Focusing in Our Prayer

[These are the rough notes of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed on Jul 26 in Lenasia, SA]


Certainly will the believers have succeeded; they are those who are humbly submissive during their prayer

Allah swt blessed us all to offer this month of Ramadan and fast the full 30 days – imagine those people who have been blessed to pray every single salah in their life without making a qadha!

There are people who can say this about their fasts, but how many people can say this about their salah? Some people can even say I did more than just fast the fardh fasts in Ramadan – I prayed my tarawih every single night of every Ramadan; I even made extra du’a and prayed extra Qur’an every single day of Ramadan – but how many of us can say that they haven’t made a single salah qadha?

And not only this, I even did more! I also felt closer to Allah swt in every salah, I felt the dhikr, I prayed sunnahs, I prayed nafl, I prayed Tahajjud- how many can say this that I put effort in beautifying my salah just like I put effort to beautify my Ramadan?

Why not spend this month of Shawwal to work on our prayer? There are many things that have been explained about salah by Allah swt, by our Nabi sws and by our pious predecessors. The first thing is this ayah (mentioned in the beginning).

This is different to just know the masa’il in regards to salah, to performing our salah – this is an attribute of salah; it is a feeling.

The first meaning our mashaikh give for this word khushu’ is from the word khashiyah, which means fear, or a better term would be ‘reverence’ – to have awe and reverence for a Being who is greater than you. We constantly repeat ‘allahu akbar’ in our salah before every movement – this is meant to put more and more khushu’ in our salah, so much so, that after we say salam, we should  say Allahu Akbar again! So look at how much kushu Allah swt wants us to have in our salah .

The second meaning is to turn our attention away from everything and completely turn to Allah swt – what does it mean to have awe of someone? It means at that point, everything else should be inconsequential! This is another feature we are supposed to have. Dunya means anything in the dunya – even the halal and hasanat of the dunya. All attention of the entire mind and heart should be for Allah swt.

The third meaning is to have inner peace and calm.

The fourth meaning is to have an outer stillness – it means you stop rubbing yourself. You would be amazed at how much someone can fidget in his or her salah. The outward restlessness is an indication of their inner restlessness, and the outward calm is an indication of the inner calm the person is feeling.

One of the ‘ulama of the hanafi madhab presented the fact that we don’t do rafa’ yadayn after ruku because of this reason – he said that Imam Bayhaqi (rah), a staunch shafi’i faqih and muhaddith who wrote many books to support the shafi’i rulings – in his As-Sunan al-Kubra, he made a chapter on kushu in salah and he put the hadith where Nabi sws didn’t do rafa’ yadayn. This is an aspect of calmness and kushu in salah because you have less movement.

Allah swt said in Qur’an –

wa qumu lillahi qanitin – and stand before Allah with complete devotion.

Qad aflahal-mu’minun; allathina hum fi salatihim khashiun

Qanitin here can mean as pious, righteous and virtuous as you can. Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) says regarding this that qanitin means a certain particular khushu’ – to stand still in front of Allah swt, like in school when a student is summoned to stand in front of his principal – their eyes are supposed to look at the place where they make sajdah – they shouldn’t have the boldness to look up, or event straight. It is to stand out of respect, in awe of the person you are standing in front of with complete devotion.

In another place, Allah swt has mentioned in Qur’an

‘wa aqimis-salati lidhikri – and establish the prayer for MY remembrance.

So it means we should be from those who have feelings of dhikr for Allah swt inside our salah. Why don’t we have this dhikr? It’s because we are not from the khashi’in, nor the qanitin – we don’t even have the outward or inner calm. Our minds are processing so many thoughts – what do I have to do after salah? We can’t turn it off.

When we say Allahu Akbar, we still think about the things we did before salah, and what we have to do after salah. Imagine the person who makes so much effort, he leaves his workplace to come to the masjid, and he prays his sunnahs before and after, he prays with jama’at – he takes 20/30 minutes out, yet he still doesn’t feel the dhikr of Allah! They couldn’t still feel feelings.

Okay, on a rare occasion, they might not be able to concentrate – but we all know this isn’t a rarity. Those who pray regularly in the masjid will say they cannot feel anything – day after day, week after week, month after month. You should have done something the first time it happened.

