Creating a Quiet Environment
As I was visiting a patient in hospital, the afternoon prayer was due. Praying close to one of the corners of the room, I was interrupted by a nurse giving her instructions to the patient in a fairly loud voice. Noticing that I was praying, she regretfully kept apologizing and kindly lowered her voice to the minimum till I was done with my prayer.
Being considerate is a great value; so, I appreciated her behavior. However, I realized that it is obvious that a meaningful, effective prayer requires a quiet environment which is essential for Khushu' or mindfulness. As Imam al-Ghazali puts it in his Ihyaa: "no one has ever claimed that Salah is God's test for our tongues!" Salah is more about Hudhur al-Qalb (lit. the Presence of the Heart) or the mindfulness that enables the heart to react with what we say and do throughout the whole prayer.
Here are some keys for creating a culture of Khushu' and quietness:
1- Start at Home.
Before you start your prayer, make sure that you turn off your TV and mobile phones. If you have children, explain to them that Salah is a time for quietness and peace. It is really unfortunate that many of us unconsciously teach our children that concentration or mindfulness is not needed during our prayers. If you doubt this, try to answer the following questions: Have you ever prayed while the TV was on? Has your spouse ever prayed while you were talking to someone at home or over the phone? Has your child ever prayed in the midst of noise without any attempt from you to kindly address this problem?
The fact is tolerating noise during Salah at home gives our children the impression that Salah does not require concentration. They may even think that it is just "machine-like movements"! Why? Because the spirit of Salah is missing; therefore, they will judge only the outward. The problem really gets worse when our children come to the mosque and receive a confirmation that quietness is not necessary for Salah! Yes, as they start praying their Sunnah or making up the parts they missed in Jama'ah (congregation or group prayer), they hear a lot of noise around them. They also see adults talking out loud next to other adults during their prayers. They see Arabic-speaking audience praying Sunnah while the Imam is giving the post-prayer Khatirah (short talk) in English. If you were in their place, what impression would you get?
2- Ensure Quietness in the Masjid.
I have to start admitting that during the regular Jama'ah prayer, there is remarkable quietness and peace in the Masjid. This is great, indeed. Yet, as the Jama'ah is over, people praying their Sunnah or making up the missed parts of their Salah feel easily distracted by the out loud exchange of greetings, if not stories. I understand the importance of greeting people and the pressure of socializing with others; yet, these good things should not be done at the expense of others' prayers.
It is enough to remember that the prophet r spoke against reading the Quran out loud, let alone personal conversations, next to a person praying. In his Sunan, Imam Abu Dawud recorded that Abu Sa'id t reported that, as the prophet r heard his companions raising their voices in their Quranic recitations during his I'tikaf, he addressed them: "Each one of you is having Munajah (intimate conversation) with his Lord; so, do not harm or disturb each other and do not raise your voices over each other during your Quranic recitations or Salah."
3) Be consistent in your request for quietness.
Practically show that you care about quietness at home and in the Masjid whether you or others are praying. It is ironic when some adults in the Masjid get annoyed when a child cries or when a phone rings (even though these incidents could happen for a valid excuse such as emergencies or total forgetfulness); yet, they do not feel guilty when they disturb others during their Salah through unnecessary loud talks!
4) Kindly address those people talking next a person praying.
With a smile and whisper, remind the disturbing person that someone is praying next to him. If someone wanted to talk to you, kindly point to him or her to talk where people are not praying. If your wife is praying at home and the kids are making noise, kindly whisper to them to stay quiet for few minutes till the prayer is over. In this way, we can create a culture of Khushu' and a new generation that will turn our mosques and homes into places of prayer, peace and healing.