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Duaa Haggag, LPC holds a Master’s in Counseling and works in private practice as a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Greater Flint, Michigan. She serves as a Community Educator at The Family & Youth Institute and works with Muslim youth through the Muslim American Society. She is the mother of three girls, ages 16, 14, and 11 who make sure life is always an adventure.
On a hot and sweltering day, the cool shade of a forgiving tree can provide such relief and solace. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ shares with us a vivid image of the day where we will all be filled with fearful anticipation. Only a select few, seven types to be exact, will have the mercy of Allah’s shade, on a day where there is no shade but His. One of these categories is youth who grow up in the worship of Allah ﷻ.
How can we help youth maintain their relationship with Allah so that it endures the many developmental changes of life? For some, engaging in prayer throughout childhood was easy, perhaps because it was part of a family tradition, or because parental admiration meant so much that they were conditioned to pray like everyone else. But, what happens when the innocence of childhood wanes and the strong need for parental approval wears off? Do these youth carry on prayer as an essential part of their daily living? Do they take ownership of this cornerstone of faith, or do they shed it amongst other things in their quest for independence?
Model Salah as a Source of Comfort & Direction
When the Prophet ﷺ would ask Bilal (ra) to make the call for prayer, he would say, “Relieve us with it, O Bilal.” It is fascinating that the reference to salah here is one of relief, and directly relates to the relief we will also get when we are under Allah’s shade on the Day of Judgment. A key to instilling prayer in teens is the perspective that prayer is a source of comfort, release, and reprieve from the woes of the world and struggles in society.
The seeds of this perspective start before the teenage years. As caretakers, we must model and show that we look forward to our salah as a way to re-center our vision and as a means of grounding our daily living. In surat Ta-Ha, Allah ﷻ says, “Bid your family to pray, and pray steadfastly yourself. We are not asking you to give Us provision; We provide for you, and the rewards of the Hereafter belong to the devout.”[20: 132] In essence, we must practice praying steadfastly ourselves when we ask our youth to pray, and we do so for our own benefit and reward.
When our children see us complete our prayers as a rushed after thought or task to “get out of the way,” they will not grow to see it as a worthwhile pursuit in their lifestyle. When teens do not feel invested in salah, or that they will get something out of the experience (both in this life and the next), they will run after alternative activities that give them not only comfort, but purpose.
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Here at Sillah we hope to be able to meet the personal development needs of all people who are seeking salah. That’s why we reached out to Hoda Elsharkawi for her advice on how you, a new Muslim, can handle some of the pitfalls that can happen when trying to build a prayer routine. Hoda has been teaching people about the basics of Islam for over 20 years through a weekly New Muslims class in the Boston, MA area and has seen many converts go through the experience of beginning to pray. Below are some of her tips on successfully navigating starting a prayer practice. – Admin
Muslims start learning and practicing the prayers at the age 7 per the Prophet’s ﷺ advice. It takes commitment and discipline to be able to perform all the prayers every day whether one feels energetic or not. As a new Muslim, this can be a challenge but it should be the highest priority once a person converts. All prayers are mandatory and it is considered a major sin to miss any, especially the fajr (dawn) and asr (afternoon) prayers. Whatever you do, don’t miss those. It eventually becomes easier to pray all your prayers regularly and you may even start to feel lost or disoriented if you miss a prayer.
This is a problem some Muslims fall into. You tell yourself: “I will start tomorrow”. This usually happens when you have the intention and desire to pray but you haven’t started. The days go by and you keep telling yourself “tomorrow, I will start tomorrow”. My advice is that whenever you want to start, start right away. If it is thuhr (noon) time, get up and perform your thuhr prayer, this way, you break the cycle of procrastination.
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Ramadan is fast approaching and many of us are starting to focus our attention on what we want to get out of it. Given the worldwide pandemic and quarantine protocols, this Ramadan will probably be like no other. We have a truly unique opportunity to zero in on the practices that may have eluded us for many years. We likely won’t be distracted by social events and gatherings and we will also be forced to contend with our spiritual practice and stamina without much outside support. This Ramadan you may get to know just how strong and developed your spirituality is. All that in consideration, this will be an excellent time to revisit the routines we take for granted, and always on the top of our list here at Sillah, is your salah.
Salah is the ultimate routine of the Muslim. Day in and day out, you are praying and no matter the strains, you have to make it work. This design of salah is meant to facilitate constant connection with Allah. For many though, the routine of salah has become just that, a mindless nuisance to fit in somewhere and move on. It’s really meant to be more than that; it’s meant to be a ritual. That’s why this year we have decided to spotlight the routineness of salah and some ideas on how we can push it to become an uplifting ritual. We hope that if you spend thirty days of Ramadan working on reshaping your prayer routine, you will walk out with a renewed salah experience.
