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.