Part 2 | Part 1 – Starting Over
There is beauty in letting all pretenses and denials fall away, and standing before Him in full surrender. A poet described prayer: “We are in a garden, where our food is khushu’, and our drink is the tears that flow.” Attentiveness that comes from humility allows our minds to bring forward the meanings of what we say in prayer and admit them with our hearts. The Prophet (saw) prayed extra night prayers out of sheer gratitude to Allah (swt). What this also shows is if we want to better the quality of worship inside our prayers, we should practice gratitude to Allah (swt) outside our prayers. There is darkness in the world but there is also plenty of light, plenty of beauty. And light is so much more powerful. Acknowledge and be thankful for the beauty and it increases. Gratitude to Allah is potent worship that has pay-back in both this life and the next. Ibn al-Qayyim said, “All beauty in this world both external and internal was created by Allah. How beautiful is He?”
When our love of Allah increases, our khushu’ increases. The Prophet (saw) taught a prayer to Mu’adh ibn Jabal—he told him to say this after every prayer: “Oh Allah, help me in the remembrance of You, expressing gratitude to You, and worshipping You in the best way.” Each part of this dua contributes to the next. Remembrance increases gratitude; gratitude and remembrance better our worship. In one halaqa, members were supposed to make this supplication and follow it up with thanking Allah for three blessings they experienced between that prayer and the one before, and continue this practice for a week. The next week when reflections from the assignment were shared, people were amazed by how something so simple could change their lives. “It was one of happiest weeks of my life,” said one attendee. “It made me want to pray more,” said another. “I could never stop at just three blessings. Once I started thanking, I saw so much good in my life.” Starting over isn’t hard. It’s blissful, simple and beautiful alhamdulilah.
Try this as a first step to increasing your gratitude. Try talking to Allah throughout the day as a first step in increasing your remembrance. You will insha Allah be surprised at how quickly you will start to look forward to prayer and see it as the blissful sanctuary it truly is. To be fair, khushu’ doesn’t mean it has to feel like the last 10 nights of Ramadan every time. It just means you are allowing yourself the relief of what you actually deeply yearn for: to be fully engaged in your worship. One of the outward signs is having a level of meditativeness in your prayer that causes you to lose track of space and time. Permit yourself to ‘get lost’ in your spiritual vacation.
Finally one of the reasons prayer is at the core of starting over is because prayer is at the core of true happiness. Of all the things in this world that would make us happy, nothing can give us greater happiness than being close to Allah (swt). It’s why Abu Bakr (ra) wept in understanding when the Prophet (saw) expressed his choice to experience death, saying: “God has given his slave a choice between immortality in this world and meeting His Lord, and he has chosen to meet his Lord.” The Prophet chose to be with Allah, he chose happiness. Of all the different joys in Paradise that can make us happy, nothing will be greater than being as close to Allah (swt) as possible, seeing His Face. Prayer reminds us that our ultimate goal is not this world, and our true happiness, our paradise, doesn’t come from it either. The Prophet (saw) told us, “The closest that a servant is to His Lord, is when He is in sujud (prostration).” Think about everything that concerns you in life and distracts you in prayer. Sujud is where to take it and ask for help. Have you ever had a sujud that was so amazing, so incredible you didn’t want to lift your head? Experience it again…for the first time. Just start over and start with prayer.
I’m at school all day and barely have time to pray in passing periods between classes. What do I do?
Khushu’ doesn’t mean the time of prayer is increased by a whole lot every time. It means you are fully present and engaged. Try your best during school hours, but take extra time for at least Fajr and Isha. Also the Sunnah/ nawafil prayers compensate for shortcomings in our fard.
Busy mothers, people who work in corporate America, even physicians on call can take the same principle. Identify which prayers occur when you do have more flexibility in your time, and take full advantage of them. If you can, schedule your day around your prayers rather than scheduling your prayers into your day, this alone would change the whole flavor of your day. Prayer is the real “You-Time.”
I have better khushu’ when I don’t pray in congregation because I know the meaning of what I choose to recite, and I spend the time I need in sujud to make all the duas I need to make. Should I still pray in congregation, especially when I’m on campus and can pray alone?
You can pray in congregation for the reward and pray your Sunnah by yourself taking all the time you need. You can also find a few friends to pray in congregation with that may pray at the pace you appreciate, especially if you are studying in a different area with them. You can also request from the Imam to take a little extra time in sujud for you and others who are following the prayer. As for different surahs read in prayer, try to enjoy as much meaning as you can. Change is good. Even the Prophet (saw) enjoyed listening to Quran from his companions and he was the one Quran was revealed to.
When it comes to allowing our minds to bear witness, every person is encouraged to learn and reflect on the meaning of what they say in their prayers. This is the minimum and it applies to Arabs and non-Arabs. It doesn’t take long to learn and is transformative in drawing closer to Allah. We have to know what we are saying to Him. After this, one can study the meaning and even tafsir of the surahs they recite often, and this elevates the mind’s ability to witness what is said to Allah (swt).
If I don’t feel anything even after doing all these steps, and repenting for every sin I can think of. Does that mean Allah (swt) doesn’t love me?
No. The fact that you are praying is a sign of His love for you. Allah (swt) is al-Qaabid, al-Baasit. He Constricts and Expands. Sometimes a person feels qabd (constriction) in their relationship with Allah. If you persistently sin, you will certainly feel it. But even if you are someone who consciously avoids sins and repent when you do sin, you will still sometimes experience qabd. Qabd for the persistent or negligent sinner is a purification because it pushes them to repent, so long as they don’t respond with despair. Hope is part of iman. Qabd for the repenter is a preservation of their humility and goodness because it pushes them to not become complacent or self-righteous/arrogant in their faith. Allah (swt) may cause a slave of His to experience qabd because He loves when that slave worships with more fervor and He wants to motivate them to do more good deeds. The qabd becomes a reason for great reward. Then when He bestows them with bast (expansion), it is ever sweeter. If the servant recognizes that the bast was not from their deeds, but from Allah (swt), they respond with gratitude and not arrogance. If they have self-admiration during the bast, they may be given a dose of qabd again to purify them from their self-delusion.
Also, can you imagine if your faith was *always* ablaze? That you were in a constant state of expansion in your relationship with Allah? You would think you were the best person on earth and everyone else beneath you. You would also stop trying because not trying and trying would all be the same. The Prophet (saw) said if we did not sin, he would fear for us something worse—arrogance. Qabd protects us from this something worse. If you’re praying it’s a sign of His love. Take good news in this: If you are still praying through the qabd, the numbness, Allah (swt) loves you enough to preserve your prayers. You are worshipping Him, not the emotional high, and this is a great deed. He is also inviting you to draw even nearer to Him. Let your qabd motivate you to do more and more rewarded deeds for His sake. By His Mercy, you will feel the bast soon insha Allah. Hope.
Parts of this blog post were inspired by Sis. Jinan Bastaki’s series on the Sweetness of Prayer.