Living The Quran
From Issue: 947 [Read full issue]
Al Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 186 (partial)
The natural prayer addressed to God shall always be answered. If a prayer is not answered, then it lacks both or one of the two things mentioned in the verse: the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me. It may happen in the following ways:
First: There may be no prayer at all. It may only be a misunderstanding of the supplicant. For example, a person prays for an impossible thing (but he or she does not know that it is impossible), or for a thing which, if he or she knew the fact, would not have wanted at all. Let us say that someone was sick and died, but his friend is unaware of his death and prays for his recovery, while now the prayer should be for bringing him back to life. If he had been really sure that a dead body could be resurrected and had asked for its resurrection (as the prophets did), his life would have been returned to him; but he does not have such firm conviction and therefore the prayer is not answered. Or, let us say, he asks for a thing which, had he known it really, he would not have wanted. Therefore, it is not granted.
Second: There is indeed a prayer, but is it not addressed exclusively to God. For example, a person beseeches God for his or her needs, but his or her heart is looking towards its apparent causes or to some imaginary beings whom he or she thinks have the power to fulfill his or her needs. In this case, his or her prayer is not addressed exclusively to God. In other words, he or she did not beseech God at all because God, Who answers the prayers, is the One who has no partner in His affairs. He is not the one who works in partnership with apparent causes and imaginary beings. So these are the two groups of supplicants whose hearts were not sincere in their prayers even if their tongues were.
Ramadan: Motivating Believers To Action, "Quranic Commentary on 'I Answer The Prayer'" - Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i , pp. 94-99