Keeping it real in the prayer

I recieved this most beneficial mail last year and since then my prayers have greatly improved. May Allah reward all those who shared these great ideas.

It’s probably one of our most common and indeed biggest individual problems that we face in our salah/namaz/prayer every day and that is to actually know what you’re doing, where you are, what you’re saying, what’s going on, feeling the presence and making it a real act of worship.

And by keeping it real, I mean keeping it real. Not false. Not a waste of time. Proper. Correct. Beneficial. Rewarding. Insha’Allah.

There is not a single person on this planet that is safe from this fitnah and very effective tool of Shaytan and indeed weakness of our nafs: to mentally wander anywhere but within the domains of the prayer itself.

I was recently reading something beneficial on this subject from the late Shaykh al-‘Uthaymin (rahimullah) who used to mention that one of the great benefits of utilising all the various different Sunnah wird/du’a/dhikr that has been narrated from the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) in the different parts of the prayer is that it leads to hudhur al-qalb i.e. makes your heart feel more alive and present in the moment.

This increased awareness and presence of the heart and thus the mind stems from changing our normative behaviour in any action, let alone the prayer. For example, when you stand for prayer and have made your niyyah and then say Allahu Akbar, the first thing that happens to all of us (except that lucky one upon whom is the mercy of Allah) is that we go into cruise control.

We slip through the gears as if setting off from the traffic lights, into 2nd, then 3rd and into 4th, as natural as you like. We take the foot off the clutch with “Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika…” and then make ta’awwudh, and then slip into the basmalah, and then smoothly into al-Fatihah and then we slow down because there is a potential hazard in the road: the need to choose a surah.

So, we choose that surah and then let the car do the driving for you until…hold up…what’s this? Oh, into ruku’ we go, up again, yep, I know this route like the back of my hand…

And this really is the reality behind our prayers as they become the monotonous acts of ritualism they sadly turn into.

Except if we change it up a little here and there and start to feel more alive and with it.

There is only so much benefit that learning the meanings of what you’re saying will bring you. There is only a limited amount of benefit that seeking refuge with Allah from the whisperings of Shaytan will produce. There is only so much help that your du’as for greater presence of mind will grant you.

The one thing that is really a great tool in your hand is the ability to mix it up, to utilise new supplications, to utilise the immense and beautiful variety that has been narrated in the tradition.

It’s amazing when you say “Allahu Akbar” at the beginning and automatically start ““Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika…” and then suddenly you stop and say, “Hold on! I don’t want to say that today. Actually, let’s have a “Allahumma ba’id bayni wa bayna…” for once.”

Your presence of heart and mind during your new du’a (or maybe your well-known du’a but the first time you’ve used it today) will be incredible. Try it. And don’t tell me how great it was. Been there, buzzed off it.

You see, the problem isn’t just that “Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika…” becomes attached to the opening takbeer, but it’s that “Qul huwallahu ahad…” becomes attached to “Ameen” and “Subhana Rabbiyal-‘Adheem” becomes attached to the takbeer of the ruku’ and so on etc until the whole prayer just turns into a blur of fleeting moments and pauses, until possibly you pause for thought at the end of “Innaka Hameedu’m-Majeed” and suddenly think, “Right, what now?” and then you choose a du’a if you’re lucky (or you don’t if you’re an Asian and you just flow straight into “Rabbana Aatina…” or “Rabbij-‘Alnee…”) and then salams and then you think, “Wow. That’s another salah that bites the dust.”

I won’t patronise anyone here by saying this is unacceptable, because it isn’t. It is totally unacceptable. And we have to find our own solutions. And fast.

So just as you found that a new du’a for istiftah (when you say “Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika…”) was great for waking you up in the prayer, try some of the following:

1. Change the position of your hands slightly, a little bit up or a little bit down. Physical changes like this, within the range of legislated acceptability, have a marked effect on ones mental state as well.

2. Change the exact height of where you raise your hands to whilst making the opening takbeer, i.e. from your thumbs being level with your ears or touching them, to the finger tips being level with the ears instead. Both are acceptable and authentic derived understandings.

3. If you’re struggling learning some new Istiftah du’as , leave out your current Istiftah on a very rare occasion, just to show yourself that it is not an obligation and shock you into a change of routine, and also to instill its importance in you the next time you recite it and realise how beautiful a wisdom it is to be able to praise Allah in the most excellent manner before you are about to beg Him for salvation in al-Fatihah.

