Recently, I was asked: “Why do I have to pray? I consider myself a good Muslim and everything else in our religion makes sense, but the five daily prayers are too much and I don’t understand what God is getting from my prayer.”
Whenever I talk to Muslims I am delighted to find that most of us take an active interest in our spiritual development and are constantly on the lookout for ways to strengthen our religious practice. Often, such discussions turn to motivational speakers, exceptional books or certain special moments, such as the Hajj or the arrival of Ramadan, that almost universally possess an ability to lift us onto higher spiritual ground. What is much less discussed, but fundamentally more important if you think about it, is the ritual prayer.
So why do we pray?
We pray first and foremost because Allah (swt) has instructed us to do so.
“Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise.” (20:14)
Some people confuse this notion, however, and start to wonder, “Why does God need my prayer?”
I think the first thing to get out of our minds is the idea that we are praying for God. We’re not. The fact is, He is Self-Sufficient and has no need of our prayers. WE need our prayers. You pray for yourself. Although gaining Allah (swt)’s Pleasure is often cited as a reason to pray, in my experience, if you don’t feel close to someone, “gaining their pleasure” is not a sufficient reason to do anything. Once that closeness is there, the desire to please Allah (swt) absolutely can be (and usually automatically becomes) the reason, but it might not be initially, and that’s ok.
So start with a different intention: I’m not praying for God’s Pleasure. I’m definitely not praying for my pleasure. I’m praying for my own salvation. I’m praying because I recognize that Islam is the truth and like it or not, this is a pillar of my religion. It is something that God and His Prophet (sas) have directly commanded me and all the other believers to do. Then beg Allah (swt) to put the love of Salah in your heart and to purify your intention, and put your trust in Him that He Will. Dua is our greatest ally on this journey.
Remember: “The first of his deeds for which a man will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection will be the prayers. If it is found to be perfect, he will be safe and successful. But if it is defective, he will be unfortunate and a loser.” (Bukhari).
Once ritual prayer becomes a routine part of our lives, wonderful things start to happen. Our time gets organized. We gain control over our thoughts. We no longer feel helpless, overwhelmed or alone. We grow kinder, more patient, more grateful, more content. We gain awareness, of ourselves, of others, of our environment, our priorities, and most importantly, of God.
Salah also makes it harder to commit sins.
This is promise of Allah (swt). “Verily, prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds…” (29:45).
Whatever we’re struggling with, whatever our current test, Salah will make it easier.
Many of us understand the importance of ritual prayer but find it difficult to perform consistently. If this describes you, and you’re serious about making a change, the next thing to do is take account of yourself.
- How are your prayers right now?
- Are you regularly missing a particular prayer?
- Are you inconsistent, praying regularly when alone but finding it difficult when family and friends are around, or vice versa?
- Do you pray only when you’re depressed or only when you’re happy?
- Have you abandoned prayer altogether and feel guilty about resuming?
Whatever your reasons for missing prayers, they are uniquely yours and self-awareness is the first step to change. So start logging your prayers. Do this for a week or two and see where you stand. Be honest. The patterns may surprise you.
Third, if you’re serious and committed to praying on time, then the best place to start is to pray on time! Don’t worry about making up prayers you have already missed. Repent, move on and put your hope in Allah (swt)’s Mercy. Focus on now. And for now, focus on the Fard prayers only. If any part of you feels overwhelmed, keep in mind that all the ritual prayers combined literally take half an hour of your day. If you had previously stopped praying and find it extremely difficult, then start with just Asr and be strict about it; a week later, add Maghrib, a week after that, add Dhuhr, and so on. Don’t let Shaytan bog you down with laziness, arrogance or excuses. He won’t be there on the Day of Judgement defending your choices. Use your prayer log to guide your decisions and be firm with yourself. Like any habit, it will be difficult at first, but unlike other habits, it is truly remarkable how quickly Salah gets easier once you commit, Insha’Allah.
“If you come to Me walking, I will come to you Running.” (Hadith Qudsi-Bukhari)
It is important to target your specific weaknesses. If Fajr is a problem, invest in a loud alarm clock and place it far from your bed, forcing you to get up. If you miss prayer while at work, ask the janitorial staff in your office building to let you know the location of the closest Mossalah—chances are, there’s one in either your building or the one next door. If praying while out with friends is your dilemma, try to schedule your social activities around prayer timings or let your friends know you’re running a little late and swing by the Masjid on the way to meeting them.
Don’t let “having fun” get in the way of praying on time. You can take five minutes to pray and spend the rest of the evening having fun, or you can skip prayer and feel guilty about it the whole time, which will ruin your fun anyway. Moreover, those friends and whatever fun you had that night may not matter five, ten or fifty years from now. But that prayer will.
With our increasingly hectic lifestyles, proper planning is key. Building up our religious practice is not something that will just happen by accident one day. It must be deliberate and methodical. While our faith may fluctuate, the regularity of our prayers cannot.
Moreover, how can we Muslims accomplish anything else, for ourselves, our Ummah or for the world, if we cannot first gain mastery over our own Nafs and establish Salah ?
“And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed for him is a life of hardship. And We will raise him on the Day of Resurrection, blind. He will say, “My Lord, why have you raised me blind while I was (once) seeing?” (Allah) will say, “Thus did Our signs come to you, and you forgot (disregarded) them; and thus will you, this Day, be forgotten.” (20:124-126)
May Allah (swt) save us from the fate of the people described in this verse, Enable us to establish Salah for His sake, and make us among those who find pleasure in His worship, Ameen.