Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling of a person who prays without looking at the place of prostration? Hope for an explanation.
Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.
Prayer is one of the main obligations in Islam. It is one of the honoured worships that plays an important role in the development of the character and even the Islam of a person. Thus, it is important for us to understand the truth of this worship of prayer.
Al-Hasan al-Basri once said: “O children of Adam, prayer is the worship that prevents you from sins and transgressions. If your prayer doesn’t prevent you from sin and transgressions, then the truth is you have yet to pray.”  According to this advice, we understand that if a person really prayed, then it will have a positive effect on the character of a person.
Allah SWT states:
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿١﴾ الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ
“Certainly, will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive.” 
Ibn Kathir when commenting on the above verse said: ‘Ali bin Abi Talhah narrated from Ibn Abbas R.Anhuma: “صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ” (they are the humbly submissive) are people who are fear Allah and full of calmness. From Ali bin Abi Talib RA: The khusyuk meant here is the humbly submissive heart.
Hasan al-Basri said: “Their khusyuk is in their hearts where they lower their gaze in humble submission.” Khusyuk in prayer can only be attained when a person focuses his heart and forgets any other activities. At the time, calmness and contentment arise for him. 
It is narrated that this verse is revealed when the Prophet PBUH was praying and looking up. Hence this verse is revealed and the Prophet PBUH lowered his gaze towards his place of prostration. 
According to al-Baghawi, scholars differed in commenting on the meaning of khusyuk in Allah SWT’s statement “الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ” They who are during their prayer humbly submissive. However, they agreed that khusyuk is an important element for a high-quality prayer.
Among the opinions of companions and scholars related to the meaning of khusyuk are:
- Ibnu ‘Abbas said: Calmness and humility (مخبتون أذلاء)
- Ali bin Abi Talib RA said: Not turning to the right or left
- Sa’id bin Jubair said: It is (a person who) doesn’t know who is on his left or right, he never turned for he’s khusyuk (facing towards) Allah ‘Azza wa Jalla.
- ‘Amr bin Dinar said: it is calmness and beauty of his position (action)
- Ibnu Sirin and others said: If you don’t look up from the place of your prostration.
- Atha’ said: It is when you are not occupied moving your body in prayer.
- Al-Hasan (Al-Basri) and Qatadah said: (They are) those who fear Allah (متواضعون)
- Mujahid said: It is lowering one’s gaze and voice (غض البصر وخفض الصوت).
- There are those who state, khusyuk in prayer is: Gathering concentration (in performing the actions in prayer) and turning away from his other affairs as well as reflecting on the meaning of the recitation and dhikr recited. 
Here, we’ll also present several scholars’ opinions in defining khusyuk:
- Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah said: Khusyuk is: A heart that stands in front of Allah with humility and obedience.
- Imam Junaid Al-Baghdadi said: Khusyuk is; a feeling of humility in one’s heart in front of the All-Knowing who knows the unseen matters. 
- Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali also gave an interesting definition of khusyuk. He said: The origin of khusyuk is a delicate, calm and firm heart. 
- Al-Syaukani when commenting on this verse said: Some scholars include (khusyuk) as a part of the action of the heart such as fear and apprehension. While others said it is a part of the action of the body such as calmness in prayer, not moving here and there and not doing any useless movements in prayer. Lexically, it means calmness, tawadhu’ (humility), fear and subservient. 
According to Syeikh Muhammad Rasyid Ridha, the meaning of khusyuk in prayer is the result of a sahih belief (iman) which helps his actions to follow his belief. Khusyuk is a result of the feeling of kasyatullah in the heart until it overflows to one’s actions, feelings and calm and submissive gaze. Whilst khusyuk with one’s voice is through the melodious voice and mellow language the same as khusyuk in other body parts. 
It should be understood that khusyuk can be divided into two:
- Khusyuk of the heart is the presence of someone’s heart while praying, focused facing Allah SWT bringing the love for Him, Honouring Him and fearing His punishment and hoping His rewards until he feels close to Him with a calm heart full of reflection, understanding everything that he recites and perform in prayer. Khusyuk of the heart gives birth to the khusyuk of the body, for it is the basis of khusyuk.
