Reading Time: 10 minutes
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.
Duaa is the act of calling upon Allah. Sometimes translated as supplication, it simply means asking Allah. Duaa is a praiseworthy form of worship and is encouraged in and of itself. It may feel self-serving but such is the benevolence of the most Generous – we call on Him for our needs and He rewards us for reaching out. What’s more, duaa is such an important spiritual stamina builder, Allah invites us to call out to Him so often. There are so many many different times in which our calls to Allah are promised to be answered3 For a list of references indicating the favor of these instances for acceptance of duaa see here:
When it rains
Between the athan and iqama at prayer time
At the end of the prayer
On Fridays (at an unspecified time)
When drinking Zamzam water
When prefacing with the supplication of Prophet Yunus
As a parent
Tossing during the Night
A sincere prayer
It’s almost as if Allah is telling us: just call out to me; no matter what’s going on, I’m here and I will respond. Duaa really represents so much depth in the relationship between us and Allah because it’s real honest communication. Duaa is the phone call we make to Allah. It’s telling Allah, we miss Him, even though we can’t see Him right now. It’s asking for help or directions with some simple task or a huge dilemma. It knits the relationship closely. The more earnest the duaa, the greater depth in connection we experience. A sincere plea pulls us through time and space, opens our hearts, and creates for us a moment we experience solely with Allah.
But there is more that duaa fulfills than it does as a worship unto itself. The Prophet ﷺ told us that duaa is the essence of worship4Anas ibn Malik reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Supplication is the essence of worship.” Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3371. It is what gives meaning to our worship of Allah in general. Duaa is so entwined with our experiences of other worship – and of course primary to us here, salah. Salah is to duaa what visiting is to calling on the phone. Each is important in its own way, but coupled, increase in meaning and depth.
Salah is our physical meeting with Allah. It’s our summoning before the King. It is when we report on our duties and ask for reinforcements. It’s integral to our relationship with Allah, most notably because it has been required by the King. We must show up to the meeting – there is no way around it. But, there is a difference between the envoy who shows up to the meeting and the one who also sends messages to the King and calls Him regularly. The relationship will be markedly different. Duaa lends to the prayer more intimacy. When we show up to the meetings, there is already so much that has been said. There is already closeness and a desire for connection. And this connection building can even be taken a step further.
In his course on prayer Iqbal Nasim stresses the lost habit of making duaa in your prayer, specifically towards the end while in sujud or during the final sitting phase before tasleem. He argues that actually this is THE time we should be making duaa. While seemingly so simple, it’s quite profound in its implications. While meeting with Allah, we should take time to converse with him beyond reporting on our duties as vicegerents. When we put our heads to the floor and beg for what we need, we enliven our roles as slaves of Allah. This allows us to fulfill our call as believers wholly. Many people pray their salah totally and then afterwards stay back and make their duaa. In Nasim’s opinion, this is nonsensical.
Consider visiting a friend and spending time in her home. You have something on your mind that’s troubling you, and you really want help with it. But you fail to bring it up during the visit. Something holds you back. Maybe you’re in a rush, maybe you’re worried she will judge you. Whatever it is, you just can’t bring yourself to talk to her about the issue, even though you find your mind repeatedly wandering to the topic during your visit. You then leave her house and, on your drive home, you call her to lay bear all that you held back. Surely a loving friend will be open and understanding. But imagine if you did this every time you visited your friend. It wouldn’t make sense and it wouldn’t be right. It would indicate a problem in the relationship. The right time to bring up your issues is while visiting your friend. It would be best for you, her, and for the feelings of closeness and love between you. Of course, you can and should still call her in between visits – but calls on the phone alone aren’t good enough and calls after are less than could be.
Allah is greater than any example …
We don’t just visit with Allah when we pray. We report, we revive, and we release. But to be able to reconnect with Allah we need to have that conversation. We have to allow ourselves to feel the guidance and mercy of Allah through the moments of the prayer. What’s even more compelling is that Allah Himself is asking us to talk to Him. The Prophet ﷺ taught us that we are closest to Allah during prostration and so we should ask Allah a lot during this time5Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The servant is closest to his Lord during prostration, so increase your supplications therein.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 482. Allah built this time into the prayer for us to feel that intimacy and be able to really unload our worries. He is like the friend we visit who sits us down, looks us in the eye and asks us how we are, what we need, and how we feel. Allah is our most loyal and loving Lord. Asking Allah in the prayer means feeling and knowing Him.
