Friday, 25 July 2014
Three Steps To Improve Your Concentration In Prayer
Concentrating on my prayer is something I find extremely hard, especially since I had my baby. Any mother will know that unless they are being looked after by someone else (which isn't possible at every prayer time or any for some people) they are either grabbing your legs/skirt/hijab, destroying something they're not supposed to be, eating something they're not supposed to be, or crying. In any case, you can't help but watch them out of the corner of your eye, or rush to finish your prayer to stop them crying (or even attempt to pray and hold them at the same time!). None of this is very conducive to concentration!!
Quite apart from this there always seems to be a multitude of distractions to prevent me from praying on time or from concentrating once I am praying. I suddenly find all sorts of random jobs that I feel compelled to 'quickly get done' before I pray, even if the prayer starts in only 5 minutes, causing me to end up praying late. Even worse is my mind wondering once I have already started; suddenly I forget how many rakat I have done or I forget the surah I am in the middle of reciting. Or my scarf starts to slip off or there's something in my eye, or I have an itch on my arm I just have to scratch!
Then there are the times I pray at work: in a busy staff room crammed in a small space between my desk and the photocopier with only 30 minutes to use the bathroom, make wudu, re-do my hijab, eat my lunch and prepare for the my next lesson. This doesn't leave much time for praying; especially when I am accosted by a distressed student in the hallway who needs 20 minutes of reassurance that no she is not about to fail her exams.
In all, astaghfirullah, my level of concentration has a lot of room for improvement. As we are in the last ten days of Ramadan I began to think about this a few nights ago before praying my taraweeh. I decided I really wanted to concentrate properly and try to do so from now on. I know this will not be an easy task as I have resolved to improve in many things before without much long-term success. However, maybe if I come up with some specific steps to follow, God Willing I may be able to achieve my goal. So here's what I came up with (some of which I have already started doing alhamdulillah):
1. REMOVE ALL DISTRACTIONS
If possible pray somewhere quiet where there won't be any music or people talking etc. Make sure you have a good prayer mat. Not one that wrinkles up or moves around as you pray, or has one of those badly designed patterns that looks like a face staring back up at you! (Apparently it is normal for the human brain to look for faces in things, so I really think this should be taken into consideration when making prayer mats!!). I find it helps to have a specific place to pray (when possible, if not I can imagine I am in that place) that I associate with being calm and focused. I also like some nice ambient light.
Make sure you are not too hot or cold, wear comfortable clothes that you are confident will not somehow slip off or expose a part of you when you move (e.g. a skirt that shows your legs at the back when you bend down or a gap between your top and trousers or a hijab that keeps slipping). The last thing you want is to be shivering or fiddling around with your clothes once you've started praying.
If you have a child try to plan what they will be doing. If they are not old enough to join in properly (like mine) try to get their nap time to coincide with prayer time. Or have some toys that you only get out at prayer times (so they associate you praying with being able to play with a favourite toy rather than with you ignoring them for ten minutes). Make sure they are in a high chair/playpen/baby proofed room so that they can't get into any mischief while you're praying. If all else fails let them watch Hurray for Baba Ali while eating raisins (almost always keeps my baby occupied for a bit!) just make sure the volume is not high enough to distract you!
2. PREPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY
This one seems to be really helping me so far. Often I will simply make wudu, lay my prayer mat out, throw on my prayer clothes and say 'Allahu Akbar' without much pause in-between. I then start to become distracted by all the things listed above after starting. So now I've decided to make a habit of pausing before doing takbir in order to clear my mind, make sure I am feeling comfortable and that there are no distractions. I try to think about the seriousness of what I am about to do, that I am about to speak to the Creator of the universe, I take a few deep breathes and try to feel calm and composed. If any distractions pop into my mind such as the fact that I need to remember to do something I write them down somewhere before starting to allow my mind to let go of any other thoughts once I start praying. I make intention that I am going to do my best to concentrate.
3. UNDERSTAND YOUR PRAYERS
I will always remember my husband's surprise and concern about the way I prayed when we first got married. Thank God he inspired me to change. Praying for me used to be rather liked going into autopilot. Upon saying 'Allahu Akbar' I began to recite a steady stream of memorised sentences in Arabic, with the only thoughts required being deciding which surah to recite next or making sure I carried out the correct number of rakats for that particular prayer. Other than that my mind was free to wander! I'd done it so many times that sometimes I'd get up and pray Fajr in such a tired state that I woke up a few hours later and couldn't even remember praying at all!
I have since realised the importance of understanding the Qur'an as much as you can, and doing so in order to improve your concentration in salat is just one of the reasons why I feel it is so important.
If I can I try to learn surahs word for word in English. This is easier for some than others, for example, Surat-Al-Fatiha is quite straight forward. You can use a website such as this one in order to find out what each word means.
I try to read the explanation (this one for example) of the surah to really understand what it is about. I might note down the key lessons to be learnt and try to think about them whilst reciting. Explanations of each surah can be very long and detailed so I find it helps just to summarise some key parts that I feel are important/relevant to me.
It also helps me to picture an image or story in my mind rather than just the words of the surah. I recently discovered this website, which is designed for kids but I feel is appropriate for any age if it helps!
Finally, in order to remember everything you learn you could get a special notebook to write down notes on each surah so you don't forget what you've learnt. You could keep it where you pray and have a quick look at whichever surahs you intend to recite just before you start. I have started with a few surahs and plan to slowly build up. At the moment I am focusing on the surahs I already know in Arabic before trying to learn any new ones. InshaAllah once I have finished those I can start learning more in Arabic, and this time I can learn their meaning too.