Connection through Prayer

Category: Rethink Salah Page 3 of 4

Preparation is Key: Wudu

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

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?

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

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!

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

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’

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. 

Journeying through Prayer

I intend for these words to illustrate the sweetness found in the closeness of Allah experienced through prayer. The relationship we each have with Allah can truly only be expressed through the breathe of our spirits. May Allah grant us the courage to journey deeper to Him, fulfilling our purpose to worship Allah alone, as we rise and submit throughout our day in prayer.  

As I have recently learned to perform the prayers, I found myself falling in love with Islam. The beauty of Islam is found in the compassionate guidance Allah bestows upon each of us as human beings created by Him: to praise Him and carry this truth throughout the earth. The Prophet (peace be upon him) showed us how to worship and answer our hearts’ call out to be closer to the Love that gave us life. Islam is truly the path to Allah in the fullness of all that He is. True to who Allah is, our lives are not a journey towards death but an adventure towards life. In this pursuit of Allah, I have come to see the darkness, the seasons of grief, as blessed. In truth, each of us knows in the recesses of our hearts how life on this earth is both brutal and beautiful. At times, this reality can seem overwhelming and cause us to seek temporary relief. In Allah though, is eternal peace that is so generously given as soon as you turn in His direction. 

As I learned the rhythm of prayer, I experienced a transformation of my own heart. In the beginning, I was naturally excited to learn a new ritual, but I could not have imagined the true nature of the commitment I had made. I committed to choosing Allah every day, five times a day. I learned to praise Allah and seek Him in every season of my life, not only when my heart was heavy or filled with joy. I did not know the Arabic language beyond the way my heart recognizes its intrinsic beauty. Simultaneously, as I learned to pray, I interacted more and more with the Quran, and have come to recognize it as a sanctuary for the believer. This was not a quick process, and I slowly came to know the fundamental truth that, Allah’s timing is perfect

This lifelong journey towards Allah requires you to truly surrender yourself to Him. Learning how to pray took me over a year, and it was a challenging process. There is nothing I know in this world that compares to performing the prayer in establishing that worshiping Allah is your true purpose and design. I had to confront the reality of my existence — notice the directions I was turning that were not serving me, and choose to reorient myself. Similar to the month of Ramadan where we establish new patterns, prayer allowed me to completely revitalize my days, filling them with peace and purpose.  

In learning to perform the daily prayers, I discovered myself. I learned how capable I am to answer the call of Allah in my life. I learned how to not get caught in the chaos of life, but to seek the peace of Allah each day. For anyone who is new to Islam and desiring to learn the five daily prayers, I wish to tell you that all you need to do is turn towards Allah. Do not feel shy because, at one point, every Muslim was at the beginning of their prayer journey. Find a teacher who will guide you, give you feedback, and answer your questions. You will bloom as you travel down this path. Pray and spend time with your Muslim family, knowing you are not alone in your pursuit of Allah in this world. Stay focused because as surely as you will move towards God, you will have to reckon with the distractions that try to hold you back. The practice of prayer itself will keep you on the straight path because it will require you to rise early, cleanse and purify yourself, and submit when you hear its call. Be diligent in your practice. Be open to a new life patterned after the praise and remembrance of Allah, for that is where you will find peace. 

Racial Freedom in Islam: Notes for America

Forced silent in a body the world told him was cursed
When George Floyd was pinned to the ground,
Did he hold on to hope?
That this life of his would be more?
Perhaps Allah accepted this prayer
and exposed America’s hypocrisy,
Once again,
by choosing a Black person
as a catalyst for justice

To be Black in America requires a level of resiliency and hope that cannot be taught in textbooks. It is a lived experience, to endure Muhammad Ali-style jabs and smile without showing blood on your teeth. The Black experience forces one to confront what is at the core of all spiritual transcendence teachings: reform and respect are lifelong struggles and, even when they cannot be found outside oneself, they can and must be discovered by venturing inward.  

It’s no coincidence Black Americans are more likely to say they believe in God with absolute certainty (83%) than Whites (61%) and Hispanics (59%). When we look at Islam in the Black community in America, 75% of Black Muslims say religion is very important to them. That is a higher level of commitment than for non-Black Muslims (62%). Black Muslims are also more likely than other Muslims in the US to perform the five daily prayers (55% vs. 39%)  proving that Blackness is inextricably linked to faith, and more specifically to Islam. (Pew)

Inspiring Teens to Become “Establishers of Prayer”

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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