How Do I Pray? (A Step-by-Step Guide to a High Quality Prayer)
Below I've put together a series of short explanatory videos with transcription to help you achieve a high quality prayer. You'll also find the Arabic, English transliteration and translation of all the essential things we say in prayer.
Far too often, discussions on prayer focus disproportionately on the outward aspects and technicalities. But what matters most of all is praying with presence of heart and mind. This post will help you do just that, God willing.
How to Fix Your Mindset Before You Start Your Salat
The first thing you need to understand is that there is a battle that commences or that you need to win in order to have a prayer of high quality and a high standard. It begins from that very moment that it occurs to you, “I need to pray.”
At this moment, I advise you to really think about what it is that you're experiencing inside of yourself when it first occurs to you that the time for prayer has come. That instantaneous, immediate, and natural reaction to the thought of prayer is likely to be very similar to the way you experience the whole process of prayer.
For many of us, when the thought of prayer comes, we feel—if we're honest with ourselves we can always hear our internal voice—a degree of resistance. We feel a degree of frustration, or we feel, perhaps, “I wish that now is not the time.” Basically, “I'm not ready for this right now because I've got other stuff to do.”
Whilst it may be natural to a certain degree that we may feel that way (and it may come from within ourselves) it may also come as a whisper of the devil. It's very important to be in touch or in tune with that. Separate yourself from yourself, and observe the fact that it’s going on.
On the other hand—from a more ideal standpoint—one would feel a sense of anticipation, relief, or a sense of, “Thank God, the time has come” and one literally thanks God the time has come.
We know from the prophetic example, and from various narrations, where the Prophet S.A.W—God grant him blessings and peace—would welcome the onset of the prayer and receive it as a relief from perhaps the mundane activities of life or the social interactions.
It was a way to escape all of that, perhaps, and to be in the presence of His Lord.
Now, in between these two examples—in between the negative reaction on the one hand and the positive reaction on the other hand—there is that kind of neutral space as well.
So many of us don't feel either of these. Maybe we are very habitual in our prayer, but it's become so routine that we've forgotten to feel excited about it, but we are committed enough to not feel frustrated by it either.
This middle zone—which is better than clearly feeling frustrated and resenting prayer in some way—is still not enough. It's not enough because it does not optimize or get the best out of the prayer that is coming.
That neutrality, the routine bordering on boredom itself, will follow you through into the Salat. This can result in a Salah that is neither shockingly bad nor very good. It becomes something in between.
Being aware of what we're thinking at this first moment is critical. If we do feel ourselves slipping into this neutral space or into a negative space, we need to think that through to ourselves and to tell ourselves, “No, this is not right. Let me remind myself about what I'm about to do: I'm about to respond to the invitation of the Lord of the heavens and the Earth, the one who has created not just me, but absolutely everything out there.
Remind yourself about His greatness. Remind yourself about His vastness, His creativity, all His qualities that remind you about how amazing He is. One of the things that happen to us is that we take not only things for granted, but we can take God for granted as well.
We may affirm Him with our tongues, but we almost forget about Him or become heedless about Him as we go through our day-to-day activities. We forget all of the amazing, intricate, vast numbers of things going on in and around us allowing us to continue to function as human beings! All of that relies on His ingenuity, His presence, His being there, and His governing all affairs at all times.
So we need to tune ourselves back into the occasion of Salah and what it actually represents.
The privilege that it represents is a way for us to excite ourselves more about what is about to take place. I definitely advise you to think through this carefully and be aware.
To summarise, the first step is to be aware of what you're feeling when the time for prayer comes. If you feel that you're not actually feeling much at all, or if you're feeling something negative, then challenge that and try to move into a position of gratitude and wonder. Move into a position where you are anticipating what is about to come.
Do I Have Wudhu?
Then, it's like the million dollar question, "Do I have wudhu?" Oftentimes, when people ask themselves, "Do I have wudhu?" Or sometimes a parent might ask, or a husband or wife might just check in with each other. Then sometimes it's like a mini celebration takes place. If you do have wudhu this is a big achievement that you managed to maintain your wudhu from the previous prayer.
If you have, wudhu from the previous prayer. Fine. Of course, it's completely valid for you to proceed and to pray. But what that reveals—where we feel a relief that we don't have to do wudhu or where we feel a frustration that now I have to do wudhu—that reveals something about the fact that we have misunderstood wudhu altogether. In a very famous prophetic statement, the Prophet (P.B.U.H) was reported to have said that Salat is the key to paradise, and wudhu is the key to Salat.
That's such a powerful statement. It's a deep statement—like many of the prophetic statements—short but very profound. Because to the extent that prayer is the key to Paradise, Wudhu is the key to prayer.
So wudhu unlocks prayer in the same way that prayer unlocks paradise. That, as we are examining, is not some sort of technical unlocking. It's like it unlocks the possibilities of prayer—maybe levels of prayer—to which you can aspire are unlocked as a result of the way in which you present yourself during the process of wudhu.
It's really critically important for us to understand that there will be a correlation, therefore, between the quality of wudhu, the quality of prayer, and ultimately whether in paradise the door opens or not. It's that important.
Therefore, wudhu is the key to paradise in many ways because of what it enables in the prayer. Which in turn enables. It's almost like that's a step. So it is really important for us to bear this in mind.
Remember the verse—the very verse in which the Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala exalted most high tells us about the four obligatory components of wudhu, which is washing the face, the arms up to the elbows, wiping the head, and washing the feet—at the end of that verse, Allah actually addresses the issue. [ARABIC] Allah doesn't want to place any burden upon you. So to your mind, if wudhu is a haraj, if this ablution is a burden of some sort, Allah says, no no that's not what he intends.
It's almost a parental kind of language or tone. It's like with your child, if your child is complaining when you tell your child to do this or do that. No, No, No, I don't mean that. I don't mean you to feel it this way, it's because of this reason, and hopefully they'll connect to that even though it may be difficult.
Allah's saying, No, it's not that I want to place a burden on you. I know that you're feeling it, but that's not the point. The point is [ARABIC]. He wishes to purify you [ARABIC] and to complete his blessing upon you [ARABIC] so that you may be grateful.
There's something beautiful, enabling, and unlocking that's going on with this wudhu that we need to understand and appreciate. We appreciate that better also, when we appreciate that, wudhu is—whilst its necessity is triggered by physical triggers, and it involves this physical process—it's fundamentally kind of symbolic or metaphysical kind of power or significance is what is key here. Which is the fact that we are going through a process of washing ourselves and water has this internally purifying, refreshing effect.
When you go for a shower, and when you come out of the shower, no one feels bad after coming out of a shower. You just feel good when you come out of the shower. But what happened? You just allowed water to go all over you on the outside.
You didn't take any of it in, unless there was a mistake of some sort. You didn't take any of it in. You just washed yourself and you feel good on the inside. You feel refreshed. Wudhu is like a mini version of the Ghusl, basically, but that's effective in what it achieves. It's a purification—and we understand it to be a purification of the sins or the misdeeds that we may have committed with various parts of the limbs—that we are now washing and basically with which we're making most of our interactions between the prayers.
Understand that wudhu is a way to prepare ourselves internally. The way I like to see it is that before we go out, we’re going to, hopefully—unless we've lost all sense of shame or self esteem—you're going to put some effort into your appearance.
In fact, some of us put far too much effort into fixing our appearance before we go out. You're going to make sure your clothes and you look presentable, etc.
Why do we do that? Why do we do that? Because we have that sense of self respect, self esteem, and we know that people are going to be going to interact with people. People put more effort in when they're more conscious of the occasion. Correct or not.
If you're preparing for a wedding, preparing for a job interview, preparing for a big meeting at work, is not the same as just preparing to go out and see your friends. Even in that case, you will still take some care. In the high category, of course you put in preparing for a marriage meeting.
This is up there in terms of how people like they take care of themselves and they are very self conscious. The point is you're about to stand in front of the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth—who knows you through and through and knows everything that you've just been up to—so if there's a time for self consciousness, this is it, this is it!
This is the time to be self aware and self conscious. Whilst you may have been somewhat heedless or forgetful. Now, in the Salah, you know that you're in this direct presence or interaction. So wudhu is a way of preparing yourself, preparing your inner self. Literally making your inner self look good. Making it presentable in front of your Lord. Why are you not?
Because it's the purity of that inner self that ultimately matters. That's the basis on which fundamentally Allah regards us. We want Him to regard us well. So present yourself well, then.
When you see it in that way, wudhu becomes something which actually—and this is exactly the point when we observe the prophetic example: that he was known often to repeat his wudhu, even if he was technically in a state of wudhu. So that tells you everything you need to know—that there was something about this that goes beyond the technical, beyond the legal kind of outward requirements.
This is the way, unfortunately, the vast majority of us have come to see and understand wudhu. It's become something which is much more symbolic and preparatory and laying the foundation for hopefully now it will be a high quality prayer.
Things to Remember Before Starting Salat
Subsequent to that, the things to bear in mind just before you begin the Salah are effectively to do with your effectively now let's look at the things that will help us remove physical distractions as well as mental distractions.
