Connection through Prayer

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Singing My Love Loudly

Recently, at my children’s school, a fellow parent asked me about where I pray when I’m on campus. He was genuinely interested and it even felt like he wanted to talk more about prayer and how beautiful he found the Muslim practice to be. I was so grateful. But at the same time, I found myself trying to shut down the conversation as quickly as possible. Instead of talking more and just asking all the questions I had about how he discovered prayer and what made it interesting to him, I felt like I needed to just smile and change the subject. I walked away so confused.

Why is it so hard for me to talk about prayer? Or to pray in front of people who don’t pray? When I pray in public I find myself so distracted and just wishing to finish quickly. I worry about people walking up to me and talking to me while I’m praying. I worry about looking weird or crazy. The entire experience is anything but spiritually satisfying.

At first it seems like it’s just an embarrassment having to ask for the time or the space. I need to take time away from my commitments so that I can go do this thing. I need to ask for a quiet space. I need to communicate needs that others aren’t asking for. Even more, and especially when I’m out in public, praying with my child next to me makes me feel negligent. I need people to be patient or just understand that for a few moments I need to turn my attention away from my kid.  On the surface it seems that I’m worrying about inconveniencing others, but I know that’s not the full answer. 

I found the courage to eventually talk to that same parent again. He seemed incredulous that I should feel that I have to hide this practice. “It’s obvious [you’re] not bothering anyone” he said so surely. I knew he was right. It doesn’t make sense – especially if I’m literally praying outside in a field by the school building – that I should think I’m bothering anyone by doing that. Further, it wouldn’t make sense that I don’t even want to talk about prayer. Yet, prayers always feel like something I need to hide from people who don’t pray. 

As a friend of mine put it: 
If you’re not ashamed of it, why are you hiding it?

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.

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?

A Single Minute to Better Prayer

Have you been trying to better your prayer and struggling?! Do you feel hopeless that your prayer will ever get better? Do you feel like your relationship with Allah is strained and desperate?

What if I told you there was a solution … Something that will literally take 1 minute and will completely change your whole experience of salah and maybe even your whole relationship with Allah …

This sounds like a gimmick, but it’s not!!

As part of his course, Transform My Prayer, Iqbal Nasim recommends that before you pray any prayer you take time out for what he terms ‘The Golden Minute’. Basically you take 1 full minute before you start praying to set yourself up mentally as to what it is you are about to do: meet with Allah. It’s very simple and obviously takes very little time.

You may think 1 minute is nothing but I bet if you try it you’ll find yourself sweating just 10 seconds in.

[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. 

Ramadan 1443 Workshop: Intentions from the Heart

Ramadan is once again just around the corner and this year, unlike years past, we wanted to narrowly focus our Ramadan workshop on one thing: Intentions. The goal is lofty so we got this workshop out early and we recommend that you get started right away so you are already on a roll in Ramadan. 

One of the most famous – if not the most famous – sayings of the Prophet ﷺ is the hadith of Omar:

عَنْ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّةِ، وَلِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، وَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ لِدُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا، أَوِ امْرَأَةٍ يَتَزَوَّجُهَا، فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ ‏”‏‏.‏‏

‘Umar bin Al-Khattab r Narrated: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration was for Allah and His Apostle. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 54

The translation used above uses the term ‘reward’ but in the original Arabic, what the Prophet ﷺ says is closer to “and every person shall have what he intended”. He ﷺ is saying, your actions may all be the same, but your experience and your results will manifest based on the intentions you came into the action with. What it would indicate is that everyone will face the consequences of his intentions.  

As muslims, we are often taught the importance of intentions. Some of the most famously pious Muslims obsessed about intentions. It is said that Umar bin Abdalaziz, Caliph of the Muslims, would not put one foot in front of the other without intending it first. The saying of the Prophet ﷺ on intentions cited above is at the start of most books on Prophetic tradition. A simple search on youtube of Islamic lectures on intention yields at least a hundred videos of both famous and ‘regular’ Muslim takes on the topic.  Even non-religious personal development gurus talk about how important intentions are and how most people do not intend enough. 