One of the major, major, major things taught in suluk is how to fix this salah – so many ‘ulama gave bay’ah for this reason, so many from our Deoband akabir – when they were asked why they gave bay’ah, they will say they gave bay’ah to fix their salah. Very few people have such a level of taqwa where it may come to them naturally without being taught. Some people don’t feel this because they neglected this tarbiyyah of being taught how to get these feelings.

Allah swt has described these people in the Qur’an who don’t get these feelings. Allah swt has said

fawaylul lil-musallin, allathin hum ‘an salatihim sahun – so woe to those who pray; those who are heedless of their prayer’!

For Allah swt to call someone musallin means they must have really established the prayer. Just like dhakirin is someone who does dhikr abundantly, just like mukhlisin is someone who is very sincere, mussalin must mean they pray regularly. Allah swt is saying may calamity befall the one who are negligent inside salah! One reason is:

‘allathina hum yura’un – those who make a show of their deeds’, so they pray salah to show people, for display and ostentation.

Allah swt has also said in Qur’an,

wa itha qamu ilas-salati, qamu kusala, yura’unan-nasa wa la yadhkurunallaha illa qalila – when they stand up to prayer, they stand without earnestness (they stand lazily), to be seen by people, and little do they hold Allah swt in remembrance’.

This ayah was revealed originally for the hypocrites, but the ‘ulama of tafsir mention it can still apply to anyone who fits this description. Those who stand lazily, lackadaisically – their heart and mind are somewhere else – do we fit this description? They want to show themselves off to people and they don’t remember except a little.

This is amazing – Allah swt is describing hypocrites who prayed for show lazily, even they got some remembrance, they got ‘dhikr qalil’ – and there are those of us who pray, yet we don’t remember Allah swt at all! This means the conditions of our hearts are worse than the hypocrites.

The ‘arifin mention that a reason for this is that the hypocrites were praying behind Nabi Karim sws,and because of that nisbat (connection), they were able to achieve this remembrance. Even though their hearts were empty and they were lazy, they were praying behind Nabi sws – even that had an effect!

So, a sign of a hypocrite is that they remember Allah swt a little – we are supposed to remember Allah swt a whole lot in our salah.

There are some ahadith where Nabi sws has mention similar topics –to the nearest meaning, it is mentioned in Tirmidhi that salah is this concept of being still and humble, to penitently present yourself to Allah swt. In Bukhari, the word tadharru’ is added which is also a word used for humility. Abu Dawud has a mention a hadith to the nearest meaning that Allah swt remains attentive to the person praying salah as long as that person remains attentive towards their salah.

This shows how much we have lost. People may think if I can’t concentrate, if I can’t focus – so what? Look at what you’re missing! Is this a small thing to miss out, the gaze of love, karam and mercy from Allah swt? Some people think for me to pray in itself is a big deal, why are you asking me for so much. One glance from Allah swt would be worth to sacrifice every single thing we have in this world.

But this isn’t just a glance, He swt will gaze at us will love as long as we remain attentive to Him! Salah is an act of love, an expression of love – and salah is also something where we receive this love from Allah swt. So it is very important we get these feelings back. As salikin, we want Allah swt to love us – the main dhikr is salah. If we don’t convert our salah into dhikr, then all the adhkar wont even have an effect.

Once Nabi sws saw a sahabi playing with his beard in salah, and he said to Abu Hurayra (ra) that if there had been calmness in his body (in his heart), it would have manifested on the outside; there would have been stillness in his body.

Nabi sws mentions more things we can attain by having kushu in salah. It is mention in Muslim and Bukhari that if a person prays two rakahs in such a way where they don’t get occupied with anything from this world, then Allah swt will forgive all their previous sins. This is why our masha’ikh would go to learn these things. Allah swt values this focus and concentration.

Yes, we all know that if we travel for Hajj, and our Hajj is accepted then our sins will be forgiven – but this is right here; it requires no travel, sacrifice or expense. We can do this from our own homes! It just requires effort. This is why we learn dhikr of the heart – it helps train a person’s heart to get these feelings. In salah, our tongue is making dhikr – that’s not the problem; that’s a common denominator.

