Connection through Prayer

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Prayer beyond formalities

Iqbal Nasim asks a question which unnerves me: Would you pray, if Allah didn’t require you to pray? 

The gut wrenching but immediately obvious answer for me is “No”. Probably the biggest indicator of this is how relieved I feel when I get my period: “thank God I get a break from praying now”. Any which way I sort it, I have to admit that I pray because I have to pray. I search for feeling and meaning to make sense of the experience of praying instead of reaching out to prayer in order to receive feeling and meaning. If anything, I have to work really hard to unearth any sense of connection from salah. 

I often pray, even though I don’t really want to pray 

But that begs the question of why … Why do I keep hacking at this practice if I’m progressing so reluctantly through it? The answer comes immediately again: I’m praying out of fear of punishment from Allah. But that seems to be a very surface level answer. Yes, my faith in the realities of the afterlife guide my decisions enough, but the temptation to drop this practice is so great, it should be easy for me to succumb. Allah is merciful isn’t He? He could forgive this weakness couldn’t He?

Well maybe knowing Allah beyond fear is where the answer lies. What’s interesting is that during the podcast, Brother Iqbal said something along the lines of: if you have decided to believe in Allah, and you really are committed to working on your relationship with Allah, your motivation will just fall into place. So that got me thinking, if I’m motivated enough to perform the outward aspects of prayer, but not much beyond that, it must mean that I have the first part, but maybe not the second. I have decided to believe in Allah, and have decided to submit to Him, on the basis of His Power and punishment, but do I really believe in Allah as the Merciful and overwhelmingly Loving? Do I believe in Him as someone I would want to reach out to in weakness and in need? Someone to build a loving relationship with?? 

My prayers would say no

Your Prayer as a Healing

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6011

This ummah is in pain. It’s hard to keep track of all the different places that are in pain. So many parts of this body ache. From whole countries going through famine and cultural decimation, to individual families and children lost in the simple struggle to survive. We are in pain as a body, as limbs, and even as small cells within the whole. 

This begs the question though, what kind of cells are we in this body? Are you a white blood cell fighting off foes? A cancerous cell sucking up resources to grow yourself gargantuanly? A brain cell interpreting all the different experiences into a clear vision? Whenever we hear the quote from our Prophet ﷺ above, we respond to it with a sort of expectation of someone, somewhere doing something about all these bodily aches. But what if we are the cells that are costing others their lives? 

I am as my servant expects Me to be …

What feelings do you feel when the time for prayer comes in? 

How about what you feel when you knock on the door as you’re about to enter your best friend’s house? 

What about other people? When you’re going to see:

your kind mother 

your funny best friend 

your angry boss

your distant cousin 

your unresponsive teacher 

your generous neighbor 

your loving husband 

your cold uncle 

Each of these conjures up a different feeling but essentially: a rejoice at or recoil from the actual meeting. You naturally have a different relationship with each person and so you will feel differently about meeting them. The question though is, does that feeling have more to do with them or with you …       

You are you. Your personality traits are the same: your faults and strengths within you. It’s true that what you show or hide can change depending on who you’re with, but that’s simply a choice. It’s not that you have changed or that you are necessarily a different person each time you see one of them, it is that your perceptions of how they view you and will respond to you is different. It’s your beliefs about who they are and how they will treat you that causes you to anticipate and respond to them differently. 

Which brings us back to the first question … How do we feel when we are about to meet with Allah?

A Single Minute to Better Prayer

Have you been trying to better your prayer and struggling?! Do you feel hopeless that your prayer will ever get better? Do you feel like your relationship with Allah is strained and desperate?

What if I told you there was a solution … Something that will literally take 1 minute and will completely change your whole experience of salah and maybe even your whole relationship with Allah …

This sounds like a gimmick, but it’s not!!

As part of his course, Transform My Prayer, Iqbal Nasim recommends that before you pray any prayer you take time out for what he terms ‘The Golden Minute’. Basically you take 1 full minute before you start praying to set yourself up mentally as to what it is you are about to do: meet with Allah. It’s very simple and obviously takes very little time.

You may think 1 minute is nothing but I bet if you try it you’ll find yourself sweating just 10 seconds in.

[Book Excerpt] Why Does God not guide some of us when we want to be guided so badly?

The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Lang’s book: Losing My Religion: A Call for Help. In it he answers the question put to him on why it is that despite our sincerest efforts, sometimes we still don’t feel anything in our prayers. So pertinent to the quest here on Sillah to find more connection in prayer, the excerpt felt fundamental to the conversation and we are so fortunate that the publishers allowed us to share it. May Allah bless this author for sharing his perspective and grant us all steadfastness in seeking Him throughout all the experiences of life. The excerpt begins with the author noting the question put him by a young Muslim. You can also find a PDF of the excerpt for easier reading below. Happy Reading!

