A brief introduction
I am Alina, a Muslim revert woman, originally Romanian, who spent the most important years of my life in the United States. I am married to a Saudi man, and have recently moved to Saudi Arabia. Ever since I reverted to Islam, almost 4 years ago, I embarked on a never-ending quest for Islamic knowledge, which I constantly strive to share with others.
How I improved my concentration in prayer
This past Ramadan I took a course called Meaningful Prayer from Qalam Institute, which taught me the correct meaning and lessons behind the words that we say in the prayer. As I was listening to it, my mind started picturing the storyline. Then I realized a fun, new way to improve khushu: using imagination to create visuals for EVERY part of the prayer. Let me give you a few examples from my prayer.
We start each prayer with ALLAHU AKBAR. This is commonly translated as “Allah is the Greatest.” However the most correct translation is “Allah is Greater.” Any comparison needs a second object, but in this case it is left blank. This is on purpose, as a “fill in the blank” exercise for us, and that is exactly what I would picture here: “Allah is Greater than ______” and then pile up on that blank anything that may be distracting me…chores, problems, an itchy nose, etc. We can add anything because Allah is greater than everything we can think of, AND, greater than anything we ARE thinking of, at the moment when we start the prayer. So this is ultimately a reminder to refocus ourselves on Allah (Subhanahu Wata’ala) while we are praying.
Sometimes, if I am really having a hard time focusing at this point, I think of another image: Allah (Subhanahu Wata’ala) represented by a powerful, blinding light, coming from His kursi, His throne, and underneath that throne would be the Heavens and the Earth, but looking like little ants that if we got up from a chair we might step on. But Allah (Subhanahu Wata’ala) is taking care of all our affairs regardless of how insignificant we may be. That’s how great He is!
Another beautiful image comes to my mind when reciting IHDINA SIRATA AL MUSTAQEEM, SIRAATA ALADHINA AN ‘AMTA ‘ALEIHIM. This would translate as: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your favour.” “Sirat,”the Arabic word for path used in this verse, does not have a plural form. So this is an exclusive path. Furthermore, here we ask to “guide us,” all people. This is why at this point I would visualize all righteous people, and myself amongst them, walking together on this straight path, directing us to the doors of Jannah or Paradise. Our bodies would be shining, about to meet Allah (Subhanahu Wataala), after meeting the Prophet (peace be upon him), who will open the doors of Paradise for us.
As a side note here, during our recitation of surah Al Fatiha, we are in a conversation with Allah (Subhanahu Wataala). Hadith 395 in Muslim, book 4, narrated by Abu Huraira (radi Allahu anhu), details this conversation. Allah (Subhanahu Wataala)’s reply at the above verses is: “Guaranteed for My slave is what he has asked for.” Based on this we know that Allah (Subhanahu Wataala) will always answer the duaa, or supplication, for guidance in this life. This is reinforced by surah Ankaboot in the Quran: “And those who strive for Us, We will surely guide them to our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (29:69)
To conclude, a simple way to improve concentration is by using the principle of storytelling. If you pictured an image like the ones I described above, for every part of the prayer, an image that could symbolize the beautiful lessons behind Quranic verses, an imagine that could make you really connect with what you are saying, how much better do you think your concentration would be? Improving concentration starts when we really commit to it, when we go and look for the beautiful meanings of Allah (Subhanahu Wata’ala)’s words in tafsirs and hadiths, for the meaning of tashahud, of tasleem, and of dhikr. But improving concentration can become easier if we use our creative abilities to never forget these meanings. May Allah (Subhanahu Wata’ala) help us all in this journey and may He accept all our prayers!