Salam Dear Nuh,
Thank you for your question, which concerns a matter of central importance to every Muslim: how to feel the effects of our worship, make it fruitful, and observe its impact on our lives.
It is interesting that you used the word “robotic”. A robot is a machine with a human-type body that is programmed to perform various actions but lacks true intelligence and emotions.
On the other hand, we, as humans, consist of two essential parts. As well as our body, there 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 which we owe 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. (Quran 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:
Showing obedience to the command of Allah:
Truly, the prayer is prescribed upon the believers at fixed times. (Quran 4:103)
The remembrance and worship of Allah:
…And establish the prayer for My remembrance. (Quran 20:14)
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. (Quran 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.
Having a “Spiritual High” is Not The Goal
Feeling an 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 the 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, 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.
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.
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 connection 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.
A large part of experiencing the inner dimensions of the prayer consists of understanding the words that you are reading.
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.
The prayer is an essential part of the daily cycle. It 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. We must also do our best to abandon 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. You needed 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. Seeking tranquility—by which we mean take 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. (Quran 1:2)
Ask yourself, “What am I praising and thanking Him for today?”
The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. (Quran 1:3)
Remind yourself: “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.
After the Prayer
Finally, among the supplications the Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged us to recite after every prayer is the following:
“O Allah, help me to remember You, to thank You and to worship You well.” (Abu Dawud)
I think has great relevance to the question you have raised.
Thank you for your question and we hope the response will be of practical benefit to you. Please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archive)
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