Question 3 (part of a lengthy conversation I had with a young immigrant Muslim [woman] who struggles to find peace of mind and spirit in her inherited faith; this struggle is a frequently mentioned frustration of many young Muslim Americans): 

I think that in my last e-mail I mentioned to you that the more I study Islam and the more I learn about it, the less I feel connected to God. I am sure that this sounds strange to you since you have come to know God through Islam. But the fact is that the more I go through the do’s and don’t’s of our faith, the further away I feel from God. For example, for about four months or so, I was extremely religious about my prayers: five times a day, on time and all of that stuff. Well, not even once in my prayers did I feel God’s presence or any sense of peace. I would pray that He would guide me to the truth and show me His way. 

After a while, my prayers started feeling like a burden. I felt like I was doing them because “that is the way it is,” or “God commanded us to do them.” I wanted to get them over with. This just does not feel right to me. Isn’t prayer supposed to be our quiet time with God, where we feel a connection rather than resentment and burden and consequently a disconnection and moving away from God? I do not feel that I should be feeling all these negative emotions in my worship to Him. In other words, I felt like a total hypocrite just going through the motions of prayer while resenting the fact that I had to do it. 

Ramadan 1443 Workshop: Intentions from the Heart

Ramadan is once again just around the corner and this year, unlike years past, we wanted to narrowly focus our Ramadan workshop on one thing: Intentions. The goal is lofty so we got this workshop out early and we recommend that you get started right away so you are already on a roll in Ramadan. 

One of the most famous – if not the most famous – sayings of the Prophet ﷺ is the hadith of Omar:

عَنْ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّةِ، وَلِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، وَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ لِدُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا، أَوِ امْرَأَةٍ يَتَزَوَّجُهَا، فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ ‏”‏‏.‏‏

‘Umar bin Al-Khattab r Narrated: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration was for Allah and His Apostle. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 54

The translation used above uses the term ‘reward’ but in the original Arabic, what the Prophet ﷺ says is closer to “and every person shall have what he intended”. He ﷺ is saying, your actions may all be the same, but your experience and your results will manifest based on the intentions you came into the action with. What it would indicate is that everyone will face the consequences of his intentions.  

As muslims, we are often taught the importance of intentions. Some of the most famously pious Muslims obsessed about intentions. It is said that Umar bin Abdalaziz, Caliph of the Muslims, would not put one foot in front of the other without intending it first. The saying of the Prophet ﷺ on intentions cited above is at the start of most books on Prophetic tradition. A simple search on youtube of Islamic lectures on intention yields at least a hundred videos of both famous and ‘regular’ Muslim takes on the topic.  Even non-religious personal development gurus talk about how important intentions are and how most people do not intend enough. 

But what is an intention really, and what do we gain from intending? Is intention deciding to do an action?  A lot of the time when we are taught about intentions that’s what it seems like. Especially as they relate to our worship, we are told we must intend the action – i.e. resolve to do the action specifically and for the sake of Allah – for the action to be valid as worship. From this we easily grasp the importance of deciding to do an action and that we can’t just do things because ‘everyone is doing it’. Beyond this though, a lot of us fail to properly make use of the intentions for our actions. Especially for things that are routine, intentions fall into the background. Of course, I’m doing what I’m doing – how could I not be. But, the power of intentions happens not when we intend our actions but rather when we intend the results of our actions. When we intend what we want this action to give us, that’s when intentions suddenly transform into something truly valuable. When we intend the results of our action this allows us to clarify our goals, align our actions with our values, and manifest the experience in life we wish to draw us closer to Allah. 

Calling the Divine

I often wonder how the companions of the Prophet ﷺ were able to transition to praying and connecting with Allah ﷻ so naturally, while I, raised in the embrace of Islam since birth, find it so mysterious. While its true that some companions like Abu-Bakr رضي الله عنه led lives of spiritual cleanliness and maybe even sensitivity up until the point of revelation, others were not1 While sources are not sited, this link gives a good description on the life of Abubakr before Islam . The general culture and atmosphere of Makkah prior to the message was hedonistic and self centered at best. Brothels were common and crime both petty and obtuse was rampant. While we often look back at the past with lenses of purity and simplicity, its safe to say that Makkah life in the pre Islamic period was neither2 See Aspects of Pre-Islamic Arabian Society – Social LIfe of the Arabs in The Sealed Nectar pg. 28.  So, given all of this – given growing, living, and breathing in such a place, how did the companions, so entrenched in it all, not only shift to leading spiritual lives, but actually quickly and seamlessly begin to pray with diligence and devotion? How did the companions know how to connect to Allah through their prayers so easily?

