Realizing the true importance of prayer
When I came to truly understand the importance of prayer, the realisation was both overwhelming and quick. It dawned on me that if I was not fulfilling this precondition, then I really could not claim to be Muslim. Even if I desired to have a solid connection with the Almighty I was not taking the necessary steps to do so. I promptly reoriented my life and it has now been a year and a half that I have not intentionally missed a prayer time, whether I am in the office, mall, grocery store, out with friends or travelling. [Click here to learn more about the adhan, the call to prayer.]
Looking back, I see how wrong I was about the impracticality of Islamic prayers, which are succinct and straightforward notwithstanding their resonance. When I moved from trying to fit prayers into my life to fitting my life around my prayer schedule, I instantly removed a great deal of clutter from my daily routine. Since regular prayer promotes emotional consistency and tranquillity, I began to eliminate excess negativity and cut down on unnecessary chitchat, helping me be more focused, productive and patient.
Over a short period of time, what amazed me was how easy and fluid the prayers became. Performing the early-morning prayer actually gave me a burst of energy during the day and, gradually, the prayers that I had initially perceived as cumbersome became an essential facet of my routine. With God’s help, I would find ways to make a prayer regardless of the hurdles. While in Canada for the summer, I would often catch duhr prayer in a department store fitting room, with the help of a handy Islamic prayer compass application on my Iphone.
“’Verily the soul becomes accustomed to what you accustom it to.’ That is to say: what you at first burden the soul with becomes nature to it in the end.”
This is a line drawn from a magnificent book I am in the process of reading by great Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali, entitled Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of Religious Sciences. Al-Ghazali describes a series of formulas, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, which we can repeat to help us attain greater proximity to the divine and purify our hearts.
At each turn in my quest to enrich my faith, I have found that what at first appears difficult becomes easy when performed with sincerity. Soon after I reoriented my life to revolve around prayer, the five prayers felt insufficient in expressing my devotion. I examined Hadith, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and discovered there were optional prayers I could add to my routine. Since then, I have not let a day pass without praying them.
Incorporating remembrance of God throughout the day
To supplement my prayers, I have integrated various zikr, or remembrance and mentioning of God, into my days. Zikr, including repeating such phrases as “la illa ha il Allah” (There is no God but God), habitually draws our attention back to God.
Among the many rich invocations mentioned in Ghazali’s book is this one which I have started to incorporate. As we leave our houses each day, if we say “In the name of God” (Bismillah), God will guide us; when we add “I trust in God” (Tawakalt al Allah), God will protect us; and if we conclude with “There is no might or power save with God” (La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), God will guard us.
I suppose to an outsider, these acts of devotion can appear a bit obsessive, and I have had a couple of people say this to me. Yet it is an obsession with the greatest possible consequences that can improve rather than disintegrate one’s disposition. The more time I devote to God, the greater the peace of mind I find filling my life and the more focused I become on what is important – such as treating my family and friends honourably, working hard in my job, giving charity with compassion and generosity, and maintaining integrity. [Learn more: Spiritual Benefits of Prayer]
Remembering God throughout the day, through prayer and invocation, truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches; you erase obstructions that would impede faith in its purest form.
“Truly when a man loves a thing, he repeatedly mentions it, and when he repeatedly mentions a thing, even if that may be burdensome, he loves it,” writes Ghazali.
(Published with permission.)