Improve Your Mental Preparation
What is the part that, if missed, will turn your prayer into a series of mumbled words and machine-like movements? Definitely, it is Munajah (intimate conversation with Allah U) that I covered in the first part of this series on reviving our prayers. For this Munajah to be present and effective, a Muslim must be mentally ready for Salah. Just remember the last important interview you had. You must have prepared yourself well by conducting basic interview research: the dress code, direction to the office, learning about the institution on line …etc. Of course, Allah Uis beyond all comparison. So, if you really think of Salah as a great blessing to communicate with Allah U, you should be gratefully prepared.
In his al-Fawaid, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim observes: “There are two times when a servant stands before Allah: in Salah and on the Day of Judgment. Whoever takes care of the first standing, the second will be easy for him; whoever neglects the first standing, the second will be hard for him.” Here are quick tips that will help us improve our mental preparation.
1- Start with an Undivided Mind.
Afterpreparing some food for the family members, one of my relatives said “Let us pray first and then eat without any interruptions!” She did not want any Salah thoughts while eating. She wanted to enjoy eating with a clear mind. In response, I said: “Let us eat first and then pray without any interruptions!” To be less distracted during Salah and to strengthen our focus on Salah, the prophet rtaught us to start our prayer with an undivided mind.
Ibn Umar tnarrated that the prophet rsaid: “When the dinner is being served, and the time for a prayer becomes due, start with the dinner and do not be hasty” (Bukhari & Muslim). That is why, whenever he feels hungry and the food is ready, Ibn Umar tused to start with eating even if he can hear the Imam’s recitation. We should also note that if a person is a little hungry and knows that hunger will not be a distraction, he or she should start with the prayer. ‘Amr ibn Umayyah tnarrated that he saw the prophet using a knife to cut a piece of meat from a cooked sheep shoulder. As the prayer was called, the prophet rput down the meat and the knife and went for offering the prayer” (Bukhari & Muslim).
Similarly, the prophet rtaught us not to start Salah while we feel that we need to use the bathroom. Instead of praying while you resist the urge to urinate or defecate, you should relieve yourself first. ‘Aiesha said that she heard the prophet rsaying: “No ritual prayer is to be offered when the food is being served or when a person resists “al-akhbathayn” the urge to urinate or defecate.”
2- Dress Well
3- Smell Nice and Subtle
Smelling well could influence your brain activity. Many scents refresh the mind, create a sense of alertness, boost attentiveness, produce a sense of optimism, fight mental fatigue, improve focus and stimulate clear thinking. It is interesting to note that smelling nice was part of traits of the prophet’s personality. Anas ibn Malik tnarrated: “I have never smelt any musk or amber better than the fragrance of the prophet r” (Reported by Muslim). Umm Salamah also narrated that the prophet rused to wear musk and apply it to the face and hands whenever he performs the wudu. The Sahabah followed this Sunnah very closely. Ibn Mas’ud twas known for his nice smell, and before his prayers he liked two things: “good fragrance and neat clothes.” Similarly, people used to figure out if Ibn Abbas twalked through a street on account of his good smell!
It is equally important to avoid wearing anything with an overpowering smell since that could be a distraction in Salah. Obviously, one must stay away from anything that produces bad smell. In a clear-cut direction, the prophet rinstructed us: “Let those who ate onions or garlic keep away from our mosque since the angels are harmed by whatever harms humans” (Bukhari & Muslim).
4- Avoid the Causes of the Hardness of the Heart
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim observed: “Four things, when excessively done, will lead to the hardness of the heart: eating, sleeping, talking and mingling with others.” Have you ever prayed after you overate or overslept? Have you ever prayed after having a long “unnecessary” conversation with somebody? No doubt, this was not the best Salah. Let us discuss the negative effects of overeating, oversleeping and excessive, unnecessary conversations before Salah.
