Reading Time: 5 minutes
There is an interaction that happened with the Prophet ﷺ which I’ve found very inspiring:
Uthman b. Abu al-‘As reported that he came to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and said:
Allah’s Messenger, the Satan intervenes between me and my prayer and my reciting of the Qur’an and he confounds me. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said:, That is (the doing of a) Satan (devil) who is known as Khinzab, and when you perceive its effect, seek refuge with Allah from it and spit three times to your left. I did that and Allah dispelled that from me.(Sahih Muslim: 2203a)
It may seem simple, but really, it’s so profound. When this man came to the Prophet ﷺ, the Prophet could have answered in so many ways. He could have advised him on clearing his prayer space to avoid distraction. He could have suggested getting more in the zone during wudu. He could have encouraged some time remembering Allah beforehand, to enhance focus. But the Prophet ﷺ chose to say, it’s not you, it’s Shaitan, just blow him away.
How many times have you struggled with some part of yourself? Are you a Debbie downer? Always lose your keys? Can’t keep a secret? How many times have you kicked yourself over the fact that you can’t seem to overcome your bad habits? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I change? Why can’t I get better?
You are not your sins. You are not your faults.
In his commentary on surat Al-Nas, Nouman Ali Khan, discusses the idea that the most powerful thing that Satan (and any person who behaves like Satan) does to us, is convince us that he is not really there. He makes us believe that our mistakes, negative inclinations, and overall sins are because we are inherently bad people. Then, it becomes so easy to despair at the idea that we will change and grow. Every mistake we make can become ingrained into our personalities, to the point that we start to believe that we are our sins. Yet Allah, most High, gives us an out. He informs us about Satan, about his promises to deceive us1“And I will most surely lead them astray and fill them with fancies, and I will most surely command them so they will most surely slit the ears of cattle, and most surely I will command them so they will most surely alter the creation of Allah.” Thus, whoever takes Satan for a guardian apart from Allah has truly lost an evident loss.” (An-Nisa 4:119), and how clandestine his work is. He brings to light what Satan hopes to hide. This is power for the believer. It means that once we have sought repentance, we can let our mistakes go. We don’t have to sew them into our personalities. We can blame Satan for leading us astray.
What about all my lazy prayers?
So what does this mean practically for your prayer? There is the obvious, which is the simple implementation of the Prophet’s advice: when you get distracted, turn your face away, blow or dry spit, and then come back. This is a physical reset that allows you to break free of a chain of distractions Satan pulls you along. A friend told me that when she gets distracted in prayer, she uses the Prophet’s recommendation and blows on her left side. She said, blowing reinforces for her that she is blowing away her distraction. Whatever that thing is in her mind she is physically willing it away along with the one who kept pushing her to it. I had heard about this practice before, but hearing her in those moments made it so much clearer to me.
More generally though, If you find yourself down the wrong path, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get up, turn around, and start going in the right direction. So you took a wrong turn … who doesn’t?? Thinking about how often Allah reminds us of His compassion, and commands us to ask for guidance – literally in every single unit of every single prayer we perform each day – it’s amazing that we are so quick to fall into despair about our mistakes. He knows we need help, and He offers it to us lovingly.
I struggle with feeling presence in my prayer and even when I’ve prayed a good prayer, my mind lingers on how many ‘bad’ prayers I have prayed, and how much I regret being so careless with my salah. I also often find myself dragging my feet to get to prayer or praying a string of prayers that are completely distracted and mindless. There seems to be so much ‘evidence’ against me. I often hear a voice in my mind saying: you know you don’t really care about your prayers.
But if the above story with the Prophet ﷺ is any indication, a simple change in mindset is all that’s needed. Just blow away the thought. Allah is able to change our condition at any moment, but what He asks is that we first try to change what is in ourselves2 “For each one there is a succession(of angels) before him and behind him, preserving him from Allah’s command. Indeed, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. And if Allah wants an evil for a people, there is no turning it back, and apart from Him they have no guardian.” (Ar-Rad 13:11). Believing that you can be who you want to be is a continuous step you need to take. Hold on to that commitment, and to the positive vision of who you are building each day. Satan is trying to get in the way: don’t be fooled by him, and don’t despair. Just blow him away.