Du'ā is asking Allāh ta'ālā for help or for the fulfilment of a particular need. It expresses a slave's helplessness and dependence on Allāh ta'ālā, the All-Powerful and Merciful. It is the channel through which one gets directly in touch with one's Creator.
The purpose of man's creation is worship and according to a hadīth, 'Du'ā is the essence of worship'. (At-Tirmidhī) And according to another hadīth, 'Du'ā is the worship'. (At-Tirmidhī)
Just as Salāh, Sawm, Zakāh, Hajj etc. are acts of worship, du'ā too is an act of worship. Therefore just as one takes out time to pray Salāh or to recite the Qur'ān or make dhikr, similarly, according equal importance to du'ā, one should also take out sufficient time for the sake of du'ā.
The objective behind every act of worship is the Recognition of Allāh ta'ālā as the Creator and the All-Powerful, and that one acts according to His Will and not as one likes. A Servant of Allāh ta'ālā accepts his weaknesses and recognises his need for Allāh ta'ālā. Out of all devotions, this humbleness and total submission is best expressed in du'ā. Furthermore, other acts of worship can become a source of pride whilst du'ā is an act which is usually free from any trace of pride.
Nowadays, du'ā has become a mere ritual. It has become a routine practice which one is accustomed to perform at certain times of the day. People raise their hands for a few moments at the time of du'ā, uttering a few words, some consciously, and some without even realising what they are asking for.
Today hardly anybody resorts to du'ā for solutions to their problems. For most people du'ā is a devotion which is the most difficult to practise. Even at the blessed places and in the blessed moments, a short while occupied by du'ās will seem like hours. By and large, we find that the engagement in Salāh or the recitation of the Qur'ān is relatively easier than making du'ā. This only reflects our distance from the Being of Allāh ta'ālā, as du'ā is the only act of worship which provides us with the opportunity to communicate with Allāh ta'ālā in the manner we wish. Lack of concentration in this act of worship shows that the performance of other acts of worship are also customary and superficial, and lacking the true essence. If we truly enjoyed the Proximity of Allāh ta'ālā, we would inevitably have found enjoyment in confiding in Him and beseeching Him. We would have always felt an eagerness to turn to Him, in open and in solitude.
Many of us make du'ā half-heartedly, not convinced whether our demands will be answered or not. We should know that Allāh ta'ālā always answers the du'ās of people. However, it may not always seem so and many people, failing to experience the effects immediately, begin to feel dejected and put off. This, however, should not be the case, as Allāh ta'ālā, the All-Hearing, undoubtedly hears and accepts the supplications of people, only that the du'ās of some are answered immediately, whilst those of others are deferred for their own benefit.
One should keep in mind that the acceptance of du'ās also depends on the expectations of a person. Allāh ta'ālā deals with people in accordance with what they expect of Him. In one Hadīth, the Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam has related the following Statement of Allāh ta'ālā: 'I treat my servant as he expects of me…' (Al-Bukhārī, Muslim)
The Ahādīth also tell us that du'ās (provided that their requisites have been fulfilled) are accepted invariably, but their acceptance is manifested in either of the three below-mentioned ways: Sometimes, Allāh ta'ālā immediately answers them and blesses the seekers with what they have asked for; sometimes He substitutes what they have asked for with something that in His Knowledge was better for them; or alternatively, through the blessings of the du'ā, He removes an impending calamity that was to befall them. At times, neither of the above may transpire, but on such occasions, the du'ā is treasured for the Hereafter. These unanswered du'ās will bear so much reward that a person, on the Day of Qiyāmah, will wish that none of his du'ās were accepted in the world. (Kanz-ul-'Ummāl)
Abstaining from Harām (clothing, food, income, etc.) is another essential requisite for the acceptance of du'ā. The Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam once made mention of a person who travels widely, his hair dishevelled and covered with dust. He lifts his hands towards the sky (and thus makes the supplication): "O Lord, O Lord," then the Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam said, "But his diet is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothes are unlawful and his nourishment is unlawful. How then can his supplication be accepted?" (Muslim)
By keeping the following few points in mind concerning du'ā, inshā'allāh, one will benefit greatly. Firstly one should remember that du'ā is an act of worship and should be given an independent status of its own. It should not remain a mere ritual.
Secondly, one should make du'ā after performing all good deeds such as Salāh, recitation of Qur'ān, dhikr etc., and also fix a specific time especially for du'ā. In du'ā, one should adopt humility and ensure that one understands what is being asked. The time spent in du'ā should be gradually lengthened. In the initial stages, the same du'ās can be repeated over and over, and in the meantime more and more du'ās should be memorised. An effort should be made to learn those du'ās in particular which encompass the general need of all the Muslims.
Thirdly, when making du'ā, a person should have a firm faith that he is asking from Allāh ta'ālā the All-Powerful, and He is able to fulfil every need of ours. The chances of being cured from a fatal illness, for instance, may seem remote but it should be believed from the depths of the heart that Allāh ta'ālā is able to cure any illness if He so wished. Dr. 'Abdul Hay 'Ārifi rahimahullāh (a renowned saint) used to say, 'Does there exist any problem that cannot be solved through du'ā?', and then he would say 'How can there, when du'ā is a request made to Allāh ta'ālā for the removal of problems and there is no problem on earth whose removal is beyond His ability.'
One should ask Allāh ta'ālā for both worldly needs and those of the Hereafter. Rasūlullah sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam has instructed us to ask Allāh ta'ālā for all our needs, however petty they may seem to be. He sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam mentioned that even if a person's shoelaces break, he should ask Allāh ta'ālā before embarking to obtain new ones.
Finally, one should not ask for anything unlawful. Many young people do not realise this and by asking for impermissible things incur the displeasure of Allāh ta'ālā.
May Allāh ta'ālā give us all the tawfīq to turn to Him for all our needs and may He fulfil all our lawful needs of this world and the Hereafter. Āmīn.