The One who created you is profoundly in touch with you; so extremely close, that He knows your most hidden thoughts and innermost feelings.
He knows, intimately, your dreams and hopes, and how your heart hurts sometimes.
When your whole world seems to be crashing down around you, He is there.
In your moments of greatest joy or accomplishment, He is more attentive and understanding of your happiness than your closest companion.
He wants you to succeed. He wants you to step easily into Jannah; and He wants you can see and feel the wonderful accolades and pleasures He has prepared just for you.
Salah: The GPS of Life
To help you stay focused, He has provided you with many tools and methods to stay connected to your purpose. Think of them like the GPS of life. They help you find your way, and get you out of tough situations, so you can return to the right road, even in the darkest moments.
The single most important of these tools is the Salah: the daily prayers.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
The first matter that the slave (‘abd) will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad. (At-Tirmidhi)
From this hadith, we learn that the prayers are a metric by which we can assess the rest of our actions. By working to perfect our prayers, as a natural progression the rest of our lives will likewise improve.
If we find ourselves faltering, and feeling generally weak willed when it comes to doing good, it is a clear indication that our prayers need repairs. Allah Himself confirmed this when He said:
Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds (Quran 29:45).
He described the prayer as shielding us from being impatient and greedy:
Indeed, man was created anxious: When evil touches him, impatient, and when good touches him, withholding [of it], Except for those devoted to prayer those who remain constant in their prayers… (70:19-23).
In addition to the greater level of self-awareness and control we can attain by guarding and sharpening our prayers, they also may wipe away our sins like water washes away impurities. Due to this great importance, it is imperative to approach and learn them in a way that is effective, not overwhelming.
The prayers can be learned at your own pace. The quality of your prayers will develop over time, as long as you put in the necessary effort.
My Own Experience
As you learn the prayers, be sure you are performing them in the same manner as the way the Prophet Muhammad did. In order to do this, it is crucial to check any sources you are learning from and make sure that they are teaching according to the way the Prophet Muhammad prayed.
This is a useful link to a great video that explains and demonstrates the prayer according to the authentic reports, made by the Foundation For Knowledge and Development, an organization dedicated to educating and developing Muslims with authentic knowledge.
When I began to learn to pray, I recorded everything and I would listen to it repeatedly while practicing the positions. I learned a little at a time: first I memorized the takbir: Allahu Akbar, then I began memorizing chapter Al-Fatihah, then gradually, over several weeks I memorized the entirety of the prayer.
It is essential to memorize the translation of all the words in a language that is natural to you, so that you can focus on the meaning of every part of the prayer as you say it.
I do not recommend learning the whole prayer in Arabic, without knowing the meanings, because prayer is a communication; and if you don’t know what you are saying, you are only regurgitating words. It may be even easier for you to learn initially in a language you understand and then superimpose the Arabic words as you progress.
To this day, almost 14 years since I entered Islam, I still repeat the meanings of every saying in English in my head after the Arabic, because my Arabic is not yet fluent enough such that it is my internal language. Thus, I feel more secure repeating everything in English to be sure I truly mean what I am saying.
Don’t be deterred if you find the prayer difficult at first. Many people learn how to do it, and you will too, by Allah’s will and with His help. One of the important parts of chapter Al-Fatihah is where we say:
You alone we worship, You alone we ask for help. Show us the straight way. (1:6)
Abundantly seeking Allah’s help will draw you nearer to your Lord; it will increase your gratitude to Him as you grow and progress. It’s okay if your pace is slower than others; remember Allah recognizes the effort you are putting in. If you are trying your best, He is fully aware and appreciative.
Know the Prayer Timings
In addition to learning the prayer itself we must also learn the timings. The spacing of the prayers throughout the day serves to reorient our souls; and it helps prevent us from becoming wholly distracted and enamored by our material lives.
The prayers are meditation; during them we work to constantly pull our hearts and minds back to the remembrance of the source and destination of life, Allah. Doing this throughout the day is like training, keeping our spirits fit and nimble; ready to face whatever life throws at us.
The timings have been prescribed and they are not something we can alter. We have to try to find a way to do our prayers at the times prescribed except in extenuating circumstances such as travel. This brings us to the issue of praying in public, or in front of our families who are not Muslim.
At first, it might seem embarrassing to tell your family in the middle of a gathering or while out on an excursion together, that you need to stop and pray. This can be especially difficult for those of us that come from backgrounds that scoff at religion, or those that are very strong in a particular religion, and strongly opposed to (what they believe is) Islam.
Unless your life is threatened, you should try to find a way to make your prayers on time. Initially there may be discomfort but, with Allah’s help, as you grow in faith, you will feel more confident to pray wherever, whenever. As you grow and begin to understand the value of the prayer, your worries will pale in comparison.
To help you feel more confident in this regard, please know that many people have come to Islam, due to witnessing the prayer; and many others find it touchingly beautiful.
An Inspirational Story
I read an account written by a non-Muslim woman. She and her husband were being driven by taxi, when their driver began looking at the sky anxiously. Finally he apologized and told them he had to stop and pray- he was about to miss the Asr prayer. They watched as he pulled out a rug and performed his prayer on the side of the road. The woman was deeply moved by that moment. That captivating experience instilled respect in her for both the driver and Islam.
Of course not everyone will feel this way. A friend of mine told me that in the early days of her Islam, her mother used to kick her when she would bow in prayer. I have another friend who is keeping her Islam a secret at the moment, so finding the ability to pray all the prayers on time has been a struggle.
This life is fleeting. Guarding the thing that brings us closer to our Lord and the quality of which will determine whether our outcome is good or bad, is worth the struggle.
The best things don’t often come easy, so garner up whatever strength you have and put it into your prayers!
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)