Specifically, we’ve suggested practices with regards to three aspects of your routine with salah: building or creating a routine, shaking up or varying your routine, and deepening or extending your routine. Below is a list of different options with regards to these three areas. Additionally, we’ve tried to include practices that can be useful to people of all levels. Even if you haven’t been able to commit to praying consistently, check out the options below! Whether you’re someone who doesn’t pray or someone who consistently prays extra, we hope the suggestions below can grow your connectedness to your Lord.
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One of the most important responsibilities Muslim parents may feel is ensuring that their children hold fast to their practice of salah. There are so many components to this! Making sure your kids remember to pray, pray on time, have wudu, pray even if it’s embarrassing, pray mindfully, pray in the mosque, be willing to stick their feet in a public sink to make wudu. The list goes on. The more you think about it, the more daunting it can be. We took a look at some of the resources available on the internet right now on kids and salah. Honestly the quality resources available aren’t much but we did a round up of what’s there and put the following together. We hope these can give you a little support.
Putting the Parent Back in Parenting
Though for many parents, the urgency of wanting to find a solution for a kid who won’t pray feels imminent, the best place to start with addressing it is actually in oneself. It can be easy to forget, but for children, parents are a huge influence on their religious worldview1This concept is discussed at length in this great article by Yaqeen Institute. Actions, more than words, tell your children about what salah means and value it should hold in their lives. Check this article and this one for some ways to revive your own perspective on prayer life. For more practical tips look here and here, and for new mothers especially, check out this article. All of these links can help address some issues that may unintentionally translate into one’s children.
If you’re only going to read one thing …
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During the current Coronavirus outbreak, and temporary shuttering of mosque doors, many of us are reflecting on our experiences with our mosques. For this contributor, a complicated relationship surrounds his experience with his local mosque. Though it may be particularly painful to read during this time, his story is an important reminder so we thought to share it anyway. May Allah ﷻ grant us His grace and return us to His houses of worship soon. Ameen -Admin
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
اللهم صلي وسلم على سيدنا محمد
Allah, open the doors of Your mercy for me – اللهم إفتح لي أبواب رحمتك
I sprinted across the expansive carpet,
reaching top speed
weaving through legs,
(alright, maybe I stepped on a few)
racing a new friend,
before everyone went into sujood.
Twenty years later, I still get grief about those flattened and broken glasses and I make it a point to keep mine in my pocket whenever I pray in the mosque. Still, I would never turn rowdy kids away from the mosque. I have always been a proponent of the idea that children should be allowed to experience the house of Allah ﷻ with joy. I would argue, to anyone who would listen, that every person who worshipped Allah ﷻ in any of His houses should seek to also uplift the children who are in His house.
The joy I experienced as a child, and my idealism about it as I grew, guided me to join a group of people who sought to serve at my local mosque. I tried to help as they came together to transform a house of Allah ﷻ from a space for ritual prayer alone, to a space that brought people together intentionally; a space that would meet our “community needs”. We wanted our mosque to be a space that would live out all the stories we heard about the mosque in the time of the Prophet ﷺ – a dream of a mosque brought to reality.
Allah, open the doors of Your mercy for me – اللهم إفتح لي أبواب رحمتك
The extraordinary is witnessed – in His house.
Stoic, strong, becomes bent, weak – in His house.
Hungry, homeless, becomes full, housed – in His house.
Harsh, sharp, becomes soft, conscientious – in His house.
Poor, needing, becomes rich, giving – in His house.
Lost, exhausted, becomes guided, invigorated – in His house.
Looked-over, dejected, becomes sought-after, respected – in His house.
We were living the dream. I witnessed a complete stranger arrive from out of town, go to the closest mosque to rest, ask Allah ﷻ for help, and he had housing before the night was out. I witnessed a man larger than most doorways become reduced to the size of his out-stretched, tear-riddled hands, as he begged Allah ﷻ for strength. I witnessed a friend transform from constantly judging others with a sharp-tongue to someone who guarded his words and spent more time asking for forgiveness from people than judging their actions.
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We’re always looking for simple hacks to help with everything from finishing the dishes quicker to writing the best term papers. Why not apply this towards your salah experience?! A simple tip isn’t going to fix any deep issues with your prayers, but it might add just a little life to something that has become one more to do list item.
