[Just to let you know, the text below is a transcription of what I've said in this video. So please excuse any words or phrases that don't quite look right.]
Salat, prayer, is such a burden, right? It's a hassle. It just keeps coming again and again and again.
In fact, in the average lifespan of a human being, someone has to pray over a hundred thousand times.
It's a chore, right?
Find out how you can see Salat, not as a burden, but as a privilege, a gift and a blessing.
What Is Salat?
Salat, prayer, is famous worldwide and known for being an act of worship that happens five times in the day and night, regularly.
For us as believers, when we think about Salat (even though we may never say it within ourselves), the question may occur to us, "Why does this have to keep happening so consistently, so regularly? Couldn't it have just been once or twice a day? Or maybe on certain days of the week only? Why does it have to keep happening throughout? From when the sun sets, to when the sun is at its highest point, and when it's in the middle of the sky, then when it sets again and then later on at night?”
Five times, day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out. It disrupts our schedule and our sleep. It feels like it gets in the way of what we often need to be doing as human beings to function in this busy, busy world.
This perspective is understandable. We can empathise with it. We can appreciate why someone might have this perspective. No doubt, I felt like that before. I'm sure you felt like that before, either for a short period or a long period of time.
People who feel like that, and they don't tackle their mindset issue, eventually, unfortunately, either:
Best-case scenario, they'll keep praying, but it will be quite a mindless prayer or a prayer in which they're not fully investing themselves and bringing their full heart and soul into it.
Worst-case scenario, they're just going to abandon it altogether because they don't see the point.
This is the first thing we need to understand when it comes to how we can start to see Salat, not as a burden, but as a privilege. Not as a chore but as a gift.
As with anything, we need to appreciate it in its wider context.
Is Salat Really a Burden?
Salat will be a burden (or will appear so) for somebody who doesn't fully accept their reality as a human being. That is the first step. Before the Salat, there is the Shahada: the bearing witness and the acceptance that there is no God but God.
Within that, there is also the fact that we are accountable and we are responsible. He creates us and we will return to Him. The life of this world is concise. The only function that we have in this world is to serve and worship Him; to maintain the purity of our soul so that when we pass and the spirit emerges from us, it's the state of that spirit that actually matters.
It's like this delicate vase that we constantly, at all times, are in charge of, taking care of and being very careful with, regardless of whatever else that we are doing.
We appreciate this reality as human beings. We understand that we will be judged and tested in this life and held accountable. That's a path, a journey, a difficult one, a tough one. It has enormous consequences.
Salat as an Enabler
If we first appreciate and understand the overall reality and then put Salat in that context, we can improve by understanding that Salat helps us make that journey more successfully. It enables us and strengthens us to maintain our focus throughout our life.
If you treat the objective as a given, which is to remain in constant worship and service of the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth throughout your existence, then Salat is an enabler.
Nowadays, when people set their minds on a particular objective, they look all over the place for ways to enable it.
For example, productivity gurus, self-help books and apps are flourishing left, right and centre nowadays.
Why is that the case?
People who set their minds on achieving specific objectives want to know how to and people are happy to supply them with the information and the services to help them get to that objective more efficiently.
How can we be more productive, more effective, more efficient? People want to know. That's why there's an explosion of the material surrounding this particular subject.
Often, that's typically to do with people's worldly goals. “How can I become richer? More successful? How can I elevate in terms of my career?” There's loads of support, advice and productivity tips around these things.
If we appreciate that the central objective is to get to paradise, to meet our Lord and to earn His pleasure, then we'll more naturally think to ourselves, "What is going to assist me with this major objective of my life?"
God already told that answer to us.
What Allah Says About Salat
He's already told us that the number one thing you need to do is aqimi s-salata li-dhikri as per the Qur'anic verse [Surah Al-Taha, 20:14] in which Allah addresses Musa, peace be upon him, (Moses) and says:
<< إِنَّني أَنَا اللَّهُ لا إِلٰهَ إِلّا أَنا فَاعبُدني وَأَقِمِ الصَّلاةَ لِذِكري >>
I am God. There is no God but Me, so serve Me, worship Me and keep up the prayer/establish prayer for the purposes of my remembrance.
