One of the five pillars of Islam is "Salah" - which means prayer ('Salat' = plural). The five pillars of Islam are essentially the foundations to being a righteous believer - think of the pillars supporting a roof. If one of them is missing, the roof cannot be supported and consequentially collapses. Salah is performed five times a day, everyday, and their times are as follows;
Fajr - dawn
Dhuhr - noon
Asr - mid-afternoon
Maghreb - sunset
Isha’ - after dark
I struggle to think that anything this beautiful religion asks of us is a mere coincidence - from the teachings that are underlined and marked in bold, to the deeper meaning that are only sought if you read in between the lines. In this article, I delve into how prayer can make us more accomplished and insightful individuals.
If you’ve ever visited the Eastern part of the world, you'll often hear people referring to time in prayer context; 'Let's meet after Maghreb", or "I will finish work by Asr". I never thought of it beyond its convenience for people to refer to time in this way, but with time I started to realise the advantage that it occupied.
It's hard to find comfort in uncertainty; as a result we establish regularity and routine to direct us, to make us feel that we somewhat know what we're doing. As we entered the lockdown phase, our routines arrived at a halt; I lost my afternoon coffee shop and gallery trips, my morning commutes to university, and even the long evening study grind (whoops) - the only remnant of normality that I was able to keep hold on were my five daily prayers. I still had a scaffolding to my day that was familiar to me and gave me a reassuring sense of control, that even if I were to end the day with only half the boxes ticked on my to-do list, I still had a purpose to fulfil.
Habit formation isn't just beneficial for our mental and psychological stability, but it's how we succeed. A few random sessions at the gym when we occasionally feel motivated isn't going to improve our overall fitness - however, if we instilled discipline we are far more likely, if not certain, to gain results.
A'isha (the Prophet's wife, رضي الله عنه) reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
"أَحَبُّ الْأَعْمَالِ إِلَى اللهِ أَدْوَمُهَا وَإِنْ قَل"
"The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously, even if they are small"
(Sahih Muslim 783b, Book 4, Hadith 1713)
We all thrive on the basis of consistency - it allows us to achieve our long-term goals as well as observe the sub-benefits it comes with, such as self-fulfilment and reward.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said,
“Pray while standing and if you can’t, pray while sitting and if you cannot do even that, then pray lying on your side”.
(Al-Bukhari 2:20, 218)
This quote emphasises just how valuable it is to God to be consistent with our prayers, to stop making excuses and simply show up. Applying this to other aspects of life: studying for 30 minutes is better than not studying at all, and taking an easy walk around the town is better than a skipped gym session altogether. The act of giving up loses the momentum we worked hard to establish in the first place, making each attempt to restart as exhausting as the one before. The consistency that daily prayer ingrains in us is something we ought to transfer when encountering our own daily challenges.
Procrastination is the productivity obstacle that every millennial inevitably faces these days. With so many distractions around us, it has become far too easy to fall into the trap of time-wasting. The concept of prayer needing to be fulfilled within a strict time frame urges us to overcome delaying tasks and complete them on time.
Growing up, my parents would always remind me of this story:
سَأَلْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَىُّ الْعَمَلِ أَحَبُّ إِلَى اللَّهِ قَالَ " الصَّلاَةُ عَلَى وَقْتِهَا "
I asked the Prophet (ﷺ) "Which deed is the dearest to Allah?" He replied, "To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times."
(Al-Bukhari 1:10, 505)
Back then, what this roughly meant to me was “I'll pray when I feel like it, as long as I don’t miss it", because, clearly, I have all the time in the world! And before I knew it - poof, the Athan (the call for the next prayer) goes off and I‘ve missed it. It’s quite like writing on the wet sand on a beach; each wave that washes on the shore (metaphorically representing new tasks that come our way) will cause to the words to fade. Our brains simply can’t hold onto so many pencilled-in reminders - it only runs the risk of neglect, and it would be far more effective to cross things off as we go. If I had simply prioritised it, I would have instantly avoided the burden of disappointment that imminently followed.
