By Ustadh Abu Eesa Niamatullah
It’s probably one of our most common and indeed biggest individual problems that we face in our salah/namaz/prayer every day and that is to actually know what you’re doing, where you are, what you’re saying, what’s going on, feeling the presence and making it a real act of worship.
And by keeping it real, I mean keeping it real. Not false. Not a waste of time. Proper. Correct. Beneficial. Rewarding. Insha’Allah.
I was recently reading something beneficial on this subject from the late Shaykh al-’Uthaymin (rahimullah) who used to mention that one of the great benefits of utilising all the various different Sunnah wird/du’a/dhikr that has been narrated from the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) in the different parts of the prayer is that it leads to hudhur al-qalb i.e. makes your heart feel more alive and present in the moment.
This increased awareness and presence of the heart and thus the mind stems from changing our normative behaviour in any action, let alone the prayer. For example, when you stand for prayer and have made your niyyah and then say “Allahu Akbar”, the first thing that happens to all of us (except that lucky one upon whom is the mercy of Allah) is that we go into cruise control.
This really is the reality behind our prayers as they become the monotonous acts of ritualism they sadly turn into. Except if we change it up a little here and there and start to feel more alive and with it.
Try some of the following:
1. Change the position of your hands slightly, a little bit up or a little bit down. Physical changes like this, within the range of legislated acceptability, have a marked effect on ones mental state as well.
2. Change the exact height of where you raise your hands to whilst making the opening Takbeer, i.e. from your thumbs being level with your ears or touching them, to the finger tips being level with the ears instead. Both are acceptable and authentic derived understandings.
3. If you’re struggling learning some new Istiftah du’as ( “Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika…”),leave out your current Istiftahon a very rare occasion, just to show yourself that it is not an obligation and shock you into a change of routine, and also to instill its importance in you the next time you recite it and realise how beautiful a wisdom it is to be able to praise Allah in the most excellent manner before you are about to beg Him for salvation in al-Fatihah.
4. Study a tafseer of al-Faithah. You’ll wish you never recited anything else in the prayer after that.
5. Learn some new surahs, and chop and change regularly. Practise the new ones in the prayer as well, knowing that you can always fall back on something you know if you get stuck.
6. Instead of saying takbeer and going down for ruku’, stop. Add another surah to the one you just recited. Which one? Any one, especially al-Ikhlas but others are ok too.
7. Just getting into your rapid threesome of “Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adheem”? Well, make it a single for the sake of reminding yourself that only once is an obligation. In the nextruku’, make it a 9 or 11.
8. Add a bit of spice. The du’as for the ruku’ are many, and although not taking the place of “Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adheem”, they make a great addition such as “Subbuhun, Quddusun…”
9. In your standing position again, change your du’a a bit, add a bit as well and make it a nice long standing of contemplation as you praise Allah ‘azza wa jall with “Mil-assamawati…”
10. The next time you get up from ruku’, go straight down with no time wasted. You’ll appreciate the previous time more and you’ll look forward to using your new du’a again next time.
11. Well, now that you’re all the way down here, you might as well add some new du’a and dhikr in your prostration. There are loads to choose from – its open house down here minus the reciting of the Qur’an.
12. And open house means your own personal du’as. Plenty of it. And here’s a gift from my school and their scholars: whilst you’re learning the Arabic equivalent, you can make your personal supplication in your own language so that you can really feel the moment. Don’t over abuse this though because you’ll just get greedy!
13. Whilst sitting between the two sajdahs, try learning one or two supplications for this position.
14. Back into the next sajdah, why don’t you do the exact opposite of what you did in the first one – make it long and personal if it was a quick one first time, or do the opposite. At least you’ll know where you are and your prayer will be anything but monotonous.
15. The Tashahhud has also got various versions that can help bring it to life. Learn them.
16. You see that finger? Use it. If you don’t believe in moving it all the way from the beginning, make sure you take great spiritual strength from the very moment you do when you declare that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah. Feel it. Live that witnessing, and don’t let it just be a flick of the finger.
17. The sending of salutations upon our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) should be a great moment, not just because we can change the versions between those authentically narrated but also because those who are too lazy or forgetful to do this outside the prayer, have a real opportunity to focus and pick up a bargain right here during your obligatory prayer. May Allah grant our beloved Messenger the very highest station in Paradise, ameen!
18. You want to change the ritual? You’ve come to the right place folks. The moments just before the salam-giving is a treasure trove for those who know how to dig. Utilise this moment to express yourself with a huge variety of du’a and dhikr, even that which you’d normally say outside the prayer – bring them in from the cold and let them give you company in your nice and warm house!
This list really could go on and on, but the point is that although we might know all these variations and versions of du’a, know all of Shaytan’s armoury, know how much we like to wander in the prayer, know how easy it is to fall into the routine and get the job over and done with – although we know all this, we all need to increase our presence of mind in the prayer and these are just some suggestions to help us all do that insha’Allah.