Saturday, 19 November 2011

Becoming spiritually punctual

(A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post)

Before I genuinely began to cultivate and nurture my relationship with God, I regarded the five daily prayers that Islam enjoins on believers as laborious. It seemed impractical to expect that I would be able to stop what I was doing during my busy work schedule to take time out and pray. 

Working as a news wire journalist, I was often spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the office or at conferences, interviews and meetings, barely able to make time for a lunch break. If I wasn’t working, my time was divided between house chores, errands, family and friends, and exercise. I was punctual with everything in my life, except that I was late five times a day.

Women praying at Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Mandy Merzaban photo
In my mind, it was not viable to expect that I could wake up before the crack of dawn to pray the early-morning prayer, fajr, otherwise I would be too tired to work effectively later that morning. It also seemed inefficient to interrupt my work meetings to pray duhr, the mid-day prayer, and asr, the afternoon prayer.

Making the sunset prayer maghrib was often a challenge because the window to pray is typically quite short and coincides with the time between finishing work, having dinner and returning home. So, in effect, the only prayer that was feasible for me to pray on time was isha, the evening prayer. For most of my life, thus, I would at best pray all five prayers in the evening, or skip prayers here and there to accommodate my immediate commitments.

Without realising it, my inconsistency and approach to praying trivialised the principle behind performing prayers throughout the day. I believed in God and loved Him, but on my own terms, not on the terms very clearly set out in the Quran and Prophetic teachings. Yet praying the five daily prayers, at their prescribed times, is the backbone of being a Muslim; we cannot stand upright in our faith without them. It is one of the essential practices that God has called on those who endeavour to live in Islam, a state of existence whereby a human strives to live in submission to God.

When I came to truly understand the importance of prayer, the realisation was both overwhelming and quick. It dawned on me that if I was not fulfilling this precondition, then I really could not claim to be Muslim. Even if I desired to have a solid connection with the Almighty I was not taking the necessary steps to do so. I promptly reoriented my life and it has now been a year and a half that I have not intentionally missed a prayer time, whether I am in the office, mall, grocery store, out with friends or travelling.

Looking back, I see how wrong I was about the impracticality of Islamic prayers, which are succinct and straightforward notwithstanding their resonance. When I moved from trying to fit prayers into my life to fitting my life around my prayer schedule, I instantly removed a great deal of clutter from my daily routine. Since regular prayer promotes emotional consistency and tranquillity, I began to eliminate excess negativity and cut down on unnecessary chitchat, helping me be more focused, productive and patient.

Over a short period of time, what amazed me was how easy and fluid the prayers became. Performing the early-morning prayer actually gave me a burst of energy during the day and, gradually, the prayers that I had initially perceived as cumbersome became an essential facet of my routine. With God’s help, I would find ways to make a prayer regardless of the hurdles. While in Canada for the summer, I would often catch duhr prayer in a department store fitting room, with the help of a handy Islamic prayer compass application on my Iphone.

“’Verily the soul becomes accustomed to what you accustom it to.’ That is to say: what you at first burden the soul with becomes nature to it in the end.”

This is a line drawn from a magnificent book I am in the process of reading by great Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali, entitled Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of Religious Sciences. Al-Ghazali describes a series of formulas, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, which we can repeat to help us attain greater proximity to the divine and purify our hearts.
Women praying outside Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by Mandy Merzaban
At each turn in my quest to enrich my faith, I have found that what at first appears difficult becomes easy when performed with sincerity. Soon after I reoriented my life to revolve around prayer, the five prayers felt insufficient in expressing my devotion. I examined Hadith, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and discovered there were optional prayers I could add to my routine. Since then, I have not let a day pass without praying them.

To supplement my prayers, I have integrated various zikr, or remembrance and mentioning of God, into my days. Zikr, including repeating such phrases as "la illa ha il Allah” (There is no God but God), habitually draws our attention back to God.

Among the many rich invocations mentioned in Ghazali’s book is this one which I have started to incorporate. As we leave our houses each day, if we say “In the name of God” (Bismillah), God will guide us; when we add “I trust in God” (Tawakalt al Allah), God will protect us; and if we conclude with “There is no might or power save with God” (La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), God will guard us.

I suppose to an outsider, these acts of devotion can appear a bit obsessive, and I have had a couple of people say this to me. Yet it is an obsession with the greatest possible consequences that can improve rather than disintegrate one’s disposition. The more time I devote to God, the greater the peace of mind I find filling my life and the more focused I become on what is important – such as treating my family and friends honourably, working hard in my job, giving charity with compassion and generosity, and maintaining integrity.

Remembering God throughout the day, through prayer and invocation, truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches; you erase obstructions that would impede faith in its purest form.

“Truly when a man loves a thing, he repeatedly mentions it, and when he repeatedly mentions a thing, even if that may be burdensome, he loves it,” writes Ghazali.


  1. Beautifully articulate...
    I bet most Muslims working in the corporate world can relate with your experiance and be inspired as well..
    Congratulations on your new job.
    By the way, I am finally moving to work in the GCC :)

  2. I came here over the huffpost, because I liked this article so very much. All those muslims out there should read it, who think they cannot pray regularly AND have a good job.
    The blog also looks great - I will go on reading, inshaAllah. May Allah reward you for your efforts.

