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Islam Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided." Holy Qur'an 16:125

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Old Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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Default How to Improve our Daily Prayers

How to Improve our Daily Prayers

These are a number of tips and points that will insha'Allah be useful for the readers who are interested in improving their prayers. It should be emphasised that these are all based on personal experiences and there is no claim that any of the following is derived from the Qur'an, Sunnah or Hadith, although it is easy to see that many of them are supported by these sources. Nevertheless the author can promise that to the best of his understanding none of the following is opposed to or in conflict with the Qur'an or Sunnah:

24 Tips and Points That can Improve our Prayers:

1. There is an extreme difference between a prayer that is performed on time and one that is delayed. No matter how effective the postponed prayer is, you can be assured that it could be many times more effective if you had carried it out on time. Part of improving and purifying one's soul is to allow prayer to interrupt our daily affairs rather than allow daily affairs to interrupt our prayer times.

2. Let your life (e.g. daily affairs) be oriented around your prayer. Instead of thinking that life is spending 24 hours a day during which we do 5 prayers in, consider that life is 5 prayers a day in the middle of which we are living (think about it).

3. Supplementary prayers (Nafl) have many effects on one's soul. Two of these effects are:

a. Exercising the physical and spiritual self to better the prayer. This is an exercise that never ends because there are no limits to a better prayer.

b. Compensating for obligatory prayers that are done in a weak manner. Try to do a routine amount of Nafl. Nafl can be also seen as practicing for the real thing. In the same way that you practice for your exam or for a match, you should also practice your prayers by doing Nafl.

4. Although it is not obligatory, but to improve one's prayer, it is always better to refresh our ablution even if it is still valid from our last prayer.

5. Ablution is primarily for physical cleansing. I think it is also a symbol of our spiritual cleansing. Try to feel this. For example when washing your face you may also intend to purify your face (including eyes, mouth) from any sinful and useless act. The same can be said for the hands and feet. When wiping your head you may also intend to purify yourself from any sinful or useless thoughts.

6. When you make your ablution, it is like brushing your teeth. You won't eat chocolate immediately after brushing your teeth. Do not engage yourself in worldly affairs (good or bad) after making ablution. Go directly to do your prayer.

7. There are a number of points in your prayer that can take you from a spiritual state to an improved spiritual state. It is helpful to be aware of the ascending transmission of our spiritual condition throughout these points in our prayer:

Commence the prayer with Takbir- This is a stage in which you are saying a temporary good bye to the outside world and is the point from which direct communication with your Creator will begin.

Arriving at the words, "Iyaka Na'bodo wa Iyaka Nas'ta'een"- In the Surah of Al Fatiha you start your prayer by addressing God in the third person. The first place you address God as the second person is when you say the above words. Consider this as you reach the climax of what you want to achieve by reciting Al Fatiha in your prayers. Make this phrase the warning and awakening signal in the prayer so that when you say them you feel compelled to focus more. If you feel like it, you can repeat the phrase till you are satisfied (there is no problem in doing so from the point of view of Shari'ah).

Bowing (Ruku')- Bowing is a sign of you giving in your selfishness after appreciating the presence of a superior and glorious power. Idealistically going to the bowing position should be regarded as a natural reaction to a stronger feeling of humbleness in front your Creator. In other words, one should reach a stage in which one finds no other choice but to bow in front of the superior and glorious power in front of him. Of course not everyone can reach this level of prayer. However, even being aware of this will help to work towards that level.

Prostration (Sujood)- Prostration is a higher degree of humbleness before Allah (swt). Here, even bowing is not enough to show the humble feeling of a Muslim. Falling on the ground in the state of prostration is the only way to express this level of humbleness. All that was said above about bowing applies here but on a much greater scale

Tashahood- Do not take the last part of your prayer lightly. Tashahood is in fact the concluding part of your prayer. After a divinely guided spiritual journey you are now renewing your allegiance to Allah and His messenger. This (if done correctly) can have a tremendous effect on reinforcing your certainty and firmness (Yaqin).

8. Prayer is talking to Allah. You most probably dress decently when speaking to another person. Do your best when you want to talk with Allah. Your attire should be decent and clean, your hair should be combed, it is preferable that you brush your teeth and moderately perfume yourself. These all will help you believe and appreciate that you are going to enter into a dialogue rather than talking alone to yourself.

9. Do not only not mind your daily work to be interrupted by prayers but even be keen on interrupting it with prayers (of course unless doing prayer on-time will cause a real loss or damage). What is one of the most enjoyable things that you do not like to be interrupted from? Watching a movie? Being with friends? Playing games? Studying Islam? Improve your spiritual position and make yourself less relying on worldly affairs by willingly interrupting these affairs with an on-time prayer. Try to recite your prayer in its normal speed (not faster and not slower) and with full concentration on these occasions. On the other hand, when there is really an important task that is needed to be done promptly, if possible, still perform your prayers on time but make it as short as possible. You will gradually get used to reading prayers even if they cut into the middle of your tasks without losing your concentration when you come back to them. You will find that this can also bring some blessings to the task you are engaging in.