It's very important to begin before we pray, to take stock of the immediate surroundings and to take a moment, if required, to clear what will be our field of vision. Because when you're standing and looking down, you still have a wide enough field of vision.
That means that if there are some random things hanging around here or there, or anything is going to catch your eye, it's not going to particularly help you. You start Allahu Akbar, and you notice some toy that your kid has left and you're left out of place.
All of a sudden you're thinking about your kid and how you love them and how sometimes you hate them. How they're a big blessing and a burden. Then you are like Iyyaka Na'budu Wa Iyyaka Nastaeen. You're already four verses in that, actually, you were just thinking about your little boy or girl or what have you. A little physical stimulus like that can send you off on a little journey from which it can take a little while to recover.
So it's worth simplifying your environment around you and in front of you so that you're preventing the physical kind of distractions. There are prophetic narrations that indicate the Prophet asked his wife, Ayesha (R.A), to replace some curtains to his home which had designs on them and were distracting. Sometimes a cloak which again had patterns or designs, which he said caused him distraction. So this is something very human, very natural. Sometimes you start looking at the designs and you start to appreciate them, and again you're off on some other mental journeys, going off somewhere else.
So I think that's quite important to do that and physically to be—I'm not going to be prescriptive about this—dressed appropriately. In a way that you feel is appropriate—obviously from a coverage perspective and making sure that we're not going to become uncovered during the prayer. It's a matter of basic etiquette, respect, and self esteem. Also, if you can, the better, you can make your appearance out of respect for the occasion, obviously that's a symbol or a sign that someone's really taking this very seriously. That can only act in one's favour.
Finally, as you now are in the standing position, about to raise your hands. Before we raise our hands, there are a few things we definitely need to think about. So don't be somebody who stands ready for prayer and then immediately raises their hands. Having that gap really brings yourself into the zone.
Because you might have just done your wudhu. You might have spent time clearing up and perhaps getting others—if you're at home—getting others together. Or in the mosque—you may even be in the masjid—and it's possible that you were looking at your phone or there was some other thing that you've been thinking about and that was occupying your mind.
So it's quite possible—even though you may have done some of the things we've already discussed, that by the time you actually are standing for prayer—some other things have come into your mind that you've got to give yourself the opportunity to flush out as much as you can before you begin.
So you're starting to give yourself the best possible chance throughout the prayer by starting well. Especially when this is a moment when I suppose in many ways we feel more in control of ourselves as well.
There is this phenomenon that when you're in the prayer—many of us experience the prayers as if there's this magnet on the other end that's pulling us through. It's like we're going through the cycle and through the motions. It kind of is just sort of happening. A lot of it happens not very consciously. We're going to get pulled through it unless we really break out of that and start to become a lot more conscious, which is obviously what we're trying to do. That opportunity at the beginning to ramp up the attention is really important.
There is this idea of number one reminding yourself and visualising the Kaaba to which you have oriented your physical self and to which you will be facing throughout this process. That helps us in lowering the gaze consciously. We lower the gaze throughout the prayer, but we lower it consciously as a response to your acknowledgement of the presence of Allah in front of you and then lower your gaze because that's why you're doing it. That's why you're doing it. Many of us lower our gaze. We just do it habitually. But bring the presence of Allah to mind. Lower your gaze before you start.
Then there is what I call the golden minute. Basically allow yourself 60 seconds to reflect and to think about some of the things we've just mentioned and other things that will just help you bring attention to the moment.
You know what? You don't deal with your mental distractions or the things that are getting in your mind. You don't deal with them by thinking about them and somehow moving them out. You need to occupy your mind with other thoughts, meaningful thoughts that don't leave any room for anything else.
That's how—becoming absorbed or becoming focused—that's how it works. It's because there is something on which you're focused. Then it's a lot less easy for other things to get into your mind at that point in time.
Here you need to think about the presence of your Lord. Think about the hereafter. Think this could be my last prayer. Think about what you're grateful for. Think even about things that are troubling you or are difficult for you. But know that you're in the place and in front of the one who can solve those problems for you.
Bring together the kind of thoughts and reflections that are going to remind yourself about the importance of this occasion.
Before You Begin: The Iqamah
Then critically—which a lot of people don't do—is to say the iqama, even if you're praying on your own. If you're praying at home. Say the iqama, the words of the iqama.
« اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ، اللهُ أَكْبَرُ »
Allahu Akbar (x2)
God is greater
« أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ اِلَّا اللهُ »
Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah
I testify that there is no god but God
« أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدَ رَّسُولُ اللهِ »
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar-rasulullah
I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
« حَيَّ عَلَى الصَّلَاةِ، حَيَّ عَلَي الْفَلَاحِ »
Hayya ‘alas-salat, Hayya ‘alal-falah
Come to prayer, come to success
« قَدْ قَامَتِ الصَّلَاةُ، قَدْ قَامَتِ الصَّلَاةُ »
Qad qamatis-salat (x2)
The time for prayer has come
« اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ، اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ »
Allahu Akbar (x2)
God is greater
« لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ »
La ilaha illallah
There is no god but God
This is a call to yourself. Come to prayer, come to success. Religion will come. Be present now. Be here now. Because this is prayer. This is success. If you were wondering at this point whether you really should be somewhere else. No, this is a reminder. This is it. This is exactly where you should be right now.
Qad qamatis-salat. I find it's a very interesting phrase, because it literally means Salah has stood or Salah is standing. That's literally what it means, iqama is to stand. The iqama is to make something stand, to establish. This is actually the word that Allah (SWT) uses most commonly in relation to prayer. Make your prayer stand up. Literally that's what it means. Qad qamatis-salat means make your prayer stand up.
What do we say? Establish. Which is making something stand. That's exactly what we're doing. So you want to respond to the Divine command to establish your prayer. This is the time to actually start to do that, to establish it. By saying these words of the iqama that provide the foundations upon which your prayer will be built, in effect.
The prayer has stood up. It's almost like, funnily enough—because remember the iqama came out of a discussion in which even things like the striking of a bell was mentioned as a way in which to bring the believers together for prayer, correct or not—it was almost like that feeling. Like the drum roll. You're about to begin.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, God is greater. God is greater. La ilaha illallah, there is no God but God. Then you raise your hands and you go in.
Doing all of these things preceding your prayer: a quality wudhu, a positive mindset, realising what this occasion is really about, clearing out your physical environment in such a way that it is not going to cause you distractions, allowing yourself time to reflect and to think properly, and to say the iqama and then begin. You're giving yourself the best possible chance of having a high quality prayer.
The way to visualise or think about this is to imagine you could have a chart—sort of heart rate monitors, and a khushoo monitor, a humility monitor, a focus monitor—and there literally are such things because at any moment your khushoo is effectively somewhere being plotted on your book of Deeds. Because with that precision, our reality is known. That's the fact of the matter. It's as if what we're doing is ramping up the starting point by doing everything that we've just discussed so that you're starting as high as you can.
Then the chances are—even if you dip or you fluctuate through the prayer—the chances are (if you started high) your average throughout the Salah is likely to be higher than if you didn't bother with all of this preceding stuff and you just went straight in. It's typically very difficult for people to achieve a level of quality in their prayer that is any higher than where they began.
The Opening Proclamation
« اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ »
God is greater
What is the Takbiratul-Ihram?
The opening, sacred proclamation of God’s greatness
Say, ‘Praise belongs to God, who has no child nor partner in His rule. He is not so weak as to need a protector. Proclaim His limitless greatness!’
[Chapter 17, The Night Journey, Verse 111]
The prayer begins famously with the raising of the hands and the statement, Allahu Akbar. We raise our hands and we fold our hands and we say the words Allahu Akbar.
The first thing to understand when we say this phrase, Allahu Akbar, is what exactly are we saying? One could argue that actually, the phrase that is the most lost in the prayer is Allahu Akbar because we're saying it to mark every movement.
In the beginning, we say it with more focus, more concentration. But throughout the prayer, as we say, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, to move here and there, sometimes we forget what we're saying.
The Takbir is this declaration of God's greatness and the first Takbir is Takbiratul-Ihram. That's significant because Ihram basically means to make sacred. So what's happening is that by opening the prayer—by raising the hands and folding them and saying, Allahu Akbar—what we're signifying is that we've entered into a sacred space in which things that we normally do, or we're normally allowed to do, we cannot do.
We can't talk to other people, we can't drink, we can't look left and right. We can't walk off in different directions. All of these things become limited. We've entered into a very particular zone where there is a particular protocol.
You can imagine this as an example of a peasant who's come to meet the King of the land, and Allah opens the door of the palace, and now you're in the palace. You can't just be a peasant as you were on your field. You're in the palace. There are different rules that now apply. You are now on this journey within this Royal court to progress towards and to interact with the King of the land, in our case, the King of Everything.
So we say Allahu Akbar and we raise our hands. Now, the first thing for us to consider is that what does the raising and the folding of the hands signify? When we raise our hands, we're signifying this humility, submission, and giving up in front of Allah. It's important that we raise and fold the hands with an understanding of that.
It's also important to actually maintain the hands being raised for a moment whilst we internalise what it is that we're doing. A lot of the time people flap, they say Allahu Akbar. However, I don't believe that you can actually feel what you're doing significantly if you just say Allahu Akbar like you're almost bouncing your hands off the space and coming down.
We must point the palms forward, holding this position for a moment—perhaps even longer than a moment internalising feeling that submission and giving up in front of your Lord—and then folding the hands with humility in such a way that shows proper etiquette in front of your Lord. You're in a position of humility, and in a position of concentration. Folding of the hands prevents you from fidgeting, which otherwise we probably would do. So just note what this opening signifies.
The Opening Invocation
Du’a al-istiftah or Thana (statement of praise)
« سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّهُمَّ »
God, how perfect You are
« وَبِحَمْدِكَ »
Wa bi hamdika
And Yours is the praise
« وَتَبَارَكَ اسْمُكَ »
How blessed is Your name
« وَتَعَالَى جَدُّكَ »
Wa ta’ala jadduka
How lofty is Your status
« وَلاَ إِلَهَ غَيْرُكَ »
Wa la ilaha gharuk(a)
There is no god other than You
Then it's recommended to say (although not necessary) some opening form of invocation sometimes called thana: the praise—a statement of praise—or the Dua al-istiftah, which is like an opening kind of supplication. There are many different phrases that were reported that the Prophet (ﷺ) would begin with, and it's suggestive of the fact that naturally or organically there were different things that he might open the prayer with.
Famously, of course, we say the phrase Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika wa tabarakasmuka, wa ta’ala jadduka wa la ilaha ghairuk: How perfect you are. Oh God and yours is the praise. How blessed is your name, how lofty is your status, and there is no God other than you.
I've thought about this so I'm able to give that translation fluently. When I say Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, what I'm trying to do is think about “How perfect are you? Oh, God and yours is the praise” simultaneously.
That's really important for us because if you think about this phrase, look at what you're saying. The first thing, Subhanaka Allahumma is a very powerful phrase. In fact, in the Qur'an in the 10th chapter, Surah Younus, Allah says, about the believers, [ARABIC] that the proclamation of the believers in paradise will be Subhanaka Allahummah: How perfect you are. Oh God. Believers will be walking around paradise and every so often saying Subhanaka Allahummah, Subhanaka Allahummah. You're declaring Allah's perfection.
So you're literally saying the words that you hope to say in paradise. So, say them as if you want to say them in paradise.
How blessed is your name? ta’ala jadduka. How lofty is your status? la ilaha ghairuk. There's no God other than you, none worthy of my devotion, commitment, worship other than you. So it's a very powerful statement that we're saying in the second person addressing our Lord. These are words that we have to say with the intent, and mean what we're actually saying.
Taking Refuge in God from the Devil
« أعوذُ بِٱللَّهِ »
I take refuge in God
« مِنَ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ »
from Satan, the rejected one
We then take refuge in God from the devil, A’udhu billahi minash-Shaytanir-rajim. This can be understood at three levels.
The first level is the fact that we know that prior to the recitation of the Qur'an, we take refuge in Allah from the devil.
At the second level, we are taking refuge in Allah from the devil in the context of the prayer as a whole. We know experientially that when we enter into prayer, we're engaging in an act that symbolically defeats the devil. But we also know he's now coming at us from all angles, and we get very disturbed in our prayer with this and that thought, and we're sent off in different directions in our minds. So we're taking refuge in Allah, from the Devil, from basically destroying the prayer.
At a third broader level in life, we are invoking Allah's protection from the Devil, to distract us, divert us, and dilute us in all aspects of life.
Beginning with the Name of God
« بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ »
In the name of God, the Lord of mercy, the Giver of mercy
We begin with a statement of intention and focus and confidence, as well: Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim, in the name of Allah, the Lord of mercy, the giver of mercy.
Isn't it the case that usually before a task where we—especially when we are conscious that it might be challenging or difficult—almost automatically say, all right, “Bismillah.” We invoke Allah's name for the sake of giving us that extra boost or that confidence. But at the same time, what it also does is it clarifies to you—if you say it intentionally—what your intention is. I am doing this in Allah’s name, not in the name of Iqbal, or in the name of somebody else. I'm doing this for Him and for His Name to be elevated.
Then we cite His qualities of Rahman and Rahim. So his qualities of Rahma, which is this loving care, protection, and mercy. These are his dominant qualities and should remind us and fill us, at the beginning of the process, with hope.
The Opening Chapter
« اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّٰهِ رَبِّ الْعٰلَمِیْنَۙ »
All praise belongs to God, Lord of all that exists
« الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِیْمِۙ »
The Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
« مٰلِكِ یَوْمِ الدِّیْنِؕ »
Master of the Day of Judgement
« اِیَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ »
It is You we serve
« وَ اِیَّاكَ نَسْتَعِیْنُؕ »
wa iyyaka nasta’in
and it is You we ask for help
« اِهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِیْمَۙ »
Guide us on the straight path
« صِرَاطَ الَّذِیْنَ اَنْعَمْتَ عَلَیْهِمْ »
Sirat alladhina an’amta ‘alayhim
the path of those whom You have favoured
« غَیْرِ الْمَغْضُوْبِ عَلَیْهِمْ »
ghairil maghdubi ‘alayhim
not of those who have incurred Your anger
« وَ لَا الضَّآلِّیْنَ۠ »
nor of those who have gone astray
We then go through Surah Al-Fatihah, and we say the words of Surah Al-Fatihah. In summary, what I want to say about Surah Al-Fatihah here at this stage is simply this: be aware that the focal point of Surah Al-Fatihah is the request for guidance.
Surah Al-Fatihah, if you look at the structure of it, it's a build-up in terms of praising Allah.
You praise Allah, Lord of all that exists. You recognize again His qualities of Rahma and Ar Rahman Ar Rahim. You affirm his being the master, the owner of the day of judgement, and you cast your mind forward to the reality of the hereafter.
You then affirm your commitment Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’in, You alone we serve: your commitment. But then your need as well: And you alone we ask for help, which is a very interesting phrase in the middle. It's like the pivot. You're switching now from the praise of Allah and recognition of His qualities to then bringing you into the picture. And not just you, because it's in the plural. We're saying we serve you. We ask you for help—even if you're praying alone, you're making a statement on behalf of some collective of believers.
We serve you, we worship you alone, and we ask you alone for help. Then you actually ask Him for help. Basically, Ihdinas-siratal mustaqim: guide us on the straight path, and then the rest of Surah Al-Fatihah is simply elaborating what that path is: the path of those whom you favour, Sirat alladhina an’amta ‘alayhim, not those who encourage your anger, nor those who have gone astray. Ameen: may it be so. May what be so? May we be guided. So this is really important because when you're going into a process and you understand your objective, it's going to help you focus on what you're doing.
This is very easy to forget. It's very easy to forget. If you think about it—given that the Fatihah is so central to the prayer—even if you look at it from a more technical standpoint to the validity of the prayer. But the thing is that you can actually integrate these two perspectives. Because it's not only necessary from a technical standpoint, the reason it is necessary is because of what it contains by way of a message. It exactly shows us the place of salat as almost a stopping point or a milestone in our journey of life, to stop and ask for directions, and then travel a bit and then stop and ask for directions. That's why we're stopping.
This is something which people—if they can really think about it in this way—can really change their prayer altogether. Because what it does is it reminds you: "I don't know exactly where I'm going. I'm trying my best and I'm trying to go in the right direction, but I'm not taking it for granted that I am guided. I'm not it taking for granted I am on the right path. Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not.
Because frankly, life sometimes feels like you're just walking through this fog and you're just putting one step here and one step there. There's uncertainty around it. Even when we might be confident—you can get confident travellers who are going completely in the wrong direction.
So it's this idea of there being a great humility and a blessing in the Salat of us realising, actually, if we realise from the outset—even before we say Allahu Akbar—that the fundamental reason to why I'm here is to stop and ask for directions, get my bearings again, reorient myself before I continue on the next stage. It's a very powerful thing and will enliven our Surah Al Fatihah.
Sealing It Off
« امين »
May it be so!
Abu Hurayrah reported: The Prophet (may God grant him blessings and peace) said, “When the Imam says Amin, then say Amin as the angels say Amin. Whoever says Amin when the angels do, their previous sins will be forgiven.” [al-Bukhari]
Reciting Additional Verses from the Qur'an
Then recite any other Surah. The minimum recitation is three verses, or one long verse which is equal in length to three short verses. However, it is better to recite a complete Surah.
Then, of course, we recite in the opening units of prayer, we are encouraged to recite more from the Quran—which is interesting because as if it's a response to the request we've asked for guidance. Well, guess what, the Quran is guidance. When you look at it from that perspective, it also helps us to see it again as a reorientation.
The questions are always, "How much Quran do I need to recite? Is this verse enough? Are this many words enough?" This is important, but missing the point. The point is to recite something that is meaningful to you by way of giving you some guidance. The problem is we just fall into the short surahs just for the purposes of, "Well, let's just get a few verses done and move on."
I mean, frankly, even if we spent our entire lives just reciting, for example, three short surahs, then even within each of these three short chapters of the Qur'an, all are very different. They're very different in their meaning. They're very different in what mindset and psychology you would have when reciting them, They’re different in the nature of the guidance or the reminder that they would provide you if only you were to say them knowing what you're saying. So I think the importance of knowing what you're saying must extend to Surah Al-Fatiha in order for it to have the guiding effect that is the point of reciting it in the first place.
Interestingly, at the time of the Prophet (SAW) one could conceive of one of the reasons why Salat was emphasised in congregation was because this is when the companions would get to hear the Qur'an. You're actually bringing everybody together to hear the Qur'an to get the guidance. You're asking for guidance and then the guidance is there. Sometimes, of course, the revelation would even have taken place at this moment. So it's like you're going to come for the live access, that's when it's basically happening, it's taking place. It's important for us to appreciate what's going on in the verses that we do recite after Surah Al Fatiha.
« سُبْحَانَ رَبِّيَ الْعَظِيمِ »
How perfect is My Lord, the Majestic
We then go into the ruku, the bowing position.
We lower ourselves and it's significant because this is now the first time that we are moving. I mean, for a long time now we have been standing and preparing for the prayer—standing throughout everything that we've just discussed—and now we're in motion.
We say Allahu Akbar again, and some people will raise their hands again to say, Allahu Akbar and others won't. There's a difference of opinion about the necessity of that or not. Certainly, it doesn't invalidate the prayer, but I certainly think it's something that we should pay more attention to.
I always say to people, if you don't do it, then consider doing it, and if you do already do it, then make sure you do it properly. Because the people who do raise their hands before they go into the ruku, by this point, they're already just half raising. This is flapping.
I see it all the time. I do observe people praying from the perspective of learning and seeing what the situation is—not to judge them but to learn and to understand what the situation is—and this is extremely common that people just flap. It just becomes a thing. They're not thinking about what they're doing anymore. This has failed to become a meaningful action.
Frankly, if you really think about it, it's probably better not to do it than to do it disrespectfully. Instead just say, Allahu Akbar and move into your ruku.
You then go in. Obviously, your back should be straight. The back of your head should be aligned with the back. You're on a horizontal with your hands on your knees. You're in this position, which you could argue is the most awkward position of the prayer. It's very unstable. Maybe sometimes if you've been tired or otherwise, you may even have found yourself regaining your balance slightly after having gone into the ruku.
It's interesting to note that because you can contrast it against the statements of [ARABIC], which is what we say. "How perfect is My Lord, the majestic, the Supreme." Altheem gives this sense of stability, of groundedness. Whereas on the one hand, we're kind of wobbling around in our ruku. I'm not saying we should be wobbling around, but it is that kind of position which someone if you just were to get a push, you'd be over. But you contrast against what you're saying, which, of course, is relevant to think about.
That contrast is even more obvious when you look at the prostration where we say, Subhana rabia allah, how perfect is my Lord the most high? Where we're in the lowest kind of physical position that we would typically find ourselves in.
So Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim: how perfect is My Lord, the Majestic or the supreme. How perfect is My Lord, the majestic? How perfect is my Lord the Majestic? Very important.
If you then reflect on these words you realise not to say, Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim, Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim, Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim, because you translate that. How perfect, my Lord the majestic. How perfect, my Lord the majestic. You can't even say it fast enough. It doesn't make sense. You don't declare someone's perfection or how amazing someone is by doing it in those terms. Rather, you would give emphasis.
In fact, if you're really present, if you're really having the presence of mind, each one would actually be better than the previous one because you see when you think about it, if you're declaring someone's perfection, you can't capture their perfection in your mind at any one point, but you can capture it in higher degrees, but that needs time. So actually, what you should be doing is you say the first statement but actually you think of something.
This is another critical point is that we often think that in our prayer. It's the confusion that we're not allowed to think about anything.
But if you think about it, in order to communicate meaningfully, it's impossible not to think about things that are relevant to communicating meaningfully. Because you're not just declaring Allah's perfection and His Majesty in abstract terms, you're declaring them in the context of what you know about Him. In the Qur'an, I often mention at the end of Surah al waqiah, for example, which is the 56th chapter in the Qur'an. The last two sections of passages end with the statement for [ARABIC]. so exalt the name of your Lord, the Majestic.
It's as if that's the command to which we're responding when we say Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim. Those two statements come after a series of verses in which Allah is pointing out certain aspects of His capability and our incapability. "Do you not see the water that you drink? Did you send it down from the sky, or did we send it down?" Like, who are you, basically. And look who I am is what Allah is saying. And various other examples. So then if you get this, declare the perfection of your Lord the majestic.
Then another example is when the soul is about to leave the body and people are gathered around, etc. Allah (SWT) is basically challenging us to say, Well, are you able to put the soul back in or prevent you from leaving?
Oh, no, you can't. Who are you? So then declare the perfection of your Lord, the Majestic.
So the point is that we can and should think about such things to add life to the statement. When we say it, there are a million. In fact, there are, by definition, infinite reasons to say Subhanallah or Subhana Rabbiyal-’Adhim. So we can get more creative, and give more life to our prayer by thinking about the very things that relate to the meeting.
The problem when it comes to thinking about things in prayers is when you think about things that are disconnected from God. If you're thinking about your problems in relation to Allah, even those are fine to think about, too. Because again, if you're asking Allah for help, it's natural to think about the thing that you're asking for help with. It's human to do that.
So I think this is important for us to think about. We then say Semi Allah ke man hamedah we lift ourselves up. I always think that the action of going down in front of Allah psychologically surely is different from the action of coming up in front of Allah.
Going down in front of Allah might feel more appropriate. It's keener. But when you're coming up in front of Allah, that's quite daring. If you think about it, it's like if you really imagine the live situation. Imagine that you are praying in front of Allah in the hereafter in a way that you had no doubt anymore about his presence. So the invisibility aspect is kind of gone.
I'm sure we would all appreciate that we would even be reluctant to come up from any position, which we feel down in. Of course, I'm not saying, therefore, you stay forever in your ruku. But I think that coming up should be with something of a recognition of that or something of a hesitation, something of an extra humility that I'm raising myself up in front of my Lord. Again, that's psychologically very different.
I think that's a profound thing to think about if you're able to kind of view it in that way. Because someone who is thinking about this at this level is clearly thinking about the fact that Allah is in front of me. He’s not just some abstract theoretical concept called Allah over there somewhere that is talked about in the books. You're coming up here.
Very interestingly, we say the one phrase that is different from any other phrase where it comes to denoting movements in the prayer. We say, Sami’Allahu liman hamidah: May Allah hear the one who praises Him. It could be understood as a statement of fact or as a kind of supplication.
Standing and Praising
« سَمِعَ اللَّهُ لِمَنْ حَمِدَهُ »
Sami’Allahu liman hamidah:
God hears (or may God hear) the one who praises Him
« رَبَّنَا وَلَكَ الْحَمْدُ »
Rabbana wa lakal hamd
Our Lord! To You belongs all praise!
And then we, of course, we praise Rabbana wa lakal hamd. And there are extended versions of that praise as well. But the point being here and again, this is extremely common. It's extremely common. Recently, I was observing in places where I've been doing jummah and other prayers. People in their Sunnah prayers—especially after an obligatory prayer—typically pray at high speeds, because in truth, they want to leave.
But they feel the obligation to kind of fit in this extra two or four units or what have you. The way you know that it's rushed is when Sami’Allahu liman hamidah, they're barely up, and then they've gone back down. So they didn't really think to themselves, oh, Allah, hears the one who praises him. Because if they thought Allah hears the one who praises him, they're going to praise him properly first before they move on. I mean that just naturally follows.
This is the problem with a mechanical kind of prayer. It's a problem. So if you're going to say Allah hears the one who praises him, or may Allah hear the one who praises him, then praise Him: “Our Lord to you belongs all praise!” And then, of course, there are various extensions of that as well. But take your time and treat that position—even though it might feel like an interim or a filler position almost—but treat it as a position in its own right that has its own kind of expression, its own time. Take your time.
« سُبْحَانَ رَبِّيَ الأَعْلَى »
How perfect is My Lord, the Most High
Then the big movement from standing all the way down into prostration. Allahu Akbar, and we go into the prostration. The prostration is significant and the most iconic position of the prayer. It’s the position that we know where we are closest to our Lord and the physical position that should be the most beloved to us really in our lives.
There's no other position that truly captures the essence of what it means to be an Abd—a servant, a worshipper—than this particular position.
If we're saying, well, actually, the reason for me to exist is to manifest this servitude, this worship. Well, this is the position that captures that. A true believer—even when they're standing walking around—it's almost like their heart should be in prostration. Almost so when you're then physically in prostration, it's almost like this alignment should take place where you are, where you're supposed to be. And in some ways, ironically, there's no higher position you can be in.
So I think that it's very important that again, we allow ourselves to feel that when we say, how perfect is my Lord, the most high Subhana Rabbiyal-A’la.
Similarly to what we said before, we allow ourselves to capture and to feel and to express our true feeling of devotion and commitment to Allah. In both the Ruku and the Sujood, we can extend beyond three statements. It could be five, seven, multiple statements. The other thing about the Sujood, which is emphasised, is the importance of supplication. It's extremely common.
I mean, one of the most common findings I have found that people have—when they've taken various courses with me on Salat or we've discussed it—is the fact that, oh, I can actually supplicate in my prostration. Oh, I can supplicate before the prayer ends.
Because culturally speaking, we are very used to the idea of Salam Salam, now I'm going to raise my hands to supplicate as if in the Salat you don't.
Whereas prophetic practise is the opposite. Prophetic practise is to supplicate more in the prayer. After the prayer, yes, engage in forms of remembrance, but mostly forms of just remembrance and praising Allah, but not actual active supplications. Yes, one or two here and there, perhaps, but mostly the supplications are emphasised in the prayer, which makes sense. You're in the prayer, right. That's when you would expect to do that. So when you're in that prostration, it's important to take benefit and take advantage of the fact of the supplication.
The final point, just to mention in relation to prostration is in terms of the movement between the prostrations and the fact that we should allow ourselves to be calm and slow in between these movements. Most people's prayer is lost—as we talked about—in the ruku.
It's lost when it comes to going from the ruku to standing up and going into prostration. It’s lost in between the two prostrations. There are many prophetic narrations that indicate that the prayer can be invalidated as a result of not being still enough and calm enough in these positions between these positions.
It's not just a matter of artificially holding your position. It's actually a matter of being internally at rest. There's this quality in Arabic called tomannina, which means tranquilly.
In one prophetic narration, it occurs as the word which is being used to describe when he's correcting a companion who prayed in a rushed fashion. He told him that you haven't prayed. Go back and pray again. You haven't prayed. What he explained to him was that you need to be in these positions and have that totatmeen until you are in a state of rest. Tranquilly.
So it's not just an external state, right? An internal state. Now we know that in-between positions of the prayer, you're in a state of already thinking about the next thing. You're in this situation of flow or almost like agitation. You're just going to the next thing and to hold feels uncomfortable.
You're behind in Imam, who might take an extra two seconds right in one position and you feel like what's going on here? It's as if you are just like an elastic band that's being pulled and pulled and just desperate to fly until you let go and you're off.
No, we need to be at rest and then consciously moving into each position, consciously moving out of each position. So that's the last thing I'd mention in terms of prostration. In between, sit at rest. We know that the Prophet (SAW) would add some extra supplications here, my Lord, forgive me, my Lord. Forgive me, Rab igfilli Rab igfilli. There are also more extended versions of that, too.
« التحيات لله والصلوات والطيبات »
At-tahiyyatu lillahi was-salawatu wat-tayyibat
All compliments are for God and all prayers and all pure deeds
« السلام عليك أيها النبي »
As-salamu ‘alayka ayyuhan-nabiyyu
Peace be upon you Prophet
« ورحمة لله وبركاته »
wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh
and the Mercy of God and His blessings
« السلام علينا و على عباد الله الصالحين »
As-salamu ‘alayna wa ‘ala ‘ibadillahis-salihin
Peace be upon us and upon the righteous servants of God
« أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله »
Ash-hadu al-la ilaha ill-Allah
I bear witness that there is no god but God
« (وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَهُ) »
(wahdahu, la sharika lahu)
(He is one and has no partner)
« وأشهد أن محمدا عبده و رسوله »
wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluh
and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger
Once we've come out of the second prostration, we find ourselves in the long sitting position. Or perhaps the shortest sitting position, if we're only going as far as the tashahood itself.
I do want to make a point here—which is actually common to the rest of the prayer, but occurs to me specifically in this context as well—once you've come out of two prostrations, it should have affected you in some way. You should feel as though something meaningful has just happened. Typically after a meaningful deep engagement, one is left somewhat reflective, somewhat quiet, somewhat silent.
The reason I'm mentioning that here is because at the start of any position—but perhaps especially at the start of the long sitting position when there are a number of things potentially that you're about to say—it's worth gathering yourself before you actually start speaking.
One of the very common habits we have when it comes to our Salat is not giving ourselves time to breathe: literally, to take a pause. It's as if we think we have to keep talking. So the allahu akber, subhana rabbi al azeen, rabbana wa lakal hamd it's very continuous. Whereas, actually allowing ourselves that pause allows us to consolidate after what just took place, and also allows us to get into the frame of mind of what is about to happen. That's an important point we should try to bear in mind: to take that moment after you've moved into a new position before you actually start to speak. There's no compulsion to be quick off the mark when it comes to expressing ourselves. That's something to bear in mind.
Now we have come out of the prostration and we find ourselves in the sitting position. The opening words of the sitting position atta hiyat u lillahi are very interesting and quite unusual in many ways if we examine them closely.
We know from one of the prophetic narrations that at the atta hiyat u lillahi is effectively the appropriate equivalent for Allah of saying Assalamu Alaikum, to another human being. That's how we should understand this phrase atTahia tulilah. Tahiya literally means “a greeting” in the Qur'an. When you are greeted with a greeting—with a Tahia—so return a greeting with something better or at least the same. In the context of the human exchange of the greetings of peace.
The point is that the word tahiya means greeting or compliments. Like you might have—back in the day when we used to have these things—you would have compliment slips that you would basically just express your compliments, your acknowledgement, your recognition of the other. So here we begin with greetings or compliments to Allah.
Then that begs the question that if we're basically offering greetings, isn't it odd that we're doing that so far into the prayer? Why isn't that something we would do at the beginning and not just now?
On a point of reflection, this plays in nicely with the idea that in the prayer you're progressing through stages of proximity. The prostration basically captures or symbolises that closest point as we know. So it's like we've come into the final stage where the final door opens.
In this journey to meet with royalty, you fall into prostration because of the overwhelming nature of that more direct kind of proximity or interaction. Then you're coming up and you're at ease and you're now offering greetings, compliments, and recognition.
This is the only way of exactly understanding why you're offering greetings at this particular stage of the prayer. The sitting position is a much more relaxed position. It's the most relaxed position of the prayer (even though some people can find it difficult sometimes to sit.)
But it is the least rigorous of the positions. After you've stood, bowed, prostrated, you've sat, and you're somewhat at ease. It's as if now you really feel as though you're in the company of your Lord, and you're saying greetings are to Allah, to God, to my Lord, and just as greetings are for Him and Him, so are my prayers.
So are you at tayyibat, which is basically all pure good wholesome deeds. Then, for the first time in the prayer, you turn your attention away from Allah. Not away in the sense that you're not conscious of Him, but your addressee is someone completely different. It is the Prophet SAW. Many of us say Assalamu alika ayyuhan nabbiyu warrahmatullahi wabarakatuh, we offer the greetings of peace with which we're very familiar.
Whilst we're addressing the Prophet, peace be upon him, in our minds, we're sometimes not even thinking about him. We have no idea, we're just going to say the words. But when you turn in normal conversation or interaction—when you turn your address from one person to the next—something shifts right in your mind. It changes what you're thinking, what you’re feeling, and how you're interacting because you are literally directly addressing the Prophet (SAW).
We need to acknowledge that shift that we are addressing Allah—we have been throughout the prayer, and we're still mindful of Him—but this is a very specific and direct address to the Messenger himself.
We then say Assalamu alina wa ala ibad allahu saleehein. Just as greetings are to Allah, and just as we offer greetings now to the messenger—the chief Minister of the King, if you want to put it that way—we are now invoking peace, security, and salam upon ourselves and upon every righteous servant of God.
This is very interesting. What's going on here? It's as if you're calling everyone to attention. When you say assalam alekoum to someone, you're offering them a greeting. But what are you doing when you offer someone a greeting? You're basically initiating the grounds for an exchange.
After the greeting, then you say what you want to say. Now it's the greetings to Allah, greetings to the messenger—invoking that same wording of greeting upon yourself and all righteous servants of God—and then you say Ashhadu Allah ilaha wa ash'hadu anna muhhamadu wa rasulu.
A very helpful image to help capture the power of what is happening right now is to assume that you are literally in the presence of everybody. Just imagine that you, as a citizen of the land, have now come into the Royal Palace. The King is there, the chief Minister, there are coaches, and the other citizens are there. Basically the whole team is present.
As Allah says in innama waliyyukum allahu wa rasulu wa la theena amanu, your true friends, allies, and protectors are who? God, His messenger, and those who believe. And you've just called on all of the team to say what? I'm part of this. I'm in this Ashado. I want you all to know. I bear witness that there is no God but God, He is one and has no partner and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. You basically reaffirm what we call the first pillar. The central statement that governs the universe—certainly the first half—la ilaha illalah: There is no God but God. You're affirming that.
This is a statement of strength. It's a statement of conviction.
I always tell people, “Don't do a limp Shahada.” Raise that finger strong. Make it strong like you're taking that testimony like somebody who's about to give testimony in court. If they know their truth, and they really want to say that truth, then they raise their hands to give an oath. They mean business. They're not looking lazy and faffing around and have their hand flapping here and there. No, they're taking a note. This is serious. Now you're offering your truth and you're sharing what you want everybody to know. It's an open court. You want everyone to know, and you say what you have to say.
We also know from one of the prophetic narrations that raising the finger is harder on the devil than a rod of iron.
It acts in that way. We understand that in a metaphorical sense as well. Which is to say that what the shahada represents is exactly the opposite of what the devil wants us to believe, wants us to follow, wants us to live our lives by. It's a very strong statement.
It's really interesting because what it also does, it makes us reflect on this issue of the notion of becoming Muslim. Because we say, “How do you become Muslim?” Well, you say this shahada.
It's like you're becoming Muslim every time you pray. You're becoming Muslim again, and then you're becoming Muslim again, and there's a power in that. What you start to realise is becoming Muslim is not a technical one point in a lifetime moment. Whether you are, “born into a Muslim family” or “born Muslim,” as we sometimes say is not really the point.
What matters is our state now. Are we maintaining, improving, correcting our state? Prayer helps us come into this environment in which we are literally with our own tongues, reaffirming that truth again, and again, and again, and again. It's a constant.
There's something really powerful about that. We should think about that and bear it in mind throughout the obligatory prayers.
There are two shahadas in every prayer aside from the Fajr prayer. There are two units in every other prayer in which we sit, and we say the Shahada. Once in the Fajr prayer. Through the 17 units of obligatory prayer, nine out of 17 units, we will sit and say ashhadu alla ilaha illallah wahdahu la sharika lahu lahu wa-ash-hadu anna Muhammadan abduhoo wa rasooluhu.
Invoking Blessings Upon the Messenger
« اللّٰہُمَ (صَلِّ / بَارِکْ) عَلٰی مُحَمَّد »
Allahumma salli / barik ‘ala Muhammad
O God, send Your grace / blessings upon Muhammad
« وَّ عَلٰٓی اٰلِ مُحَّمَدٍ »
Wa ‘ala ali Muhammad
and the family (or followers) of Muhammad
« کَمَا (صَلَّیْتَ / بَارَکْتَ) عَلٰٓی اِبْرٰھِیْمَ »
Kama sallayta / barakta ‘ala Ibrahim
Just as you sent your grace / blessings upon Abraham
« وَعَلٰٓی اٰلِ اِبْرٰہِیْمَ »
Wa ’ala ali Ibrahim
and the family (or followers) of Abrahim
« اِنَّکَ حَمِیْدٌ مَجِیْدٌ »
Indeed You are Praiseworthy, Glorified
It's strongly encouraged—and some say some very strongly emphasised—that we should now effectively offer the statement of what we call the salawat or the durood: ALLAHUMMA SALLI ALA MUHAMMADIW WA ALA AALI MUHAMMADIN KAMAA SALLAITA ALA IBRAHIMA WA ALA AALI IBRAHIMA INNAKA HAMIDUM MAJID. ALLAHUMMA BAARIK ALA MUHAMMADIW WA ALA AALI MUHAMMADIN KAMAA BAARAKTA ALA IBRAHIMA WA ALA AALI IBRAHIMA INNAKA HAMIDUM MAJID.
There are two points I want to make about this. One way in which to understand the significance of these words, these statements, is as a preparation for the supplication that is recommended before we conclude the prayer. It is an appropriate etiquette of supplication to conclude the supplication with praise of God and invoking blessings upon the Messenger. The supplication of such a person who shows that etiquette is more likely to be responded to. But there's also something else which I think is really lost. Most Muslims, most believers, when we think about, why do we say ALLAHUMMA SALLI ALA MUHAMMAD? Do we consider why we say what exactly we are asking for?
Because it's a supplication. We're asking Allah to do something. Most times when you make a supplication, you know what you're asking for? For example, I want a car, I want a house, I want good health, I want wealth. Whatever you want, you ask for. You have an idea of what the implication of that is like—what it would feel like or look like—if you were to receive it.
What does it feel or look like for that supplication that we're making to be answered? To say, ALLAHUMMA SALLI ALA MUHAMMAD LLAHUMMA BAARIK ALA MUHAMMAD, which literally means something along the lines of, “Oh, God, give your blessings and Grace to Muhammad and the family and followers of Muhammad, just as you did upon Abraham and the family and followers of Abraham, indeed you are praiseworthy and glorified.” Is there something that happened for Ibrahim Alehi salam and subsequent to Ibrahim Alehi salam, that we're basically asking for some sort of replication of in a way that's appropriate.
The whole point here, in brief, is that we are asking for the legacy of the Messenger to be successful. That's what this supplication is actually about. Because when we say ALLAHUMMA SALLI ALA MUHAMMAD, we are asking in Arabic in a form of tazeem, which means to glorify or magnify.
We are asking for the station of the Messenger to be raised. To be raised, how and where? To be raised in the eyes of people and in the perception of people. Some link it also to the station in the hereafter even though—regardless of whether you and I supplicate for it—he will have his position. Maqam e Mahmoud, that praiseworthy station hereafter from which he will then supplicate for all people. Even though he will have that station regardless, we still supplicate in this way.
We want the perception of the Messenger, the understanding of the Messenger—and then what does that mean? Fundamentally, it means a respect for the Qur'an and a following and an obedience to the one true God to be elevated in life. It’s a Barakah or blessing for his efforts to be amplified. His life has passed. Whatever he did, he did during his life. But obviously there was so much barakah in it. There was so much blessing in it because look at the legacy. Look at the effects. The continued constant thing that's going on because of his efforts.
That's what we need to realise we're asking for. Why this is significant is because when we say these words, I like to invite people to imagine that you're a companion praying behind the messenger, saying these words. Just imagine how powerful that would be. Super emotional. Especially when it was at a time in the mission—which was most of the time—when things were a struggle. It was difficult. It was tough. There was oppression, there were issues. You felt like you were up against it.
What are the people saying about their leader? ALLAHUMMA SALLI ALA MUHAMMAD. Basically, help our leaders succeed. And he did. Within that is surely a request to help us help our leaders to succeed. Meaning, especially now that the Messenger has passed. Yes, Allah decrees, and He does what He does, but the onus on carrying this forward is on us.
In a way which I think is lost on a lot of people, what we're asking for is our collective ability to rise to the challenge of doing what's necessary for his mission and his legacy to endure. Because it's only by virtue of the work of believers—as it has always been through the generations, and it is the same now, and it will be in the future as a consequence of what we do or don't do—that legacy, that reputation, the Deen effectively will flourish or otherwise. That's something really important.
It aligns with this first part. There's a strong sense of mission conviction and confidence.
There's something energising about the words that we're saying in the sitting position, on the one hand. But on the other hand, there's a lot of salam, peace, and security and all of this going on. So there's a paradoxical mix of words and statements in the setting that should relax us and give us a sense of great peace and tranquility. At the same time, once you now offer your salam to right and left, we should be energised. We should have a get up and go kind of attitude off the back of what we've just said and done.
Sometimes, I give the analogy of the prayer being like putting your phone on charge. When you go back to your phone and you see it's 100%. Some of that energy seems to transfer to you. You feel a sense of optimism about what you can now achieve (whether that's for good or bad is another question.) But the point is, you feel like “Now I can do something because my phone is charged.”
Similarly, when your internal battery is properly charged off the back of the prayer, you should feel that motivation. Now I'm going to do something. Expend yourself until your next prayer comes, then you can recharge again. This is the notion of the idea.
« اللهم إني ظلمت نفسي ظلمًا كثيرًا »
Allahumma inni dhalamtu nafsi dhulman kathira
O God, I have wronged myself so much
« ولا يغفر الذنوب إلا أنت »
wa la yaghfirudh-dhunuba illa anta
and no one forgives sins except You
« فاغفر لي مغفرة من عندك، وارحمني »
faghfirli maghfiratam-min ‘indika warhamni
so forgive me completely from Yourself and have mercy upon me
« إنك أنت الغفور الرحيم »
You are the Forgiving, the Giver of Mercy
Then we finish with supplication.
There are various supplications the Prophet, peace be upon him, said. Some were more emphasised. One of which was for the Prophet to take refuge in God from the punishment of the Hellfire, from the punishment of the grave, from the trials of living and dying, and from the trials of the Dajjal or the Antichrist.
This seems an unusual end after what otherwise was a largely positive or optimistic type of narrative through the prayer. It's like just before we finish, we're saying, “Whatever else happens, safeguard us from these worst possible outcomes.” And there are many other final supplications and it's open to any kind of supplication.
The point to emphasise here is, culturally speaking, a lot of us are used to the idea that prayer is not the place for supplication. After the prayer, that's when we raise our hands and make and offer supplications. But that doesn't wasn’t the prophetic practise.
Prophetic practise is to fill the prayer itself with all sorts of supplication, sometimes right at the beginning after the takbeer. In prostration. At the end of the prayer just before the Salam. So definitely take the opportunity to infuse your Salat extra supplications in between the prostrations which we mentioned. Definitely do that.
