Praying Like a Robot

Praying Like a Robot
prayingQ: As a new Muslim, I sometimes suffer from a lack of faith. I will pray in almost a robotic fashion, only because I am obligated and fear Allah. There is no emotion in it. I find that during these times I am making a few mistakes and really feel better when I rectify them. My question is how to get closer to God emotionally and spiritually?
Nuh   – Canada

A: Salam, Nuh.
Thank you for your question, which concerns a matter of central importance to every Muslim: how to feel our worship, make it fruitful and observe its impact in our lives.
It is interesting that you used the word “robotic”, as a robot consists of a body that is programmed to perform various actions, but lacks true intelligence and emotions. On the other hand, we, humans, consist of two essential parts: as well as our body, these is our inner reality, usually termed the spirit or the soul.
While we use our bodies to perform the actions of prayer, the most important organ is the heart, that is, our spiritual center. Humbling ourselves physically in the manner taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the way to achieve spiritual flight.
The emotional and spiritual connection you have asked about is known in Arabic as khushu, which we can also describe as the feeling of awe and humility due to Allah while we are engaged in worship. Indeed,, this quality is to be sought after by every person, as it is the first description of successful believers, as mentioned at the start of Surat Al-Mu’minun:
[Successful indeed are the believers; who, in their prayer, are humbly submissive.] (Al-Mu’minun 23:1-2)
Before coming to the advice itself, I would like to make the matter clearer with reference to a few verses of the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God. We should realize that prayer has important purposes, which we may summarize as follows:
1. Showing obedience to the command of Allah:
[Truly, the prayer is prescribed upon the believers at fixed times.] (An-Nisaa’ 4:103)
1. The remembrance and worship of Allah:
[…And establish the prayer for My remembrance.] (Ta-Ha 20:14)
1. Establishing and renewing a life-changing connection:
[…And establish the prayer: truly, the prayer forbids immorality and wrongdoing. And the remembrance of Allah is greater (than anything), and Allah knows what you do.] (Al-`Ankabut 29:45)
When the purpose of prayer is understood, then the significance of tending to the spirit of the worship as well as its physical form comes into view. Feeling emotional and spiritual connection is good news, as we hope to consider it a sign that we are doing something right. Moreover, this spiritual feeling is the greatest joy in life, for those blessed to taste it.
This feeling is a divine gift, which is why my first advice to myself and you is to beseech Allah to enlighten our hearts with consciousness of Him and guide us to make our worship more worthy of His acceptance.
At the same time, brother, I wish to emphasize that the spiritual feeling is not the goal in itself, as some people mistakenly believe. We worship Allah, and not our feelings, so be sure to keep up that obedience by performing all five prayers, even if it takes a while until you feel a difference spiritually.
Indeed, this act of obedience is the first part of the answer to the question of how to please Allah and be granted the sweetness of faith.
Below are a few pointers to get you thinking about how to improve your own prayers, but an effective solution will need you to look hard at yourself and decide where the points of weakness lie. That way, you can choose the strategies that are most relevant to your needs. I have split these few points into what relates to before the prayer, during it, and after.

Physical Preparation
Be sure to observe the prayers at their prescribed times, aiming for the earliest opportunity rather than delaying them until near the time of the next prayer. Treating the prayer as less important than the other concerns of life is a sure way to lose the feeling of value when you do stand up to pray.
Strive to perfect your ablution, using it as an opportunity to reflect on what you are about to do, namely, stand in front of the Lord of the worlds. Put on good clothes, perhaps selecting something special to make you feel that these moments are unlike any other.
Choose a place that is as free from distractions as possible. We may not always have a choice, for example, when we are at work, but it is preferable to be in surroundings that help you remember Allah, especially the peaceful environment of a mosque.

Mental Preparation
A large part of experiencing the inner dimensions of the prayer consists in understanding the words that you are reading. Since we perform this formal worship in Arabic, those who do not understand the language may miss out on reflecting on the meanings.
Study a translation of Surat Al-Fatihah (the opening chapter) and other chapters that you tend to recite, as well as learning the meanings of the phrases and supplications in the various parts of the prayer. Try to reflect on their significance, and this will make it all the more meaningful when you stand to pray.
For example, think about the meaning of Allahu akbar, (God is Greater) which we say at numerous points, including the start of the prayer. We put our hands up, saying “Allah is greater”, which means He is greater than anything and everything, including the concerns of our daily life. It is as though at this moment you have thrown the worldly worries behind you, if just for a while.

Spiritual Preparation
The prayer is an essential part of the daily cycle, which washes away sins like a flowing river washes away dirt. We need to pay attention to our spiritual state at other times of the day too, in order to feel the significance of those moments standing in front of our Lord.
This means increasing in His remembrance (dhikr), striving to realize that He sees us at every moment, and abandoning the sins and bad habits that hold us back in life and earn His displeasure.
Servants of Allah who are keenly aware of their personal flaws will feel their hearts overflowing with remorse, as well as love and hope in their Cherisher, when they stand to pray.
Think back to a time when you really felt how much you needed Allah, for Allah to help you, guide you, and relieve you of some affliction. Then, realize that you need Him just as much at every moment.
Imagine that you had only ten minutes to live, and these are the last moments you can use to worship Allah before you go to the grave to wait for the Final Judgment. Then realize that every prayer could very well be the last you get to perform.

During the Prayer
Don’t rush. Tranquility, by which we mean taking the time needed to perform each component of the prayer sufficiently, is essential. People often have a tendency to fidget, but try and maintain stillness as much as possible.
When you recite Surat Al-Fatihah, pause between each verse and the next, and reflect on what it means.
[All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.] (Al-Fatihah 1:2)
What am I praising and thanking Him for today?
[The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.] (Al-Fatihah 1:3)
How dearly I long for His mercy!
You get the idea.
When you come to a verse concerning Divine mercy, let your heart respond with hope. When it mentions punishment, respond with fear and seek refuge in Allah. When it tells you to glorify Allah, praise Him, ask His forgiveness, respond as the Quran instructs. This goes back to what I advised before about learning the meanings of what we recite.
Since we often lack the time to really focus on our prayer, I suggest making use of the best time of the day to perform the optional prayer, namely the last third of the night.
This prayer is called Tahajjud, or Qiyam Al-Layl(optional late night prayer). You can pray two rakahs (units) or more, and this is the most peaceful time when we can work on developing sincerity and devotion to Allah, free from the hustle and bustle of the day.

After the Prayer
On a related note, it is worth mentioning the importance of the Sunnah prayers which come before and after the various prayers, as explained by Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq in Fiqh us-Sunnah:
“Supererogatory prayers have been legislated to make up for any deficiencies left in the performance of obligatory prayers.” (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 2: Supererogatory Prayers, last accessed on Jan 25, 2010)
Finally, among the supplications the Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged us to recite after every prayer is the following, which I think has great relevance to the question you have raised:
O Allah, help me to remember You, to thank You and to worship You well. (Abu Dawud)
Thank you for your question and we hope the response will be of practical benefit to you. Please keep in touch.

By Sohaib Saeed


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