10. The entire earth has been made a worshipping ground for the Muslim. When the prayer time comes and you are not at a convenient or private place it may be wise to wait till you get to a comfortable place to pray. However, to work on your faith and strengthen it, it is also good to carry on with your prayers in the first possible place (being in a park, a corner of a street or a shop, a peaceful area at the work place - if there are no prayer rooms). Of course this is with the condition that (if applicable) the owner of the place does not mind you praying at his/her place and also that your prayer in public does not cause any inconvenience or annoyance to the people present. In any case, if you wait to reach a more appropriate place, this should only be for the sake of having a better prayer and not because of being shy or lazy.

11. Like an airplane that needs to speed down the runway before taking off, our spirit too needs preparation for reaching its maximum capacity in getting closer to Allah Ta'Ala. Saying Iqama with concentration and doing Istiqfar before the prayer can be considered as part of this preparation.

12. While in the standing position of prayer do not take away your eyes from the place of prostration. In the sitting position do not take away your eyes from your knees or your pointed finger (of course unless you are saying Salam). This will help you focus, have more respect and brings humbleness (Khushoo) within your prayer. Do not close your eyes, as this will bias the point of concentration.

13. Always try to be reluctant in making excessive movements during the prayer. If you need to move your hands (for instance you are desperate to scratch your face), do so with humbleness and respect as if you do not want to disturb the very formal climate that is established. This might further help you find yourself in the presence of God.

14. One of the things that prevents you from making the most out of your prayer is that the prayer become a ritual habit for you. To avoid this, try to bring some changes to your prayer every now and then, like reading another version of Tashahhod or reading a new Sura after Hamd or shortening or lengthening one of the Rukoo' and/or prostration.

15. In general and as a routine, make your prayer a little bit longer than what you would consider a comfortable length of prayer. However keep in mind the previous point regarding shorter prayers. It is sometimes very helpful (for an improved prayer experience) to change the routine and recitation of prayers faster (or much faster) than usual.

16. The rather short pause after Rokoo before going to Sajda and the one between the two Sajda are very important. These can help you appreciate the different stages of the prayer that you are going through (refer to point 5). It is narrated that the Prophet used to stay long in these pausing situations.

17. In prayer we are entering into a dialogue with God. Like any dialogue our focus should on the other side of the dialogue (God) and NOT the means of dialogue (words uttered). Prayer is not Sufi Zikr or Buddhist chanting, do not concentrate on the words, concentrate on the one for whom these words are uttered and then the concentration on words will naturally follow. When you are talking with a person some times you automatically say something to him without taking notice, but you are still talking to him. On the other hand, sometimes you put too much focus on your words that in the end you feel as if you have not talked to him, but have merely talked to yourself. The same analogy can be found in prayers.

18. Following from the previous point, do not worry about a few gaps in your concentration, stick to the main focal point. Make sure you are not focusing on concentration, but that you are focusing on God.

19. Relevant to the above, and in particular if you do not understand Arabic, you need to know the meaning of the words you are saying. However, note that prayer is not the place for practicing the meanings of the words. Practice the words with their meanings when you are not praying.

20. Prayer is not an opportunity to read the Qur'an beautifully. Avoid giving even minor attention to make your reading beautiful. Humbleness (Khushoo') is the main point in reading. Humbleness is not necessarily the same as reading beautifully. Of course there is nothing wrong with reading beautifully, it is in fact very good and recommended. The point however is that it is not the aim and it should not be the main point of attention.

21. Unless you are in Jama'at (i.e. congregation), avoid being in a disruptive place.

22. The Qur'an says that prayer restrains from shameful (Fahsha) and unjust (Munkar) deeds. Two lessons can be learned and derive

a. If you can read you prayers with a clear conscious while being in a state of shameful and unjust deeds then your prayer is not a satisfactory prayer.

b. Avoid shameful and unjust deeds to be able to have better prayers.

23. The relationship between hypocrisy (Rya) and prayer is like the relation between fire and water. One of the signs of hypocrisy could be that you feel your prayers in presence of others are better than those you do alone. The real amount of your progress in prayers is what you can feel when praying alone and not what you feel when praying in presence of others.

24. It is highly recommended that the obligatory prayers should be done in Jama'at. Some of the above points might be irrelevant to a prayer that is being done in Jama'at. Nevertheless all the above equally applies to Nafl prayers.

Allah Nagheban,
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