Connection through Prayer

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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?

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. 

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. 

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.

First Goodbye, then Hello

So many things have lead up to this point and you’re at the precipice of that most intense meeting with Allah. Your conversation is about to begin so you say ‘Allah Akbar’ – Takbeerat Al-Ihram – which means Allah is Greater

Ihram comes from the root word “حرم” which means sanctuary. Ihram means you’re disengaging the world. 

So, as soon as you say takbeerat al ihram, you’re leaving your stresses and worries, and entering into this sanctuary. You’re saying so long world, I have more important things to focus on right now. Even your hands are throwing the world behind you, so push the world behind you with your heart.

Allahu Akbar …

Are you honest when you say it? Or are you lying? What are you really thinking about? 

The devil is going to come and try to remind you of everything you can think of, to distract you. Seek refuge in Allah from Shaitan. Only when he is gone can you start focusing on your prayers. Now you’re standing before Allah and you need to make your introduction. 

When you start your prayer choose an opening supplication based on how you’re feeling that day, and how you want to connect with Allah:

Use Your Imagination & Set the Scene

Salah requires more from us mentally than just focusing. Salah asks our mind to be fully present and then transports us to an intimate meeting with our Lord. Our mental effort is called on more than we are used to and we often don’t have the stamina to mentally commit to such an experience. That’s why taking some moments to set a mental scene for yourself can help you tune into the prayer more effectively. Not sure what I mean? Take some of the following ideas as starting points and then get creative. 

Stand Among the Angels:

The Prophet ﷺ tells us that the skies are moaning, and they should be moaning, for there is not a spot in them – not even a hand’s length – that doesn’t have an angel praying to Allah. So, even if you’re in your room praying alone, know that you’re not alone! You’re joining the ranks of the angels in the heavens and all around you. 

As you stand there waiting, visualize all the angels who are asking Allah to forgive you and have mercy on you. Visualize yourself standing surrounded by the light and yet Allah is responding to you specifically because you called out to Him. 

Always On My Mind

In the previous post, we talked about what a real prayer should be and now we want to begin the journey of attaining khushu in our prayers. 

But, when exactly should your feelings of khushu start? When should you begin to attune yourself to the prayer?

Well if you knew you had an important meeting with a wise and powerful king coming up how early would you prepare? What if, during this meeting you would be asked about certain past events that you’ve done or you’d be given time to make the case for a special request? I would reckon you would begin to prepare the exact moment you heard you were being granted this meeting.  

That’s how we need to think about our upcoming meetings with our Lord. 

Salah isn’t a strange ritualistic exercise, but it’s actually a practice that is meant to be an extension of our entire lifestyle. That’s why experiencing salah actually begins outside of the prayer. Attune yourself to the following:

1. Allah’s Mercy and Love

Allah has divided His mercy into 100 portions, only one portion has been sent down to earth, and the rest He saved for the hereafter. Allah’s mercy is all around us. The breath you take, the water you drink, the warmth of your skin, these are all manifestations of Allah’s mercy. Your being from among the Muslims is a form of mercy from Allah. If He is so merciful, He gave us all this, and that’s just a part of 1% of the mercy He divided, then I cannot even imagine the 99 percent of His Mercy that we may experience in the hereafter! All of this should be filling your heart with Allah’s love. 

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