I received the following message from a sister who wishes to remain anonymous. She has agreed to share her question, since it may be something others may be struggling with.
“Sister, I have a problem. I cannot enjoy salah. I try to but I can’t. Every time I have to get up and pray, I feel like it’s such a burden and I’m doing it only because I have to, not because I want to. I want to feel like I want to pray. I’m jealous of people who look like they’re enjoying it. Can you tell me what I can do to solve this problem? I feel like my heart is no longer pure.”
First of all, don’t say that your heart is not pure. The mere fact that you are trying to solve this “problem,” means that there is good in your heart. You should begin to worry when you no longer care. We are at times overshadowed by our busy lives and forget to self-reflect and self-assess. You’re on the right track. You assessed yourself and have concluded that there’s something in your life that you are lacking. Now the question is, why do you feel like this? Why do we all, at one point, feel like this?
For Some, Salah is an Acquired Taste
Every time you come this close to tasting the so-called “sweet” taste of salah, you burn your tongue with distractions, it becomes numb and you lose sensation.
You know how they say coffee is an acquired taste? (I don’t like coffee but that’s what I hear!) It’s extremely strong for most in the beginning and need to take it with sugar and milk until they can take it black (and some never reach that stage). Coffee is bitter; it’s not naturally sweet. For some, salah is only a parallel. It’s too bitter and takes too much effort to start liking.
Most people don’t start drinking coffee because they thought it was “Oh so delicious” the first time they tried it. Usually people are attracted to it for its smell, its caffeine, or perhaps for the ritual of drinking it during breakfast or after dinner. Essentially, for a lot of people, they start drinking it for the idea of coffee rather than the taste of coffee itself.
Similarly for salah, you have to constantly try it to start truly enjoying its taste.
Unlike coffee, salah is not naturally bitter; it’s naturally sweet, but because of our laziness and our low state of iman, we consider it to be too heavy.
The same way the idea of coffee getting you through the day gave you the push to start drinking, think of salah under the same light. Salah is your daily cup of iman to help get you through not just the day, but through life (this one and the next).
It may seem hard in the beginning, but if you take it gradually, step by step, you won’t be able to go a day without it. The same way your body becomes addicted to coffee’s daily dose of caffeine, you’ll need your daily dose of salah— five times a day. (Luckily, unlike caffeine, you can’t overdose with salah).
Realize it’s Your Loss, Not His
We need to make something very clear:
We don’t pray because Allah “needs” us to; we pray because we need Him.
Only when we truly understand this fundamental statement, can we then take the next step forward. Not only does God not need us, he does not “need”– period. The reason we don’t feel the spark everyone talks about is because we don’t feel like we need Him. We know it in our minds, but we don’t know it in our hearts. We attribute our success to our selves. “I did it.” “I studied hard and aced that test.” “I worked hard and that’s why I’m rich.” We can’t expect to wholeheartedly pray to Allah if we feel like we don’t need Allah.
Salah is your umbilical cord that keeps you connected to Allah SWT. It’s where you are spiritually nourished and fed– your source of survival. Without it, you are starving your soul.
Once you realize you need Allah SWT, like a child needs their caregiver, you will only want more care– more love.
The Power of Remembrance
We are humans. We are wired to seek reward and yield punishment. Naturally, we should reap the benefits of salah and avoid the consequences. But because we don’t see the reward and punishment instantly, we become oblivious to it. We know we’ll be held accountable on the day of judgement, but because it seems so far away, we forget. That’s why we must keep our tongues moist with the remembrance of Allah– to remember.To remember that each salah you pray may very well be your last. That in itself is a scary thought. (May Allah SWT make our final act an act of prayer and worship- ameen.)
So essentially, zhikr is the cure. It reminds you of your vulnerability and it softens your heart. Ibn al-Qayyim once said, “In the heart there is hardness which can only be softened by remembrance of Allah SWT. So the slave must treat the hardness of his heart with the remembrance of Allah.”
Once your heart becomes soft, only then can you begin to enjoy salah. Expose yourself to Allah SWT. Show Him your desperation. Show Him your scars so that He may cure you.
Be Greedy for Allah’s Mercy
Be selfish. Yes, selfish. Think about your soul. Think of the good things salah offers you and envy its reward. The most motivating of all rewards is the fact that salah acts as an eraser to our bad deeds. Erase the sins before the pencil even strikes the page.
The prophet PBUH said, “If a person had a stream outside his door and he bathed in it five times a day, do you think he would have any filth left on him?” The people said, “No filth would remain on him whatsoever.” The Prophet PBUH then said, “That is like the five daily prayers: Allah SWT wipes away the sins by them.”
Your eyes see things they shouldn’t see; your mouth says things it shouldn’t say; your feet take you places they’re not supposed to go; and your hands do things they’re not supposed to do. Cleanse yourself. Why choose to be dirty?
Imagine you fail a test. Your professor announces that if you do this extra assignment, the failed mark will be annulled and it won’t reflect on your GPA. You’d be foolish not to take the opportunity. No one is perfect; we all sin. We are given an opportunity to literally erase our mistakes five times a day (not including non-compulsory prayers). So be greedy. Take advantage of this.
Realize it’s a Conversation
Surat Al-Fatiha is literally a conversation between you and your creator. That alone should give you chills. But because you’ve become a robotic machine, with programmed movements to just “check off” the daily prayer, you miss the beauty of this conversation. Allah SWT responds to everything you say.
When you say, “Guide us to the straight path,” Allah SWT says, “This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.”
You ask Allah SWT in every salah to guide you to the straight path and He promises you for what you ask for. Some of us may think, “Well, I say that all the time but I always find myself stuck where I am…unguided.” First of all, we must say it from the heart and mean it. You have to say it without being distracted by what you’re going to cook after salah, or by thinking about if the commercial break is over. Secondly, after asking Allah SWT to guide you to the straight path, you can’t just stand there, you have to start walking! He will then come to you running, but you have to take the first step.
I can quote dozens of sayings from the prophet PBUH and verses from the Quran, but that won’t necessarily make you change. It all starts with whether or not you truly want to start praying/enjoying salah. If you want it to happen, you will make it happen.
Get to know Who you’re praying to. You cannot love someone you do not know. Reflect. A lot. Wake up when everyone is asleep. Start tonight. He waits for you to call to Him. When silence is the only sound, you will hear the words of God. When darkness fills the night, His light will fill your heart.