Salam Dear Margie,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Congratulations on your becoming a devout Muslim after staunch atheism for so many years! You are truly fortunate, masha’Allah. May Allah grant you further guidance and steadfastness upon the Right Path. Ameen.
It is commendable that you are keeping a vigilant eye upon yourself regarding the level of your faith, and the love of Allah in your heart. This indicates the presence of a laudable level of consciousness of Allah (taqwa), and a desire for self-improvement in the realm of religious zeal inside you.
Whilst reading your question, this statement of yours particularly caught my attention: “I try to observe five prayers (even if I often do not manage to do them at the correct time),”, and I immediately recognized a problem.
Sister, the foundation of Islam lies upon five pillars. If any one or more than one of these pillars is shaky, weak or absent, the whole structure remains at risk of collapsing as soon as it undergoes a storm in the form of a trial of faith.
Monotheistic belief in the oneness of Allah (and His names and attributes) is one of the foundational pillars of our faith in Islam. Offering the five daily prayers – on time, with proper, unrushed bodily movements and full concentration, is another.
The feeling of not being close to Allah that you have described, is one that any Muslim can go through at some point in their lives, however, if this state is allowed to continue, it can prove detrimental in the long run.
Thankfully, Allah has prescribed the five daily prayers upon all Muslims because they truly help us remain steadfast upon our Deen and also serve to become the benchmark with which we can gauge our own level of righteousness. Not being able to pray any one or all of the five daily prayers on time is a red flag that must be immediately addressed and rectified.
You should try to strengthen the faith in your heart in order to increase the love and closeness of Allah that you feel is lacking in it. The strength of faith comes with a combination of two things: seeking beneficial knowledge and doing righteous actions.
Furthermore, one important thing to remember, is that doing all the obligatory good deeds is not going to increase the closeness to Allah in your heart, if it is not accompanied by a proactive effort to abstain from sins, especially the major sins (kaba’ir), and repentance for all the sins (minor and major) that one commits on a daily basis.
It is well known that sins cause the heart to become black and distant from Allah, unless they are accompanied by quick and timely repentance i.e. seeking forgiveness from Allah for these sins accompanied by a firm resolve to never commit them again.
Even if a Muslim does many righteous deeds, but commits sins at the same time without feeling guilty, they will never be able to feel close to Allah.
Please try to hold a mirror to yourself and find out if you are committing any major sins without regretting them and repenting for them; that could be causing the distance between you and Allah.
Please remember that to not consider a sin to be a sin is also a sin. Repentance cannot work if the Muslim doesn’t consider something that Allah has forbidden to be wrong.
The problem with committing sins without repenting for them is that even if the Muslim does the obligatory and supererogatory good deeds side by side, he or she doesn’t feel any closer to Allah because of doing them.
He or she feels like there is a barrier between them and Allah, and this barrier is in fact present because of their committing those sins without feeling guilty or ashamed before Allah about committing them.
Secondly, you should resolve to seek beneficial knowledge of Islam through the Quran, under a teacher who is upon the correct creed.
In particular, seeking detailed knowledge about the specific branches of the Islamic creed (aqeedah) is very important, because this creed forms our monotheistic belief, which is one of the foundations of our faith in Islam, as I stated above.
Sitting in circles of knowledge with learned righteous people has another added advantage: one’s heart becomes enlightened with the light of guidance and wisdom.
Studying in-depth about all the aspects of our belief is the first step in rectifying our aqeedah, which, if incorrect, can not only render our righteous deeds null and void, but also make us feel distant from Allah, even if we outwardly pray, fast and give charity.
For example, a Muslim who performs all the daily prayers and fasts during Ramadan, but has a shaky belief in the Akhirah, or in the Divine preordainment (Qadr), will not feel close to Allah no matter how hard he or she tries to perform all of his obligations.
The solution for such a person is to dutifully and studiously seek knowledge of the Quran in order to rectify and strengthen the belief in their hearts first.
Lastly, I would like you to check the source of your income, and your food. When the money that a Muslim earns and with which they purchase the food that they ingest into their body is not completely halal, they end up becoming distant from Allah over time. Both the source of a Muslim’s income, as well as the food that they eat, should be 100% halal.
Do you observe all the dietary restrictions of a Muslim, erring on the side of caution? Does your job, or any aspects of your work, involve anything that is impermissible (haram) in Islam?
Some jobs are considered haram in and of themselves, such as selling alcohol, working for banks (i.e. propagating usury), or developing websites/software that involve gambling, falsehood, or pornography, etc.
However, there are other jobs that are not impermissible, but involve doing things that are impermissible e.g. a Muslim woman teaching at a children’s school but not being allowed by the senior management to observe the full Islamic dress code in front of non-mahram men while present at the premises of her job.
You should examine closely if anything edible that you are eating, especially meat, is haram, in addition to your source of income and job, as part of your holistic introspective quest to remove any and every obstacle in your life that could be thwarting the faith and love of Allah in your heart from reaching the greater heights that you want them to reach.
I sincerely pray that Allah increases the faith in your heart, grants you lofty levels of righteousness and piety in this world, and high ranks of Jannah in the next. Ameen.
Allah knows best. I hope this helps answer your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.