In contrast to the prescribed rituals of Islam, such as the daily prayers, the du˓a is generally a spontaneous, unstructured, conversation with God. There are, however, prescribed supplications or du˓a ma˒thur that are considered particularly propitious because of their scriptural origins.
Whereas form is essential for the performance of the prescribed rituals, consciousness is central to du˓a. And whereas every du˓a is a form of prayer, only a prayer performed conscientiously becomes a du˓a. The du˓a is the very essence of worship because it venerates God, celebrates His sublime attributes, and puts trust in Him. Specific requests, however, are frowned upon: A du˓a is considered most auspicious when framed broadly to seek protection from evil, solicit the good of this world, and salvation in the afterlife.
For the believer, supplications are always answered, but not in the form of a wish list. Human beings, it is said, lack the capacity to distinguish good from evil, and often solicit, and are denied, that which is essentially harmful to them.
A du˓a also serves as an incantation to ward off evil, or secure grace. A traveler, for instance, is encouraged to read: "In God's name let its run be, and let its stopping be!"
Ghazali, Muhammad al-. Remembrance and Prayer: The Way of the Prophet Muhammad. Translated by Y. T. DeLorenzo. Beltsville, Md.: Amana Publications, 1996.
Nakamura, Kojiro. Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of the Religious Sciences. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society, 1990.
Muneer Goolam Fareed