Connection through Prayer

Tag: Reflection Page 1 of 2

Praying Behind an Imam


I have always been taught the value and importance of jama (collective) prayer. Praying in congregation not only offers more rewards in your personal scale, but also it helps to bind communities by providing an anchoring ritual for all to partake in. As such, I’ve always considered praying in a group more beneficial than praying by myself. This reflection period however, has brought to light some deep issues I have when I pray in jama behind an Imam.

From delaying the prayer to daydreaming more, overall, I can say that if I’m praying behind an Imam, my prayer is of less quality. I was thinking about why this is and I realized that mostly, this has to do with my attitude towards the prayer when behind someone. It’s the attitude of passivity. It’s as if, because I am removed from the responsibility of organizing the physical elements of the prayer, I feel I can wash my hands of engaging in the prayer at all. I rest the entire prayer, both it’s external motions and the spiritual effects it’s meant to produce, on the shoulders of the one leading the prayer. Subhan Allah! This is crazy!! What’s more is that I have been doing this for years!!

Let me draw a parallel here to further bare how convoluted this way of thinking is …

a holy place: meandering thoughts on the earthly meanings of prayer

At my kids’ school, they sing a soulful song which repeats:

This pretty planet spinning through space,
You’re a garden, you’re a harbor,
You’re a holy place …

When I first heard my kids singing these lyrics, I had a knee jerk reaction: A holy place?!! 

Isn’t that blasphemous? … Why are they saying the earth is holy?? … How could that be? … Isn’t the earth a place of temporal desires and unlimited distraction? … Isn’t its beauty just a means of forgetting that heavenly place of holiness?? 

But then after my fears settled, my mind started to turn in so many directions … 

Why Not? 

1.

There are many origin stories the world over that try to get at how it is that we humans ended up here on this earth. How did this place become our home? For us as believers in the message of the Quran, the story of Adam is (re)told. The earth was the place Adam was meant for and sent to. Before even creating Adam, Allah told the angels that He was going to create a successor for the earth1see the story of Adam in the second chapter of the Quran titled ‘The Cow’, verses 30-38. Yes, man was a creature created outside of the earth, but simultaneously made from earth stuff, for residence and growth on earth. Initially man resided in the peaceful heavens, but was not meant for it (at least not yet). There is something important about our being on earth specifically, that Allah chose it for us. 

2.

I remembered a saying of the Prophet ﷺ where he likens the earth to a masjid. He says: ‘The earth has been made for me a place of prostration and a means of purification, so wherever a man of my Ummah is when the time for prayer comes, let him pray”2Sunnan Annasai 736. If one were to claim a place as holy on this earth, surely it would be a masjid – a place dedicated to remembrance of and longing for Allah. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ seems to reeducate us. The earth in its entirety is a place to bask in the remembrance of Allah and reach out to Him. It is the place that Allah has chosen for us to know Him, to prove our devotion to Him, and to rise in ranks closer and closer to Him.

Fajr Prayer as an Act of Faith

I struggle with fajr prayer. I really struggle. I’ve been at an around 20% success rate. I even tried writing an ‘Around the Web’ article just to help motivate me, but I can’t seem to conquer the struggle. Summer times are usually the worst because fajr is so early and I sleep late, but there have been years where I’ve been a lot more successful than I am these days. Winters are better because I can just get up and start my day and get my prayer in on time – but that mostly just feels like cheating. It doesn’t really feel like I’m offering a sacrifice for the sake of meeting someone I love, or at the very least fulfilling His expectations. I hate to say it, but it feels like I’m at an all-time low and I’m starting to doubt I can ever climb back up. 

Why is this the case? Why am I struggling so much?? 

I’m not a heavy sleeper. I toss and turn through the night. I even sometimes get up to pray a night prayer and then miss fajr. It makes no sense and I feel very ashamed about it. Especially as someone who is dedicating their time to thinking and writing about how to connect to God more through my prayer, it doesn’t seem appropriate that I would be missing the time window for the first prayer of the day. This is a basic component of having a successful prayer life and I can’t even get it down. What’s even more is that I don’t even feel guilty about it like I used to. When I was younger, if I missed fajr I would wake up in such a fright and I would rush to fulfill the prayer right away. I would just feel so disappointed. Now it’s become so much more commonplace that that sadness has dulled and even when I miss the prayer, I get up slowly and go about my regular morning routine and then pray. Actually, even when I get up with enough time to pray within the window, I sort of drag my feet, daring myself to miss the prayer. 

What is going on?!

A lot of the advice that I’ve found on the internet or from people in my life argues that missing fajr is just a symptom. When your relationship is good with Allah, then your prayer falls into place. If you’re struggling in your devotion to God though, you will see the effects of it in your prayer. That may very well be the case. I definitely feel less connected to some of the external practices that I grew up with. I watch more Youtube videos then I would care to admit. I can really see that in some sense my practice has changed from what it was when I was the young woman so despondent that she missed her fajr prayer.

Prayer Beyond Formalities

Iqbal Nasim asks a question which unnerves me: Would you pray, if Allah didn’t require you to pray? 

