How to Start Your Prayers

Part Five of Seven in the “Am I Muslim?” series for New Muslims.

I remember when I first accepted into Islam.  One muslim that I knew handed me a simple prayer book with the words “Salah” sketched on top.  He explained to me that the prayer was THE most important aspect of Islam.  He stressed that I needed to learn to pray first and foremost, above all else.  He encouraged me to start that very same night. 

Five years would pass before I would take up his advice.  Five whole, entire years.  I wanted to pray – the desire was there – but I didn’t.  I still don’t know why I waited so long.  I remember feeling that I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t be able to keep them up, so I didn’t try.  I remember making feeble attempts but being too afraid to do them in public, or around my friends, so I stopped trying.  I made thousands of excuses, but that was all they were, excuses.  I knew in the back of my mind that the only way I was going to get back in touch again with Allah was for me to begin my prayers.  It was the only way I could properly honor Allah for all He had given to me – for guiding me to Islam, for providing for me and my family, for being with me each and every day, closer than my jugular vein.  To bow down in worship, to show respect for Our Creator. 

Once I finally started visiting the masjid and seeing other Muslims around me praying, I knew it could be done.  But I still felt scared, I still felt it was an impossible task.  FIVE times a DAY?!  It seemed like I would never be able to do it.  I didn’t even know how to speak Arabic, how was I supposed to say the prayer?  I recall standing there in the masjid, frozen in fear when the adhan (the call to prayer) started to be recited over the speaker system.  Everyone in the masjid stopped what they were doing and we all started shuffling out the door up to the prayer hall.  A thousand thoughts ran through my mind – should I leave?  No, I can’t.  Should I try?  I don’t even know what to do or say.  What should I do?

The force of the women rounding the steps up to the prayer hall prevented me from making a mid-walk dash to the exit door.  I fumbled my way through wudu (the ritual cleaning you do before prayer) with the help of another sister (who I am still friends with today!) and clumsily entered the line.  I tried to focus on Allah as I followed the others’ motions, trying hard not to look as though I had no idea what I was doing.  It seemed so complicated, how was I ever going to remember when to do what?

The next week I returned.  The topic of the meeting was “salah.”  It was a sign to me that Allah was not about to let me drop out now.  The Imam met with us to answer questions, and while he was busy answering very specific, detailed questions about the salah, I timidly raised my hand and blurted out:  “What if you don’t know how to pray?”  I immediately turned red in the face – which led to me trying to NOT turn red in the face (which always results in even MORE blood rushing to my countenance and forcing more embarassment.) 

The Imam reassured me that it was okay not to know, and that everyone has to start somewhere.  He told me I could say it in english until I learned it in Arabic (in fact, that I should say it in my native language first so that I would be sure to understand the meaning of it.)  I asked him what was I supposed to do when everyone went to pray – since I didn’t know how to do it.  He said that Allah scans the hearts of everyone in prayer and knows their devotion.  He said as long as my heart is in worship, Allah will see that and accept my prayer.  He said I could say “Allahu akhbar” over and over in my prayer and that would be enough, as long as I felt the words I was speaking.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had always thought the prayer had to be done perfectly, and that Allah would not accept my prayer otherwise.  I was afraid to try it because I felt I would fail.  But the Imam’s words reassured me that Allah knows us and is patient with us.

That night when I went upstairs for the prayer, I asked the woman next to me if I could follow along with her, since I didn’t know how.  She seemed more than happy at my request, and I felt more comfortable not feeling as though I were merely going through the motions.

I finally felt like a Muslim.  All of the past five years, I knew I believed in Islam and I knew the Qur’an was a direct message from Our Creator.  I was sure of that.  But I never felt like a Muslim like I did when I started to pray.  Every day I pray, I feel lighter and I feel closer to Allah.  I feel right again.  I value the prayer in that it is not for Allah – it is for us.  He does not need us to worship Him – it is for our benefit. 

Because the prayer is done five times throughout the day, not much time can pass in the day before I am again in connection with Allah, reminding myself of Judgement Day, reminding myself that He alone is the only one who controls what goes on, and he alone is the only one to guide us on the right path.  I am reminded that the life of this world is only temporary, and our true reality will be brought to our consciousness after death.  The greatness of Allah is beyond our human comprehension.

The original point of this post when I started was not just to tell my story, but to help a person to know how to start the prayer.  I feel there are many, many sites and information online for someone to learn the actual prayer itself, but it is best to learn from another Muslim (if at all possible, although I completely understand that for alot of us, this may be nearly impossible, especially if you don’t know any other Muslims in your area.) 