  3. Thank you so much "Alien59":) It has been an inspirational couple of years for me uncovering layers of my faith, and discovering what we are capable of as humans. I would be very happy for you to read and leave feedback because I don't typically get a lot:) God bless, Daliah

  4. i came to read this, ( i dont feel like saying article) by The Will of God, via facebook. This is something which I believe is good. All good is in the hands of The Almighty. But why did I choose to write a comment? What was my real intention?

  5. I initially read this article at Huff post, and to say the least I found it truly inspirational, so inspirational in fact that I shared it(which I rarely do). After reading this article, I couldn't but help but ask you a personal question. I acknowledge that I have no right to ask it, and I will absolutely not be offended if you refuse to answer. The reason I ask is not to be judgmental- because God knows I am in no position to be so- I am just curious because I face this a lot. So now that I somewhat prepared you, here we go.

    How come you decided not to wear a hijab?

    As I mentioned its non of my business, I am just really curious because I am going through my own spiritual struggle. Is it that you're not ready yet, or you don't believe its necessary. Don't worry, I have no intention of having a discussion or convincing you to adorn it, its not my place to do so.

    Ps: The quotes you took from Ghazali's book are phenomenal, and I can't wait to read his book.

    Once again amazing job.

  6. Hi Daliah !
    You're my discovery of the evening...
    I just read your post and I loved it ! It was like I was reading my own story. Exactly a year and half ago, I started being regular and punctual in my payers, and I'm so happy that I managed to come this far. For me, it's a bit easier as I'm still writing my Ph.D. and I'm working mainly at home. But somehow, I think it's good beacause now I'm used to praying and I feel incomplete without it. So I manage, when I have busy days outside the house or travel, to keep up praying on time. I started praying Salat Al-fajr regularly in Ramadan this year and I decided not to stop. I confess, it's a bit harder than I thought but I struggle to continue, especially that in the winter, it's a lot easier to get accustomed to this paryer as Fajr isn't at 3 A.M.!!! So I'm keeping up hoping InshAllah that God will help me with it.
    Your story is so inspiring and I loved to see that I'm not the only one reconnecting with Islam and feeling really fullfilled by it. So thank you for sharing this and from now on, I'm following you on Twitter and on your blog. Maybe you want to follow me too : @SihamAl
    God bless you !

  7. Fantastic post!!

    You may enjoy reading this. I came across this some time ago:

  8. May Allah continue to increase you in faith, good deeds and perseverance. Inspirational read.

  9. Thank you very much LB for your considerate comment. Firstly, Al-Ghazali’s book is incredible. To be honest, I have only reached page 50 up to now because every few pages there are invocations and dua that I want to include in my day that require memorisation. It is such a valuable (and indeed very scientific) guide to living in submission. I look forward to reading more of his comprehensive body of work.

    It’s a bit tough for me to answer your query about hijab in a paragraph or two to be honest because for me the reasons I am not covering my hair at this stage are quite complex and unique. It isn’t a matter of thinking it is not necessary, nor is it a matter of not being ready, nor do I think a Muslim woman's identity need to be inextricably linked to hijab.

    When God so beautifully opened my heart to His Love and His Message, my entire outlook on life transformed, and I have written a lot about this on my blog. Since then with His guidance I have started to prioritise what I need to do to draw myself nearer to Him. So I’ve worked hard to read Quran and Hadith regularly, to pray properly and thoughtfully, memorise more surahs to incorporate into prayer, give dua properly and take Arabic lessons to better be able to read and communicate in this rich language in which the Quran was revealed.

    I’ve also strived to find ways to better distribute sadaqah, in addition to the annual zakat, from the wealth that God has blessed me with, tried to work on how I deal with impatience and anger in my daily life, and in general to involve God in all activities.

    I’m working on so many fronts with God’s guidance in my quest to try to become a better Muslim. At this stage, attire has not been on the top of my priority list. This isn’t to say my clothing choices have not changed – they have. I’ve always been quite modest in how I dress, but I’ve become moreso and I expect I will continue to.

    Hope that was somewhat useful. God bless!

  10. Thank you kindly Siham for sharing your experience, best of luck with your PhD! You know it is funny because I prefer when fajr is earlier because then you can go back to sleep for a number of hours straight—I guess that is just me. I don’t think it is necessarily easier or more difficult to pray on time based on where you live or work or study. There are always going to be obstacles to praying on time in our busy lives, even if we are staying home all day. I believe that once we have forged that connection with God and feel incomplete without prayer, Allah helps us facilitate it because we are in constant communication with Him.

    I agree, I have found nothing more fulfilling in my life than striving to live in Islam. It is the purpose of our lives and that is why I believe it is so important for us not to waver in the core pillars of the faith; we truly are God’s ambassadors on earth.

    Thanks so much for your comment, I look forward to more of your feedback.

  11. Thank you Sis for this entry. I find it hard to fit in prayers in my school schedule too, while studying in a secular school in Singapore. Even though my school provides Musollah for Muslim students to pray, I still find it hard to perform prayers on time.

    It's through Muslims like you that other Muslims aspire to be better Muslims, masyaallah. Thank you so much!

    - Ida

  12. Beautiful Article Dew, I loved reading it's each word as I had same problem, I used to miss my Morning prayers due to my late night sleeping, which made me sad the next morning when missed my prayers hence led me to begin my day with guilty, so I decided to cut down my extra chats etc with friends & family, & reading stufftill late night, getting up ealry in morning benefied me with healthy concentration power & glowing-smiling skin :)