The Prophet (pbuh) warns us that we are at stake of being at a greater loss when we miss deadlines,
" الَّذِي تَفُوتُهُ صَلاَةُ الْعَصْرِ كَأَنَّمَا وُتِرَ أَهْلَهُ وَمَال"
"Whoever misses the`Asr prayer (intentionally) then it is as if he lost his family and property."
(Al-Bukhari 1:10, 527)
If you think that you're giving yourself the blessing of more time to do things by procrastinating, you're quite mistaken. I found this incredibly applicable for all walks in life - getting that assignment, chore or project done early allows you to shift your focus on other things, and overall makes us far more productive beings.
Physical and Mental Health
Each prayer of the day differs very slightly in terms of Ruku’u (the number of times one must prostrate), but otherwise they all share identical movements; standing up straight, bowing, kneeling and prostrating. I always wondered if these movements had any impact on our health, and, without surprise, they most likely do. There have been many studies which prove that prayer can help our musculoskeletal system, especially when done consistently over the course of a lifetime; five daily prayers equate to 30 minutes of light exercise per day, a health recommendation by experts. In fact, it is suggested that "salah movements can be another alternative to existing exercises, like yoga and pilates."
The health benefits of prayer don't stop here. When we begin to pray, we are forced to escape the distractions of our chaotic lives, and enter a state of tranquility and inner peace with one focus: to connect with God.
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ – الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِى صَلاَتِهِمْ خَـشِعُونَ
"Certainly will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive"
Surah Al-Mu'minun (Qur'an 23: 1-2)
Prayer should make us feel present - the Qur'an tells us that if we weren't in this very state, then we're not doing it correctly. Prayer requires us to shift all our concentration away from worldly distractions; no looking over your shoulder, or eavesdropping conversations - we recite the Qur'an and focus on the peaceful act of prayer. Here, we are innately practicing rituals alike to what we call today as 'mindfulness', which has recently gained much popularity as effective techniques to manage and reduce stress and anxiety.
إِنَّ الإِنسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا إِلاَّ الْمُصَلِّينَ الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَى صَلاتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious: When evil touches him, impatient, And when good touches him, withholding [of it], Except the observers of prayer – Those who are constant in their prayer”
Surah Al-Ma'arij (Qur’an 70: 19-23)
It is stated that those who pray, and particularly those who are consistent in their prayer, will feel relief from the whelm of their thoughts and cares. Leaving prayer should make you feel in the moment, rejuvenated and refreshed, which all help to contribute to our mental resilience. So when we’re deep into our work, feeling utterly confused, our eyes slightly cross-eyed and our lower half going numb, it helps to take a step away from the desk and transiently shift our focus somewhere else. Regular prayer ensures that we prioritise taking a break from whatever this world is consuming from us and strengthen our faith whilst doing so.
Have you ever wondered why is it that we pray five times in the space of twenty-four hours? Is once not enough?
Spaced repetition is a fashionable study technique that many people on the internet these days are endorsing, but who knows - this concept to learning may have existed in Holy texts thousands of years ago. When we pray so often throughout the day, we maintain our remembrance of God. We are forced to be constantly in touch with our faith and there are several reasons why this is important.
اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ
"Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do."
Surah Al-Ankaboot (Qur'an 29: 45)
We distance from our faith when we don't practise it, and therefore we fail to appreciate the true weight of our sins in the eyes of God. We lose our protective boundaries and slip in the pits of wrongdoing, such as backbiting, dishonesty or envy. When we pray, we remember that we will have to face God with our good and bad deeds, which makes us think twice before our actions. When we pray, we remember precisely what our purpose is on this Earth, lest we forget. When we pray, we are granted the opportunity to ask for forgiveness, and even ask God to help us through our struggles. Aside from obligatory prayer, Islam also encourages us to perform Dhikr, which means 'Remembrance of God' - another method to bring proximity between us and Allah, along with all the enrichment it brings (which are far too extensive to write here). Fundamentally, repetition is key to learning and reinforcement.
So as we've discovered, the five daily prayers are a blessing that, not only contribute to increasing our good deeds, but also equips us with essential skills that we can utilise in our everyday lives.
Wishing you a productive week!