Short Answer: To love prayers be grateful and Allah will increase you. Make duaa and Allah will respond. Repent to Allah and He will accept your repentance. Look beyond the ritual and remember that the essence of our religion that is rightfully veiled from many is love.
Salam Dear Sister,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
I pray this finds you in the best of states, enjoying Allah’s blessings.
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for the sense of sincerity and purity that can be read between the lines of your question.
May Allah help me answer and, more importantly, make me able to live up to it, despite my shortcomings and flaws.
Placing Fear in Context
Skipping Prayers is, alas, something common among many Muslims. As you mentioned, the reason why many, many Muslims keep going back to prayers, nonetheless, is their fear of Allah, Majestic in His praise.
In its endless stations, faith is, at the outset, connected to fear; and this applies and is beneficial for someone without a firm ground in religion.
Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him) elucidates this matter by making a parallel between such a state and that of a child. This is how a child is taught not to touch fire. Or, one makes it clear that if the child does such-and-such, he or she will be punished, to properly learn the lesson.
I will leave it to the wisdom of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to answer your question on what happens to one who skips prayers.
Get the book Riyad As-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous), by Imam An-Nawawi, and read the section “On the Command to Persevere in the Prescribed Prayers and the Strongest Prohibition Against Abandoning Them.”
With regards to fear, our master and Prophet, based on his incomparable knowledge of Allah and spiritual reality, said, “Truly, I am the most God-fearing among you,” despite his unparalleled scrupulousness and him being granted Allah’s utmost love and satisfaction.
That is not all of it. In fact, as believers, the essence of faith should not be based solely on fear.
It is a stage, an element, a function maybe central for many, including myself, in our path to Allah; seeing the nature of our egos, psyches, and worldliness. The human soul is created with basic fear and it should be dealt with and used to straighten it in order for one to traverse to Allah.
Hope Should Outweigh Fear
Having said that, still, hope should always outweigh fear.
First, as Imam Al-Ghazali mentions, continuous dependence on fear undoubtedly leads to despair. At any stage, one should have a little more hope than fear.
Works based on hope are so much better than ones based on fear. This is why traditional scholars of Islam say that throughout life, Muslims should not think that they are destined for salvation and Paradise; but when on the deathbed, Muslims should believe otherwise — Allah will be pleased and will accept them into Paradise.
Still, neither fear nor hope is the highest rank that believers should aim for. Ihsan (excellence), as explained by our most beloved Prophet, is:
…worshiping Allah as if you see Him. (Muslim)
This is the highest form of worship. It consists of many more aspects than mere fear or hope: love, satisfaction, absolute submission to Allah, infinite certitude, and intent for closeness.
Practical Solutions for a Real Problem
Now that fear in relation to skipping Prayers is contextualized, what are the most practical and functional ways to deal with this problem?
There is no solution without repenting immediately without a second of delay.
Despite all the tricks that our egos and Satan play on us, there is no difference to delay repentance between this very second and any other to come.
The spiritual reality we live is the same; Allah is Allah, worthy of absolute worship eternally. It is just demonic tricks to further exhaust, distract, and hinder us from ultimately being a loving obedient servant of Allah, Most Sublime.
Second, see the incentive
No one can be convinced and firm in carrying out such a great task (attending to the subscribed Prayers) that easily, unless there is an incentive for doing it.
Prayers are a matter that involve committing to doing something five times a day, waking up at dawn, washing, clarity of mind, etc.
That also is a better solution to answering your question on wanting to know what happens to those who do not pray, along with the ranks and reward for those who do.
Here is something practical that should make things easier. No one can do such a great task without knowing its worth.
Read the chapter on Prayers from the book Ihya’ `Ulum Ad-Din (The Revival of Islamic Sciences) by Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, a book of tremendous benefit.
If you do not have it, then buy it. It is better if you read it in Arabic; if that is not possible, there is an online translation that will do the job.
Through reading the chapter, based on an insightful understanding of many scholars, which is derived from the verse that reads what means:
And Allah has created you and what you make (Quran 37:96)
And the hadith of the Prophet:
“The heart of a believer lies between two fingers of the Merciful” (Muslim)
Among many other proofs, you will be able to repent and internalize the significance of praying.
Third, make dua
You should make lots of continuous heartfelt and genuine supplications to Allah to help you, expressing your neediness to Allah’s guidance.
Fourth, be grateful
Many scholars, whom I have the honor to study with, give the following words of advice based on the verse:
And when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will give you more.” (Quran 14:7)
Whenever Allah allows for believers an act of worship, they should be grateful to Allah for it. I would advise that, at least in the beginning, you invoke “al-hamdulillah” (all praise be to Allah) a hundred times a day until Allah grants you success in being consistent with keeping Prayers on time.
Fifth, try to build the habit of prayer in 40 days
One of the methods that Sheikh Nuh Keller prescribes as a cure for this problem — a solution that has also been traditionally followed — is based on the genius of the divinely inspired Prophetic wisdom in the tradition:
Whoever prays to Allah 40 days catching the first Takbir [the opening invocation] in a group would have two clearances; a clearance from Hell and a clearance from hypocrisy. (At-Tirmidhi)
This solution is also inspired by the numerous hadiths related to continuing an act of worship for that period and also the period of the spiritual retreat of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) that is mentioned in the Quran. Human nature can break a habit and start one anew if practiced for 40 continuous days.
Try to promise yourself to perform Prayers without missing any for 40 days. Every time you break the sequence, start from the beginning.
Also for men, praying in congregation (jama`ah) — with all its rewards and spiritual and psychological benefits — is a great method to overcome this problem.
Another idea is to punish your ego with ascending measures
For example, every time you miss a prayer, pray it immediately and then pray two extra rak`ahs. If it happens again, pray four, then, eight, then sixteen, etc. (All of which will be in the form of two rak`ahs) This way our ego will be tamed, depending on the seriousness and sincerity we put into doing so.
Finally, to love prayers look beyond the ritual
Whether in the prescribed Prayers or other ones, deal with them as something you do with love. Deal with prayers not out of fear, nor just as a fulfillment of a compulsion but love.
Wear your best clothes, use incense in the room, perfect your ablution (wudu’), memorize all Prophetic invocations in the different parts of Prayers, pray in your favorite spot, take your time, do your post-Prayers invocations and supplications, and fully annihilate all worldly concerns in your presence before Allah Almighty; pray with all your heart.
The essence of our religion that is rightfully veiled from many is love; have not we listened to the hadith qudsi that says,
There is nothing that My servant approaches Me with that is more loved by Me than what I made obligatory on him. (Al-Bukhari)
And nothing is more important in this religion than Prayer, especially when performed on time.
May Allah help us and all Muslims perfect our Prayers. Please keep in touch.
(From About Islam’s archives)