When we realise that in order to succeed, we need to remain mindful of God, we understand that prayer as a mechanism that enables us to stay mindful of God is a blessing. It's a great help.
Because if it weren’t for this prayer, maybe I would have kept living the next part of my life in a higher state of heedlessness or forgetfulness. It's not necessarily that we would have committed grave sins or fallen into serious error.
For the one who truly understands their objective, and the one who truly developed a love and appreciation for their Lord, understands that even a moment's forgetfulness or heedlessness is something to regret and something to be improved.
The idea that prayer comes with this frequency enables us to stay on track.
It also alerts us to the realisation that this is a difficult journey and a treacherous path. It's easy to slide off.
Salat Keeps Us on the Straight Path
If we think about an analogy to the straight path, sometimes we think of a picture of a flat, wide road. It's nice and straight. That's an easy road to walk on.
However, the straight path doesn't necessarily mean linear or literally straight. What it's referring to is the most efficient or direct way to get to God.
The straight path for a person in reality in this life, what it looks or feels like, might be quite winding. We have to duck, dive, move this way and that way avoiding obstacles. We have to weave.
Sometimes what that straight path will entail from us later on today, tomorrow, next week, next year, we don't know. We don't know right now. But what we do know is that we've always got this guiding compass.
Every so often along the journey, even though it may look foggy in front of us, we have this opportunity to stop, reflect, reorient ourselves and connect with the end goal, which is Allah Himself. We can speak to Him, ask for guidance, receive that guidance, receive inspiration, receive clarity (if we feel confused) and receive a sense of calm if we feel stressed.
We also can express our gratitude when we are feeling thankful. All of these are gifts. They are blessings. They are, as we said, enablers to help us.
Appreciate the Pit Stops
We should feel as grateful for prayer as a Formula One driver appreciates the pit stop.
The Formula One driver is driving, going on his course, but they appreciate the pit stop. They need to come in. They can mentally reset themselves, their car and their engine. Whatever else that needs to be done gets fixed up, improved and then they move on.
They reorient themselves just like a pit stop.
The prayer doesn't need to be any longer or any shorter than it needs to be. It just needs to be done correctly, decently, appropriately to the occasion. Then we move on to the next stage of life.
This is a critical perspective, a way to appreciate how prayer for us is a gift. Prayer is a purifier and a reminder that relates to how we understand life as a whole.
See Prayer as a Gift
Let me summarise how we see prayer as a gift.
- Get accustomed or fully aligned to what your life is about; leave this world in a pleasing state to your Lord.
- Understand that there are many risks along the way. Many enemies that you face along the way. Many distractions and temptations that you meet along the way.
The one main thing that's going to help you, save you, keep you oriented, keep you guided, keep you focused...is the Salat. The person who knows what journey they're on realises, “Wow, this is really precious! This is an amazing gift!”
Salat was entrusted and given (as far as we believe) to the Prophet, God grant him peace and blessings, when he was on his ascension in the heavens. Whereas every other commandment came when he was on Earth. This is something he went to the closest point that a person has gone to their Lord, to receive this gift of prayer.
Interestingly, according to the famous narrations, he first received it as something that needs to be completed 50 times in the day and night.
I always think about that when I fail momentarily to appreciate the prayer as a gift. I understand that, in principle, we should stand in front of our Lord and help ourselves remain focused and mindful of Him 50 times in the day and night. The idea of doing that emphasises how important remaining consistent, focused and on course is, and how the Salat helps with that.
The five times we can manifest and demonstrate, insha'Allah, will really help us in this journey. That's the key.
If you ever feel that friction in your heart about the prayer, just appreciate this much.
Hopefully, your attitude towards the prayer will become more healthy, more positive and you will look forward to the prayer rather than feeling that you don't want to be there.
May Allah assist us all and help us achieve consistency, focus and tranquillity in our prayers.