We are all familiar with the words that the Prophet used when he asked Bilal, the muezzin of Madinah, to start the call to prayer:
”Give us comfort with it, O Bilal!”
At one time or another, we have all experienced the sweetness of prayer, especially in the month of Ramadan when prayers are prayed in abundance and we stand in tarawih or qiyaam at the mosque. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to make pilgrimage to Makkah, but I have been informed that praying in the Sacred Mosque feels like praying for the first time, due to the great spiritual state one is in at that moment in time. Although there will be times when our levels of spirituality will fluctuate to the point that we will be immersed in worldly matters, focus and humility in prayer (also known as khushoo’) should be the rule rather than the exception. The fact is that we perform the prayer at least five times a day, thus our minds and bodies get used to the movements and Arabic recitations resulting in a very mechanical approach to prayer, almost as if we’re going through the motions. This is a sad reality for many Muslims, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What if our prayer is such that it actually amounts to the coolness of our eyes and it becomes our comfort, i.e. the highlight of our day? What if khushoo’ isn’t something we struggle for in each prayer, what if the problem is our prayer? Needless to say, it takes a bit of effort to realise that attaining khushoo’ isn’t the issue, but the quality of our prayer as an act of worship.
For the above to happen, we first need to change our approach to the prayer – we tend to view prayer as merely an obligation that needs to be fulfilled just so that God won’t punish us for neglecting it. Of course, fear of God is an integral part of our faith, and whilst we should dread the consequences of neglecting our duties toward Him, our subservience to God should go beyond fear.
Prayer needs to be the focal point of our day and we need to ensure that it truly is an important event complete with a ceremonial atmosphere. It is here that you stand before God and it is here that you worship Him, achieving your purpose in life and upholding your dignity as one of His slaves. Everything else in life takes a back seat to this experience. We need to prepare and anticipate our meeting with God in the way that He wants us to prepare for it by performing the ablution and wearing clean and dignified clothing:
O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship (7:31)
Consider for a moment the aesthetic beauty of this truly major event. We rise before our Lord, we glorify and praise Him and we read from His words:
by which the mountains would be removed or the earth would be broken apart or the dead would be made to speak (13:31).
As we bow and prostrate before Him, we partake in a cosmic performance, for
to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people? (22:18)
We champion an ancient ritual and join the tradition of
the prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous. And excellent are those as companions.(4:69)
There is simply no competition between the prayer and all other events and occasions in life that Muslims could participate in. Let this fact reflect on the way we perform the prayer. I cannot stress enough that the prayer needs to be performed in a calm and dignified manner. Exaggerate the movements, so that the movements are unhurried and that we have time to reflect on where we are and what we are doing; in between the takbirs, the du’aas, and the suras (and in between the ayat), pause for a second or two to take it all in. Move slowly and gracefully. Know that God sees you and make the physical performance of the prayer pleasing to the Observer. This will have a psychological impact and make you value the prayer in all its grandeur.
The above points all relate to the external aspects of the prayer, but the most important aspect is dealing with the internal aspects of the prayer.It is a given that one needs to understand the meaning of what one is saying. If you haven’t learned enough Arabic to understand the recitations and supplications, then this is where you must begin. An excellent article has already been written on the matter, but I wish to add some of my thoughts, too.
In order to make the prayer the coolness of your eye and your comfort, it has to be the time in your day where you leave the worldly life behind and focus on God and the Hereafter. If you are struggling with this (aren’t we all?), the prayer is where it needs to be addressed. It’s not simply a case of addressing our issues with materialism and spirituality, doubts and belief, the world’s allure and God’s promise through the prayer (i.e. by merely expecting blessings from it); I am saying that we need to do it within the prayer. Don’t just read al-Fatiha and settle for the reward and blessing of recitation itself, but apply each and every ayah to whatever issue you have that day. Do this with every sura, every ayah, every dhikr and every du’aa.
A common complaint is that our mind wanders during the prayer – well, where does it wander to? The subconscious may want to resolve a particular issue, but don’t panic. We should take a step back and remember where we are and what we are doing – we are communicating with God and He is communicating with us through His Speech, the Qur’an; we must apply His words to every aspect of our life. When prostrating, perhaps stay in that position for a few seconds longer and simply meditate on the fact that our Lord, the most High, is hallowed – Subhana rabbiy al-A’laa – and that He created us in such a way that we get distracted by the superfluous aspect of this world, whilst at the same time sending us His message and guidance so that we do not turn all of life into games and diversions.
In order to make the prayer a time of meditation and reflection, a way to connect with God and remember the Hereafter, a way to really confront the worldly life, we have to take our time. We cannot do this if we rush through the prayer. But apart from the fact that rushing through the prayer or performing it without reflection isn’t proper worship, why would we even want to do that? There is no getting away from it; we have the opportunity to face our Lord five times a day, so why waste that time? We must invest in the prayer by turning it into a major event in our life by taking our time with it and making it a real concern. We need to address and resolve the issues that distract us from God in it, by remembering His greatness and by humbling ourselves before Him.
And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for those with khushoo’. (2:45)
If we do so, we will find it to be the coolness of our eyes and our comfort – the highlight of our day.