Sillah

Connection in Prayer

Use Your Imagination & Set the Scene

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Salah requires more from us mentally than just focusing. Salah asks our mind to be fully present and then transports us to an intimate meeting with our Lord. Our mental effort is called on more than we are used to and we often don’t have the stamina to mentally commit to such an experience. That’s why taking some moments to set a mental scene for yourself can help you tune into the prayer more effectively. Not sure what I mean? Take some of the following ideas as starting points and then get creative. 

Stand Among the Angels:

The Prophet ﷺ tells us that the skies are moaning, and they should be moaning, for there is not a spot in them – not even a hand’s length – that doesn’t have an angel praying to Allah. So, even if you’re in your room praying alone, know that you’re not alone! You’re joining the ranks of the angels in the heavens and all around you. 

As you stand there waiting, visualize all the angels who are asking Allah to forgive you and have mercy on you. Visualize yourself standing surrounded by the light and yet Allah is responding to you specifically because you called out to Him. 

Preparation is Key: Athan

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Isn’t it amazing that in this day and age, at any given moment, you can easily find someone calling to prayer using the same exact words that were used hundreds of years ago, since the Prophet’s time? Similar to wudu, the power of our unity as a single community committed to following Allah’s messenger is evidenced in this small action we take for granted every day. 

The athan, or call to prayer, is Allah calling you to Him. Your meeting with Him is about to start. 

The athan begins with “Allahu Akbar”, which means “Allah is greater”. Greater than whatever it is that you’re currently doing, or thinking about, however important you think it is. When the call to prayer was made while the Prophet ﷺ was at home with his family, he became – contrary to his usual demeanor – distracted and detached. It was as if he did not know anyone around him. He would be so immersed in the beautiful meanings of the words, that it would feel as if he wasn’t there anymore.

These days, we hear the athan in the background as we continue doing whatever we are doing, not realizing how hypocritical this is. If indeed we believe that Allah is greater than anything we can think of, then our actions need to be in line with the words on our tongues and the beliefs in our hearts. If we can change how we respond to the athan, then maybe it’s the beginning of changing our experience of the salah as well. 

Around the Web: Night Prayer

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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. 

Preparation is Key: Wudu

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It’s clear from our discussion thus far that there’s so much that goes into experiencing salah that begins before the prayer itself. That’s even more prominent with regard to how you prepare yourself for the prayer. You’re going to be standing in front of Allah… If you were going to stand in front of your boss, what would you wear? How would you want to smell? How should your hair look? Now remember … you’re actually going to stand before Allah, the King of all kings … How do you look?

That is why Allah gifted us wudu – the ritual purification for worship. If we were to really think about it, we would never really be able to look good enough to stand before Allah. The wudu, though, is Allah’s promise to us that we are good enough, so long as we make this small effort to show our care. 

Now let’s take a step back and talk about the importance of intentionality which often gets lost when we make wudu. 

Renewing your intention in whatever you do changes the action you’re doing – however small it is – and helps you stay mindful before and while doing it. If we take sleep, as an example, you can choose to sleep and wake up without stopping for a second to think about what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. OR, since you’re gonna have to do it anyway, you can choose to be more mindful, and revisit your intentions every night before you sleep. If your intention is to sleep so you can have the strength to wake up for fajr, and afterwards to work and worship Allah, then the 6-7 hours of sleep can be added to your good deeds!

Going back to wudu, don’t make your wudu just out of habit. Be intentional. It’s your time to really get your head in the game before you stand before Allah. When you do your wudu, give it more dimension by mindfully thinking about what the wudu is and does. Here are some things to keep in mind to help the wudu gain more meaning for you:

Always On My Mind

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In the previous post, we talked about what a real prayer should be and now we want to begin the journey of attaining khushu in our prayers. 

But, when exactly should your feelings of khushu start? When should you begin to attune yourself to the prayer?

Well if you knew you had an important meeting with a wise and powerful king coming up how early would you prepare? What if, during this meeting you would be asked about certain past events that you’ve done or you’d be given time to make the case for a special request? I would reckon you would begin to prepare the exact moment you heard you were being granted this meeting.  

That’s how we need to think about our upcoming meetings with our Lord. 

Salah isn’t a strange ritualistic exercise, but it’s actually a practice that is meant to be an extension of our entire lifestyle. That’s why experiencing salah actually begins outside of the prayer. Attune yourself to the following:

1. Allah’s Mercy and Love

Allah has divided His mercy into 100 portions, only one portion has been sent down to earth, and the rest He saved for the hereafter. Allah’s mercy is all around us. The breath you take, the water you drink, the warmth of your skin, these are all manifestations of Allah’s mercy. Your being from among the Muslims is a form of mercy from Allah. If He is so merciful, He gave us all this, and that’s just a part of 1% of the mercy He divided, then I cannot even imagine the 99 percent of His Mercy that we may experience in the hereafter! All of this should be filling your heart with Allah’s love. 

Do You Even Know What You’re Doing?

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To begin, let’s start with some basics… What does salah even mean and why do we do it? 

Linguistically, salah means a supplication or request, and comes from the root word “sillah”, or connection. It refers to the ascension of a believer in their quest to connect to Allah ﷻ. It’s a connection that creates a link for us between this lowly life and our ultimate purpose in reaching Him most High. We perform salah, or pray, in order to remind ourselves of this ultimate purpose. Allah tells us in the Quran: “And establish the prayer for my remembrance” (Surat Ta-Ha (20) Ayah 14). So we stand daily five times to reestablish our connection to Him and recenter our focus on Him.

