Recent challenges

INsights 021, Friday 12th August 2022

Peace be upon you.

I’ve been travelling for a few weeks. Usually when I’m away, the self-reflective side of me goes into overdrive. This time hasn’t been any different.

I’ve been thinking more carefully about my own prayer and engagement with revelation. Here are some of the reflections I’ve been having...

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Back to basics on prayer

It’s quite scary just how easily the quality of your salat can vanish, both within a prayer as well as over successive prayers, if you’re not extra vigilant. 

In recent times I’ve caught myself being more easily distracted in some prayers than I would consider acceptable. I’ve also found it more stressful than I normally would to ensure all my prayers are offered well within their allocated times.  

I think it’s fair to say I’m someone who thinks about God intensely and frequently. I’ve studied and thought about the topic of consistency and concentration in prayer deeply. I’ve taught the subject many times to thousands of people. 

But still I’ve found myself struggling, and God’s words have been ringing in my ears, “So woe to those who pray and are heedless in their prayer.” (107:4-5)

“Is there something wrong with me?” I’ve been asking myself. 


Or perhaps what God is teaching me through all this is that I can’t take my relationship with Him for granted. 

Not for a moment. 

I can’t just assume that because I may previously have reached certain levels of understanding and practice with respect to prayer, or that people come to me for answers to their prayer problems, that somehow I am immune to deterioration in my own salat.  

To reverse the tide – and as a helpful refresher for you too – I’ve been giving extra attention to what I consider to be three of the most important mindset and preparatory factors for high quality prayer:

1) I’ve been thinking more about the absolute end point of the human journey. I’m talking about the moment in which I hope I’ll get to see my Lord in paradise. I’ve been reflecting on how important it really is to me to eventually meet and see Him, and how much I want my relationship with God to be a genuine and meaningful one rather than a mechanical and transactional one. Reminding myself of the big picture has helped revitalise my prayer. Our salat is the closest we get to being so intimately in God’s presence in this life as we hope to be in the next life. So our attention to it changes when we think more carefully about what is to come after we die.

2) I’m taking a few extra moments before I begin my wudhu to remind myself that what I’m doing is preparing my outer and inner self to be presentable before His Majesty, not just hurriedly washing a few limbs to get some technicalities over with. A more deliberate wudhu helps to unlock a more deliberate salat.

3) When I stand for salat, ready to raise my hands and proclaim God’s greatness – Allahu akbar  I’m forcing myself not to rush in, but to be calm and still for up to a minute in processing what’s about to happen. This includes pondering the greatness of the One in whose presence I am, how grateful I am for everything He’s given me and how much in need I am of His guidance and attention. Then, and only then, will I raise my hands as a genuine gesture of heartfelt submission to start proceedings. A Golden Minute of reflection just before salat, when done properly, is truly golden!


A beginner’s attitude to revelation

It’s also quite scary just how easily your engagement with the Qur’an can cease, sometimes suddenly and sometimes over a period of time, if you’re not extra vigilant.

Outside of the preparatory work I do to teach Club Revelation, I haven’t been too happy with the consistency and depth of my own interaction with revelation recently. 

I’d hazard a guess that you may feel the same way about your own Qur'an habit.

In my case, timeslots to dedicate myself to this purpose have been too few and far between of late. Perhaps I didn’t plan carefully enough around the natural disruption to routine that travel tends to bring with it. But that sounds like a lame excuse. 

Maybe deep down I feel overwhelmed by some of the thoughts and ideas I’m grappling with, or sometimes I feel like I’m so familiar with the text that I can afford some time off. Contradictory feelings I know! 

Again I’ve come to the conclusion that the key principle is not taking things for granted. In this case, that means not assuming we already know what there is to know about the messages of the Qur’an. When our interaction with revelation becomes static, our relationship with the Revealer is at risk of stasis too. 

There’s something powerful about seeing yourself as a total beginner, even if you’re not. Simply being open to the possibility of fresh insights from the Mighty Book, even for someone who’s been a regular worshipper and reciter for decades, is a necessary pre-requisite to learning.

God says, “This Recital does indeed show the straightest way. It gives the faithful who do right the good news that they will have a great reward.” (17:9)

Maintaining genuine humility and curiosity for what it really means to be guided and on track during life’s tests really goes a long way.

This means that we want to make sure we're always judging ourselves by His standards and not by our own, or those of other people.

With this attitude, I’ve found myself more keenly reciting and pondering again, not being too careless as a result of what I think I already know, nor overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what I have yet to understand.

Be vigilant!

As a parting thought, I hope that what you’ve read so far makes it clear that we need to constantly ensure vigilance and leadership over our own selves while we continue to find better ways to demonstrate leadership amongst others.

God says, “You who believe, you are responsible for your own souls…” (5:105)

For anyone who is an aspiring or existing leader for God’s cause, the quality and consistency of your prayer and Qur’anic engagement are foundational. Don’t let them slip away into oblivion.

I’m certainly not one of those who advocates for zero leadership activity in the public realm until there is total self-mastery. Think kind of thinking can serve as a deception that prevents any of us from doing anything meaningful and helpful for others. After all, which of us knows for sure that they are truly worthy of representing God and His cause in any capacity in public?

There is no perfect moment when all our shortcomings have been overcome and we’re ready to take on the world. Indeed, it might well be that getting involved in doing meaningful work that sits outside your comfort zone becomes a hugely purifying and beneficial experience.

We’re all flawed and imperfect. We all think thoughts, say words and do deeds that we’d be embarrassed for anyone else to know about and which, if they were revealed, would probably undermine us hugely in the eyes of others. For such things, we must be honest with ourselves, ask God’s forgiveness and be determined in rooting them all out, one by one, so as to try and avoid ostentation and hypocrisy. 

The reason I’ve been open with you about some of my recent challenges is to encourage you to be open with yourself and those close to you about similar difficulties that you might be facing.

Hopefully we’ll all see ourselves more clearly for who we really are and, while continuing to trust in our Lord’s limitless mercy, we can keep doing the daily work that’s required to move ever closer to Him.


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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.

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