1: Call the Iqama
A lot of the times when we have to pray, we just jump into it. We’re rushed. We have things to do. We pray and move on to the next task. You may have heard that it’s best to pray some nafl, or supergatory, prayers before getting into the main obligatory prayer. That would definitely help you get more into the zone. If however, you don’t feel ready to commit to adding another couple of rakas, or units, consider saying the Iqama to yourself before beginning. The Iqama1The words/meanings of the Iqama are as follows: Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar (Allah is greater, Allah is greater) /Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah (I witness that there is no deity (worthy of worship) but Allah) /Ashhadu anna Muhammadar-rasoolullah (I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)/Hayya ‘ala-ssalah (Come to the prayer)/Hayya ‘alal-falah (Come to prosperity)/Qad qamati-ssalah, Qad qamati-ssalah (Prayer is to begin, prayer is to begin)/Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar (Allah is greater, Allah is greater)/La ilaha illallah (There is no deity (worthy of worship) but Allah) is the shorter call to prayer you usually hear when praying in a group right before prayer starts. It is a declaration of your intention to put Allah before all else and to turn to Him in prayer. Calling it aloud will give you a few moments to focus on the prayer (not on whatever task you were just doing), and you’ll gain more reward2That’s based on the hadith that Allah is pleased when He sees a single person making the call to prayer found here.
Bonus: Have a few extra minutes? Call the Athaan too!
2: Say Your Prayers Out Loud
For Fajr, Maghrib, and Isha prayers, there is a strongly encouraged option to recite Quran during the first two rakas out loud3Based on the scholarly opinion sited here here. Unfortunately though, and especially when praying alone, this is often passed up. Praying out loud though, can really enhance your experience. It will allow you to contemplate the verses you are reading more easily and to better recall them. Have you ever recited the same verses in both the first and second rakas of prayer because you weren’t paying attention? That’s a lot harder to do if you’re reciting out loud.
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A (Spiritual) Pondering
What is the spiritual purpose of your period? Have you ever thought about that? What about getting a regular course of abstinence from spiritual daily practice could possibly enhance your spiritual life? I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and I don’t feel like I started to have any ideas about it until I became a mother.
For a lot of my mature life, getting my period felt like a spiritual punishment of sorts. I remember vividly, one Ramadan when I was extremely stressed out studying for final exams, and anticipating their end so I could finally get to participate in the night long prayers everyone else was enjoying. Lo and behold, days prior to its expected arrival, my period arrives. I remember crying to my mother and feeling so much that Allah didn’t want me. He didn’t want me to pray with everyone else because I wasn’t good enough. Because, instead of trying to worship in these past days, I had been wasting time. I kept telling myself, oh later when exams are over I will make time for worship. It felt like Allah was telling me, if I wasn’t prepared to pray when it was hard, I didn’t deserve to pray when it was easy. My tears flowed heavily.
But, as my mother kept consoling me, a punishment is not the only way to see your period. She kept saying things like: you were really stressed, you really needed a break; your body was overwhelmed, this was its way of sorting itself out. She kept trying to assure me that it wasn’t some sort of terrible omen, but rather a planned Mercy from Allah.
And more recently I’ve heard other voices echoing this same idea. In recent lectures, speakers1Check these video out for a short explanation of how a period doesn’t mean impurity here and here have been trying to combat the idea of menstruation being linked to inherent female impurity. They speak about it as a time when a woman needs rest. Because of that reason, Allah excuses women from their religious obligations and gives them a pass. Further, because the strains on women can be heavy while many juggle responsibilities to so many, having a rest from religious obligations shows that while others might not let up in their requests, Allah, the most Merciful, will always be understanding in what He asks of His female slave.
These explanations go a long way in debunking the idea that menstruation is a punishment or sign of inherent uncleanliness. It doesn’t however, answer the question posed initially: how does menstruation facilitate a better spiritual life. Allah swt, our Creator, created us in the best fashion. As part of His divine Wisdom, He knew to create in us, women, this cycle. He also tells us that He created us so that we may worship Him2Quran 51:56: ‘And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.’. We show our devotion to Him through these acts of worship and grow our longing to meet Him in the afterlife. Most prominently, He asks to call out to Him and stand in His presence 5 times daily , but then asks us to stop doing so during this menstrual cycle which He created in us. This means, that in addition to menstruation functioning as a sign of Allah’s perfect wisdom in our physical creation, it also should reflect His wisdom in our spiritual creation.
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It is the impending destiny of each person to stand before Allah and answer for the actions of his life. This is our fundamental belief as Muslims. You will stand. I will stand. It is inescapable1There are a select number who will be so worthy as to go to Janna directly without questioning. To know more about them, check this out. This judgement will determine the eternal happiness of each of us. The logical extension then, is to prepare diligently for it.
