Revamping your prayers – Part I - Saudi Gazette

Revamping your prayers – Part I

Revamping your prayers – Part I

Revamping your prayers – Part I

By Amal Al-Sibai

It is the second pillar of Islam, the most important act of worship, and the key to success, yet many Muslims (myself included) often fall short in giving it the time, attention, and devotion it deserves. It is the prayer, the five daily prayers observed by Muslims at prescribed times throughout the day.

Is performing the five daily prayers something cumbersome, difficult, or bothersome? Why do some people grudgingly drag themselves to the prayer, while others happily perform the prayer as if they are immersed in a halo of peace and serenity?

Those who must force themselves to get up to pray and they perform it simply as a task or a chore are missing the essential ingredient which makes the prayer healing and rejuvenating, and that ingredient is called khushoo’.

What exactly is khushoo’ and how does it change my prayers?

Khushoo in prayer is a feeling, or actually a mixture of feelings; it is a certain state of mind. It is an internal state of calmness, serenity, tranquility, dignity and humility. Khushoo means that your heart is filled with humility and submission to Allah. It is like imagining that you are standing in prayer right in front of the greatness and glory of Allah. Your heart is filled with awe, fear, shyness, but also love, and recognition of Allah’s blessings on you, and recognition of your own sins and shortcomings. There is a comfort and joy that you feel in the prayer when you experience khushoo.  

It seems elusive to reach this state, but Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions prayed with khushoo. How was their prayer different? How did it feel and how did it look like to an observer?

You can tell how the prayer felt like to them by the choice of words they used to describe it. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the prayer was the ‘coolness of his eyes’. The Arabs used this expression to talk about something that brought tears of joy to their eyes. So, the Prophet (peace be upon him) felt joy when performing the prayers.

When the time for the prayer approached, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to say to Bilal, who was the muezzin or the caller to the prayers, “O Bilal, give us our rest in prayer.”

He (peace be upon him) did not say to Bilal, “Let us get it over and done with,” which is the approach many of us take towards our prayers today. Rather, the Prophet (peace be upon him) found his rest and relief in the prayer.

When bowing down in prayer, in addition to what we normally say in that position, the Prophet (peace be upon him) occasionally used to say, “O Allah, I bowed to You, believed in You, surrendered to You. My sight, hearing, brain, bones, and nervous system submitted to You.”

The companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and righteous people after them also prayed with concentration and khushoo’.

The weeping of Umar bin Al Khattab could be heard from the back row of worshipers when Umar bin Al Khattab was leading the people in prayer and reciting the verse, {I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah} (chapter 12, verse 86) Umar bin Al Khattab was fully absorbed in the verses that he was reading in the prayer.

When Ali bin Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, stood in prayer, his face would go pale. When asked why his face would lose color while he prayed he answered back, “Do you not know who I am standing before?”

Ali bin Abi Talib embodied humbleness and he was fully aware of the greatness of Allah and that he was praying directly to Allah.

Saad bin Muadh understood the importance of remaining focused during the prayer.
He said, “I have three qualities, which I wish I could keep up all the time, then I would really be something. When I am praying, I do not think about anything except the prayer I am doing. If I hear any Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), I do not have any doubts about it. And when I attend a janaazah (funeral), I do not think about anything except what the janaazah says and what is said to it.”

Sufyan Ath-Thawri said that when he prayed, he followed the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which states, “When you stand for your prayer, then pray as if you are saying farewell.” So, Sufyan used to pray as if it was the last prayer he would ever pray; thus he would try his best to perfect his prayer.

Looking to these people as inspiration may help us quit the bad habit of rushing through our prayers.

Another man known for his piety, Hatem Al-Asam, looked very calm when he prayed. He was asked how he maintained his khushoo during prayer; he replied, “I pray picturing that the Kabah is in front of me, and the sirat is under my feet, and Paradise is on my right, and Hellfire is on my left, and the Angel of Death is behind me, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is watching me. I say thetakbeer grandly, I read the Qur’an with contemplation, I bow down with humbleness, and prostrate with humility. In my prayer, I combine feelings of fear of Allah and also hope for the mercy of Allah.”

That seems like an excellent recipe for khushoo.

Another example of someone who prayed with exceptional khushoo is Urwah ibn Zubayr. His father was Zubayr ibn Awwam, his mother was Asmaa daughter of Abu Bakr, and therefore his aunt was Aishah, the Mother of the Believers.
In his adulthood, he developed gangrene in his foot. The doctors unanimously agreed that the only cure for him was amputation to stop the spread of the gangrene. He refused taking intoxicants to numb the pain or even tranquilizers. Instead, Urwah told the surgeon to start the operation when he was in prayer, and in a state of khushoo.

When Urwah was in prayer, the surgeon began by first cutting off his flesh with a scalpel and when he reached his bone, he started to saw, until his foot was cut off. All of this and Urwah remained in his prayer. When boiling oil was poured on his foot to stop the bleeding, Urwah lost consciousness.

Our level of concentration in prayer is far from the examples of these amazing people, but we must not despair. Khushoo can actually be learned and developed over time. In the second part of this article, next week, we will discuss practical ways that can help us develop khushoo in the prayer.