- Khusyuk of the body is calm in actions in prayer, minding the manners and is not hasty in reciting dhikr and supplication, lowering the gaze towards the place of prostration, not looking up or other direction that is distracting and is not busied with useless movements.
According to the above opinion of several scholars, we can conclude the definition of khusyuk to be: Khusyuk is the action of the heart which includes fear, humility, submission in front of Allah in showcasing the actions of the body such as calmness in prayer, not turning left and right as well as lowering one’s gaze during prayer.
The Issue of Praying Not Looking at the Place of Prostration
Coming back to the above question, we should know that there is a restriction against looking up to the sky during prayer. This is based on a hadith narrated by Anas bin Malik RA, Rasullullah PBUH said:
مَا بَالُ أَقْوَامٍ يَرْفَعُونَ أَبْصَارَهُمْ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ فِي صَلاَتِهِمْ
“How is it that some people raise their eyes towards the sky during As-Salat (the prayer)?”
He stressed (this point) and added:
لَيَنْتَهُنَّ عَنْ ذَلِكَ أَوْ لَتُخْطَفَنَّ أَبْصَارُهُمْ
“People must refrain from raising their eyes towards heaven in Salat (prayer), or else their sights will certainly be snatched away.” 
The above hadith clearly shows the strong restriction against the act of looking at the skies when praying. The only difference is in whether the restriction is a prohibition or makruh.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in his commentary on this hadith cited the words of Imam Ibn Battal who stated: Scholars have agreed on the makruh ruling of looking up in prayer.
We state the claim by Ibn Battal regarding the agreement of scholars means there is no other scholar who set a different ruling. Furthermore, Syeikh Syams al-Haq al-Azhim Abadi said: “Apparently, looking up when praying is prohibited. The reason is the threat that their sight will be snatched wouldn’t happen except if the act is prohibited. The famous Syafi’eyyah opinion states that it is makruh. While Ibn Hazm has been excessive yin saying that it invalidates prayer.” 
The wisdoms behind the restriction in the hadith is as stated by al-Qadhi Iyadh: “Looking up in prayer can slightly mean looking away from the qibla and not from among the hai’ah (movements) in prayer.” 
Furthermore, scholars also discussed the place a person should look at when he is praying. Most of them are of the opinion that it is sunnah to focus their sight at the place of prostration. This is as stated by Imam Ibn Hajar who cited the statement of Muhammad Ibn Sirin who said: “They (previous companions) were turning in prayer until Allah SWT reveals:
قَد أفْلَحَ المُؤمِنُون الَّذِينَ هُم فِي صَلاتِهِم خَاشِعُون
“Certainly, will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive,” 
Hence, they turned back to their prayer (praying humbly in submission) and look in front of them. And they encourage one another to not look beyond the place of prostration.” 
To close, after we have analysed the above-presented arguments, we state that it is makruh for a person to not look at the place of prostration in prayer. It means they are looking to the left and right or up to the sky. The reason is it is far away from the concept of prayer that needs for a person to have khusyuk, khudu’ (lowering one’s gaze) and attentive. While it is sunnah for them to pray while lowering their gaze to face the place of prostration.
Lastly, may Allah SWT grant us the correct understanding in religion. Amin.
 See al-Durr al-Manthur, 6/466
 (Surah al-Mukminun: 1-2)
 See Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 5/110
 See al-Tafsir al-Munir, 9/329
 See Ma’alim al-Tanzil, 5/408
 See Madarij al-Salikin, 1/521
 See al-Khusyu’ fi al-Solat, Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali, pg. 17
 See Fath al-Qadir, 1/977
 See Tafsir al-Manar, 1/301
 Narrated by al-Bukhari (750)
 See Fath al-Bari, 2/272
 See ‘Aun Al-Ma’bud, 3/134
 See Fath al-Bari, 2/272
 Surah al-Mu’minun (1-2)
 See Fath al-Bari, 2/272