Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be one of those people who pray.. It seems so easy for some. They just get up and do it. Perhaps you were one of those people at one time, but now.. Not so much.
Something inside you is broken. Scratch that.. It’s not exactly broken.. More like, it feels hollow inside. Something is missing. You feel nothing.. Numb.
So how do we get from this to praying? The problem with most advice on salah is that it looks at things from a reactive point of view instead of a proactive point of view. Not praying? Well, just start. Or better yet, take one salah at a time and keep building until you reach five. Good advice, no?
If that works for you, then yes, good advice. But if you are like so many Muslims, who are so far from salah that ‘just starting’ doesn’t happen, then perhaps we need to try something else.
For some one who feels that hollowness inside, ‘just praying’ is not enough to motivate you to stand up. No, you need to start somewhere else.. You need to fill yourself up before your actions will follow suit. When it feels as though you have no relationship with Allah, then perhaps reaffirming your faith in Him is the place to begin.
We pray because of one simple reason: We love Allah. It’s the loving Allah part that makes it easy. It’s the loving Allah part that makes you stand up when you’re exhausted. Without that piece of the puzzle, nothing else will make salah stick.
When we look at the early Muslims, when Islam first came down, were there a lot of commandments? No, there weren’t. The early surahs are filled with lessons about Allah, about His Angels, His Messengers, His Books. The rules and regulations came later, after the foundation was built. So when we look at our own lives, why do we focus on the rules and regulations without paying attention to the foundation first?
If we want to be amongst those who pray.. Who pray regularly and easily.. Who jump up when the time for salah begins.. Then we need to begin first by building a love for Allah. And in order to do this, we need to KNOW Him.
I always tell people who aren’t praying to begin first with dhikr. Say, for example, SubhanAllah 100 times each day. And as you do so, reflect on our own weaknesses, and the Greatness of Allah. Reflect on how it is only with His Help that we are able to do anything. When you do this, you’ll start a habit of THINKING about Allah. You’re remembering Him.
And what happens when you remember Allah? It starts to soften your dead heart.. You start to have more peace.. And most importantly, He remembers YOU.
Ibn al-Qayyim stated, “In the heart there is hardness which can only be softened by remembrance of Allah. So the slave must treat the hardness of his heart with the remembrance of Allah.”
“Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” (Qur’an, 13:28)
“I am to my servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his…” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Be MINDFUL of this as you sit each day doing some dhikr. Think to yourself, I am walking towards Allah.. As the last hadith goes on to say..
“… When he comes closer to Me by a handspan, I come closer to him an arm’s length. If he draws closer to Me by an arm’s length, I draw closer by a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him. If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.” (Al-Bukhari)
You’re not praying (yet) but be mindful that you are getting closer. Allow yourself to be in a state where you know you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to, but you’re taking steps to get there. One of the tactics of Shaitan is that he leads you to believe that it’s all or nothing. Either you’re praying, or you’re sinfully not. So when we’re not, a dark cloud of guilt hovers over us, leaving us in darkness, unable to move forward.
Do you know the story of the man who killed 99 men?
Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said: “There was a man from among a nation before you who killed ninety-nine people and then made an inquiry about the most learned person on the earth. He was directed to a monk.
He came to him and told him that he had killed ninety-nine people and asked him if there was any chance for his repentance to be accepted. He replied in the negative and the man killed him also completing one hundred. He then asked about the most learned man in the earth. He was directed to a scholar. He told him that he had killed one hundred people and asked him if there was any chance for his repentance to be accepted. He replied in the affirmative and asked, `Who stands between you and repentance? Go to such and such land; there (you will find) people devoted to prayer and worship of Allah, join them in worship, and do not come back to your land because it is an evil place.’ So he went away and hardly had he covered half the distance when death overtook him; and there was a dispute between the angels of mercy and the angels of torment. The angels of mercy pleaded, ‘This man has come with a repenting heart to Allah,’ and the angels of punishment argued, ‘He never did a virtuous deed in his life.’ Then there appeared another angel in the form of a human being and the contending angels agreed to make him arbiter between them. He said, `Measure the distance between the two lands. He will be considered belonging to the land to which he is nearer.’ They measured and found him closer to the land (land of piety) where he intended to go, and so the angels of mercy collected his soul”.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
In another version: “He was found to be nearer to the locality of the pious by a cubit and was thus included among them”. Another version says: “Allah commanded (the land which he wanted to leave) to move away and commanded the other land (his destination) to draw nearer and then He said: “Now measure the distance between them.’ It was found that he was nearer to his goal by a hand’s span and was thus forgiven”. It is also narrated that he drew closer by a slight movement on his chest.
What is awesome about this story is that he hadn’t dramatically changed in terms of his actions. He was just WALKING towards change. And that was enough for Allah. Allah is so patient that He watches us disobey Him. And He waits. Waiting for us to turn back to Him. SubhanAllah!
So begin by walking towards Him. And be mindful that when you do your dhikr, you are taking a step.
Another good step is to begin learning His Names. When you KNOW Him, really know Him, you can’t help but attach your heart onto Him. Knowing Allah’s Names will draw your heart closer to Him. And as it does so, you will remember Him more..
Over time, your desire to please Him and turn back to Him will increase.. And this, my friends, is what will fill you up. This is what will take away the hollowness.. THIS is what will make salah easy. THIS is where the advice, ‘take it one salah at a time’ will be beneficial. When you get to this place, it won’t be such a giant leap to contemplate standing up for one prayer. And slowly, one will become two.. And so on..
But before you begin building your prayers, take the time to build your foundations, just as they early Muslims did. Start with baby steps, like doing dhikr or learning His Names..