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Maybe you got hit by the habit bug too, but last year, it seemed that talking about good habits was everywhere. Every Youtuber had a video about it. Countless articles were posted. And James Clear’s Atomic Habits was impossible to check out of any library for months.
I admit, I caught the bug.
But that’s a good thing right?! Especially if it can help improve my salah …
So for this year, during the Ramadan workshop, we are going to focus on something I learned from James Clear’s book mentioned above: Reflection …
Yes, Reflection 🙂
Towards the end of his book, Clear mentions that a big downfall of creating good habits is just that: they become habitual. Habits become so routine, they stop offering the personal growth that made them so valuable at their inception. Habits become automatic – and therefore lifeless. He went on to talk about the importance of maintaining a clear routine of reflecting on your habits – to breathe new life into them and to allow yourself to continually evolve them. Reflection is an important key to transforming habits from routine to ritual.
Before we get ahead of ourselves though, what is reflection exactly?
Reflection is the intentional process of thinking about our experiences. For example, explaining our experiences, summarizing them, or being able to connect them to our other experiences are ways in which we reflect. This reflection can be shared with another person or can be made to our own selves. It can be a formal process with journaling and surveying or it can be a simple thought stream you do alone. Studies have shown that just by asking participants to think about the learning they did, learning can improve.
Reflection is a powerful tool, no doubt. But, when it came to prayer, the question of how to do that reflection and how to do it well remained elusive. How does one maintain a practice of reflection that is dynamic and effective?!
The Simple Method:
I happened upon an idea by Iqbal Nasim that seemed to answer my question exactly. If you really want to simplify your reflection process, you can apply Iqbal Nasim’s method. Ask yourself: Did I mean what I said when I talked to Allah. The prayer is filled with so many proclamations, recitations, and requests. Were you sincere when you said them? Taking it one step further than brother Iqbal’s suggestion, rate yourself on your honesty: I was 50% sincere in my last conversation with Allah. Or I was just putting on airs: 10%. And so on. Your goal for each prayer can be to get that percentage up. Even the simple tracking and qualification of each prayer can provide a means to improve your prayer.
The Prophetic ﷺ Method
When I started thinking about prayer and reflection, I immediately thought of the Prophet’s practice of sitting after his prayers to recite some words of remembrance and verses of the Quran. It made me ponder how reflective that ritual was for him. Were his words of remembrance a means of constant reflection? Especially if the practice was so consistent, how did it not fall into becoming just another habit? I remembered one of the supplications he used to make; one of my favorites:
اللّهُـمَّ أَعِـنِّي عَلـى ذِكْـرِكَ وَشُكْـرِك ، وَحُسْـنِ عِبـادَتِـك
O Allah, help me to remember You, to thank You, and to worship You in the best of manners.
When I read it, the Prophet’s prayer feels so earnest. Trying to live in the Prophet’s shoes, I imagine myself simply speaking to Allah and asking: please, help me be better. Especially, if I’m taking the time to think about how my prayer went in the first place, a simple prayer like this, can help me connect my prayer to my larger desire to respond to God. If anything, it feels like the most reflective practice of all.
The Importance of Intention (again)
Reflection isn’t just about feeling like you want to be better. I have often finished a prayer and felt like I wish I had prayed it better. The Prophet ﷺ would often begin his supplications after prayer with seeking forgiveness from God: saying astaghfirullah. Doing this ourselves can help assuage those feelings of just wanting to have done better. To be effective though, reflection has to be more intentional than that. Maybe that’s why the Prophet ﷺ did not stop with simple istighfar. Reflection is about directly evaluating how well you met your intention and then what you could better do to fulfill that intention. This means before even discussing reflection, one has to be aware and consistent with their intent.
We talked about intentionality last Ramadan, and I honestly feel that when maintaining the habit of intentionality going into the prayer alone amplifies the experience. Choosing a way you want to experience your prayer makes the reflection after the prayer much more effective because you can evaluate it based on that initial intention.
Putting it All Together
If you currently have a practice of sitting and repeating Prophetic remembrances after prayer, you’re already part way there. Now, make it more meaningful. The words of the Prophet ﷺ had meaning to him in his own language, and so if your goal is to emulate and lovingly follow in his way, then speak words that have meaning to you. This isn’t to say that you should stop repeating the phrases and the prayers that he used to say, but that you can breathe more life into those prayers. Take the time to consider what it is that you want to say and either say it yourself or look for what it is from the Prophet’s practice that helps you say what is in your heart.
In the supplication above, the Prophet ﷺ asked for help in being more grateful. If you are struggling with feeling grateful to Allah then ask Allah to help you be more grateful or repeat the Prophet’s supplication with that in mind. If you’re struggling with other feelings then actively intend to increase those feelings during the prayer and reflect on them after the prayer.
Gearing up for Ramadan, I set an intention to feel Allah’s love in my prayer. After the prayer, I would sit and focus on how well I was able to connect with Allah’s love while praying. After some prayers, I found that that wasn’t really working. I didn’t suddenly start feeling that Allah loved me while praying. Maybe it was unrealistic. Maybe it was impertinent on my part. Maybe my issue was expecting Allah to fill my heart, without myself first expressing my own devotion and love. Because of taking that time to reflect after the prayer, I was able to switch my intentions for the following prayers and experience a much better connection with Allah. I also decided to add a supplication that was specific to Allah’s love. When I remembered, I would sit and say it after praying. It seems so simple, but a little focused reflection can go a long way.
Struggling with Praying at All
If you’re still struggling to get your 5 daily prayers into regular practice, reflecting on why you struggle with prayer may help you progress. Is the struggle logistical? Is it emotional? Does praying feel boring? Do you even know why you struggle? I would encourage you to schedule specific times throughout the day to just sit and reflect on your prayer journey, where you desire to be, and how you can achieve your goals. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy session, but consistency is key. Maybe just the act of setting this time aside will help jump-start your prayers. The important thing is to never lose hope in your ability to grow in nearness to Allah and to experience Allah’s loving guidance through prayer.
All in all, having an intention, holding on to it throughout your salah, and then reflecting on how well you’re meeting it afterwards can enhance your prayers. If though, you forget to set a clear intention beforehand, or are struggling with praying at all, even just a simple pause and thought about the hows and whys of prayer will make a difference for you. Reflection is a powerful tool for growth. Give it a shot! Trust Allah … Be earnest … and Happy Ramadan!
The Ramadan Workshop is an invitation to take the opportunity of Ramadan as a dedicated time to work on our prayers. Specifically, we pick an area of focus that we want to address when it comes to our prayers and think of how we can progress. Sillah readers are encouraged to ‘workshop’ their prayers alone or with a group. The more we work on our prayers and the more we work together, the more connected we become to each other, and through each other to Allah. Happy Working and Happy Ramadan!