4. Change the ta’awwudh/isti’adha (saying “A’udhu billahi…”) by seeking refuge from the additional tricks of Shaytan.

5. Learn a different qira’ah (such as Warsh, Qalun) of al-Fatihah.

6. Study a tafseer of al-Faithah. You’ll wish you never recited anything else in the prayer after that.

7. Learn some new surahs, and chop and change regularly. Practise the new ones in the prayer as well, knowing that you can always fall back on something you know if you get stuck.

8. Instead of saying takbeer and going down for ruku’, stop. Add another surah to the one you just recited. Which one? Any one, especially al-Ikhlas but others are ok too.

9. Just getting into your rapid threesome of “Subhana Rabbiyal-‘Adheem”? Well, make it a single for the sake of reminding yourself that only once is an obligation. In the next ruku’, make it a 9 or 11. Sorry – those numbers have been politically imprinted on my heart so that my whole Deen must revolve round them right?

10. Add a bit of spice. The du’as for the ruku’ are many, and although not taking the place of “Subhana Rabbiyal-‘Adheem”, they make a great addition such as “Subbuhun, Quddusun…”

11. In your standing position again, change your du’a a bit, add a bit as well and make it a nice long standing of contemplation as you praise Allah ‘azza wa jall with “Mil-assamawati…”

12. The next time you get up from ruku’, go straight down with no time wasted. You’ll appreciate the previous time more and you’ll look forward to using your new du’a again next time.

13. Well, now that you’re all the way down here, you might as well add some new du’a and dhikr in your prostration. There are loads to choose from – its open house down here minus the reciting of the Qur’an.

14. And open house means your own personal du’as. Plenty of it. And here’s a gift from my school and their scholars: whilst you’re learning the Arabic equivalent, you can make your personal supplication in your own language so that you can really feel the moment. Don’t over abuse this though because you’ll just get greedy!

15. Whilst sitting between the two sajdahs, try learning one or two supplications for this position.

16. Back into the next sajdah, why don’t you do the exact opposite of what you did in the first one – make it long and personal if it was a quick one first time, or do the opposite. At least you’ll know where you are and your prayer will be anything but monotonous.

17. The Tashahhud has also got various versions that can help bring it to life. Learn them.

18. You see that finger? Use it. If you don’t believe in moving it all the way from the beginning, make sure you take great spiritual strength from the very moment you do when you declare that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah. Feel it. Live that witnessing, and don’t let it just be a flick of the finger.

19. And if you do have a trigger finger then use it to good effect as the scholars would mention, using it to make supplication with and making sure that it keeps Shaytan at bay. Concentrate and focus on that finger as it flows your spiritual energy and words into a physical servitude of itself to its Lord.

20. The sending of salutations upon our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) should be a great moment, not just because we can change the versions between those authentically narrated but also because those who are too lazy or forgetful to do this outside the prayer, have a real opportunity to focus and pick up a bargain right here during your obligatory prayer. May Allah grant our beloved Messenger the very highest station in Paradise, ameen!

21. You want to change the ritual? You’ve come to the right place folks. The moments just before the salam-giving is a treasure trove for those who know how to dig. Utilise this moment to express yourself with a huge variety of du’a and dhikr, even that which you’d normally say outside the prayer – bring them in from the cold and let them give you company in your nice and warm house!

22. You need more ways on how to chop and change in the prayer?! Give over!

This list really could go on and on, but the point is that although we might know all these variations and versions of du’a, know all of Shaytan’s armoury, know how much we like to wander in the prayer, know how easy it is to fall into the routine and get the job over and done with – although we know all this, we all need to increase our presence of mind in the prayer and these are just some suggestions to help us all do that insha’Allah.

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4 thoughts on “Keeping it real in the prayer

  1. What practical tips! And this makes me realise how inapt I am. A yearning in my heart twitches me that I know nothing when it comes to remembering different surahs or duas
    May Allah help me to persevere. ameen.

    • all you need is to take the first step… and make that step so easy that you cannot refuse!
      Like learn just three words of an ayah… surely you can do that. If you do it daily for 10 days you will have learned 30 words… just imagine how good it will make you feel and then you can add one word daily to your target… like 4 on the 11th day, 5 on the 12th and so on… until you can memorize one whole line and then more and more… the thirst for it can only increase:) I can guarantee you that… provided you never take a day off…
      there are many people who have written excellent tips on memorization… the thing is that learning new things and reading them in namaz is like coming alive after being lifeless…

      • Point taken!
        You see, at times, when we find something difficult then we tend to delay that job just because it requires a little toiling but MashAllah, you’ve made it easy for me. I’ll start with the “3 word” regime InshAllah.

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