But what is an intention really, and what do we gain from intending? Is intention deciding to do an action?  A lot of the time when we are taught about intentions that’s what it seems like. Especially as they relate to our worship, we are told we must intend the action – i.e. resolve to do the action specifically and for the sake of Allah – for the action to be valid as worship. From this we easily grasp the importance of deciding to do an action and that we can’t just do things because ‘everyone is doing it’. Beyond this though, a lot of us fail to properly make use of the intentions for our actions. Especially for things that are routine, intentions fall into the background. Of course, I’m doing what I’m doing – how could I not be. But, the power of intentions happens not when we intend our actions but rather when we intend the results of our actions. When we intend what we want this action to give us, that’s when intentions suddenly transform into something truly valuable. When we intend the results of our action this allows us to clarify our goals, align our actions with our values, and manifest the experience in life we wish to draw us closer to Allah. 

Calling the Divine

I often wonder how the companions of the Prophet ﷺ were able to transition to praying and connecting with Allah ﷻ so naturally, while I, raised in the embrace of Islam since birth, find it so mysterious. While its true that some companions like Abu-Bakr رضي الله عنه led lives of spiritual cleanliness and maybe even sensitivity up until the point of revelation, others were not1 While sources are not sited, this link gives a good description on the life of Abubakr before Islam . The general culture and atmosphere of Makkah prior to the message was hedonistic and self centered at best. Brothels were common and crime both petty and obtuse was rampant. While we often look back at the past with lenses of purity and simplicity, its safe to say that Makkah life in the pre Islamic period was neither2 See Aspects of Pre-Islamic Arabian Society – Social LIfe of the Arabs in The Sealed Nectar pg. 28.  So, given all of this – given growing, living, and breathing in such a place, how did the companions, so entrenched in it all, not only shift to leading spiritual lives, but actually quickly and seamlessly begin to pray with diligence and devotion? How did the companions know how to connect to Allah through their prayers so easily?

I used to think the answer was complex and multifaceted, but the more I pondered on the role of duaa in salah, the more simple the answer appeared. While this is a website devoted to discussing, growing, and connecting around the idea of salah, prayer, I wanted to diverge a little to talk about another type of prayer – duaa. 

(Night) Prayer as Self Care: Part II

Sometimes living in a modern society so focused on the self, for a Muslim, the idea of self care can seem a difficult pill to swallow. Islam calls on us to give and to care and to advise. Self care can feel so antithetical to an Islamic worldview which calls on us to do good in order to reach God. Centering ourselves at our own love doesn’t feel giving; doesn’t feel Islamic. And yet, the self cannot be denied. We burn out. We are spent.

How is it that the Prophet ﷺ was able to give so constantly? Maybe I am setting the bar too high. The Prophet ﷺ was able to garner his energy almost superhumanly, but how is it that our mothers or grandmothers gave so much and so often? How has our ummah been built on the backs of fighters and thinkers, herdsmen and builders and yet, there were no spa days and no vacation time. In my own home, I don’t seem to be able to manage even the simple tasks of everyday living without overwhelm consuming me. 

So many times a day, my children call out to me ‘Look at me, mama’. My children seem to call on me endlessly, their needs draining me to the point of tearful exhaustion, and yet there is so much trust they have in my ability to respond. They beg to be seen; they beg to be heard. They know deep inside them that to be seen, to be heard, without criticism and with affirmation, is to be loved. And so, I do my best to respond because I know that to be loved is to know that you are worthwhile and therefore builds in you the confidence to become the person you so wish to be. 

But who is there to see me: to pour into me the love that can light my path and inspire my wings? Especially in the daily trenches of motherhood it is easy to feel forgotten or belittled. Even if I take time for myself and do some ‘self care’ it is only me feeding myself. My weaknesses and fears compound within me and there is no one there to look me in the eye and say I see you and you can do this. 

But I tell myself, Allah is Here. Allah tells us He is close; closer than our own veins1 Quran Verse 50:16. I have my prayers, don’t I? I have my time with Allah 5 times a day. 

When we stand in prayer, we are there as ourselves, truly, without pretension or mask. Your heart is fully exposed to your Maker. Not only that, but regardless of the state of it, beaming with faithfulness or dirtied by the desires of this life, Allah asks for your presence. That is because He is, in every moment, willing to accept you as you are and thus assure you that you are known and that you are loved. He wants to inspire in you the sure confidence that you are able to be that person you so wish to be. 

Is it possible that I may be known and seen?

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.

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