I just read "Soaring to the Only Beloved: A Short Treatise on the Presense of Heart in Prayer"
by Abu Muhammad Zaynul Abidin - very good.
When I first began praying I would often be moved by emotion and end up shedding tears. It was like I was having conversations with God that I've wanted to my whole life. I don't know why it moved me since I had prayed as a Christian. I guess I just feel more connected as a Muslim. I would cry because I was submitting to him, which i had never really done and I knew what I was doing was important. I asked for help learning prayers, and help for staying on the path and they were answered and it just made me that much more thankful.
Lately, as it has become such a daily part of my life, I've lost that emotional part of prayer and often just pray out of habit and practice. This book opened up many things to me as it focuses on concentration in prayer and praying from the heart, not just going through the motions. Here's a couple of things that I found important:
- (his words) If the human being utilizes this opportunity that comes 5 times a day, his journey would undoubtedly commence. Why should he allow several opportunities during his life to go to waste? Doesn't he yearn deep in his heart for the company of the Beloved? Doesn't he realize that it is high time he should go back home and enjoy the neighborhood of the only Beloved who intensely loves his company?
I liked this because it's a good point - we shouldn't just pray because it is required, but see it as an opportunity to speak to Allah and really pour our hearts into it.
- Often our attention is distracted by auditory or visual stimulai and this can be conquered. But the other, distraction by internal elements (such as things we need to do, etc that often come forth when we stand on the rug) is harder to conquer. He says it's our attachment to the material world. We must demagnetize our love of material needs and to see them as 'the means' not 'the goal'.
This is often my problem. It seems when I step on the rug and have that moment of silence, thoughts rush into my head...conversations of the day, things i need to do, etc and it drives me crazy. It's like I have no control over it, but we do. It just takes practice.
-He also talks about the importance of deeds. That we can do many good deeds because we should, but unless it comes from the heart and for the right reason, these good deeds can actually be counted against us.
- (his words) One, therefore, who does not inculcate this truth in his mind and heart in prayer would always blemish his soul with the taints of 'sin'. Sin, which is disobedience to the Creator, is a practical expression of polytheism....
This sentence really struck me as if we are thinking of things we need to do in life, in a sense we are praying to that thing if that's what we are thinking of when we are praying. That's how it sounded to me anyhow. I still think intentions are known so it can't really be polytheism, but in a way it is if we are thinking of these things when we are conversing with Allah.
- When prostrating/Sujud we should remember that we are placing the most honored part of our body (our face) on the most insignificant of things (earth).
All in all, the book was enlightening...and he brings up some good ways to think about praying. What really struck me as the most important is the simple act of really focusing and paying attention, but more important is to do it with heart. We all know this, but often I think it's hard to practice. In such a fast paced society, we are accustomed to doing ten things at once. In a way, it has become unnatural to only think of one thing at a time, but with practice, it can be done.
I have also been reading "Struggling to Surrender: Some Impressions of an American Convert to Islam"
by Jeffrey Lang and it's been very helpful thus far. I'll write more after finishing it.