I used to think the answer was complex and multifaceted, but the more I pondered on the role of duaa in salah, the more simple the answer appeared. While this is a website devoted to discussing, growing, and connecting around the idea of salah, prayer, I wanted to diverge a little to talk about another type of prayer – duaa. 

(Night) Prayer as Self Care: Part II

Sometimes living in a modern society so focused on the self, for a Muslim, the idea of self care can seem a difficult pill to swallow. Islam calls on us to give and to care and to advise. Self care can feel so antithetical to an Islamic worldview which calls on us to do good in order to reach God. Centering ourselves at our own love doesn’t feel giving; doesn’t feel Islamic. And yet, the self cannot be denied. We burn out. We are spent.

How is it that the Prophet ﷺ was able to give so constantly? Maybe I am setting the bar too high. The Prophet ﷺ was able to garner his energy almost superhumanly, but how is it that our mothers or grandmothers gave so much and so often? How has our ummah been built on the backs of fighters and thinkers, herdsmen and builders and yet, there were no spa days and no vacation time. In my own home, I don’t seem to be able to manage even the simple tasks of everyday living without overwhelm consuming me. 

So many times a day, my children call out to me ‘Look at me, mama’. My children seem to call on me endlessly, their needs draining me to the point of tearful exhaustion, and yet there is so much trust they have in my ability to respond. They beg to be seen; they beg to be heard. They know deep inside them that to be seen, to be heard, without criticism and with affirmation, is to be loved. And so, I do my best to respond because I know that to be loved is to know that you are worthwhile and therefore builds in you the confidence to become the person you so wish to be. 

But who is there to see me: to pour into me the love that can light my path and inspire my wings? Especially in the daily trenches of motherhood it is easy to feel forgotten or belittled. Even if I take time for myself and do some ‘self care’ it is only me feeding myself. My weaknesses and fears compound within me and there is no one there to look me in the eye and say I see you and you can do this. 

But I tell myself, Allah is Here. Allah tells us He is close; closer than our own veins1 Quran Verse 50:16. I have my prayers, don’t I? I have my time with Allah 5 times a day. 

When we stand in prayer, we are there as ourselves, truly, without pretension or mask. Your heart is fully exposed to your Maker. Not only that, but regardless of the state of it, beaming with faithfulness or dirtied by the desires of this life, Allah asks for your presence. That is because He is, in every moment, willing to accept you as you are and thus assure you that you are known and that you are loved. He wants to inspire in you the sure confidence that you are able to be that person you so wish to be. 

Is it possible that I may be known and seen?

Around the Web: Night Prayer

Perhaps the most demanding and yet rewarding practice of the believer is night prayer. The night prayer, initially ordained on every person entering Islam, has become for us, the mark of a true committed. Not for the faint-hearted, consistency in waking through the night to meet Allah means a person is giving their all. That’s why, though it may feel out of reach for so many, we thought it important to include an ‘Around the Web’ edition specifically dedicated to cultivating this essential practice. 

What’s What

You may hear a lot about the virtues of praying ‘qiyam al-layl’ or ‘tahajud’, but what’s the difference and how does it affect your practice? There are actually a lot of different terms referring to night prayers and this article here gives a good general overview of what’s what and how to perform it. Basically though, any prayer performed between sunset and sunrise, excluding the obligatory prayers, is considered night prayer. If you’re looking for something more technical and that gives an overview of many different types of night prayers, as well as some others performed during the day, check out the detailed list on this site. 

Our First Focus Group!

Alhamdulillah we were blessed this past Jamad Althanee (February 2021) to complete Sillah’s first ever focus group! We are so grateful to all those who signed up and made a commitment to work on their prayers. May Allah bless their faith and grant them closeness to Him in all of their prayers and actions. If you want to skip all the minor minutia of how the focus group ran, feel free to scroll down. We’ve put together a simple infographic to share some of the results we got. If you like knowing the nitty gritty details read on!

Our focus group was survey based. We reached out to a personal network of friends and family and 20 people signed up. In the entrance survey, responders were asked to choose a focus area that they would most like to see improvement in with regards to their prayer experience: timeliness, concentration, connection, or stress relief. They were then prompted to consider what daily action would best help them target their focus area. They also had the option of choosing from a provided list. Daily action items included things like making duaa, praying within 15 minutes of the athaan’s call, daily intention journaling, and so on.  Participants committed to this action item for one month. 

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