A) For good focus on Salah, do not eat till you are 100% full. The prophet rsuggested that you may be 66% full! Al-Miqdad ibn Ma’d Yakrib tsaid: I heard the prophet saying: "There is no vessel which the son of Adam can fill that is more evil than his stomach, for it is enough for him to take a few bites in order to straighten his back. Yet if he is overcome by appetite, then he may fill it with a third of food, a third of drink, and a third of breath."
B) Besides the medical problems of oversleeping, those who oversleep may feel more tired. This feeling is not a good preparation for Salah.
C) Try to avoid long conversations before Salah as much as you can. If necessary before Salah, limit your conversations to good causes or important matters. The Quran reads: “In most of their secret talks there is no good except for one who exhorts [others] to a deed of charity or justice or conciliation between people. Whoever does this, seeking the good pleasure of Allah, We shall soon give a reward of the highest (value)” (4:114). Generally speaking, the prophet rtaught us: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him or her say good or be silent.”
5- Have few moments of contemplation before the first Takbirah.
Some people may start their Salah after a long conversation with others or even laughing or shouting, and suddenly they find themselves praying! Always have at least few moments of silence to prepare your heart and mind. To bring in Khushu’ before you start your prayer, have few seconds to think of one of the following:
A) Remember a sin you committed and a blessing Allah Ubestowed on you. This will generate a sense of haya’ and humility that makes you look down humbly.
B) Imagine that this prayer might be the last one for you to offer. In this way, you will try your best to perfect it.
C) Imagine the glory and greatness of Allah's creation (e.g. we have more than 150 billion galaxies!) and how small you are. In spite of how small we look, Allah Uhonored us; therefore, feel proud that you are one of His servants.
D) Think about how short this life is and how eternal the afterlife is. Just 100 years ago, no one alive now was there, and in 100 years, no one who is alive now will be there. This is how short this life is.
6- Do not start your prayer with a lie!
One of the most effective ways to maintain your focus in Salah is to recognize the meaning of Allahu Akbar through which we start our prayer. Allahu Akbar literally means “God is greater.” Greater than what? Greater than anything you can imagine. Therefore, when you start your prayer with Allahu Akbar, you are basically saying Allah is greater than my money, my school, my work …etc. That is why, Imam al-Ghazali warned: “Make sure that you do not start your prayer with a lie!” It is also interesting to notice that the sentence Allahu Akbar signals most of the movements during the Salah. In other words, “Allah is Greater” serves as a constant reminder that it is shameful to think of anything other than Allah while you are in His presence. In this way, the frequently repeated Allahu Akbar can help us regain our focus if we lost it.
7- Prepare your Quranic recitations.
Instead of reciting the same exact short Surahs in every prayer, try to memorize a variety of Surahs, short Quranic passages or even single verses. If you can only memorize one verse, here are some suggestions for inspiring verses: (2:186), (2:281), (3:8), (4:135), (16:277), (16:281), (17:23), (24:30), (29:69), (39:53), (41:30), (41:34), (49:10), (49:12), (49:13), and (50:16).
8- Prepare personal Du’aas.
When you include personal prayers in your Salah for yourself, your family and your Ummah, your Salah will be transformed from being a dead format into a real personal relation. The best part in Salah for personal prayers is during Sujud (prostration). The prophet rtaught us: “Nothing brings the servant closer to Allah more than Sujud; so, offer frequent prayers or supplications” (Reported by Muslim). Practically speaking, prepare your Du’aas and pray earnestly and sincerely.
9- Allow Enough Time.
When you pray on time, you have a better chance for concentration. Think of the last time you offered a prayer few minutes before the next prayer was due? Think of the last time you had to combine two prayers without a valid excuse? So, for better focus during Salah, allow enough time. Of course, the best option, in this regard, is join the Jama’ah or congregation prayer in the masjid.
10- Observe the Sunnah Dhikr during the day.
The more you focus on Allah Uoutside Salah, the easier you can focus on Him during Salah. Observing the many Dhikr the prophet taught us throughout the day will help a Muslim develop an undivided heart that is set on Allah Uis willing to surrender to Him completely. Wallahu A'lam