We recite everything, yes – the tongue is making dhikr, but our heart isn’t! In the narration in Muslim, Nabi sws added an extra line that all sins are forgiven, except the major sins.

Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, Imam Rabbani, Mujaddid Alif Thani rah mentions that in salah, every single aspect of physical khushu will lead to internal khushu. Even the imitation of Nabi sws of keeping the fingers together in sujud, and separate in ruku’ can bring us this dhikr in salah.

Then he mentioned the sunnah places we should look at; when we are in qiyam, we should look at the place of sajdah; when we are in ruku’ we should gaze at our feet; when in sajdah, we should gaze at our nose and when in tashahhud, we should gaze at the level of our hands/lap. Even the way we gaze can increase our dhikr of Allah swt as this is all from the sunnah! The greatest way to get the dhikr is via the sunnah!

Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi mentions that outside of salah, the heart should not seek the pleasure of any ghayrullah! The pleasure of our heart should lie in pleasing Allah swt only.

Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (rah) wrote a book called ‘Hujjat Allah al-Baligha’, and inside there he mentions says the spirit of salah is that a person stands with hudhur (presence of mind), and in their salah, they should be thinking and reflecting about both the jalal (awe and majesty) and jamal (beauty – love and hope) of Allah swt. If they do this, then they will get this presence of mind – they are unaware of everything else, and they are exclusively aware of their salah.

Imam Ghazali (rah) said the same thing prior to Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (rah) and he used the particular term ‘hudhur al-qalb – presence of the heart’. One great mufassir by the name of Allama Alusi (rah) who wrote the tafsir book ‘ruh al ma’ani’ – he wrote that kushu isn’t a prerequisite for your salah being valid; however, it is a prerequisite for your salah being beloved to Allah swt.

We also get help from Allah swt via salah – ‘ista’inu bis-sabri was-salah – seek help with perseverance and prayer!

’‘Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’in – only You do we worship, and from only You, we seek help’

Usually, when we are stuck in situation, we use Allah swt as a resort to seek help – the first thing we do is seek the help of Allah swt via salah. Pray two rakah Salatul Hajah! There was a wali of Allah swt who wrote a poem in Arabic regarding those who are heedless of Allah swt in our prayer (the English translation is as follows):

There are many people who pray salah,
who get nothing out of their salah,
other than staring at the carpet of their masjid!
O you heedless person, you pray such a heartless salah,
that your salah might even make you worthy of punishment
Woe be upon you; you knew who you were so distracted with
and with whom you prostrated to with such heartlessness,
and then you dare address him by saying ‘iyyaka na’budu’
and in the very state of ‘ibadah, your heart is elsewhere.
O person, have shame – are you not ashamed by the fact that rabbul ‘alamin
is gazing upon your heedless and distraction,
when He himself wished to gaze at you with love and devotion!

Because this word ‘iyyaka’ in Arabic, it means ‘only You’ – you dare tell him only you, and at the same time, you are thinking of so many things other than him.The reality is if someone talked to you, and they even looked somewhere else, you would get angry! This is exactly our condition.

How to get this khushu’

Imam Ghazali (rah) has mention 6 ways on how to attain this khushu’ in his ‘ihya ‘ulum-uddin’.

