nafs whenever it is dominant and strong, and conversely the nafs follows and submits to the heart whenever is dominant and strong.
The Wisdom Behind the Second Prostration
It is therefore prescribed for the slave of Allah to sit down in the presence of Allah with humility, admitting his mistakes and repenting from sins, hoping for his Mercy and asking for His Forgiveness, Guidance, Provision and Protection. The five things that the slave beseeches His Lord for include the good of this life as well as the good of the Hereafter. This is because the slave of Allah is in dire need of protecting himself against all harm, as well as attaining what benefits him in this life and the Hereafter. His share of Allah’s provision covers the provision intended for his body, heart and soul, and Allah is the best Provider. Protection and safety keep away the harm, guidance brings forth the benefits of the Hereafter, forgiveness protects him from harm both in this life and the Hereafter. Mercy covers all the aforementioned and guidance covers its details.
Then it is prescribed for the slave to fall into prostration once more, because one prostration is not enough as the case with bowing down. This due to the virtue and honour of prostration, not to mention it being the position in which the slave is closest to his Lord. It also takes into account that prostration is more prominently recognised as a mark of servitude compared to the other actions of salah. This it is the culmination of the rakah in relation to which the preceding actions serve as a preamble that lead to it. From this point of view it is like tawaf of ziyarah (the tawaf of the visit) just as how the closest a slave comes to his Lord in hajj is during tawaf, likewise the closest a slave comes to his Lord in salah is in prostration. It is reported that the man who asked for the hand of Abdullah ibn Umar’s (may Allah be pleased with him) daughter called out to him while he circulating around the Kabah but Abdullah ibn Umar ignored him and did not reply. After he finished his tawaf, he approached him and said: ‘How can it be that you think of matter related to this worldly life when we are standing in the Sight of Allah in tawaf?!’ It would appear the reason Allah made the action of bowing down precede prostration is that the slave should move gradually from one act to another that is higher then the preceding one in rank.
The wisdom behind prescribing the actions and the statements of salah to be performed several times in succession during salah is because they are the sustenance of the heart and the soul without which they cannot survive. It is like the example of man whose hunger and thirst cannot be quelled by a single morsel of food or a single sip of drink, unless he eats or drinks more and more until he reaches the point of satiation. Eating one bite can never satisfy the hunger of a person; in fact it may make him even hungrier. One of the righteous Salaf said: “The example of the man who prays without achieving calmness and tranquility in his salah is like person who is hungry, but when food is served he takes only one or two handfuls! What then will it do for him!?”
Performing each pillar and reciting each statement multiple times intensifies the perception of servitude and nearness to Allah, as performing them a second time is an expression of one’s gratitude to Allah for guiding him to do those acts the first time round. Furthermore, it leads to a cumulative increase in the iman, goodness, knowledge and attentiveness of the heart and the feeling of ease in the breast, not to mention aiding the slave in getting rid of the traces dirt from the heart just like a garment is washed over and over until it becomes clean. It is fascinating wisdom that astounds the mind and points to His perfection, Mercy and Compassion. And it may be asserted that all we have mentioned above (of the virtues of salah) is just a little bit in comparison to the vast knowledge we are unaware of, which is greater and superior.
Inner Dimensions of the Prayer by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah Pages 54-58