Connection through Prayer

Category: Rethink Salah Page 3 of 5

The Dialogue – Al-Fatiha

Salah is a gift that Allah has bestowed on our community with much love, and Al-Fatiha – the chapter of the Quran we read in every single segment of the prayer – is a gift within that gift. When angel Jibreel was sitting with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, he heard a noise from the sky and said that a door had been opened in the Heavens that had never been opened before. An angel who had never come down to Earth came through this door with Al-Fatiha.

When Omar bin Abdul-Aziz, a righteous caliph who was known for his justice and piety, would recite Surat Al-Fatiha, he would pause after reading every single verse. When asked for the reason, he answered: “Because I wanted to enjoy the reply from my Lord”. 

He was referring to this beautiful authentic hadith. The Prophet ﷺ said: Allah said:

قسمت الصلاة بيني وبين عبدي نصفين ولعبدي ما سأل

I have split salah [Al-Fatiha] between Myself and My slave, half is for Me, and half for him, and My servant shall have what he asks for

Take a moment before you start reciting Al-Fatiha to renew your intentions, and be mentally and emotionally present, for you are about to have an actual dialogue with Allah. He will respond to you as you read this surah. Think about how honoring and humbling this is. We, His sinful slaves, who have been so consumed with this worldly life and its desires, have an opportunity to have a real dialogue with the Lord of the Heavens and Earth.

Stand Tall (with your Salah)

Allah asks us to connect with Him in prayer five times a day and to leave the world behind.  Salah is our personal connection with Allah that we should feel honored to partake in.  When we start salah with, “Allahu Akbar,” and raise our hands to our ears, it is as if we are leaving the world behind us at that moment and focusing on Allah alone.

Furthermore, saying, “Allahu Akbar,” means that God is Greater.  It is usually translated as, “God is Great,” but a more literal translation is, “God is Greater.”  God is greater is not a full sentence.  Allah is inviting us to fill in the blank.  Whatever we put after that statement, God is greater than it.  God is greater than our worries.  God is greater than our stress and our anxieties.  God is greater than this whole universe and everything that is in it.  In this state, we enter salah.

Once we are in salah we are invited to a council with Allah. Similar to how a baby feels the most comfort in the arms of its mother, simply being in Allah’s council is a source of comfort for us.  The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to say, “Relieve us with it, Oh Belal.”  He used to ask Belal (RA) to make the call to prayer so that he could feel comfort from it.  Surely the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was under a lot of stress, yet he used to find comfort in salah.  

Studies have shown that meditation is healing for the mind and spirit. While salah is similar to meditation, it is so much more.  As we enter into a state of tranquility, as people who meditate are supposed to do, we then connect to the power and peace that comes with worshiping Our Creator.  Imagine how much we are benefiting our minds, bodies, and spirits by engaging in salah.  

First Goodbye, then Hello

So many things have lead up to this point and you’re at the precipice of that most intense meeting with Allah. Your conversation is about to begin so you say ‘Allah Akbar’ – Takbeerat Al-Ihram – which means Allah is Greater

Ihram comes from the root word “حرم” which means sanctuary. Ihram means you’re disengaging the world. 

So, as soon as you say takbeerat al ihram, you’re leaving your stresses and worries, and entering into this sanctuary. You’re saying so long world, I have more important things to focus on right now. Even your hands are throwing the world behind you, so push the world behind you with your heart.

Allahu Akbar …

Are you honest when you say it? Or are you lying? What are you really thinking about? 

The devil is going to come and try to remind you of everything you can think of, to distract you. Seek refuge in Allah from Shaitan. Only when he is gone can you start focusing on your prayers. Now you’re standing before Allah and you need to make your introduction. 

When you start your prayer choose an opening supplication based on how you’re feeling that day, and how you want to connect with Allah:

Use Your Imagination & Set the Scene

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

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

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

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.

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