If you want to supplicate after Salat, I'm not saying not to do that or take away from that. However, realise that's more of a time for the Prophet, peace be upon him, in which he would generally glorify and praise Allah and remember our life if you like.
The request was typically done in prayer. It makes sense if you understand prayer in the way that we've been speaking about it. It makes sense this is the time to ask. Because once you've looked to the right and left and you've said, Assalam o alikum warahmatullah, you've left that intimate company now. It's an odd thing. I've walked out of the palace and I'm starting to ask. But hang on a second, you were just there. So why don't you just ask now? It’s something to bear in mind.
Closing with the Greeting of Peace
« السلام عليكم »
As-salamu ‘alaykum (x2)
Peace be upon you
« ورحمة الله »
wa rahmatullah (x2)
and the mercy of God
The final point, when you look to the right and left and you say Assalam o alikum warrahmatullah, be conscious or cognizant of the fact that the first addressee of that Salam are the people to your right and left if you're praying in congregation or in the family.
For a lot of us, I think this is lost on us. It's as if the Salam is not part of the prayer because you're effectively turning away. That's why, in some fiqh, just one salam o alikum to the right, that's enough. It breaks the prayer. You're done. There's a sense to that because the point is that you've turned away and you've addressed someone else now, so that shows you've exited. The prayer is over. When you finish, we're saying whatever you want to say in a sitting position. This is the etiquette of exit.
Bear in mind that you're actually addressing, and it's not a problem to actually look at the people on your right and left. You don't have to keep your eyes low down and looking at your shoulders. Often common people don't know what they're doing when that happens.
There's also an interesting thing to point out here. Oftentimes we hear very elaborate, almost sort of melodious assalam o alikum wa rahmatullah to the right and left. But you never say asslama alikum to anybody like that. It shows what you're actually doing here because you greet the people like you normally greet the people. That is the point and that's what you're doing.
Some say if the people aren't around you, then maybe—in the prayer, when we say peace be upon all the righteous servants of God, whether they're here or not—you're extending that to the community, right and left. Others also include the Angels, etc. But it's more particularly people is the point.
How Do You Feel When You Finish the Prayer?
When we finish a prayer. How do we feel about what has actually happened?
We can all think of certain things—even mundane things like events, activities, or experiences—where having gone through that experience had a profound effect on us. It caused us to stop and think, “Wow, that was amazing.” You're affected. The point is, if you're no different after the prayer than you were when you went in, basically nothing happened. That's a good sign to you that nothing meaningful may have happened.
An accepted prayer is almost certainly likely to be one that you have felt the effect of. It's a little bit like an accepted Ramadan. It's one that you will have felt the effect of. Because the point is all this goes together. You did it in the right way. So you felt the effect. And because you did it in the right way, you have the reward effect of this life right now because you feel more guided, more in tune, more aligned. There's an acceptance by your Lord.
Similarly, it's the same thing with the salah. Effectively as one of the powerful Quranic phrases informs us with respect to the day of judgement [ARABIC] on that day, you're enough to take yourself to account. That's true today, too. We can do that for ourselves. We know when we allow ourselves to think deeply about our current situation, our practises, our thoughts, our intentions, etc. We can take ourselves to account.
After your prayers is a good point in time to evaluate and consider what you said. We'll all find things if you think carefully. I certainly know when I finish a prayer and I think for a moment, “How was that?” I'll identify something that no, it wasn't quite right. I need to pick up on this next time or just make sure I'm not so careless about such and such a thing or whatever it might be.
May Allah help us offer our prayers in a way that aligns with the principles that we've discussed and shared. May He make us of those who offer prayers that are accepted and of a high quality and a high consistency.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How Do I Overcome the Feeling of the Routine Nature of Salah?
A common question is, “How do I overcome the feeling of the routine nature of salah and the fact that I'm struggling with maintaining a high level of concentration and focus throughout, or I suppose, from one prayer to the next?”
Yes, no doubt, there is a certain degree of volatility. Prayers have some ups and downs. Sometimes with more focus, more concentration. Other times less so to a certain degree. That fluctuation is understandable and is part and part of being a human being.
But our job as human beings—in broad terms—is to bring all aspects of our life to be a reflection of this core statement, "La ilaha illa Allah" there is no God but God. This means that there is none worthy of my commitment and devotion except for God.
Now the thing is, we can all think of things in our lives that preoccupy us and take our focus. We have no problems concentrating on them in terms of our engagement with them—whether it's with other people or certain processes—we can all think of things where we are able to focus and we are able to concentrate.
However, for many of us, Salat is one of the engagements, meetings, activities, and practices where we disproportionately struggle more relative to other things. So I think one way for us to think about this for ourselves as individuals is to think about this in comparative terms. If I know that I am able, as a human being, to focus and to concentrate on certain things, what is it about the salat that is preventing me from being able to focus?
We may say, “Well, it's because of the invisible nature of who we are engaging with.”
Yes, Allah is invisible in one sense. But on the other hand, He is visible in every way from the point of view that the works of God or the acts of God—the things that Allah is doing as a result of His commands and His orders—are constantly going on all around us.
What the Salat challenges us to do—if we are even calling ourselves Muslim in the first place—is to try to see everything through the lens of God-centeredness and through what I call sometimes the “God filter.”
So you have the ability to experience not just your prayer, but all aspects of your life in a way that you are mindful of your need, your contingency, your dependence, and your interaction with God at all times.
Sometimes—when it comes to an individual prayer—if you're feeling that sense of repetition, it leads to a sense of boredom, which leads to a lack of concentration, focus, and right engagement in the prayer.
There are two things I think fundamentally can help with this. Number one is to bring yourself into a state of mind—which we should ideally be striving for just generally speaking anyway and the salah helps us with—is to achieve a state of mind where you are not taking your next salah for granted because none of us has any guarantee about how long we're going to live.
Sometimes, deep down in our subconscious, we work on some assumption that we're going to be around for a long time, maybe even forever. I mean, that's how we act and behave. The truth of the matter is that our opportunities are indeed very limited. There is this notion of again—as part of the prophetic advice of praying the farewell prayer—imagine that this is it.
This is the last one. There's not going to be any more after this one or after today.
In fact, by way of a thought experiment, imagine that your entry into paradise will be determined on the basis of the average standard of your last five prayers. As of now, right now—let's not worry about what you will do in the future—but your last five prayers, the average standard of your last five prayers. Let's say your last five obligatory prayers. Imagine that those prayers are the basis on which you will be admitted into paradise or not, whether your deeds will be accepted or not.
Now, when we think about it like that. If that is the level they need to be at, you may say, “Fine, if I knew that those were going to be my last five, then I would have changed.” But then, why? Because at some point you will have your last five. But you don't know when that is.
It might be right now. It might be tomorrow. It might be in a week, you don't know. So there's something to it. The true believer has an alertness and an urgency that governs the way they live their entire lives. But certainly, in the context of the Salat, the same should be the case.
The second thing is when—as is currently about to happen—we go into a winter period where during the afternoons, the prayer times (for those in the Northern Hemisphere) become compressed. It's a big challenge for a lot of people.
Duhr, Asr, and Maghrib come fast one after the other. Again, it's exactly in this kind of time that we can experience this feeling of repetition and boredom. So let's just say only an hour and a half has passed since you prayed the last prayer. Now the time has come to pray again. Then you're feeling that boredom again.
One of the ways to bring yourself fully into the Salat—in addition to what we've just discussed—is to think about what has taken place in the last one and a half hours that warrants and justifies an extra five to ten minutes of gratitude. Because really, when you put the time in perspective, it's not that much time.
In fact, if you take all five prayers and you think about the average time that it takes for a person to pray their five prayers, you're talking no more than between three and five percent of someone's 24 hours. Which translates to between three and five percent of someone's life. When you think about it like that, psychologically, people might think salat is taking 10-20% of their time. But in truth, it's not.
Think about that last one and a half hours. Think about the number of breaths you've taken, the number of internal bodily processes that have taken place in order for you to function and survive that one and a half hours.
The food you may have eaten. Something you drank. Words you've been able to speak and say. The fact you've been able to use your eyes. All of these things. I mean, to be honest with you, that is enough. It is enough.
Allah says, [Arabic] that on Earth there are signs for people of certainty and in your own selves, don't you see. So within ourselves—and Allah points to these various signs all over the Qur'an and that we have within our own bodies—enough. We experience enough—even if we may have some health issues or difficulties—we experience enough blessings to warrant this extra kind of devotion and manifestation of commitment and thanks.
Finally—I'll add one more thing—which is that we know the story of the origin of the five prayers, of course, begins with 50.
Now imagine that. Just imagine that you had to pray 50 times in a day and night. There's something to the wisdom of how this evolved to send us a message and be clear to us that 50 is not too much. It also suggests that a human being, in principle, is capable of manifesting that kind of devotion. It more than suggests it gives this emphasis to the idea that Salat is actually the reason why we exist—that the core thing we are here to show that we can do on Earth is prayer. That's what we're here to show that we can do. The basis.