The companions, the righteous, and the Prophet of Allah ﷺ, all knew this simple truth. The Prophet ﷺ himself would spend countless hours praying through the night and it is known that he would often prolong his prostration6Aisha Narrated: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) used to offer eleven rak`at and that was his prayer. He used to prolong the prostration to such an extent that one could recite fifty verses (of the Qur’an) before he would lift his head. He used to pray two rak`at (Sunna) before the Fajr prayer and then used to lie down on his right side till the call-maker came and informed him about the prayer. Source: Sahih Bukhari:1123. Sometimes the Prophet ﷺ would recite the longest chapters of the Quran, responding and asking Allah while reciting, and then proceed to bow and prostrate for just as long as he stood reciting7It was narrated that Hudhaifah said: “I prayed with the Prophet (ﷺ) one night. He started to recite Al-Baqarah and I thought, ‘he will bow when he reaches one hundred,’ but he carried on. I thought, ‘he is going to recite the whole surah in one rak’ah,’ but he carried on. He started to recite An-Nisa’ and recited (the whole surah), then he started to recite Al Imran and recited (the whole surah), reciting slowly. When he reached a verse that spoke of glorifying Allah (SWT), he glorified Him. When he reached a verse that spoke of supplication, he made supplication. When he reached a verse that spoke of seeking refuge with Allah, he sought refuge with Him. Then he bowed and said: ‘Subhana Rabbiyal-Azim.(Glory be to my Lord Almighty)’, and he bowed for almost as long as he had stood. Then he raised his head and said: ‘Sami Allahu liman hamidah (Allah hears those who praise Him)’, and he stood for almost as long as he had bowed. Then he prostrated and started to say: Subhana Rabbiyal-‘Ala (Glory be to my Lord Most High),’ and he prostrated for almost as long as he had bowed.'” Source: Sunnan An-Nasa’i 1664. Is it not likely that this time was spent in calling out to Allah, connecting with Him, and sharing his desperation for Allah’s guidance and love: literally talking to Allah and asking Him. It’s almost as if the prayer itself was mostly duaa, and not that duaa was an exceptional experience in the prayer. The same can be extrapolated for the companions of the Prophet ﷺ who learned to pray by watching and emulating the most perfect slave of Allah ﷺ. The prayer for them was not a rote review of the latest verses sent down to the Prophet ﷺ.It was fed life by the vulnerability they shared with Allah while praying. They were able to transition into a meaningful prayer from whatever life they came to it, by simply opening their mind and heart to Allah in prayer with duaa. By talking to Allah throughout the prayer, they were easily able to connect.
Just Pick Up Your Hands and Call …
Transitioning into a prayer experience of depth and connection doesn’t have to be so elusive for us either. If you’re making duaa, you’re already halfway there. Instead of waiting until after your prayer, or at some other time, just take a few minutes in your prayer to talk to Allah. It doesn’t have to be instead of whatever duaa rituals you have: you should continue to make those calls to Allah outside of the prayer as you always have. They are a true sign of your devotion and maintain your connection to Allah outside of the mandated meeting time. Add the connection into the prayer as well though, by just reserving a few of your requests for when you’re praying as well. Better yet, if you find yourself being distracted by one worry or another while praying, stop right there and bring it into your conversation with Allah. No matter how small the worry may be, if it’s getting between you and your time with Allah, there is no One better to set things straight for you. Use shaitan’s distractions as fuel for your reconnection.
If you’re not making duaa currently – start. Asking Allah is the most rewarding worship because it takes so little effort but yields so much in results. You’ll feel closer to Allah instantly because you’ve worked on removing the barriers you’ve built between yourself and Him. You’ll feel at peace knowing you’ve handed over your worries, even if for some small moments, to the Grand Healer of all things. And if you’re feeling bold, start making duaa in your prayer. You’ll uplift your prayers, gain closeness to Allah, and you’ll never pray the same again.