My 8 year old came to me last night, upset because he had broken his archer’s bow. When I asked how it broke, he explained he had been using it as a hockey stick. Something I find myself repeating often to my children is that if you use something for that which it is not intended, it can become broken and damaged. Islam tells us that this also applies to the human soul, and what follows from this, is that if we use our soul for the purpose for which it was intended, it can mend and become stronger.
When I came to Islam, I took a leap of faith. Knowing Islam was the truth, and wanting to live by that, I took that first step of taking my shahada, while still partly immersed in my old life.
“Whoever comes to me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any idols with me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim Hadith.)
During this period of change, I found it easier to take on new actions, than to give up the old. But naturally over time, the new took the place of the old, and I gradually emerged into a new life. The most significant of these actions was the prayer. From the first hesitant moments of pulling on a scarf and stumbling through the prayer, reading phonetically from bits of paper in a language I had no famliarity with, prayer gradually became natural. When speaking about the prayer to his companions, the Prophet (saw) told them to ‘establish’ the prayer, rather than simply to ‘perform’ the prayer.
“[You should] worship Allah and not ascribe any partner to Him, establish the prayer, give the Zakat, fast Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House…The head of the matter is submission [to Allah]. Its pillar is the prayer.”
(Tirmidhi hadith )
This speaks of layers of meaning way beyond simply praying at the assigned times. It speaks of the inward and outward, and of the construction of prayer as a firm pillar of our faith. Something established cannot easily be removed.
Later I took a fiqh course, and remember one of the first lessons, where the Sheikh made a distinction between a valid prayer, which met the conditions required in Islamic law, and an accepted prayer – which is the realm and knowledge of Allah alone. He challenged us to think about the prayer of a sincere new convert who doesn’t know she needs to cover her head. Not a valid prayer, but would Allah reject that sincere attempt?
This took me back to my own clumsy first prayers, which were probably some of the most sincere I have ever made. Prayer in Islam is compulsory, and structured, and those of other faiths often find this hard to align with their view of what prayer is. But this ritual of prayer works for us in so many different ways. For me back then, it was about being in the right place, and in the right state, at the right time, and the desire to do that provided a structure to my life which eliminated many other things. I still cling to this, and for me, I feel prayer defines me as a Muslim. While I strive for God consciousness in my prayer, and take pleasure from a prayer in a quiet corner of my house, or in a beautiful masjid, I also value those prayers made in more difficult circumstances – while travelling, at work when I’ve had to excuse myself from a meeting, late at night when the only thing I really want to do is sleep – because at these times, while my spiritual state might be anything but alert – I am showing Allah my obedience to Him, by being where he has asked me to be, despite internal or external pressures to be elsewhere.
Gaining true khushoo, or sincerity in my prayer, however, is an ongoing battle. There are many barriers to this – being aware of a child about to damage themselves, someone or something else out of the corner of my eye while I pray, praying next to my desk at work, aware of a looming deadline. But also perhaps the fear of being overwhelmed by the enormity of emotion that would come with true sincerity.
“Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (know) Allah sees you.”
I am now faced with the task of helping my children to establish their own practise of prayer. This is a great honour, and also an incredible responsibility. It is an honour because I am so grateful that I have Islam to pass on to them. When I was a child, I was so in need of spiritual guidance, but had no one in my life who could provide me with that. And yet I am acutely aware of telling a child that this is something that they HAVE to do (when they reach puberty), while also instilling love for it in their hearts. I turn back to the instruction to ‘establish’ the prayer, to realise that this is a long term project. For my older son, we chose to establish one prayer a day per year from the age of 7 – at the moment this strategy seems to be working well – he is nearly 9 now, and performing 3 prayers a day will mean a later bed time, or waking him up for fajr, which he seems ready for. My 5 year old veers between zero interest in praying, or joining in very loudly, reciting the surahs he knows even if they are not the ones we are reciting!
I know that many times, the last thing my 8 year old wants to do is interrupt his play to make wudu and pray – but I hope he sees how much the adults in his house value prayer, and that this may impact his heart in some way. May Allah help us all and our children to establish sincere prayer as a firm pillar of our faith.
About the author:
Fatima-Minna lives and works in the UK. She has two lively little boys who keep her very busy, and strives to increase in nearness to Allah.