The gut wrenching but immediately obvious answer for me is “No”. Probably the biggest indicator of this is how relieved I feel when I get my period: “thank God I get a break from praying now”. Any which way I sort it, I have to admit that I pray because I have to pray. I search for feeling and meaning to make sense of the experience of praying instead of reaching out to prayer in order to receive feeling and meaning. If anything, I have to work really hard to unearth any sense of connection from salah. 

I often pray, even though I don’t really want to pray 

But that begs the question of why … Why do I keep hacking at this practice if I’m progressing so reluctantly through it? The answer comes immediately again: I’m praying out of fear of punishment from Allah. But that seems to be a very surface level answer. Yes, my faith in the realities of the afterlife guide my decisions enough, but the temptation to drop this practice is so great, it should be easy for me to succumb. Allah is merciful isn’t He? He could forgive this weakness couldn’t He?

Well maybe knowing Allah beyond fear is where the answer lies. What’s interesting is that during the podcast, Brother Iqbal said something along the lines of: if you have decided to believe in Allah, and you really are committed to working on your relationship with Allah, your motivation will just fall into place. So that got me thinking, if I’m motivated enough to perform the outward aspects of prayer, but not much beyond that, it must mean that I have the first part, but maybe not the second. I have decided to believe in Allah, and have decided to submit to Him, on the basis of His Power and punishment, but do I really believe in Allah as the Merciful and overwhelmingly Loving? Do I believe in Him as someone I would want to reach out to in weakness and in need? Someone to build a loving relationship with?? 

My prayers would say no

Your Prayer as a Healing

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6011

This ummah is in pain. It’s hard to keep track of all the different places that are in pain. So many parts of this body ache. From whole countries going through famine and cultural decimation, to individual families and children lost in the simple struggle to survive. We are in pain as a body, as limbs, and even as small cells within the whole. 

This begs the question though, what kind of cells are we in this body? Are you a white blood cell fighting off foes? A cancerous cell sucking up resources to grow yourself gargantuanly? A brain cell interpreting all the different experiences into a clear vision? Whenever we hear the quote from our Prophet ﷺ above, we respond to it with a sort of expectation of someone, somewhere doing something about all these bodily aches. But what if we are the cells that are costing others their lives? 

I am as my servant expects Me to be …

What feelings do you feel when the time for prayer comes in? 

How about what you feel when you knock on the door as you’re about to enter your best friend’s house? 

What about other people? When you’re going to see:

your kind mother 

your funny best friend 

your angry boss

your distant cousin 

your unresponsive teacher 

your generous neighbor 

your loving husband 

your cold uncle 

Each of these conjures up a different feeling but essentially: a rejoice at or recoil from the actual meeting. You naturally have a different relationship with each person and so you will feel differently about meeting them. The question though is, does that feeling have more to do with them or with you …       

You are you. Your personality traits are the same: your faults and strengths within you. It’s true that what you show or hide can change depending on who you’re with, but that’s simply a choice. It’s not that you have changed or that you are necessarily a different person each time you see one of them, it is that your perceptions of how they view you and will respond to you is different. It’s your beliefs about who they are and how they will treat you that causes you to anticipate and respond to them differently. 

Which brings us back to the first question … How do we feel when we are about to meet with Allah?

[Book Excerpt] Why Does God not guide some of us when we want to be guided so badly?

The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Lang’s book: Losing My Religion: A Call for Help. In it he answers the question put to him on why it is that despite our sincerest efforts, sometimes we still don’t feel anything in our prayers. So pertinent to the quest here on Sillah to find more connection in prayer, the excerpt felt fundamental to the conversation and we are so fortunate that the publishers allowed us to share it. May Allah bless this author for sharing his perspective and grant us all steadfastness in seeking Him throughout all the experiences of life. The excerpt begins with the author noting the question put him by a young Muslim. You can also find a PDF of the excerpt for easier reading below. Happy Reading!

Question 3 (part of a lengthy conversation I had with a young immigrant Muslim [woman] who struggles to find peace of mind and spirit in her inherited faith; this struggle is a frequently mentioned frustration of many young Muslim Americans): 

I think that in my last e-mail I mentioned to you that the more I study Islam and the more I learn about it, the less I feel connected to God. I am sure that this sounds strange to you since you have come to know God through Islam. But the fact is that the more I go through the do’s and don’t’s of our faith, the further away I feel from God. For example, for about four months or so, I was extremely religious about my prayers: five times a day, on time and all of that stuff. Well, not even once in my prayers did I feel God’s presence or any sense of peace. I would pray that He would guide me to the truth and show me His way. 

After a while, my prayers started feeling like a burden. I felt like I was doing them because “that is the way it is,” or “God commanded us to do them.” I wanted to get them over with. This just does not feel right to me. Isn’t prayer supposed to be our quiet time with God, where we feel a connection rather than resentment and burden and consequently a disconnection and moving away from God? I do not feel that I should be feeling all these negative emotions in my worship to Him. In other words, I felt like a total hypocrite just going through the motions of prayer while resenting the fact that I had to do it. 

All You Need

All You Need

Down
Up
Down
again
Yoga helps the mind
the soul
Helps you rewind
And start over again
Down
Up
Down
again
Salah helps the mind
The soul
And Helps you rewind

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.  

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. 

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén