Okay, I was going to delve into a detailed description of prayer positions, but there are many different rulings that I am simply not qualified to make exhaustive judgments about, lest I speak out of ignorance. However, if anyone does have specific questions regarding these, post below and I will try my best to find an answer from someone credible, insha’Allah. Remember that no question is worth leaving unanswered as sometimes these “little” things can make the difference between an accepted prayer and an unaccepted prayer. Though if possible, direct your questions to your local imam. Anyhoo, let’s fast-forward.
Everyone appreciates effort. Whether they’re grateful or not is another thing, but everyone feels nice or special or humbled when someone spends time and energy on them. It’s a great feeling when your mom makes you your favourite meal or when a student does more homework than is required of them because these things show that the person cares. In our relationship with Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, we should also find ways to not just please Him, but super-please Him. One way of doing this is to fancy up your prayer and prove that you are really giving Allah Mighty and Majestic the best you can. Below are some humble suggestions. Some are Prophetic advice and others are based on personal reflection. Enjoy, and be sure to add where you see fit.
Pray in congregation
The Blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, said “Prayer in congregation is superior by 27 degrees to prayer performed individually.” (Bukhari& Muslim)
Abu Huraira radiAllahu Ta’ala anhu narrates that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu alayhi wasalam said: “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, sometimes I intend that I ask someone to lead people in prayer while I go to the people who remain away from the congregation and burn their houses along with them with fire.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
It is understood from these ahadith that a man’s prayer does not receive full reward unless prayed in congregation, and many would go so far as to say that it’s an offense if you could have done so and didn’t. So if we could reasonably make it to a masjid in time for congregational prayer, we must do so. This same ruling does not apply for women, as in one prophetic tradition, the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam says that a woman’s prayer is better in the depths of her home than at the masjid. However, there is no sin on her if she does pray in congregation.
We’re assuming you’re going to the masjid now…
Learn the du’as for entering and leaving the masjid. When entering, we enter with our right foot first and say:
“Bismillah, Allahumma salli ‘alaa Muhammad. Allahummaf tahli abwaba rahmatik.”
“In the name of Allah, O Allah, shower blessing on Muhammad. O Allah, Open for me the gates of Your mercy.”
After entering the masjid, we should perform 2 rakah before anything else. This is a sunnah prayer called Tahiyyat Al’Masjid.
Upon leaving, we use our left foot first and say
“Bismillah, Allaahumma salli ‘alaa Muhammad. Allaahumma inee as’aluka min fadlik.”
“In the name of Allah, O Allah, shower blessing on Muhammad. O Allah, I am asking You for Your grace.”
These small acts of worship bring tremendous baraka into visits to the masjid, insha’Allah, and they allow us to…
One of the most difficult parts of perfecting salah is gaining and maintaining focus. The importance of this is highlighted beautifully in Aisha’s earlier article. Here are some things I find to be helpful steps in the process.
1) Okay, we all know we have to pray 5 times a day – no surprises here. So find a way to hear the adhan (call to prayer) for each of those prayers, or if not possible, then have an alarm that goes off at each scheduled prayer. At this time, focus yourself on the Oneness of Allah and on the message of our Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam. If you are so blessed as to be able to hear the adhan or a recording of it, respond appropriately. There is also a du’a to be read after the adhan, and note that talking during the adhan is sinful behavior.
2) Do some amount of dhikr before you stand up to pray. Saying ten “subhanAllahs” with attention can bring about a great amount of focus during your salah, insha’Allah.
3) Know what you’re saying. Find a translation of Al-Fatiha and whatever other surahs you’re reciting and the other various parts of prayer. It can be difficult to pay attention to something we don’t know the meaning of, and surely there is more reward in a heartfelt prayer than one in which we’re just reciting empty words. It might even be wise to only recite verses you do know the meaning of until you learn the meaning of the others, though Al-Fatiha has to be recited completely for a valid prayer.