But worldly life is very distracting. Simply eating, sleeping, working, caretaking, the whole lot of our daily activities, can take over. Actually for most people, these really do take over: life becomes about optimizing material experiences. The Muslim though, must stay focused. We need to keep the end goal in mind and continue preparing for the big moment when we will face Allah with the contents of our whole lives displayed before us.
There is a hadith of Prophet ﷺ where he tells us that the first thing we will be asked about on the day of judgement is our prayer. If a believer’s salah is found to be in order, the remainder of his judgement will pass smoothly, but if not, then the questioning will be taxing2Hadith in Sunan a-Tirmidhi, find it here. The hadith is usually used to explain the importance of prayer and how fundamental it should be to the believer. Thinking about prayers missed or skipped, prayers with incomplete wudu, prayers made mindlessly, and the fact that these can make or break your eternal peace is daunting. And while all of this is true and scary, there is something more profound to consider.
Allah gave us the prayer as a daily practice for the big moment when we will meet Him. As you reflect on many components of the prayer, you can connect them to the experiences of the hereafter. Salah is literally you standing in front of Allah speaking to him, just like you will be on the Day of Judgement3Hadith in Bukhari and Muslim, find it here. Your sins are piled on top of you as you stand there before Allah4Hadith authenticated by Al-Albani, find it here. You recite Quran; on the Day of Judgement too, you will need to recite to realize your rank in Janna5For more on how the recitation of Quran effects status in Janna check this link. You are ordered to bow on the Day of Judgement and only those who practiced bowing in this life will be able to6For more on bowing in the hereafter, look here. Each component of the prayer is like a preparation for the Big Day. Making sure to complete these components soundly and with mindfulness can help you refocus on the afterlife and consider how ready you are to meet Allah.
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In the process of searching for the best resources on salah available right now, we’ve come across some great pieces that could jumpstart your journey to a richer prayer life. We’ve organized the links we’ve found to help you zoom in on the area of salah you want to start with.
(Re)Starting your Salah Habit.
People fall out of the habit of praying all five prayers commonly. If you’ve completely stopped praying or never have before, we recommend you regain your spiritual footing here and look for inspiration on why this is a worthwhile endeavor here and here. Even a non-Muslim can vouch for the benefits of salah!
Ready to get back on the wagon?
Establishing a habit of praying 5 times a day everyday is hard! Some have been lucky enough to have family who helped instill in them the habit, others have had to struggle as adults to figure out a way to build the habit. For some general tips on how to start building the habit of prayer from scratch check out this link as well as this one. If you need advice on how to push past more emotional blocks to salah, read this.
I pray … but I’m always running late.
Even if you’ve successfully established a habit of prayer, that doesn’t mean you’re performing at the optimum level you could be. If you find yourself always missing fajr prayer, or constantly procrastinating salah once the time comes in you need to examine more closely how committed you are to meeting Allah and how strong your faith in Him is. Looking to make sure you catch every fajr salah? Here’s one man’s method of making sure to get it in every morning, plus extra! Have an overarching procrastination problem? Check this link out.
Salah isn’t really about clocking in though …
Even though there’s a lot of importance in establishing and maintaining a habit of salah, that really isn’t the goal of prayer. You may be performing all the actions of prayer and in the right way, but still gain no spiritual benefit from praying. Is your mind constantly buzzing while praying? Do you jump after prayer to finish that task you were thinking about all through sujud? If you’re looking to develop your mindfulness and really focus on the meanings behind the motions of prayer consider taking this or this online class, or listening to a podcast here.
Do you walk out of your salah eager to come meet Allah in the next one?
You may have thought that mindfulness and focus were the optimum signs of a successful salah experience. But mindfulness is just the means. The goal is to connect to Allah swt; to feel yourself in the presence of your Maker. Being able to focus in your salah is one thing, tasting and enjoying your prayer so much that you can’t wait to meet Allah again, is another. There’s a great article series that hopes to convey the many layers of enjoyment that can be grasped in salah. If you can’t read the whole series, we recommend at least read this article.
And hopefully we can offer something too.
Honestly though, there is a lot more than can be offered to help improve the Muslim’s prayer experience. That’s the goal of this site: to create content, develop resources, and provide support in helping you transition from one level of prayer experience to another until prayer becomes a transformative addicting experience for you. May Allah bless us and allow us to fulfill that goal and May Allah grant us prayer that is a solace to be yearned for. Ameen.