Reading Time: 6 minutes
Here at Sillah we hope to be able to meet the personal development needs of all people who are seeking salah. That’s why we reached out to Hoda Elsharkawi for her advice on how you, a new Muslim, can handle some of the pitfalls that can happen when trying to build a prayer routine. Hoda has been teaching people about the basics of Islam for over 20 years through a weekly New Muslims class in the Boston, MA area and has seen many converts go through the experience of beginning to pray. Below are some of her tips on successfully navigating starting a prayer practice. – Admin
Muslims start learning and practicing the prayers at the age 7 per the Prophet’s ﷺ advice. It takes commitment and discipline to be able to perform all the prayers every day whether one feels energetic or not. As a new Muslim, this can be a challenge but it should be the highest priority once a person converts. All prayers are mandatory and it is considered a major sin to miss any, especially the fajr (dawn) and asr (afternoon) prayers. Whatever you do, don’t miss those. It eventually becomes easier to pray all your prayers regularly and you may even start to feel lost or disoriented if you miss a prayer.
This is a problem some Muslims fall into. You tell yourself: “I will start tomorrow”. This usually happens when you have the intention and desire to pray but you haven’t started. The days go by and you keep telling yourself “tomorrow, I will start tomorrow”. My advice is that whenever you want to start, start right away. If it is thuhr (noon) time, get up and perform your thuhr prayer, this way, you break the cycle of procrastination.
Never Give Up
We all have failings in our relationship with Allah and our devotion to our faith. It is bound to happen. When it happens, one of the tricks of the devil is to make you think that there is no hope in Allah’s mercy or in you as a person. Satan tells you that you are bad and that you will never be able to commit. A word of advice: it is better to travel to Allah while crawling and falling than not to travel to Him at all. Allah wants to see us try, get up and dust off the despair, and continue on this blessed journey even if we keep falling. There is a hadith to this meaning about a man who says ‘Ya Rab (Oh Lord)’ after committing a sin.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet ﷺ1This Arabic symbol denotes ‘peace and blessings be upon him’ which the Prophet ﷺ instructed us to say after mentioning him., reports from his Lord ﷻ2This Arabic symbol translates to ‘glorified is His Majesty’ and is often mentioned with Allah’s name as a sign of reverence., that:
A servant [of Allah’s] committed a sin and said: Oh Allah, forgive me my sin. Allah ﷻ said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes them. Then the servant sinned again and said: Oh Lord, forgive me my sin. Allah ﷻ then said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes them. Then the servant sinned again and said: Oh Lord, forgive me my sin. Allah ﷻ then said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. Do what you wish [servant], for I have forgiven you. (Recorded by Bukhari and Muslim.)
Make Up Missed Prayers
Once you are regular in your five daily prayers, add on extra prayers to them with the intention to make up whatever you missed. If you are able to, add two past prayers with each new prayer. Pray 3 fajrs, 3 thuhurs, 3 asrs and so on until you feel you have made up all the prayers you may have missed in the past. This should take priority over praying extra encouraged prayers that the Prophet ﷺ used to do. For more details on the specific Islamic laws and how to go about making up past prayers, please consult your local trusted mosque leader.
Under Your Breath
If you are coming to Islam from another faith background, you should know that salah is spoken, felt by the heart, and pondered by the mind. This all happens while we are physically doing our salah movements as well. All of you is in participation: the body, the mind, the heart, and the tongue. I noticed that some new Muslims may perform their salah silently which is not the Islamic way. You have to speak the words as in the term “under your breath”. You should be whispering not too softly (so you can’t even hear yourself) or too loudly (so others near you would be disturbed). Doing this will help you better focus and feel your prayer.
Sometimes we may feel a spiritual down called fatrah in Islamic terms. Fatrah is very much like a spiritual low where we may feel less motivated or excited to do acts of worship that we normally do with pleasure and with energy. There is a much bigger chance you can come out of fatrah if you continue to do your salah than if you stop praying until you feel like praying again. The desire to pray may not come soon enough. Prayers are food for our souls and we shouldn’t let our souls starve even if we don’t have an appetite.
To help you feel the prayer try these tips:
- Take your time to learn the meaning of every movement and word you are saying.
- Take a moment before prayer to put behind you any distractions. This is your time with Allah.
- Ponder the spiritual meaning of the things you do before salah like wudu (sins being washed away) and covering (Allah covering our shortcomings).
- Take your time in sujud (when your head is on the floor) to have a conversation with Allah, relax, and make supplication.
- Learn new surahs to recite in your salah because saying the same chapters over and over again may not help with feeling salah.
- Staying away from bad deeds helps with presence of the heart during salah.
Prayer in Arabic is called salah which comes from the word sillah, or connection. Through prayers, we connect our soul to its Maker and that is how it becomes stronger and healthier. In our salah, we glorify Allah and recognize His existence and might, thereby fulfilling the purpose we were created for. In salah, we ask for guidance and help from the One that can truly help and guide us. For all these reasons, salah is called ‘the key to paradise’ and one of 8 gates of paradise is for those who did their prayers. May we all fulfill this blessed pillar of Islam and may it be a comfort and help for us.