4) Don’t let your eyes wander. It’s sunnah to stare at the place before you where you will be making sujjud throughout the prayer. During ruku, look between your feet or at your feet, and during tashahhud, look at your index finger or lap. Darting eyes lead to distraction. Closing your eyes is disliked except in the event that it helps you to focus. If you find that closing your eyes causes your mind to wander or makes you sleepy, don’t continue, as this is the preferred act. However, if you have trouble keeping your eyes on the spot before you and your focus increases with closed eyes, it is permissible for you to do so.
5) Make sure you’re breathing. It sounds funny, but seriously, amongst remembering the right things to say and when to say them and what they mean and oh wait where do my hands go again? – shaytaan has a lot to play with here. More often then not, we probably don’t breathe normally during salah, causing irritation, absent-mindedness and a general discomfort that might make us want to rush through salah so we can just exhaaaaale. The solution is simple: recite properly. Qur’an is to be recited in measured tones, and it is beautifully divided into ayahs so we can read, stop- read, stop- read, stop. In fact, our entire prayer is designed to allow this sort of breathe-in, breathe-out meditation. Bend down in ruku (breathe in), stand back up (breathe out), go down in sajda (breathe in) sit back up (breathe out). That’s not a formula but do remember that deep breaths are a great way to peaceful submission.
6) Practice focus outside of salah. Having presence is an important part of daily interactions on many different levels. In being aware of everything from oncoming traffic to the body language of the people we talk to, being alert and attuned to the right things at the right times is key. So how does one practice? Choose a time of day in which you want to do this, say your subway ride home. Then make yourself extremely aware of one or two things. When I first learned of this, I was advised to start internally, with breathing. What you’ll end up doing is sitting in the subway breathing in and out and simultaneously telling yourself to breathe in, breathe out. Eventually move on to other surroundings but be sure that you’re deliberately choosing them. For example, “now I’m going to spend 5 minutes focusing on my sense of smell.” Increase the time increments and in some time, you’ll gain the ability to concentrate all your attention on whatever you set your mind to without being easily distracted. When prayer time comes around, or really whenever you want to make dhikr, you won’t have trouble gathering your thoughts, insha’Allah.
7) Another way of gaining focus outside of salah is to become very God-conscious. This is our ultimate goal anyway, to worship Allah Ta’ala as though we see Him. One way of doing this is to, whenever alone, repeat “Allah is with me, Allah beholds me.” This is from Al-Ghazali’s book of Invocations and Supplications, though forgive me, I don’t remember the name of the pious person from whom it’s transmitted. It’s useful in practice, though.
So I’ve listed a couple of ways that benefit me- and hopefully insha’Allah, you, too- in focusing during salah, but the gist of most of them is to start early. Don’t wait until salah time rolls around to be caught off-guard by worldly distractions. Learn to avoid them throughout your life so that those precious moments before your Lord are not wasted.
Review what you are reciting
In children who are being taught the Qur’an, we can observe a rather endearing but eventually harmful behavior – “mismemorization.” Whether it is because they haven’t developed the ability to pronounce certain sounds or through the negligence of their teachers (may Allah reward them for their efforts), kids often learn Qur’anic verses incorrectly. Unfortunately, we’re not always corrected, and so many of us go our whole lives reading the Qur’an without proper tajweed or worse – saying the wrong words altogether. If you’re not a native Arabic speaker, I would highly recommend that you find a transliteration of the Qur’an in whatever language suits you best and review the surahs you know so as to be sure that you’re saying what the Qur’an is saying. If possible, indulge in the beauties of proper recitation after that, too.
Hadrat Ka'ab bin Uzrah radiAllahu Ta'ala anhu reported that Allah's Messenger salAllahu alayhi wasalam said: There are some recitations after prayer, of which the reciters or the doers at the end of each obligatory prayer will not be disappointed -tasbih (SubhanAllah) 33 times, tahmid (Alhamdulilah) 33 times and takbir (Allahuakbar) 34 times." (Muslim)
In another narration, tasbih 33 times, tahmid 33 times, takbir 33 times and “la illaha illAllah, wahdahu la shareekalak, lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu, wa huwa ala qulli shay’in qadeer” once, which if recited, the reciter’s sins will be washed away, even if they should be equal to the foam of the sea.