One article I had read in the discussion groups at ummah.com really inspired me and helped me to start the prayer.  It really broke down for me the idea that I HAD to know and do all five immediately and if I didn’t do all five in the day, then I shouldn’t even try cause it simply wouldn’t be good enough.  So I would like to direct you to this article, as it provides the advice I would like to pass on to you about starting to pray.

The article is found in the New Muslims Support Group area of the ummah.com website.  This section is not open to the public, so I am not able to link you to the post.  I will add it as an additional post to this topic. 

Starting the prayer may seem like a difficult task, but its benefit far outweighs the difficulty you might be imagining.  I always thought that I had to be perfect in order to pray, but I realize now that learning to pray is simply a process, just like learning another language.  No one automatically knew how to pray, everyone learned how at some point.  You have to start somewhere to gain the knowledge of the actions and the words, and the meaning and significance will come to you as you progress.  As long as you are dedicated in your heart to Allah, Allah will see that and accept your prayer.

Note:  Next week for the “Am I Muslim Series” I have scheduled to post “Five Ways to Strengthen Your Faith.”  However, I am in the process of moving and I am unsure whether or not our internet will be available on this coming Monday.  So if you are waiting for the next segment of the series, be patient and as soon as I have internet again I will be posting.

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5 responses to “How to Start Your Prayers

  1. This is a fantastic post. You really hit my heart with this. I was raised as Muslim, but it took a long, long time for me to pray, even after I accepted Islam into my life. This describes much of what I went through, and I’m happy to see that you had such a wonderful imam and friends to help. My husband and I had each other and another convert. That’s how we got through. :) I’ll be sharing this one.

  2. Asalaamu ‘alaykum,
    An nice website that shows in detail the steps of prayer for our new brothers and sisters who want to practice at home can be found here (be sure to keep your volume on so you can hear the parts of prayer being recited as well):

    – To see the basic steps of Prayer, go to:
    http://english.islamway.com/prayer/BegSound.htm

    – If you want to learn prayers additional Sunnah actions, go to: http://english.islamway.com/prayer/AdvSound.htm

  3. Myhijabpinhatesme

    Wow–what a beautiful post!

    It intrigues me that Faith is Faith — I mean that there are Christian blogs out there that express similar issues of trying to fit God into their lives and here we all are, just trying to maintain our spirituality in the face of the secular world, Muslims and Christians and Jews all feeling awkward about displaying the outward signs of their faith in public, and even especially around friends, around family and in their own local neighborhoods, where one would think that people in a land where Pilgrims first fled to for Freedom of Religion should feel more comfortable.

    In my efforts to understand Islam prior to moving eventually to Morocco, i have been fasting for Ramadan, reading the Qur’an, and praying 5 times daily.

    A Christian man I had done some work for told me I was going to Hell for praying like a Muslim. I tried to explain that it is the same God, and asked him when was the last time he prayed 5 times in a day?

    Of course, until this week, I didn’t have the slightest idea how to pray, Muslim-style. I got myself a nice looking rubber-backed bathmat and made a point to head off to the local park at least for Dhuhr.

    I thought I was doing well getting a shower first, then heading off to pray and read, but then a Muslim shopkeeper explained that I should at least cover my head when I pray.

    The idea of standing out in public, looking like a Muslim in the city, in a sort of a populated but remote spot where I would be opening myself to potential violence by bigots or sensure, awkwardness, distrust by friends and community members who know me, added a new wrinkle to the effort:

    Instead of just trying to understand cultural norms of Morocco, I was getting a taste of the concerns of post 9/11 Muslims in America.

    I felt alone and vulnerable. I felt angry that I had to even consider this in what I had always believed was a “Free” country. I felt ashamed that, for my own Faith, for my God (after all, it is the same God), I was unable to bring myself to do this.

    And the one day, when I saw a Muslim man secretly praying at a picnic table –recognizing him only by the bottle of water he did not drink but used to perform Wudu, I was briefly heartened, but then overcome with embarrassment because I didn’t have my head covered, was wearing short sleeves to blend in, and I hadn’t thought to bring water to perform real Wudu where I was praying — not to mention the fact that I had no clue how to pray properly.