Now, beyond that, there are then levels of commitment and devotion that go beyond the point in terms of how you show and manifest your relationship with your Lord. But fundamentally, that's what we're here for. That's what we're here for, because (if you do the calculations) 50 prayers in a 24 hours period (taking out six or seven hours for sleep) is basically one prayer every 20 minutes.
Imagine now, you're playing once every 20 minutes. Frankly, reminding yourself about that might make you feel a bit more relieved or calm about the fact that you're now praying once every couple of hours, for example, in an afternoon period where it's busy in that way.
We also know from the narrations there are multiplies the rewards of those five into 50 for those who are committed and consistent in those five. So I think this really gets down to what we find most interesting: what we're motivated by in our lives very much depends on the extent to which we are clear about what our purpose in life is in the first place.
When we examine this issue deeply—although it's uncomfortable for us to admit this or confess this to ourselves—it is our disproportionate worldly attachment that brings the veil or the rust or whatever over our hearts, such that we feel this resistance to connect with the Source of Everything.
That's what the Salat is. It's an occasion where you tap into Infinity. That's how I think about it sometimes, which is this transcendent kind of thing. You go into a zone unlike any other kind of zone that, you can experience on Earth.
You start realising Salat is a combination of these things. It's this micro manifestation of a meeting with your Lord.
I'll close this point with the following challenge to us. If we are unable to show or move ourselves into a position where we can show a consistent interest in being in Allah's company in our prayer—which is what the prayer is—then it's funny that we also say that we want paradise. Because to be in paradise is to be in Allah's company forever and ever and ever.
We're invited to be in His close proximity in His company in prayer.
It's our way of demonstrating our seriousness of wanting paradise. Because wanting paradise is not just about desiring the material benefits of paradise or escaping Hellfire. The highest motivation is to be in the company of one's Lord and be within proximity to Him, which is the true real motivation of the believer. When you have that motivation, then your salah will become something different and something special and something which then becomes the central aspect of your day and of your life as opposed to a sideshow which sometimes we find convenient and sometimes we don't.
How Can I Maintain the Five Prayers Every Day Throughout My Life?
The ability to maintain five prayers every day throughout one's life, when you add it all up—some would say with an average lifespan we're talking about 100,000 prayers throughout your life—absolutely, this is not a small challenge. So I'm not going to underestimate the challenge of being consistent in one's prayers five times a day.
But we have to believe that we can get to a stage where praying consistently five times a day is something that becomes easy as a result of it feeling necessary and natural to us because of the way we have oriented our perspective around life. And really, at the end of the day, this is what it all comes down to. It all comes down to what's your real goal in life? What is your real objective in life?
This is why salah is so powerful, and this is the core wisdom behind why it is the action that it is the first that you will be asked about the key to paradise. If it is in order, then everything else will fall into place. But if it's deficient, then everything else will fall out of place because it is the action that tests consistent commitment.
We know in life at the end of the day, anything that is worth pursuing or anything that requires pursuits needs effort in order to be successful. That's the mantra of the day. Just do whatever you're going to do consistently and just keep doing it and keep going. The results will come. In some ways, it's no different with this. It's no different.
Some people will find it difficult. Some people will find it easy. The fact that we have contemporary examples, historical examples, of people who have been able to be consistent in their prayers—been able to find solace, tranquillity, and peace within their prayers (and not just the obligatory prayers, but even beyond that, too) stands for us as an example of the fact that it is possible. We have to believe in our own potential to be able to arrive and to be in a situation where we are praying comfortably and consistently in that way.
But it's very much the mindset. Salat starts from within ourselves, within our own kind of mindset about what we really want in life and what our main motivation is. Do we really believe? I mean, that's what the Salat basically asks us, “Do you really believe, or not? Are you going to turn up, or not?” How do we think about it?
The actual process for anybody who is struggling with this is typically a gradual process between the point where you are hardly praying at all, to a point where you are consistently praying in all circumstances, in all situations, and wherever you find yourself.
Eventually—and I have experienced this myself at a younger age when I also made that transition, and I'm sure others have experienced the same thing—you get to a point where you can't imagine life without prayer. You feel like a fish out of water, “I need this because I feel deficient. I feel uncomfortable now with the fact that it's been missed.”
However, the sign of somebody on the other end of the spectrum is that it's the other way around. You feel uncomfortable with the prayer, but without it, you feel a level of relief or comfort. It tests our true submission, our true devotion, our true commitment. We have to ask ourselves that question: “Who are we really committed to? What do we really want in the end?”
How Can I Still Have a High Quality Prayer if I Don't Understand Arabic?
When it comes to the prayer and the fact that we are unfamiliar with the words or language we are using in our prayer—which is the Arabic language—it's interesting to note that across the board scholars tend to allow for converts to utilize some sort of aid throughout their prayer process. This allows them to appropriately say—or at some level accurately say to some minimum level—their prayers through the transliteration of the Arabic words and with the meaning alongside. You have to just aid them in their process.
Now I find it interesting that you will find that across the board scholars will allow for converts to do this, but not necessarily for others. Whereas many Muslims are actually at the same level of converts when it comes to their understanding of prayer and in their ability to say certain words of prayer. That is the reality of today.
By extension, it does seem appropriate that if somebody is at the level of struggle where they're literally unable to articulate the words at all—or are struggling significantly—that they should use some aid until they get to the point where they're able to articulate. Once you're able to articulate the words, obviously the next stage is in terms of understanding the meaning.
Now, I do believe it is possible for the average person to get to the stage where they are expressing themselves and the core phrases in Arabic in their prayer in such a way that it feels natural to them and is meaningful to them. But, like anything else, it requires practice.
But salah gives you the opportunities for practice. The effort here is what's important and significant. Remember, Allah (SWT) rewards the effort and wants to see from us the trajectory—or the direction of travel—should be positive (wherever we end up). At least we should be moving forwards, moving upwards. Through His mercy, we have to believe in and hope that He will then pull us through.
As He says in His revelation, He will reward people according to the best of what they did. We also know from various other verses that bad deeds are replaced with good deeds when someone repents and commits themselves to a certain thing.
A lot of people actually worry about the quality of past prayers and what's happened and all the rest of it. I always say to them, “Don't worry about that. Focus on the future and Allah will take care of that as long as you're committed going forward.”
What we need to do is appreciate that if Salat is a meeting, it's a conversation, it's an interaction where we're having a direct kind of communication interaction, then the words that I say need to be directed.
The problem is, when we say these words in Arabic in the prayer, we are saying them as if we are reading from a sheet for the sake of some third party somewhere or to ourselves, almost. Rather, think about the fact that you're directing your words to another being just as when you speak with anybody else you're directing your words to them. Then that's something you can do.
For example, many of us will have had the experience of learning a different language—perhaps in school, we tried French or tried whatever.
Even at a basic level of French, you learn a couple of phrases in French and you're able to have a reasonable conversation with someone in French. I did GCSE French and the oral exam of GCSE French is compulsory. Certainly, people do some other language for GCSE, and then you can have a reasonable level of conversation in a language that's not familiar to you. But you put it into practice—as a 14, 15, or 16-year-old doing the work and practising the phrases—and then you're having a reasonable conversation in the French language.
The fact that fluency can happen in the French language, or whatever language, suggests that—for what is a very limited number of phrases that we say in the prayer—we should be able to get to the stage where we are able to say the phrases meaningfully.
It is about the belief and conviction that we can get there. In terms of how to get there, then obviously it requires practice. I strongly advocate that people practice this outside of the prayer.
Once somebody is fluent enough to just say the Arabic words and they're familiar with the Arabic words that they need to say in the prayer, they should try to get to a similar level of fluency in English for the same things.
For example, we may all be able to comfortably recite Al Fatiha from beginning to end in Arabic. But not as many people who can recite Sarah Fatiha from beginning to end in Arabic are able to also say the meanings of Surah Fatiha from beginning to end as if they were naturally saying those meanings.
That's something very much within our capability and is necessary for us to do. It's about memorization in the first instance and then linking the phrases.
Alhamdulillah: all praise belongs to Allah, Rabbilalamin: Lord of all that exists, Ar Rahman: the Lord of Mercy, Ar Raheem: the Giver of Mercy, etc. We're linking the phrases. You don't have to have the language as a prerequisite because even doing a word association can be sufficient to develop enough of a connection to mean what you're saying.
When practising saying phrases—whether it's from the Quranic verses, or the statements Allahu Akbar, Subhana Rabbi al Azeem, or Subhana rabbi al ala, atta hiyat, rabbana wa lakal hamad—we must practice saying their meanings in English in a way where we are actually directing those phrases. “God is greater. Our Lord, to You belongs all praise. How perfect is my Lord the Most High,” etc.
If we're saying these phrases in English in a way that's directed, and associating them back to Arabic, we will develop that fluency and that capability. It becomes such that when we're saying the Arabic phrases in our actual prayer—the English phrases, for those of us for whom English is a first language. Obviously, you apply this to whatever language that's appropriate—we'll be able to think through those meanings simultaneously, and you will find yourself able to express Arabic in a meaningful way.
There's no doubt that there is a linguistic challenge of sorts. There's no doubt about that, but it's one that we can certainly overcome with effort.