  1. Have presence of heart – the person should be fully focused and aware of what they are doing. Their heart should be empty of everything else. How to get it? Simply use your own willpower, and approach the salah with this concern that ya Rabb, all I want in this salah is to only remember You. You must actively and dynamically to steer their focus and keep their concentration on Allah swt. Ye karni ki cheez he, bas karne ke der he – all you have to do is simply do it! We can do everything else – why do we stop at that final step to make our heart focused? No person would be inattentive in front of the Kings of this World, how is that we are so inattentive in front of the King of all Kings?
  1. Understand and comprehend the meaning. This is something different because a person might not be distracted, but they cannot go to the next level, as they don’t understand what they pray. It is an incredible blessing to understand the meanings – this is not restricted to ‘ulama. It should be accessible to all, yet many of us, we haven’t tried! The truth is that to understand all the qur’an would be required if you recite all of qur’an, if you are a hafidh/hafidha – for those of us who aren’t, at the very least, we should know the meanings of the parts we have memorized. Many people haven’t even memorized one juz, but even if you have, then you only need to understand 3.3% of the Qur’an! When you recite those passages you understand, you can get this second level of khushu. The meanings of Qur’an are deep so they will not fail to move you. On the flipside, there are people who understand the meanings, yet they don’t have the focus – they will recite the words, but they wont even reflect on the meanings. They are not aware and conscious of the meanings.
  1. Pray with awe and reverence – you can do this when you know the jalal of Allah swt – His splendor, His greatness, His might. Many verses in the Qur’an mention this. Another way is to know our own humble nature. We need to realise our lowly nature.
  1. Have haybah – this is another type of fear. There are so many words used to describe this fear – khauf, khashiyah and haybah etc. Haybah is the fear of the punishment, the might of Allah swt – He swt wants us to feel this when we pray ‘ghayril magdhoobi ‘alayhim’ – that ya Allah, don’t make me from those people You are angry with! I am terrified of ever being from such a person upon whom your anger falls – yet we just roll over these words, we don’t even feel a thing. Most of us even know the translation – feeling is different to just knowing the meaning. Feeling whilst reciting is khushu.
  1. To have hope in the mercy, forgiveness and love of Allah swt – one way to attain this is to think of the blessings Allah swt has bestowed upon you – even the blessing of this standing in front of Allah swt in salah – ya Rabb, I did so many sins at night, I did so many sins between Zuhr and Asr, and you still let me stand in front of you. Think like this – ya Rabb, I made my Fajr qadha, yet you still let me stand in front of You for Zuhr! Allahu Akbar Kabira – Allah swt should have said that even though the muaddhin told you that Fajr is better than sleep (as-salatu khayrum minan-nawm), you thought sleep was better, so now it is finished. Allah swt could have stripped all the tawfiq away from us. We chose not to pray; we chose not to enter the door to pray, Allah swt could have closed it forever for us. It could have been like that! It would be just and fair for Allah swt to do that considering His Might and Grandeur. But we know, this doesn’t happen. This should give us great hope in the Mercy of Allah swt.
  1. Have haya – this means to have modesty in front of Allah swt. This is the reason why many of us don’t get this khushu in this day and age. When it is used in regards to Allah swt, it means to feel shame, remorse, and feel embarrassed regarding our sins. However, haya also has a different meaning, which as we all know is chastity and purity. When a person loses their haya with creation, they will lose their haya with their Creator. This is a major flaw we have. We can’t feel this sense of shame over our sins in salah. We don’t pray like the sinners we are. A prayer of a sinner should be even more – they should be more penitent, more remorseful! We are those sinners, but we cannot pray the prayer of the sinners. WE cannot feel this haya, because we have lost it with creation.

What’s the maximum a person can get if they follow these six steps? What’s the highest level we can reach? What is ihsan? Nabi sws described it for us in a hadith;

An ta’budullaha ka’anaka tarahu, fa-il-lam takun tarahu fainnahu yarak

That you worship Allah swt as if you were seeing Allah swr, And if you can’t then He is seeing you. Many people misunderstand this – they think it means you should see what Allah swt looks like! This isn’t possible. There is no concept of imagining what Allah swt looks like, or you looking at Allah swt.

The concept is that were you to be gazing at Allah swt like the people of Jannah will, how would your heart feel? How would that make you feel? How would you be feeling? Imagine the feeling! Don’t imagine the looking! Imagine the feeling, and pray the prayer with that same feeling.

This is the nisbat with mi’raj, because what happened then? Nabi sws saw Allah swt during mi’raj and he fell into sajdah. The second thing is that if you can’t do that, then worship in such a way where Allah swt is looking at you. Become aware that Allah swt is gazing at you – if you are gazing at Allah swt, that is something else, but this is a reality. Realise that! Be aware of that. Pray with that same feeling.

A major thing is to make du’a to pray such a salah – not just du’a once, but constant du’a. When we make du’a in the night, when we make du’a in the day, when we make du’a after salah, after dhikr – we should constantly always ask for this. The thing is that we don’t even make those steps we have discussed, but we don’t even make du’a.