Also, Thawban reported that when the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam turned away after completing the salah, he used to say astaghfirullah three times and "Allahumma antassalamu wa minkas salam tabarakta ya dhal jalali wal ikram" (I seek forgiveness from Allah, O Allah you are peace and from you comes peace. Blessed are You, O Master of Majesty and Honour!)
“Nothing prevents predestination except for du’a, and nothing stretches the age except piety.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
“Du’a is a weapon of a believer, a pillar of religion, and a light of the heavens and of the earth.” (Al-Hakim)
The importance of du’a overall is great. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala is Gracious and bestows upon those who ask and those who do not ask, so it is not because He won’t take care of us that we supplicate unto Him. Rather, it is to remind ourselves how lowly and dependent we really are on the Mercy of the One we worship. Actually, it is also so that we do depend on Him and Him alone, for who could be of greater reliance? It is for guidance and for protection from the evils of this world and the hereafter. It is to gain certainty that we are being looked over, we are being cared for.
Of the billion different times when we should ask from Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, there are some when the du’a of the supplicant will never be denied. One of these is after (obligatory) ritual prayer. Abu Umamah radiAllahu Ta'ala anhu reported: The Messenger of Allah salAllahu alayhi wasalam was asked: "At what time does the supplication find the greatest response?'' He replied, "A supplication made during the middle of the last part of the night and after the conclusion of the obligatory prayers.''[At-Tirmidhi]. So after we're done our salah, we should make a habit of asking from Allah Ta’ala, for He is listening. Don't let shaitaan fool you into believing that Allah won't listen to your prayers because you're a sinner, or worse, that your problems are too great to pray for. Allah loses nothing by answering our prayers and we have only to benefit by asking. Another very special time to supplicate is during sajdah, for Allah is nearer to His servant during this time than any other.
That being said, it is highly beneficial to learn the du'as of our Beloved Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wasalam. Of course we're allowed to use our own, too. However, the du'as of the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam encompass the proper wording and etiquette of invoking the Glorious Allah and they've been proven to work, so don't let these gems go undiscovered!
There are some prayers, which if performed regularly are of great merit and others given tremendous reward if done at all. Of the first are salat-ul Jummuah (which is obligatory upon men, anyway) performed every Friday and qiyyam-ul-layl or night prayer, or tahajjud. The latter is anything prayed after Isha. It can be performed as 2 rakah, or 4, or 6, or 8, etc and should be performed in sets of two rak’ahs, as in taraweeh prayer. It is best if prayed in the last third of the night, for this is when Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala descends to the lowest heaven and asks who is there asking to be forgiven? Who is there who is asking that I may grant his request? SubhanAllah, this happens every single night. We shouldn't miss it! One should withhold praying witr until after tahajjud prayer if he is sure that he will wake up for tahajjud prayer.
Salat-ul Tasbih is something I’ve never had the pleasure of performing but it is highly recommended. Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam said: O Abbas, O my uncle! Should I not give you, should I not tell you something in lieu of performance of which Allah will forgive all your past and future sins, old and new, done wittingly or unwittingly, evident or concealed. You should offer four rak'ah of prayers in a way that in each rak'ah after reciting surah Fatiha and a verse of the Qur'an say fifteen times "SubhanAllah walhamdulillah wa la ilaha illallahu wAllahu akbar" and then repeat it ten times before finishing the bow, ten times on standing erect and ten times before finishing each of the prostrations, ten times in between them and ten times after the second prostration before getting up. Thus in each rak'ah this has to be repeated seventy-five times. If you can, offer this prayer every day, if not once in every week or once in every month or at least once in a year. If even this is not possible, at least once in a life time." (Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Baihaqi).
See also: http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?id=1253.
May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala grant every pray-er, supplicator and believer His protection in this life, and His shade on The Day of Eternity, ameen. May Allah accept all of our noble efforts during this blessed month and always, and may He forgive us for all our shortcomings, ameen.
WAllahu ‘alim, wa billahi tawfiq.