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The Biggest Performance of Your Life: Prayer

Imagine you’re about to compete in a martial arts competition. You’ve got the techniques perfected and have memorized your routine. The judges will be scrutinizing your every move. Any lapse in balance, speed, power or focus could cost you precious points. Deviating from the traditional form can leave you with a score of zero. Are you feeling a bit anxious?

In participating in a competition, you would be sure to learn all the rules and work to master every skill in order to give your best performance before the judges.

Would you allow yourself to give a lackluster, sub-par presentation in any setting where you are performing for an audience of judges, (as an actor on stage, an athlete in a tournament, etc.)? You’d do your best right?

If that’s the case when performing in front of people, what about during the single most important performance of your life – the moment you stand in front of The Judge of judges: your Prayer? Do you feel nearly as anxious? Are you as concerned about whether or not your techniques and method are correct?

After the shahadah, the Prayer is the most essential act of Faith. The Prophet Muhammad said that what distinguishes the believer from the rejecter (i.e. kaafir!), is the salah (prayer).

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–Let that sink in –

It will be the first thing to be reckoned on the Day of Judgment. If it is good, everything after it will be good, and if it is bad, everything after it will be bad. (At-Tabarani)

No doubt, we should put more effort into learning and executing our prayers than we would into any sport or skill.

The Prophet Muhammad said:

“Pray as you see me praying.”

Taking some time to learn how the Prophet himself prayed is an important part of making sure our prayers are accepted. It’s not enough to follow our parents or community; every Muslim should put effort into ensuring their prayers are like the Prophet’s prayer.

External and Internal

The Salah (prayer) is neither a set of vacant physical movements, nor is it a purely internal experience. In order to reap the most benefit from our prayers, and for them to be valid, the physical and internal must come together.

Using non-traditional form can result in a zero at a martial arts competition; similarly, our form must adhere to the traditional method of the Prophet Muhammad in prayer. Incorrect position, posture or speed may reduce the worth of our prayer or nullify it completely.

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah entered the mosque and a man came in and prayed, then he came and greeted the Messenger of Allah. The Messenger of Allah returned the greeting and said:

“Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.”

The man went back and prayed as he had prayed before, then he came to the Prophet and greeted him, and the Messenger of Allah said:

“Wa ‘alayk al-salaam.” Then he said:

“Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.”

sujoudWhen he had done that three times, the man said: By the One Who sent you with the truth, I cannot do more than that. Teach me. He said:

“When you go to pray, say takbeer, then recite whatever you can of the Quran. Then bow until you are at ease in bowing, then rise until you are standing up straight. Then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration, then sit up until you are at ease in sitting. Then do that throughout the entire prayer.” (Al-Bukhari)

Based on this example, we should be wondering about our own prayers. Is it possible that you have not prayed although you stood to pray on time and went through all the motions?

This man didn’t omit aspects of the prayer, but he did them too quickly. We learn here that by failing to come to a complete stop and feeling at rest in each position before moving on, we are invalidating the prayer. But, other mistakes can cause only part of our prayers to be written for us:

The Prophet said:

“Verily, a man will leave from (his Salah) and only a tenth of his Salah is written for him, a ninth, an eighth, a seventh, a sixth, a fifth, a forth, a third, half.” (Abu Dawud)

Our mistakes can be either in our physical actions such as position, speed, form (ex: our backs should be flat when making ruku’), addition or deletion of movements, such as raising the hands with particular takbeerat. Our mistakes could be in our words, whether recited aloud or silently to ourselves.

Behind the Scenes

People around us can tell if we are outwardly performing our prayers correctly, but Allah, knower of the unseen, can judge whether or not we are really concentrating internally, maintaining khushoo’.

We wouldn’t want to be similar to the hypocrites Allah described when He said: {And when they stand for prayer, they stand lazily, showing [themselves to] the people and not remembering Allah except a little.} (Quran 4:142)

Even the hypocrites, though they only stand in prayer as a façade for the people, still manage to remember Allah “a little”. Therefore, our ability to be sincerely and meaningfully engaged in our prayers, remembering our Lord throughout, helps protect us from hypocrisy.

Our mental focus and our efforts to speak to Allah, recite what we know in the Quran and our praising and beseeching Him, establish the voracity of our faith. In this purely internal state, the happenings of which are only known to one’s self and Allah, are perhaps the most profound and significant advantages obtained.

Beyond Obligation

The Prophet Muhammad used to resort to prayer at times of happiness and victory and at times of sorrow and difficulty. He used to wake in the watches of the night to converse for long periods with his Lord.

Aisha recalled:

“I looked for the Messenger of Allah one night in my bed, and I did not find him. I struck my hand on the head of the bed, and my hand fell on the soles of his feet. He was prostrating and saying:

“I seek refuge in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your wrath, and I seek refuge in You from You.'” (Ibn Majah)

On one occasion his prostration was for such a long time that she feared he had passed away in sajdah. She wiggled his toe to be sure he was still alive.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Remember Allah during times of ease and He will remember you during times of difficulty.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Allah explained that the establishment of prayer is for the remembrance of Him: {Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.} (20:14)

The Prophet said:

“The closest that a person is to his Lord is when he is prostrating, so say a great deal of du’a then.” (Muslim)

It would be a shame to be in this position when we are closest to our Lord and waste it by thinking about irrelevant topics, or to hurry through it. The Prophet Muhammad truly yearned to be in the presence of Allah. His actions were pure and sincerely from the heart.

Make it the Best Performance of Your Life

We have at least five times a day set aside to communicate directly to our Maker. We can use these times to reorient our purpose, and to seek His help and demonstrate our awe and surrender to Him.

Our consciousness of how well we perform the prayer, and whether or not we do so correctly and sincerely, should be greater and far surpass the level of attention and perfection we would observe for worldly judges if we were to participate in a competition.

The scorecard for our prayers is the example of the Prophet Muhammad. Doing your best to perfect the prayer postures and constantly pulling your mind back to the remembrance of Allah throughout, can lead to true success and Allah said:

{Successful indeed are the believers, those who are humble in their prayers.} (Quran 23:1-2)

May Allah help us to perfect our prayers and attain success through them. Ameen.

Learn more about the Prophet’s prayer here:

About Danielle LoDuca
Danielle LoDuca is a third generation American artist and author. Drawing inspiration from personal life experiences, her writings highlight the familiarity of Islam in a climate that increasingly portrays the Islamic faith as strange. She holds a BFA from Pratt Institute and has pursued postgraduate studies in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Foundation for Knowledge and Development. LoDuca’s work has been featured in media publications in the US and abroad and she is currently working on a book that offers a thought-provoking American Muslim perspective, in contrast to the negative narratives regarding Islam and Muslims prevalent in the media today