If you tell someone Allah swt accepts du’a at a particular time, then this is the first du’a we should be making – we should be asking Allah swt, that ya Allah, I want to feel the feelings in salah’ I want to pray salah as though I’m looking at You. But no, we immediately think of our worldly needs. Our priority should be for the greatest deeni thing – one of the greatest dini things we need to ask for is this khushu.

We should be scared – really scared! How can it be that prayer after prayer, week after week, day after day – even when I’m in masjid, even if I am in Makkah Mukarramah or Madinah Munawwarah, even in i’tikaf or in Ramadan, even with all these extra features, people still say I couldn’t feel anything in salah. A person should be worried about this.

If we couldn’t feel anything with any part of our body for e.g. say someone’s finger was paralysed, they would race to a doctor. If the doctor told them that don’t worry, your other nine fingers are fine, your lungs are fine, your liver is fine, your heart are fine, so you should do shukr.

You would say to the doctor, I do shukr, but this one finger is paralysed – I’ve lost feeling; I’ve lost sensation. You would insist that it must be cured! It would be intolerable for you! So one paralysed finger would be so intolerable to you, imagine your qalb, your spiritual heart is paralysed; it is unable to feel feelings, so why is it tolerable to you? How have you been tolerating that for so long? You should be more worried. Like that person rushes to the doctor, you should be racing to the mashaikh.

This is another amazing thing – the mashaikh travel to visit you so you can ask these questions, you can seek help for this, yet we don’t ask these things. When the mashaikh come, you want to talk about marriage, you want to talk about your family problems, you want to talk about business – you want to talk about oh, so many things.

Mashaikh think, okay lets clear the air then they will ask the real questions that they need to ask, but no – you say ‘jazakallahu khayr, wassalam, I’m so happy you gave me time!’ Where was the question about fixing your salah? Where was the question about fixing your du’a? Where was the question about lowering your gaze? Where was the question about controlling your anger? You can’t ask these questions! So strange, so strange!

Can you imagine someone going to a medical doctor for this reason? They would kick you out of their office! If someone went to them and talked to them about family problems, the doctor would be surprised. He may entertain them for five minutes, but the doctor will be wondering that when will this person ask the real question. Imagine the person then says ‘thank you doctor for your time’ and then he leaves – The doctor will think he didn’t ask regarding the sickness, or the cure, or the medicine!

People have spiritual cancer and instead of representing their cancer, they come and show their pimple! Can you imagine? For 20 years, I’ve been on this path and I cannot tell you how few people come to me and ask me this question – how can I improve my salah? So strange! We don’t even worry about our salah. The problem is occurring five times a day, so how can they not take this seriously? We have to take this very seriously.

There was a great muhaddith whose name was Mawlana Manzur Ahmed Nu’mani (rah) – he wrote the famous compilation of hadith ‘ma’ariful hadith’. He has written a beautiful book in Urdu called ‘haqiqatus-salah – namaz ki haqiqat’ which means the reality of salah. Read this book if you understand Urdu.

The book will take you all the way; it will explain the feelings you should have when hearing every line from the adhan, when washing every limb of your body in wudu, when entering the masjid, when saying takbir tahrima, when reciting Surah Fatiha, when reciting a surah, when physically moving in ruku, when saying ‘subhana Rabbiy-al’Azim’ then what you should feel when physically rising up from that, how you should feel when you say rabbana lakal hamd, what should you feel in the physical act of going down into sujud, how you should feel when you say ‘subhana Rabbiy-alA’la’, how you should feel when you raise your heard from sujud, how you should feel when you say tashahhud, when you say durud, when you make du’a and how you should feel when you make salam!

Mashaikh teach these things, but few people are interested in this. Few people are searching for books like this. We search and surf for so many other things on our screen; we have so many other books on our bookshelves and coffee tables!

So where to begin? What is the bare minimum beginning; what is the entry point? The best way to begin is to fix your sajdah because Allah swt said in Qur’an make sajdah and you will get qurb (wasjud waqtarib). Sajdah is that place where you feel closest to Allah swt. It is the greatest chance to get the closeness. So begin with this. Firstly, understand the meaning.

Subhana Rabbiy-alA’la’

Subhan means Allah swt is above and beyond. He is exalted; He is amazing. In fancy terms, it means He is free of every single flaw and imperfection, even the hypothetical possible defects. He is adorned with every wonder and every perfection – you can simply say He swt is amazing!