If though, that goal of reaching Allah is too vast for you, at the very least, prayer can act as a means of preventing sins. Allah tells us “And establish the prayer, for surely the prayer prevents one from evil and wicked deeds” (Surat Al-Ankabut (29) Ayah 45). Knowing that we will have to stand in front of our Judge with our secrets laid bare in a few moments should make us wary about what we are about to do. Sins should feel heavy.

Take a second now to ask yourself …

Does your current salah stop you from commiting sins? Do you feel yourself reconnecting to Allah?

What’s more, these experiences of salah are meant to be entry level. A true seeker of Allah goes beyond simple prevention of sin. They experience true presence before their Lord: khushu. They are humbled and overwhelmed in front of Allah. They are stilled by their love and humility, so much so that it reverberates throughout their limbs. Ibn Katheer mentions that khushu means completely emptying the heart, focusing on Allah alone, and not preferring anything over that intimate moment you are sharing with Him. 

This is real salah. If your prayers don’t feel like this then what are you doing?? If you want your prayers to feel like this, make a promise to yourself in front of Allah that you’ll begin this journey and you will persist until you are able to meet Him in this life with full presence before the next. I’m on that journey with you. Until next time, may Allah bless. 

Experiencing Salah: A Series

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How many times have you stood in prayer, only to catch yourself thinking about what had happened earlier that day, or about the long to-do list of tasks you need to finish in the near future?

How many times have you found yourself at the end of a prayer, having remembered nothing at all of what you’d said all through it?

If you’re anything like me, then sadly, you wouldn’t even be able to count the number of times this has happened…

For years now, I have noticed how my daily prayers have shifted more and more into daily routines instead of being the real connection with Allah that they’re supposed to be.

I thought it was about time for me to take a stand and try to practice real mindfulness in my prayers so I started listening to “The Sweetness of Salah” series, and reading the book “My first time praying” by Khalid Abu Shadee 1As far as we know, this title is currently only available in Arabic. You can find it here. . I wanted to share all that I learned with you, so, if you’re reading this, please join me on this mindfulness journey and let’s reclaim our prayers together insha’Allah (God Willing).

As part of our community, we invite all users to contribute pieces on Salah they find moving. Some contributors prefer to remain anonymous. May we all benefit from the ideas of one another and use them to grow our Ummah.

Our First Focus Group!

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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. 

Around the Web: (re)Start Edition

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While salah is the most fundamental practice of the believer, many Muslims struggle to pray or to pray consistently. You may be such a Muslim. You may have maintained prayer many years ago but somehow, along the way, fallen out of practice. You may have never really gotten the hang of praying. No matter. If you are feeling motivated to start praying then take comfort. Allah ﷻ tells us that no slave of His takes a step towards him except that He, Allah, comes toward him even more quickly1https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2017/06/01/if-he-comes-walking-i-come-running/. Your desire to return to salah is an indication of Allah calling you to Him. Don’t let negativity stop you. Respond to Allah’s call and begin. 

Get Inspired

A simple reason to take heart in the beginning of this journey back to meeting Allah is knowing that others have tried and succeeded. Muslims all over the world are on a journey to meet their Creator. Some are in the same exact place as you, and some were and have moved forward. This personal story gives a lot of inspiration for anyone struggling to build a consistent practice of prayer. Another personal reflection shares how it’s possible to be lost, find your way, and then get lost again; but not to lose heart. And finally, if you need inspiration in the form of more tough love, check out this convert’s reflections on salah. 

Where to Start

The idea of building or rebuilding a complete prayer practice is overwhelming. It is key however, to override emotions of pessimism with those of longing and hope. Before even beginning to look into how to schedule your prayers, reach out and reconnect emotionally to Allah. What will propel you through this period of building salah into your life is a growing attachment to being with your Lord. Check out this article for further discussion of why this is so important. It’s the first step in your journey back to Allah but it’s also encased in every step you will take forward.  

Salah, Spiritual Stamina, and Not ‘Feeling It’

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Some years ago, I was at a gathering and a friend of mine was telling us that she’d recently taken up yoga. She was telling us about the different benefits she gets from practicing yoga; things like focus, relaxation, rejuvenation, and so on. Then she mentioned something along the lines of ‘we’re supposed to get all that from salah but I don’t so I found this as a good alternative’. She wasn’t implying that she would stop praying, but more that she had lost hope in finding personal benefit beyond whatever salah was already giving her. I remember feeling sad but also at a loss for what to say. I also wanted all those things she found in yoga, and wasn’t finding them in my prayer. 

The fact of the matter is that many of us, when we pray, feel nothing. This is despite the fact that we may have been praying for years, being diligent in our timeliness, and even trying to add extra prayers to our day. Prayer becomes burdensome and loathsome: something to fit into your schedule out of obligation rather than pleasure. How can it be that so much practice has yielded so little progress? 

Upon reflection, what my friend said provided me with immense guidance. Yoga is a ‘practice’ and, like so many other physical fitness endeavors, requires building of stamina over time to achieve noticeable progress. Being able to lift 300 pounds doesn’t happen the first day you go to the gym. It doesn’t happen the tenth or even the fiftieth time either. The same applies to running many miles or doing amazing backbends. To be able to see results physically, intentional practice is necessary . This means maintaining a regular regiment of practice. Not only that, but you also need to watch what you eat, research methods of progressing, refine your form constantly, consider taking supplements, and so on. The diligence necessary to achieve a physical fitness goal is not just at the gym, it’s beyond that and can take over your life. The more you want to achieve, the more committed you need to be. 

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