    I might have approached and asked him — I wanted to, wanted there to be strength in numbers to somehow make it ok for both of us to pray out in a public park — but I didn’t want to interrupt him, and wasn’t sure that it would be appropriate to talk to him during his prayers anyway.

    My second night at the Islamic Center halaqa, a woman gave me my very own Hijab head coverings — three gorgeous scarves and an under cap and neck piece, and a pin.

    I wanted to show them off to my shopkeeper-friend so I stopped on the way to the Mosque. After struggling to get everything just right. The pin, it seems, has a mind of its own and hates me. I’ve been stuck more times than I ever was in the hospital, and still it slips, but finally I got a close approximation of the proper look and suddenly realize that the only parking space available was way on the other side of the lot.

    I would have to walk past 6 stores and about 30 normally-dressed people with this on. It didn’t help that, as a person of Native American ancestry, I am light brown and have dark eyes that look piercing when my hair is pulled starkly away from my face.

    I felt them staring at me. A little boy pointed and shouted, “Lookie, Mommie — it’s one of those badguy people that kills Americans.”

    His mother didn’t correct him.

    In the spirit of Ramadan, I managed to restrain myself and NOT respond, “Lookie, it’s one of those selfish Washichus whose granddaddies stole land from the REAL Americans, threw babies up in the air and shot them for target practice along the Trail of Tears!”

    No, that wouldn’t have been inspiring of Peace at all.

    So I smiled my friendliest smile, said, “Hi there, have a great day!” waved and kept walking.

    One old man was struggling so hard not to look at me, he nearly walked right into me. I stepped aside and said, “Excuse me,” as if I were the one at fault. He looked up and snorted at me, just staring.

    When finally I made it into the store, my friend, the shopkeeper who usually greets me with a solid “hi-5” averted his eyes and looked down.

    “Salaam alikom, Sister,” he said, quietly, smiling ear to ear and nodding in approval, still averting his eyes.

    And then he laughed and looked up, “You look like a good Moroccan lady.”

    “Yeah,” I laughed. “Nobody can tell I’m one of those crazy American gals.”

    He shook his head and addressed me like an old married man (which he is — married, that is, but far younger than I am in age):

    “You should wear that more often — you will meet a better class of men, get a good husband.”

    For a moment, all the men I ever dated flitted past my eyes — among them, the minister who took over my inspirational book project, the Church Elder who didn’t want to date me because I was “too dark” for his tastes (and ended up having an affair with another Church Elder), and the ever so righteous former alter-boy who would have taken advantage of my memory loss after an injury, had it not been for my best friend being there.

    If all the available Muslim men weren’t sequestered on the other side of a 3 inch thick folding divider the whole time during services, I might be inclined to believe him.

    Not only that, but since I am not Muslim and the Islamic Center doesn’t sanctify interfaith marriages, that probably wouldn’t work, anyway because if I do ever convert, I’d better be converting to strengthen my connection to God, not just to get a man or community approval. And that may take a while and doesn’t have any guarantees at this point.

    Sighhhhhhhhh………

    “You are going to be late to prayers if you don’t hurry,” my shopkeeper friend said, gently.

    It seemed there was a different tone to his voice, a subtle but higher measure of respect.

    I walked out of the store in contemplation of what it means to be modest and openly Muslim in America — or other countries. To be able to pray openly and among others and be accepted.

    The fact that it was 1978 — my own childhood — before American Indians were granted the right to pray in their traditional ways was not lost on me in this moment, oddly juxtaposed with this truly monotheistic Islam, and me, the tangled mixed-blood wearing a hijab and hurrying off to the Maghrib prayer for Ramadan.

    I walked through the smattering of summertime shoppers with my head held level, a measure of peace within me, ready for prayer.

  4. Angelle –

    Thank you so much for contributing to this article. I have read your posts and your responses to my posts and I feel you are a great writer with great talent. I encourage you to start your own blog if you haven’t already, as your words can be a great, great inspiration to others who are learning about their own faith (whatever faith that may be.)

    I am so eager to speak with you more about your coming trip to Morocco. It sounds like you have a very pronounced goal in mind for this trip and I wish you the best of luck.

    As you have mentioned, I haven’t revisited in this blog in a long time. Your posts have reinspired me to come back to this blog at a time when I most needed it. I feel you have helped me to get back to what I care about most. For that, I thank you, and hope to be communicating with you more closely over the next few weeks.

  5. Angelle –

    How quickly I have forgotten my manners:

    Asallaamu alaykum – welcome to this blog and thank you for visiting.

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