The second word is Rabbi – so that amazing Allah swt is mine. He is my Rabb! We began in Surah Fatiha saying He is ‘Rabbul ‘alamin – the Rabb of all theWorlds’, and now we are saying He is mine. Now we are supposed to have a different feeling. It is supposed to give you pleasure and joy.

When you have a nice car, you get happy because you think it is mine. When women get a nice new kitchen and appliances, they get happy and they think it is mine. They get this feeling of joy. They get this feeling that this wonderful, amazing thing is mine.

So the feeling we are supposed to get in sajdah is that this amazing Allah swt is mine. You should lower your head and try not to raise it until you get this feeling that Allah swt is My Rabb! If you can just say the word Rabbi with it’s proper feeling, then this will be a great way to unlock the feelings of salah.

Then al-A’la – in ruku we say ‘al-‘Azim’, and in sajdah ‘al-A’la’- why? al-‘Azim’ is referring to the ‘azmat of Allah swt. We were bowing to physically lower ourselves in front of the greatness of Allah swt, but we could have said the same thing in sujud! In sujud, we are at the lowest physical position, and we press our foreheads to the ground – so we go as low as we can. We cannot physically go any lower, so the way to feel lower is to proclaim Allah swt is al-A’la – He is exalted! So we lower ourselves as much as we can and then we raise the praise of Allah swt as much as we can.

The awliya’ullah, they get a different flavour every time they pray. Like Allah swt has said Every single day, Allah swt manifests Himself in a new splendour, in a new beauty.

They felt this beauty. This is why they used to pray all night. You can’t just make yourself do that. Tahajjud is a prayer of love – you can force yourself to wake up for Fajr, but you can’t force yourself to wake up for Tahajjud. You might once or twice, but you cannot do it regularly. These people felt feelings, hence they were able to pray so much.

So we should make constant effort five times a day, every time we pray. We need to make an effort, and we need to keep making this effort, keep making this effort. We need to let ourselves linger in sujud, and a little bit in ruku; we need to recite slower so we can feel and relish the meaning so they can move our hearts. We shouldn’t let the prayer finish whilst our hearts remain unmoved. This is a major mission.

Our mashaikh naqshband teach dhikr qalbi – this will help you get the presence of heart in salah. It is our heart which is missing in salah. How do you make this dhikr qalbi? All you have to do is sit down in your free time.

Kulla yawmin huwa fi sha’n.

Fa itha faragta fansab, wa ila rabbika fargab

So when you are free, be firm, and turn to your Rabb in yearning and longing. Sit down and remember Allah swt from your heart. Not the heart that pumps blood, but the heart of your ruh = your spiritual heart! How do you remember Allah swt from your heart? Simply make an intention that your qalb is making dhikr. Still a person might say that I need to focus.

The way we focus is by focusing on the name of Allah swt because it has barakah – tabarukasmu Rabbik (full of barakah is the name of your Rabb), and the name of your Rabb is Allah swt. The greatest barakah is that when you remember His name, you end up remembering Him. We don’t need to imagine or conceptualize anything because Allah swt has gifted us this ism dhat, Allah! All you have to do is make dhikr of His name, and you will be making dhikr of Him.

Sit in stillness – no action, no movement. Your breathing should be normal. This will help you practise khushu. You sit in stillness and you simply make an intention. You should practise this at least five minutes a day, ten minutes a day, once a day, twice a day…as much as you can. It is a good warm up exercise for salah. If you do it before salah, it will help you unclutter your mind. If you do it after salah, it will help you retain the nur for longer. It is a good after taste if you linger after salah and practise this. Some people do it before and after every salah!

We have seen so many people who practised this regularly, those who kept sitting and kept trying, and they say Alhamdullilah, we are able to remember Allah swt more in salah. Our mashaikh don’t just give the teachings, but they give the practical medicine too.

May Allah swt allow us all to feel the feelings in salah, and other acts of ‘ibadah.


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One thought on “Focusing in Our Prayer

  1. Pingback: On How To Get Qalb-e-Saleem | Marajal Bahrain

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