Staying focused by Praying

I remember the last time it happened to me. I was driving my daughter to preschool, something I do several times a week. Traffic was heavy and I was preoccupied. Deep in thought, I drove amidst the hundreds of cars on the highway and suddenly, or maybe it was after several minutes, I realized that the exit I was supposed to have taken was miles behind me and I was merging onto another freeway altogether. Panic struck me for a moment as I took the next exit, unfamiliar road signs all around. How had I missed the exit that I was so used to taking? What had distracted me for so long? And now, how long was it going to take me to reroute and ultimately reach my destination?

Distractions on Our Journey

In life, we are all on a journey. We know the ultimate destination we are trying to reach is jannah(Paradise) and Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (exalted is He) has clearly laid out the route we are supposed to take. However, dunya (the worldly life) is distracting. Like me on the road that day, we sometimes miss an important exit or forget to make a crucial turn and get thrown off our spiritual route. In my own life and in working with others, I’ve found that we can usually tell when we’re in unfamiliar territory. But even though we know that Allah (swt) has laid out the guidance in the Qur’an and Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him), we sometimes simply don’t know where to begin. This article lays out an easy to remember acronym, P.R.A.Y., that serves like a series of road signs to not only help us in our day to day journey to Allah, but also get us back on track when we feel the need to re-route ourselves spiritually. I hope it is beneficial insha’Allah (God willing).

P is for Prayer

The P in the acronym PRAY stands, creatively enough, for prayer. The first thing we should check when we feel that our spirituality is not on track (after our belief in the Oneness of God) is our prayer. I ask myself the following questions: How is my prayer? Am I praying on time? How is my focus and concentration (khushu) when I pray? What can I do to improve my concentration? Am I praying the sunnah prayers and other nawafil (extra prayers) like the duha and witr prayers? I try to see where the gaps are and begin filling them one by one. I also try to rekindle the feeling inside of me that in each rakah (unit of prayer), I am connecting with Allah (swt). I realize my shortcomings and ask for help getting back on His path.

R is for Read

The R in the acronym PRAY stands for read. I am a native English speaker. I read almost anything in English and understand it alhamdulilLah (praise be to God). Now even though I’m familiar with all the alphabetical characters that make up the French language, I would likely never pick up a book in French and read it just phonetically in hopes of understanding anything. However, for a long time, I did just that with the Qur’an. I come from an Arabic-speaking family and have studied tajweed and so I always have read the Qur’an in Arabic simply because I could and because I thought this was somehow better. Even though I understood only fragments of what I read, I persisted, looking only to translation if I absolutely had no idea what an ayah (verse) was saying. Recently, however, I read an article called “Ten Tips on Becoming One of Allah’s Special People” on how to better connect with the Qur’an and realized I had to change.  I began reading the Qur’an in English. Not one verse in Arabic and then one in English. I read entire parts (ajza’) in English.  This was such a huge breakthrough for me; I understood so much more without interruption. Lest I be misunderstood, studying Arabic and reading the Qur’an in Arabic is of great importance. However, the Qur’an is meant to be our source of guidance. So in addition to the Arabic, we must also regularly read it in a language that helps us understand that guidance.

A is for Ask Allah first

The A in the acronym PRAY stands for Ask Allah (swt) first. We live in a society that praises the independent individual, the “do-it-yourself-and-pick-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps-if-you-fall” type who relies on him or herself only. Too often, we as Muslims fall prey to this mentality. We try to do everything on our own, initially relying solely on ourselves and only when in dire need do we ask for the help of other people to help us through any given problem.

But we must examine: how often do we ask Allah (swt) and rely on Him first? All success and provision are from Allah yet many of us only turn to Him (swt) and make du`a’ (supplication) about something after we feel we have exhausted all other resources. This is especially true in times when we are distracted by the dunya and feel disconnected from Allah. How different would our lives be if, like the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), we began by asking Allah (swt) firstbefore relying on ourselves and others? If before trying to do the job myself, I make du`a’, pray two rak`ahs and really put all my trust and tawwakul (reliance) in Allah (swt) to help me in my endeavor, how much calmer I am! How much easier does the task at hand become! The emphasis is really not just on asking Allah (swt), but beginning with Him, making du`a’, praying, and remembering Him first, before we ask others and before we depend on ourselves.

Y is for Yourself (and your Self)

The Y in the acronym PRAY stands for Yourself. This road sign is to remind us that we must take time by ourselves to reflect on our actions, purify our intentions, and repent for those things that we may have done incorrectly. This isolation is a very useful practice because it allows us to shut out the noise of the dunya and assess our actions and intentions. This road sign can also be read “your Self,” reminding us to engage in a process of disciplining and purifying our nafs (inner self), the source in us of base desires and whims that can often get in the way of our knowledge and correct worship of Allah (swt).

Each of these headings could be expanded at length and we should do all we can to learn more about these areas. However, I hope that in the midst of the busy pace of dunya we can use this relatively simple acronym as a starting place and insha’Allah stay better focused on our real journey to the best of all destinations, jannah.

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