Salat is the foremost form of ibada that Allah Himself has prescribed for us. In His own words He commands: Establish regular Prayer that you may remember Me. [Ta Ha 20:14.] The whole purpose of Salat is to be ever conscious of Allah, the Creator, Lord and Sustainer of all things. When we perform Salat we involve our tongue, our heart, our mind and indeed our whole body. In this sense, Salat is indeed, one of the most comprehensive forms of dhikr. It is perhaps for this reason that Allah states in a hadith qudsi: `Out of all the ways through which My servant gets closer to Me, Salat is the dearest to Me.' (Bukhari.)
It is unfortunate, therefore, that we do not always take full advantage of this gift. We may pray five times each day but few of us remain conscious for long that in Prayer we have the best means to develop a strong connection with Allah. We may compare the obligatory Salat to bathing five times a day. If after such frequent bathing, your body remains dirty, then we may question the usefulness and efficacy of such bathing.
Similarly, if after regular observance of Prayer your heart remains unmoved, your morals remain corrupt and your conduct remains unaffected, we may question the usefulness and efficacy of your Prayer? If you enter into Salat and come out of it the same person, then you have missed something, and you may have missed a golden opportunity to achieve something great.
Remember, though, Salat is an obligation. Whether your heart is attentive or not, it must be performed. You cannot give up Prayer because to you it appears useless. Don't give up the obligation but try to infuse it with the purpose it seeks to serve - remembrance of Allah.
How can you improve the quality of your Salat? Remember, first and foremost, that as soon as you commence your Salat, Shaytan makes it his duty to fill your mind with anything and everything but thoughts of Allah. [al-Araf 7: 16-17.] For, Shaytan is aware that your remembrance of Allah will draw you closer to Him, so he tries ceaselessly to disengage your mind and heart from such remembrance, so that you may never achieve that closeness.
The most important hurdle to overcome from the outset, therefore, is absentmindedness. It is this that destroys the quality of your Prayer, for Allah does not accept the Prayers of a wandering mind. The Prophet Muhammad said:
God does not accept the Prayers of an individual until his heart achieves in it what his body has achieved. [Al-Ghazali in Ihya. See Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, p. 29.]
The ability to concentrate in Prayer may be improved by undertaking adequate psychological, mental and physical preparation before the Prayer and by utilising certain techniques whilst performing the Prayer. Below we discuss some of them.
1. Psychological and Mental Preparation
- The planning of your daily activities should revolve around the five daily Salat. [al-Ma'arij 70: 22-23.] Do not plan everything else and then try to fit Prayer into your busy schedule.
- Ensure that you are conversant with all the rules and regulations governing your Prayer. Research in depth the Quranic verses and ahadith relating to the virtues of Salat.
- Be punctual with your Prayer. [an-Nisa 4:103] Get into the habit of praying at the earliest hour. Do not procrastinate. The Prophet said, `the deed most loved by Allah is Prayer performed on time.' (Muslim.)
- Pray as much of your fard Salat in jama'a or congregation as is possible. [al-Baqara 2: 43.]
- Avoid praying in a state in which you are mentally and physically fatigued. [an-Nisa 4: 43]
- Rid your mind of all evil thoughts and ideas. [al-Maun 107: 4-6.]
- Keep your mind free of worldly worries and engagements.
- Plan what ayat / duas you are going to recite.
- If you do not understand Arabic learn the meaning of what you recite in your Prayer.
- Remind yourself that engaging in Prayer offers you an opportunity to release yourself from the pressures and tensions of this world. The Prophet has said that in Prayer was placed the comfort of his eyes. Therefore cherish the opportunity to remove the shackles and burdens of this world from your shoulders. [al-Baqara 2: 45.]
- Use your Prayer to remain focused on your mission in life to bring your entire being to serve only Allah.
- Use your Prayer as a source of strength, inspiration and enthusiasm for your life and activities.
2. Physical Preparation
- Fulfill all your personal needs before you commence your Prayer, for example, thirst, hunger and calls of nature.
- Pray in a pure physical state. Perform your wudu with care and perfection. [al-Maida 5: 6.]
- Although the whole earth is a masjid or a place of worship, choose a place that is clean.
- Pray in an environment free of noise and one where there is no distraction.
- Adorn yourself with clean and respectable clothes for Allah has said: O Children of Adam, wear your best clothes at every place of worship. [al-Araf 7:31.]
3. Performing Your Prayer
- Assess your mental readiness for Prayer before its commencement, during the various postures with its attendant recitations, after each raka and ultimately at the end- Try to make improvements at each stage
- Pray with humility both in your mental state and in your physical manner. Pray with hope and awe, asking Allah for His mercy and forgiveness.
- Remind yourself continually that you are talking to the most important `Being' in your life - your Creator and Sustainer. He is in front of you. You are facing Him and you are involved in a dialogue with Him. [al-Alaq 96: 19.]
- Commence your Prayer by seeking Allah's help and protection from the influences of Shaytan. [an-Nahl 16: 98.]
- Lower your gaze while praying and do not allow the physical environment to distract you. Anas related that the Prophet said: `My dear son, be sure to avoid being distracted during Prayer, for, to become distracted while praying is a disaster.' (Tabarani.)
- Use a variety of Quranic verses and duas in your Prayer to achieve greater concentration and awareness.
- Adopt a whispering technique in your recitation. This will increase your ability to remain focused on what you are saying. [al-Isra 17:110.]
- As you recite the Quran, translate it into your own language so that your attention is held. As you concentrate upon the meaning and implications of the words, insha Allah, all thoughts of worldly ideas will disappear.
- On each occasion that you recite the Sifat or attributes of Allah in ruku and sajda, consider how indebted you are and how grateful you should be to Allah and express your true emotions.
- Utilise the occasion of sajda to make additional dua to Allah. The Prophet said: ' A servant is nearest to his Lord when he is in sajda, so increase your supplication when in sajda.' (Muslim.)
- Make your Prayer of moderate duration so that you do not become physically and mentally tired but be aware that while in Prayer you must take your time praying.
- Give due regard to the proper performance of all the physical postures.
- Pray as if it is your last Prayer. The Messenger of God said: `When you stand up to pray, perform your prayer as if it were your last, do not say anything you will have to make excuses for tomorrow, and resolve to place no hope in what is in the hands of men.' (Ahmad.)
Performing your prayer in a satisfactory manner should lead to a radical change in the way you lead your daily life. Salat must be as the Quran states: Surely, Salat prevents indecency and evil [al-Ankabut 29: 45.] Your improved and more disciplined life will in turn help the quality of your Prayer to increase even more. The two should feed one another and continuously reinforce each other.
Note that there is punishment for a Prayer not performed satisfactorily. It will be a witness against you rather than a witness for you on the Day of Judgment. However, the reward for a Prayer well performed is immeasurable. The Prophet said: `If a man performs two rakas of Salat without the distraction of any worldly thought, all his previous sins will be forgiven.' (Bukhari.)
(Excerpted from "In the Early Hours" by Khurram Murad. Published by The Islamic Foundation, UK)
"Takbir of prayer" by Muhammad Mahdi Karim (www.micro2macro.net)Facebook - Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Takbir_of_prayer.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Takbir_of_prayer.jpg