We are privileged to be afforded the opportunity to speak to God whenever we want without any conditions. There is no need to book an appointment or travel anywhere. He makes Himself readily available whenever we feel like talking to Him. We can speak in any language we want, for however long we want. We can spend the whole time asking Him for things, complaining about life or thanking Him, it doesn’t matter to Him – He simply loves listening to us.
The Noble Prophet (PBUH) said:
Nothing is dearer to Allah than supplication.”
Not only does He listens but He promises a response:
Call upon Me, I will answer you.”
Speaking to God is good for our souls. In addition to the general conversations we are allowed to have with Him and supplications recommended to make to Him, He has instituted Salah, a compulsory prescriptive method of talking to him.
If all conversations with God were optional, we wouldn’t speak to Him as often as we do, which would be our loss, not His. He knows we need Him and this is why Salah is an obligatory act.
Millions of Muslims struggle with Salah. Whether it’s struggling for concentration or turning up for Salah itself. In this article, I want to present some practical and easy to follow tips that can help us look forward to Salah and truly enjoy it.
understanding who we are talking to
The path to better prayers starts with a few prerequisites.
When we truly understand the Being we are addressing in Salah, our mindset will change. Imagine being invited to visit a celebrity or the ruler of a country, our behaviour would be completely different, whilst in their presence. We’d be super picky about what we wore, how we spoke, our table manners, and so on. In the same way, understanding the reality of what it means to stand in front of God will immediately shift our attitude in Salah.
Understanding the true nature of God is a lifelong journey. Continually investing our time and resources in this journey will slowly improve our Salah over the course of time. In short, the things you do outside Salah determine how well your Salah goes. Use the time outside of prayer to perform supplications and read the Holy Qur’an. It’s important to not read these holy words for the sake of it. Seek to understand the recitation and that knowledge will be absorbed by our spiritual heart. As a result, we’ll have a better consciousness of God.
refraining from committing sins
It goes without saying that the less sin we commit the better our prayers will go. Simply cutting out sins (without performing any recommended acts) can also have an extraordinary effect on our souls and lead to more focused prayer.
We have identified some overall and general prerequisites to enjoy focused prayer. In the next part, we examine some things we can do (or not do) just before Salah time.
avoiding food before prayer
Ensuring our stomachs are light before the prayer will make the entire experience more comfortable. Eating heavy foods will make us feel tired, which obviously impacts our focus during prayer. Actions such as ruku and sujood are also more difficult to perform as is trying to maintain wudhu. We don’t want to be tired or have our minds focus on how uncomfortable we are.
Imam Sadiq (as), the great saint of Islam, credited for opening the first university of Islam and teaching the likes of Abu Hanifa said the following on eating:
The nearest station between the Almighty and his servant is when the stomach is light.”
Excess food (in fact the excess of anything) is disliked by God:
He likes not those who commit excess.”
Avoiding strenuous activities
Exercising, lifting weights or anything that gets our heart racing is not ideal before prayer. Prayer is supposed to be a time of peace and tranquillity. Entering the presence of God in an excited state will hamper the prayer. Plan gym, sports and other activities at suitable times.
refraining from multitasking before praying
Our busy lives make multitasking inevitable. We may be tempted to start heating or cooking food while we pray in order to eat after finishing the Salah. Whilst this sounds efficient, our mind is highly likely to be preoccupied with the cooked food or whatever it is we’re multitasking prayer with. Try and make sure nothing else is going on whilst you pray.
Using the bathroom before praying
The sensation of wanting to relieve yourself and the struggle in keeping wudhu will greatly hamper concentration in prayer. The etiquette is that we relieve ourselves of the impurity and lighten ourselves to fully focus on Salah.
concentrating during wudhu
The final step before praying is ablution. We shouldn’t consider wudhu as something arbitrary. The ablution is also an act of worship to be performed with concentration. Do the wudhu slowly whilst remembering God – it will put you in the mindset to pray.
Choosing an ideal prayer space
The ideal prayer space is one with minimal distractions:
- Not too hot or cold
- As quiet as possible
- Minimal external distractions (no mirrors, paintings, wall decorations etc. anything that can take our attention away)
- A pleasant smell. Consider using candles or oud to make the room smell nice.
- Not too bright or dark
wearing appropriate clothes
There are laws, particularly for women, in what to wear in prayer but let’s try (both men and women) and go the extra mile. We should avoid wearing tight clothes, brothers should consider wearing a taqiyah (skull cap). Wearing so-called religious clothes helps set the mood to pray.
getting ready for prayer early
What often happens is we’ll be working, studying or engaged in some other activity, and at the sound of the adhan, we’ll go make wudhu and pray. And during the prayer, we’ll be thinking about the activity we were just doing.
Does that sound familiar?
A simple way around this is to get ready to pray in the advance. As an example, 15 minutes before the adhan we can go to the bathroom, make wudhu and make our way to the prayer room and sit in silence. This will allow our minds to calm down from whatever we were doing, help put worldly matters aside and put us in the mindset to pray.
We will see the benefits of these preparatory actions if they’re repeatedly performed before every one of the five obligatory prayers.
Moving onto the prayer itself, how do we minimise the chances of losing focus?
understanding what we’re reciting
The prayer begins with a recitation of Surah Fatiha, followed by another Surah or set of verses of our choice and various dhikr. Do we know what these mean? Understanding what the words mean and translating them to our mother tongue will keep us on track. A good method is to read the verses in your mind, in your own language whilst reciting the Arabic out loud.
We should try not to rush our prayer. What’s the rush and what are we rushing to? Worship is our ultimate purpose in life and the Salah is the crux of this workshop. Let’s try and recite slowly, taking small pauses between each verse and action during prayer.
prolonging our acts during prayer
Reciting the same words and performing the same actions five times every day can make praying monotonous. We start doing ruku, sujood and other acts of Salah on autopilot. Break the mould by deliberately prolonging some of these actions. Extending the acts of Salah helps our minds come out of the autonomy and allows us to refocus.
Reciting different verses in each prayer
Changing the Surahs and verses recited after Surah Fatiha for every prayer is another way to come out of praying on autopilot. It forces our minds to think differently as we’re having to focus on different words.
Fixating our eyes on a specific place during prayer
Choose a spot to fix your eyes on throughout prayer. A good spot is the prayer mat, specifically the area our forehead will hit for sujood. If we move our eyes around, we’re likely to pick up distractions. The distractions will take our minds and thoughts away from prayer.
bouncing back, whenever we lose focus
Dips in concentration will happen. As soon as you lose focus, bounce back and get yourself present. You can always pause your recitation for two seconds as you consciously refocus before continuing.
never lose hope
The journey toward better Salah is lifelong. We have to apply these strategies on a daily basis. There will be moments our concentration slips and we fall back into bad habits. Don’t lose hope and try again. With regular practice, our Salah will improve over time insha’Allah.
Beseech God Almighty to help you get there. God loves to see His servants make an effort to come to Him. If we walk 10 steps to Him, He will run 100 steps to us.
101 ways to concentrate in prayer
The practical tips for prayer presented in this article were inspired by ‘101 Ways to Concentrate in Prayer’ by Dr Ali Al-Hilli.
The book is available to purchase from Amazon.